Yesterday's Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer finally gave us starved fans some answers about the upcoming game. But, as opposed to expectations, it wasn't accompanied by any kind of longer press release detailing further aspects of the game. We finally know a bit about the story, but gameplay specifics or information about the setting were not provided. The location is still mostly a mystery.
The trailer itself does give several hints, however, based on which we can begin speculation.
The main hint dropped is a voice line saying "We have lawmen in three states after us", which indicates the game's map will encompass three states in the US. Whereas Red Dead Redemption took place in the south of America, in a fictional version of Texas, as well as Mexico with the border cutting the map in half lengthwise, the upcoming game has been described as taking place in "America's unforgiving heartland".
Now, depending on how literally we take heartland, Rockstar is sending us mixed messages. However, we shouldn't take their words at face value, and the heart of America in this context probably isn't the middle. The trailer's vistas and that one leaked map from years ago both suggest the map will actually be located to the southeast of the United States.
First guesses based on merely the "heartland" descriptor and nothing more would pin the map in and around Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, which would place the action of Red Dead Redemption 2 far away from the setting of what is its continuation, Red Dead Redemption, since the upcoming game is a prequel.
However a number of factors punch holes into this theory. The locales shown off in the trailer, primarily the location of a bayou obviously modeled on Lousiana, coupled with the fact that the story has direct ties to the previous (next?) game means the setting cannot be, at least entirely, set in those states.
One theory is that the trailer has seemingly confirmed the legitimacy of the leaked map, pinpointing similarities and lining up locations. Settlement names, such as Cornwall have been aligned, as well as landmarks and geography lining up, such as the train tracks shown in the map seemingly appearing in the footage. The bayou being a similarity too.
However, at the same time, a name like Cornwall on its own is too generic to be a big "a-ha!" moment of proof, and the other similarities just "seem" to correlate. The fact that the swamp was included does strengthen the case of the leaked map, as do some shared landmarks with the map from Red Dead Redemption, since the story will likely see us revisit at least a few familiar places.
Another thing to consider is that the leaked map doesn't seem to include all the biomes seen in the trailer, nor does the landscape of it fit a Western title. It's mostly coastal and a large chunk is dominated by the bayou. Thing is, without knowing the scale of the leaked map, it gives the impression of being small, and doesn't fit the heartland description.
Our guess is that even if the leaked map is legit, two things make it an unreliable source to base theories on.
Firstly, it's very likely just a snippet of the map, possibly one of the three referenced states. It's possible that the states which will comprise Red Dead Redemption 2's world aren't even bordering one another, and the map isn't a single massive open world, but rather three large areas. Games have done this before, with early Assassin's Creed games and more recently The Witcher 3 being good examples, and technically these are all still open-world games. Nothing Rockstar said so far indicates Red Dead Redemption 2 will be a single seamless map instead of three maps in between which you can travel.
The other reason the leaked map's legitimacy may be irrelevant is the time that has passed. The map first leaked over three years ago, which in game development time is a long time, and after all Red Dead Redemption 2 has also been delayed once already. Even if the map is legit, the chance that it hasn't changed drastically in three years of development is small. It might be a good reference for theory-crafting and brainstorming, but you can be 100% sure that even if it was originally legit, the map will not look like that in the release version of the game.
Another theory that comes from our own forums is that the three states in the map will be Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. These picks better fit the criteria of aligning with the trailer's locations, being close to the locations of the previous game, and offering a wide variety of biomes. However, again it feels too southeastern to truly fit the "heartland" description.
Our own theory is that none of these get the picture quite right, but rather the actual map will be an amalgamation of these ideas.
We're operating on the hypothesis that Rockstar isn't sticking to a single massive map, but rather sectioning up the three states into their own maps, kind of like the regions of our previous example, The Witcher 3's Skellige, Velen and White Orchard. Players worried this will mean three smaller maps instead of one big one need only play that game to have their worries quelled. Knowing Rockstar, this will mean that instead of one stupidly big map we get three reasonably big maps, the sum of which equates to more map than the one big one.
Cutting up the game world in this manner would have several benefits.
Rockstar could stick to real geography better instead of taking huge liberties with the landscape of the USA in order to cram wildly different biomes and environments next to one another, resulting in a desert, a swamp, and snowy mountains all being within 15 minutes by horse of one another, which is far from immersive and realistic.
By making the three states three different maps, the developers can give all three distinct atmospheres and feels, fill them with unique animals and characters, set up unique character dynamics and develop independent side-stories for each that feel authentic to the location it is based on, drawing on real history. This would also remove the necessity of picking three neighboring states, allowing them to pick and choose the three which best fir their needs sans restrictions.
Lousiana is pretty much a guarantee. With the iconic bayou and its gators appearing in the trailer, we'd be hugely surprised if it wasn't used as the basis of one of the game's fictional states. Let us swing back to the leaked trailer here - it showed a city called New Bordeaux as a faux New Orleans. This is notable because 2K's Mafia 3 also featured a city called New Bordeaux as a faux New Orleans. Since it is also a game published by Take-Two, some took this as confirmation and an initiative to unify the two franchises and developers, however for others it was a red flag, and we fall into the latter camp.
Since Red Dead Redemption 2's story will focus on Dutch's gang from the first game, but with a different roster since Arthur Morgan is involved, chances are some familiar locations will be revisited. Mexico is out of the picture based on the game's description, so that leaves New Austin and West Elizabeth. This leaves the third state as a blank slate, and in that regard our guess is good as anyone's.
Hopefully Rockstar will be revealing further details about the game more frequently from now on, considering the Spring 2018 launch window is rapidly approaching and in spite of the new trailer, we still have a lot of questions about the game. When they do, we'll see which of these theories turns out to be true.