By: Austin Suther & Casey Gonzales | Rockstar really did their homework to create Red Dead Redemption 2. The sheer attention to detail makes it the most engaging adaptation of the Wild West in gaming history. But how did Rockstar manage to make the world feel so authentic? The Leaderboard dives deep on all of the real world influences on Red Dead Redemption 2 and if you don’t have time to read our article, check out the video above, LORE EXPLAINED: RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2. Let’s saddle up!
When news broke that Red Dead Redemption 2 would be a prequel and not a direct sequel, many fans started scratching their heads. The ending of Red Dead Redemption 1 had the perfect set-up for a sequel, so why go back? Well, Rockstar has since explained the reasoning behind this stylistic choice. First off, Red Dead 1 was meant to be a symbolic end to the Wild West, with John Marston being blackmailed into hunting down the last remnants of his gang, literally killing the past. The first game took place in 1911, which is considered the last decade of The American Frontier, so if the sequel directly followed it, then there would be less Wild West to work with.
In 1911, the US government was moving in to claim the settlements that had been built during the frontier days. Modern civilization was slowly encroaching and “taming” the chaos of the era. So Rockstar decided to set the sequel 12 years prior in 1899 when the Wild West was beginning to die down. This gave the studio a more open frontier and an engaging narrative framework to work with.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, the man with the plan Dutch Van Der Linde and his gang struggle to survive as the shadow of the US government looms over them.
The government hunting down once-noble Frontier vigilantes is well documented and was a significant influence on the Rockstar development team. So much so that the release date for the game, (October 26th) is also the anniversary of the infamous 1881 shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. For about 30 seconds, the Clanton-McLaury gang had a violent exchange of gunfire with local law enforcement. The gang members that weren’t shot ran for the hills, never to be heard from again in Tombstone. The spirit of the shootout captured in the overall themes of the game.
For an outlaw, rival gangs and local lawmen weren’t the only ones to watch out for. By the late 1800s, the Pinkertons were on the prowl. In Red Dead Redemption 2, there’s no shortage of Pinkertons, and yes that might sound familiar if you’ve played Bioshock Infinite. The Pinkertons is a real organization that exists today, although they’re not the gunslingers of old any longer. During the Civil War, founder Allan Pinkerton worked for the Union gathering intelligence against the Confederates. In the late 1800s, they worked to curb labor strikes as hired guns. They worked for law enforcement too, and were known to have Firebombed outlaw Jesse James’ mother’s house – talk about taking it to the next level! Someone tell these guys to chill.
Speaking of outlaws, you’ve got plenty of those in Red Dead Redemption 2. And like in the game, they roamed around in gangs raising Hell in the West. The Doolin-Daltin gang was very real, and has my favorite alternate name: the Oklahombres. See, people over 100 years ago had cheesy humor too! They sound a lot like the Van Der Linde gang, known for robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains . Apparently, some considered leader Bill Doolin a wild west Robin Hood, not unlike how Dutch’s gang consider themselves. After all, the Van Der Linde motto is “We shoot fellers as need shooting, save fellers as need saving, and feed ‘em as need feeding.”
Or what about Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch? They’re one of the more famous outlaw gangs, known for robbing similar targets as the Van Der Linde gang. And just like Dutch and his damned plan to get to Tahiti, well, the fellows in the Wild Bunch had the same idea. They were being chased by Pinkertons, but several members of the gang managed to flee to Argentina.
Let’s just hope there was no real-life equivalent of the Murfree Brood or the Skinner Brothers! I shudder at the thought!
With all the shooting in Red Dead Redemption, you know Rockstar made sure the guns in the game are period accurate. But brace yourselves, history buffs: they are a Hell of a lot more expensive in the game than they were in real life. Let’s browse an old-timey gun catalog for proof (and yes, you could buy a gun from a catalog)!
In around 1899, a 12-gauge double barrel shotgun would go for anywhere from 7 dollars to almost 20 dollars . Talk about cheap! In Red Dead 2, the standard double-barreled shotgun comes at a starting price of 95 bucks.
If shotguns aren’t your thing, the Winchester Repeating Rifle, with its lever action for fast shooting, would run you around $11 or $12. That Winchester is the basis for the Lancaster Repeater found in Red Dead Redemption 2, which starts at a whopping 135 dollars in-game!
The Springfield Rifle and Carcano Rifle share the names of the real-life guns they’re modeled after. Sometimes, Rockstar just takes creative liberties with their names, and sometimes they aren’t so creative with their names either.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll be using pistols most of the game. You can shoot em’ fast, you can dual-wield them, and there’s tons of em’ too! Both the Cattleman Revolver and Double-Action are based on models manufactured by Colt. Colt actually still makes firearms today! Back then, a typical Colt revolver wouldn’t cost more than about 15 dollars. In the game, the Cattleman and Double-Action revolvers start at $50 and $65, respectively. Of course, why bother paying any of these inflated prices? In Red Dead 2, you can just steal guns (or loot them off of corpses)! Well, at least the vivid illustrations and detailed descriptions of the firearms are period accurate!
You know what’s better than stealing guns? Stealing horses! Grand Theft Auto is to cars as Red Dead Redemption is to horses. Just like with Grand Theft Auto’s vehicles, Rockstar has outdone themselves with the accuracy and wide range of horse breeds in Red Dead 2.
There are over 20 horses in the game that you can tame and ride around on. And lemme just say, I love those big dumb dogs. The history of horses in America goes back hundreds, even thousands of years. The horses native to North Americas are believed to have died out over 10,000 years ago. New horses were reintroduced to the land with the discovery of “the New World.”
In the game, the Shire horse is a real breed like all the others. This type of horse was imported from the United Kingdom to the United States in 1885, 14 years before the game took place. So, they’d be quite the new breed around that time!
The Arabian Horse is a favorite that makes its way into Red Dead 2. I bought one for over a thousand dollars in the game, and it died almost immediately when I got ambushed…hooray! Sob story aside, it was apparently a good war steed, worthy enough to be one of George Washington’s mounts. They were introduced in the mid-1700s, so folks in the Old West would have been well-acquainted with these horses.
Other horse breeds like the Appaloosa and Mustangs are synonymous with the Wild West. The Appaloosa is a famous mount from the time, and nothing says “America” more than a Mustang or maybe not, ironically, Mustangs were imported by the Spanish, so maybe they’re not so American after all? Still, if you’re looking for a solid horse in the game, you can’t go wrong with either of these two breeds. Although, I will say, maybe head to a stable and make some changes to their mane or tail. Can’t tell you how many times I accidentally got on someone else’s horse in a crowded town and was immediately shot at. There’s no dialogue option to say “Sorry! Oops! Wrong horse!”
Of course, horses aren’t the only animals roaming around! The illustrations of the animals found on the Red Dead Redemption 2 website are reminiscent of old 19th century Britannica drawings. And the animals themselves are accurate to the period and area.
The buffalo, once an abundant species, was nearly wiped out in the Wild West, you can see these beefy boys roaming the plains of Red Dead 2, and hunt them if you’re so inclined. Nowadays, you can’t find these majestic beasts in the numbers they once were.
The Gila Monster is a venomous lizard that you can find in the southwest as well as Mexico, and in-game you can see them slithering around in the southwestern portion of the map . You can even find Panthers in the Bayou Nwa and Scarlet Meadows regions of the plan, in what we approximate as Louisiana territory. It’s great that you can see them in-game, although sadly, only a couple hundred are said to live in the United States nowadays.
And the realism doesn’t stop there. Rockstar also captured instances of America’s racism in Red Dead Redemption 2. Nearby Bolger glades are both the Braithwaites and Gray plantations, which are prominent players in the game’s story. One can deduce that they were once former slave owners, as their plantations would both be period accurate. Some allusions are more to-the-point. After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan rose in popularity, although by 1871 it had dissolved and wouldn’t return to prominence until 1915. But in Red Dead Redemption 2 you can have a random encounter with a group of Klansman. I mean, there could still have been sects around, since as we see in the game they are meeting in secret..
The game shows hints of other political issues at the time, particularly Women’s Suffrage. Although it doesn’t take a large spotlight in the game, there’s a mission where you have to escort women to a suffrage rally because their safety was not assured. In Saint Denis, a group of women protests and demand for the right to vote.
Woman’s suffrage was a topic of debate as far back as 1776, but it gained traction in the 1800s. In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls, New York, a revolutionary movement at the time . It wasn’t until 1920 that women finally gained the right to vote with the 19th amendment . It wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of those who championed the cause years before, and we get a little snapshot of this in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Perhaps on a more lighthearted note, the railroads are gradually snaking their way through the Wild West. It’s a sign of civilization getting a hold on the West, but it’s also a great innovation. In the game, you’ll see several different railroads like the Southern and Eastern Railway, as well as the Central Union Railroad. You can even see a group of men laying down tracks to expand the railroad and if you go back later in the game you can see their progress! The trains run on an in-game schedule as they would in real life, showing Rockstar’s commitment to period accuracy.
Hopefully, this article has shown you how much work went into creating the cowboy fantasy of mine and your dreams. Also, check out our Timeline of the Red Dead Redemption series!
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Credits for This Episode
Researched by: Spenser Nellis, Austin Suther
Hosted by: Sydney Amanuel
Edited by: Luis Illingworth
Polished By: Nicky Fung
Executive Producers: Carrie Miller, Fred Seibert, Jeremy Rosen
Producers: Adrian Apolonio
Project Manager: Jessica Ferrer
Head Writer: Casey Gonzalez
Graphics and Thumbnail by: Alexandria Batchelor
Programming Manager: Darrian P. Mack
ABOUT THE LEADERBOARD: Your Home For Video Game Facts! The Leaderboard offers fascinating insights, development history, tips & tricks, as well as the latest in news and commentary about your favorite games past and present. We cover a mix of AAA titles and indie releases with compelling characters and deep stories. We upload about 7 times a week Chat with us on Discord (The Leaderboard Fam) https://discord.gg/ddnfPwH.