Red Dead Redemption 2 is perhaps Rockstar Games' most ambitious title to date. Its meticulous attention to detail and wonderful world building is simply incredible, and the story that unfolds over six chapters and two epilogues will sit with players for months after the credits roll. Arthur Morgan's romp across New Hanover and its surrounding states does well to wrap its audience in a setting that feels equal parts fantasy-inspired and realistic, and the gameplay (for as slow as it can be at times) also sticks to the philosophy that realism is the best route to creating immersion.
However, despite being so very lifelike in its aesthetics, there are a handful of things that take players out of the experience. Being a game, it will always be restricted by hardware, as well as the need for fun that often comes as a result of the suspension of disbelief. Red Dead Redemption 2 prioritizing the way the game looks and feels is commendable, but when titles like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Spider-Man all feel better to play in significant ways, it's a wonder why the studio worked so hard to create a world that feels so faithful to real life. The only solution is to lean more into realism, and there are some things that Rockstar can do to achieve this.
A New Setting for Red Dead Redemption
The Red Dead Redemption games have taken a similar approach to setting. While the first focuses on New Austin and the second takes place in and around the fictional state of New Hanover, they are both inspired by real-world places. Be it on the border of Mexico in Texas and New Mexico or the bayous of Louisiana, both games draw clear influence from the way America looked all those years ago. However, the maps aren't as accurate as they could be, so there's just enough potential for Rockstar to use artistic license to make the land feel more diverse.
Taking the same approach that Watch Dogs 2 or even L.A. Noire took and setting Red Dead Redemption 3 in a non-fictional location would do well to bring the game's world and the real one closer together. An open-ended area with a real historical setting can make all the difference when trying to keep players engaged for the long haul. Committing to the likes of the Wyoming wilderness, the towering pines of Northern Alabama, or the hustle and bustle of Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1800s or early 1900s would give players a clear sense of familiarity or engagement, further maintaining the series' commitment to realistic settings.
Red Dead Redemption 2's Realism Didn't Extend to Gameplay
Red Dead Redemption 2 was true-to-life in many ways, but was restricted by the game design as well as the hardware it was on. Taking advantage of the current generation of consoles would give the developer the opportunity to iron out some of the inconsistencies that broke immersion. On one hand, the ability to tend for Arthur's horse was fantastic and offered a true sense of role-playing, but when Arthur's guns would magically appear on his back when he hopped onto his steed, it felt like the game was hanging by a thread. Committing so heavily to realism in presentation is a slippery slope, because when the game needs to break it in order to keep the mechanics fun, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Red Dead Redemption 2's gameplay is already incredibly slow-paced, so leaning further into this in a bid to maintain the series' lifelike presentation would be an interesting development. This kind of game design is the big reason why so many players enjoyed Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Realism and slow gameplay are not only liked by its fans, but they are also the primary reason that the game feels so unique and innovative in comparison to other high-fantasy offerings. Red Dead Redemption 3 could satisfy the same audience but give them something truly high-budget. However, in order to do so, it has to find a way to remove the handful of inaccurate animations or gameplay quirks that often break the otherwise stellar experience.
The Reality of Cowboys
Should Red Dead Redemption 3 depict cowboys as they truly were after the Civil War, it wouldn't help the series' lawless and mature storytelling. While Hollywood and other sources of entertainment would lead people to believe that the western states of the USA were abandoned by reason and law enforcement, the reality is that cowboys were far less interesting than the movies or indeed Red Dead Redemption would have fans believe. Gunfighters of the time like Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday had a reputation so very large because the other inhabitants of the land were unremarkable. The cowboy lifestyle was far from exciting; most of their run-ins with the law were as a result of poor working conditions, not because of their misbehavior.
Rockstar Gamesbuilt the entire Red Dead Redemption franchise off the basis that outlaws and lawmen dominated the scenery, and this wasn't quite the case. To rid it of its core identity would only serve to disappoint fans of the series, but if realism was to be the most important component of Red Dead Redemption 3, it would have to tone down the mature themes and fictional hyperbole that litters both the games and the whole Western genre. Succeeding Red Dead Redemption 2 will be near-impossible if the next game doesn't satisfy some of the narrative expectations that so many players have.
Red Dead Redemption is a franchise that is beloved for so many reasons, and the second game is still the cream of the crop. Its accuracy is just one of the ways in which it improved upon its predecessor, but many take issue with what the game gives up in pursuit of lifelike animations and locations. Historical fiction is a genre that needs more love in the gaming sphere, and Red Dead Redemption 3 will surely be leading the charge when it eventually releases, but the historical value it holds will be dependent on how accurate the developer truly wants to make it.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is available for PC, PS4, Stadia, and Xbox One.