What GTA Online May Tell Us About Red Dead Redemption 2
Several months removed from a short teaser trailer and a concise statement from Rockstar saying Red Dead Redemption 2 is “an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland,” we still have no concrete details about the game other than the fragments we salvaged from the early footage. As we wait for Rockstar to share more about its highly anticipated sequel, we can’t help but wonder what lessons the company learned from the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto Online that could be applied to the “brand new online multiplayer experience” coming in the developer’s return to the Wild West.
We should preface this thought exercise by saying two things. First, Rockstar isn’t a developer content to rest on its laurels. As its crown jewel franchise, Grand Theft Auto, has demonstrated in the 16 years since its inception, Rockstar tirelessly strives to redefine the open-world experience. The series has grown from a top-down perspective with text dialogue and arcade shooting sounds to a sprawling masterpiece of modern 3D game design featuring Hollywood quality voice acting, an amazing curated soundtrack, strong shooting and driving mechanics, a living open world, and the most ambitious and successful take on open-world multiplayer ever seen. Spending the last several years building out GTA Online has proven wise, as the mode has already generated more than $500 million in revenue and it keeps growing. This past December was the mode’s busiest month yet. We hardly expect Red Dead Redemption 2 to simply take the foundation of Grand Theft Auto Online and retrofit it into a Western setting, but it provides a good starting point.
Second, the potential game features outlined below are pure speculation from a Rockstar fan whose imagination is running wild with possibilities. I have no insider information about what features are coming to Red Dead Redemption 2. Rather, I’ve taken what we know about the basic structure of Grand Theft Auto Online to hypothesize how the various parts would work as jumping off point for Rockstar’s next leap forward.
Grand Theft Auto Online is undoubtedly the best online offering Rockstar has ever designed, but you can see traces of its foundation in the original Red Dead Redemption.
The hit Western coupled its stellar campaign with an open-world multiplayer mode that expanded upon GTA IV’s early efforts, dropping you into the “free roam” game lobby with other players and letting you go anywhere in the open world. You could roll solo or group into a posse to hunt wildlife, attack enemy hideouts, or simply enjoy the breathtaking vistas. Those who preferred specific competitive experiences could forgo the open world in favor of a Rockstar-curated playlist of multiplayer modes like Gang Shootout (team deathmath), or Hold Your Own (capture the flag).
Grand Theft Auto Online built upon this foundation by adding shops for deep player customization, purchasable assets like vehicles and properties, cooperative heists, character-driven missions and events, side activities, and even player-controlled criminal syndicates. Those illicit organizations and motorcycle clubs give players the means to conduct a variety of nefarious activates like drug running, car theft, counterfeit currency, assassinations, etc. right in the open world.
You could draw a straight line to apply many of GTA Online’s features directly to a Western setting. It’s not hard to imagine general stores and trading outposts that allow players to buy new clothing, weapons, and supplies. Trains, boats, and horseback were the predominant methods of transportation in the late 1800s, so you likely wouldn’t have anything near the breadth of variety that GTA Online offers for vehicles. That said, Rockstar could increase the number of offerings with different horse breeds, wagons, and stagecoaches for players to use for land transportation, and allow players to purchase a variety of boats for traversing rivers. Steamboats were still going in the late 1800s, and could possibly serve as an analog to GTA Online’s yachts.
Given the abundance of natural resources in the American heartland, we wouldn’t be surprised to see crafting and trading become a more integral part of the open-world experience in Red Dead Redemption 2. One of the primary complaints we hear about Grand Theft Auto Online players is how much grinding they must do to earn enough money to buy new items, set up organizations or motorcycle clubs, acquire luxury yachts, etc. These aspirational options largely serve as end-game content for the hardest of hardcore players. But introducing crafting could be an organic way for Rockstar to give players an alternate path to improving their lot rather than grinding repetitious multiplayer matches.
The almighty dollar still drove commerce in the Wild West, but many during the expansion era got by on trading furs, wood, oil, and other resources. Integrating these into the game could give rise to many different types of legit organizations players could form or join like you see in larger MMOs. Do you like hunting? Start a fur trading outfit. Prefer to explore the vast American landscape? Maybe you should become a prospector looking to strike it rich with a gold, oil, or other precious materials discovery? Hell, Rockstar could even integrate a farming system. This hunter/gatherer/harvester dynamic wouldn’t be out of place in, either; Red Dead Redemption featured many quiet moments on farms and in forests that served as nice contrasts to the duels, hijackings, and mass murder.
THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE
It wouldn’t be a Rockstar open-world game without the more unsavory element of society, and the Wild West setting is rich with opportunities. Robberies, kidnappings, and duels all slide naturally into this open-world setting. Many of the criminal activities of the era would also fit nicely into the Organization structure Rockstar introduced in Grand Theft Auto Online. Criminal gangs could trade in their usual stock, like gun running, drugs, prostitution, and counterfeit currency (or fool’s gold). Organizations of deputized regulators could stand in direct opposition. But that’s not the end to the kinds of factions that fit into the fiction. Rockstar could add groups influenced by real-world operations like the Pinkerton Agency, which straddled both sides of the law as it busted up union strikes, investigated murders, served as the security detail to high-profile persons of interest, and worked as private military contractors.
The heist mechanics, which stressed planning and teamwork in GTA Online, would also carry over into Red Dead Redemption 2. Military forts entrenched deep in the wilderness, trains running supplies between towns, and big city banks are all ripe targets for aspiring criminals.
Looking at the trajectory of Rockstar’s open-world multiplayer ambitions, we expect Red Dead Redemption 2 to continue the meteoric growth. All the speculative ideas about how the progress made in Grand Theft Auto Online could serve as a jumping off point for another round of innovation excite us, and we’re curious to hear your thoughts. What features would you like to see implemented for our next online adventure in the Wild West? Share them in the comments below.