“Hold on to your butts,” – Tom Arnold, booting up Red Dead Redemption II for the first time.

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Earlier today, Rockstar Games finally released gameplay footage for the feverishly anticipated Red Dead Redemption II, which releases on Xbox One and Playstation 4 October 26, 2018.

That’s two months from now. The balls on this company; skipping E3 and dropping breadcrumbs at us whenever they so please. And we’ll follow them like the carb-addicted waddling ducks that we are. We want this game. So very, very badly.

It’s been over eight years since we first got our spurs jingle-jangling with John Marston, on his quest for personal freedom from wild-west bandits and the nebulous precursor to American federal law enforcement. Now we play as Arthur Morgan, a full-fledged member of the Van der Linde gang, and it looks like Rockstar is hoping to deliver on one promising innovation after the next.

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The gameplay trailer begins in voiceover, with information delivered as if this were a press-conference at say, E3. The lovely voice goes into detail about the game’s setting, the very late 1800’s, and the changes that America was seeing. We hear talk of immigrants and burgeoning townships, and the people set to finally conquer the fronteir-elements of the west. Rockstar Games is trying to one-up their previous outing, Grand Theft Auto V, in terms of sheer scale, variety of locales, and the consequences your actions have within the game world. It’s all to make it feel, well, real.

Enter, Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang. Rather than go at the fronteir alone, you’ll be part of a lawless tribe, a clan of bandits who camp out where the law can’t find them. You’ll have the opportunity to do jobs for and with every single member of the gang – if the trailer is to be believed – and there looks to be a lot of them. This is your crime family. And you’ll work with them in myriad ways to traverse the massive new game world.

Which looks stunning, by the way.

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Eat your heart out Skyrim ENB-modders.

We have dense forests, windy mountaintops, muddy towns, turn-of-the-century urban areas, marshes, and sun-soaked deserts. All of which are open for the player to explore. And you’ll need to as the law attempts to quell the last of the wild west bandits such as the Van der Linde gang. Hunt for them, perform tasks, swap stories by the campfire, loot trains and hold up banks – live with them.

As for gameplay, there looks to be marked improvements over Red Dead Redemption. Careful attention seems to have been paid to weapon management and recoil, as well as reloading animations and hand-to-hand combat. Rockstar’s games have suffered in the past with spongey controller input and physics-inhibited engagements.

Coming back is the signature V.A.T.S.-esque Dead-Eye mode, where time slows down to give the player ample time to line up and execute shots. Also returning is a fun mechanic from the San Andreas / Bully era of Rockstar games: Player responses. As Morgan, the player can engage in dialogue with npcs, intimidate them, or placate them. All of which is clearly in the hopes of creating a living, breathing world that the player can interact with and influence to a far greater extent than games like GTA V.

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Player choice makes a comeback, hopefully to greater consequence than other Rockstar games. A woman in the street cries that you killed her cousin, and in another instance you can save or let fall a man dangling form a cliff’s edge. It’s reminiscent of the blue-dot radiant missions from GTA V, where a woman is mugged and you can choose to either take the purse or return it. This, however, seems deeper.

Your basecamp will evolve over time. The more you do in the game, the more options you might have for expansion; resources at your disposal. Neglect your responsibilities to the gang and their may be consequences to your relationships with its members and the success of future missions. The camp needs food, which you can ostensibly hunt for or steal, and money. Early on in the trailer, the lovely voice made mention of multiple locations for camp, though it’s unsure if those locations are unlocked or forced upon the player through story progression.

And for all you sentimental shmucks who loved to keep your horse alive in RDR1, this is the game for you. It looks like the horse will need to be taken care of. You can tame wild ones, like in the first game, but not all horses are the same. Different breeds will have different personalities, some will be afraid where others are not, and you have to earn their trust. It also looks like you can use your trusty steed to carry some of your equipment, which could prove invaluable late in the game when you’re hoarding animal pelts to sell at the general store.

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On top of all the improvements, most noticeable is the game itself. My god, does RDRII look gorgeous. Vistas are enormous and well detailed, varied and alive. Rockstar, for all its oddities in the marketing department, never skips on the polish. I should say, though, especially after seeing this trailer, that in-game lighting has been the true revolution in graphics from this generation to the last. It’s astonishing the things they can do. Try convincing someone back in 1997, fresh off of a Half-Life binge that one day we’d see realistic fog in-game. Their head would explode.

No word yet on a PC release, so those of you with the Pascals, i9 processors, and 4k 144hz monitors may have to sacrifice fidelity for the gamepad. It could release similarly to GTA V – 18 months after the main release – but RDR1 never saw a PC release. I’ll keep you all updated.

Bottom line: The story of Arthur Morgan looks to be a compelling one. With new and familiar faces creating a deep cast of characters to interact with, and what could be one of the greatest game-worlds ever created. I am beyond excited to get my hands on this. This reveal did carry the subtitle, “Part I,” so maybe Rockstar will release another video soon. We won’t have to wait long, anyways, as Red Dead Redemption II releases October 26 of this year.

Load up your saddle-bags with caffeinated beverages and finger-foods, pardner, cuz it’s a-comin’.

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