The impossibly cinematic West rolls by, a narrator contextualises the scene: “In the late 1800s America was evolving. On its way to becoming the most powerful country in the world”. Instantly we’re hooked.
The latest trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 proves that Rockstar are still the masters of open world immersion. But after failing to keep GTA 5 relevant with DLC, how will the developers keep us coming back to their newest creation?
It has been a record 5 years, 11 months since Rockstar last released a brand new game. Of course, there have been plenty of updates for GTA Online, most recently the nightclub management sim After Hours. Yet, Grand Theft Auto V started to feel stale a long while ago, and outdated years before that. None of the updates for GTA Online have been major enough to feel like a new game, unlike the previous generation’s Ballad of Gay Tony and Lost and Damned.
A frustration redoubled in intensity for those of us not converted to the new online focus of Rockstar. Single player stories and immaculately produced sandboxes from which we can craft our own water cooler tales are what compelled many to the developer in the first place. This is especially true for Red Dead Redemption, which is, objectively speaking, the greatest game Rockstar has ever made. With the new trailer for its sequel released today anticipation is at a deserved fever pitch. But how will the game feel 1, 2, 5 years down the line? What will keep us coming back to the Wild West of 1899?
Rinse and repeat?
Of course, Rockstar could essentially copy and paste much of the highly lucrative features of GTA Online. Nightclubs, jets and motorbike gangs replaced by saloon building ventures, cart races, and low-tech bank heists. Whilst this would no doubt be fun for a while, a purely aesthetic shift across the flagship titles would be a grand let down. Especially since the original Red Dead Redemption complemented it’s stellar campaign with an ingenious serving of DLC in the form of Undead Nightmare.
Our research shows that, despite a failure to release new single player content for years, the game is still by far the most popular Rockstar title. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean focusing on online play is the smart choice long-term.
Less than a fifth of those who play Rockstar games rate Red Dead as their favourite. Yet when October 26th rolls around this figure will no doubt increase as gamers scramble to play the studio’s latest masterpiece. The spike in interest and goodwill is the perfect atmosphere for the developer to stick with what works and coast – or to really push the scope of their games.
GTA V has shipped over 80 million copies and is one of the best-selling games of all time. As certain as fictionalised cowboys drinking whisky after a long day, Red Dead 2 will also sell incredibly well upon release. Rockstar do not face a cash flow problem; they can afford to take risks in their updates and still come out on top.
The greatest misstep for this game developer would be to not deliver pioneering single-player DLC. Rockstar’s identity is based on the reputation they have, the fearless and unrivalled ingenuity of their games. No option would cause them to suffer sleep-depriving financial losses, but losing their cutting edge image could spell the beginning of a real decline.