Note from Derek: Special thanks to Simon Mitchell for stepping in to write today’s post. Show the man some love in the comments below and if you’re so inclined, you can follow him on Twitter here: @ReflectiveGame1. Enjoy!
Rockstar Games is a developer with much experience in open-world action adventure games. It is, after all, the genre they’ve mostly stuck to since their foundation. The studio’s last release, Grand Theft Auto 5 fits this bill, as does their next, upcoming game, Red Dead Redemption 2. That’s not to say the company’s portfolio hasn’t changed over the course of ten years, but there are many ways to build upon experience.
Red Dead Redemption 2 will likely most resemble its own predecessor, Red Dead Redemption from 2010, however many lessons learned during the development of GTA 5 will remain relevant when crafting the world and gameplay of Red Dead Redemption 2. Many of the underlying mechanics in these games are similar if not identical, and technology has allowed for some solutions in GTA 5 which weren’t possible at the time of Red Dead Redemption’s release.
The standout aspect which Rockstar should try to emulate is the level of detail seen in GTA 5’s open-world itself. The map makes or breaks a sandbox game in many cases, and with GTA 5, it definitely achieved the former. A level of detail was baked into the virtual world of Los Santos and Blaine County that no other video game has managed to match, let alone eclipse, ever since. Even though the game was released almost four years ago.
With the bar set so high, Rockstar will need to make sure to hit the same standards with Red Dead Redemption 2. When driving through the virtual streets of Los Santos you might make note of how there is barely any repetition in the buildings, which is rare in large city locations in video games. While in the case of GTA 5 this is due to the developer striving towards representing Los Angeles accurately, applying a similar no-repetition rule to the fictional cities of Red Dead Redemption 2 would boost the game’s immersion factor significantly.
Another aspect Rockstar nailed with GTA 5 was not merely filling the open-world with detail, but with life. Sandbox titles often make the mistake of constantly reminding players that this is a video game world, a fake world. No measure of graphical finesse can hide things like rigid NPC routes, static reactions and quest-gives being riveted to the same spot 24/7. The NPCs of GTA 5 feature AI programming much more complex than most similar bystanders. Their paths are not pre-determined, they have diverse behavioural patterns, prominent characters in the story move about during the day and night and perhaps most importantly, these NPCs do things on their own instead of relying entirely on the input of the player.
Mission variety is also nailed in GTA 5, and Red Dead Redemption 2 should mirror this lest it falls into the typical error of open-world games wherein the gameplay is filled with repetition. The key is keeping the amount of distinct game mechanics limited, lest the player is overwhelmed with countless, half-baked systems. Rather, a limited but focused set of mechanics need to be used in creative and distinct ways, keeping gameplay both fresh and familiar at the same time. GTA 5 takes on-foot shooting mechanics and vehicular mechanics, two fairly basic types of gameplay, and gives players a massive game which stays interesting through the end. The single player cheats which Rockstar Games are well-known for including in their titles can also provide countless hours of fun, a mechanic often overlooked in modern games.
Ultimately, GTA 5 represents the peak of open world gaming today, and Rockstar will have to one-up themselves with Red Dead Redemption 2. No matter how good the game is, it will inevitably be compared to GTA 5, and in the unforgiving world of game ratings, if you’re not better, you’re no good at all.