Highly anticipated: Early hands-on impressions of Red Dead Redemption 2 paint a picture of a game that's even more vast and detailed than Grand Theft Auto V. The attention to detail here is unlike anything we've seen before and I personally can't wait to give it a go.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most anticipated games of the year (arguably more so than Battlefield V and Black Ops 4 despite the fact that both of those franchises are getting a battle royale mode for the first time). We’ve seen the first gameplay trailer and heard about the online mode but now, we’re getting some hands-on gameplay impressions and boy does it sound good.

GameSpot has posted a 22-minute video with feedback on its time with the game (it’s staff had about two hours of hands-on time). Feel free to watch the entire clip but the biggest takeaway for me was how overwhelmingly personable and relatable the game world felt. In Grand Theft Auto V, for example, you can perform obnoxious / dangerous / creepy actions and NPCs may hardly react. In Red Dead Redemption 2, the whole world feels much more alive.

Polygon also got a sense of this in their time with the game:

It’s a game tailor-made for Twitch, with thrilling action set-pieces like a train robbery that are juxtaposed with quiet interpersonal moments such as the one I described above — unscripted moments that most players probably won’t see, except in clips on Twitter or YouTube. When you go off the beaten path to explore the nooks and crannies of this sprawling world, your actions will reverberate à la the butterfly effect, and you could find your own special little moments that might be unique to your experience (or that of a small subset of players).

None of that is necessarily unexpected or new, but the subtle ways in which the developers at Rockstar Studios make this Wild West world feel truly alive combine to produce a game with a potentially unprecedented scope and verisimilitude. In other words, Rockstar looks to be raising the bar yet again for the genre it essentially invented a decade and a half ago with Grand Theft Auto 3.

IGN in its video reaction recounts the three main parts of the game it got to experience starting with a mission titled, “Who the hell is Leviticus Cornwall?” This mission is presumably set early in the game and involves robbing a train. Things don’t exactly go according to plan but it’s here that you get to experience the game’s honor system – are you a good guy or a bad guy? These choices will have an impact on the overall game – both good and bad – which make it feel much more malleable.

Andrew Webster with The Verge had a serious connection with his horse:

I’ve played countless hours of Grand Theft Auto and the rest of Rockstar’s impressive catalogue of games, which has involved speeding across Los Santos and Liberty City in everything from sports cars to speedboats to long-haul trucks. But I’ve never felt a connection to any of those vehicles. Certainly nothing approaching the way that I felt for my horse after recently playing two hours of Rockstar’s upcoming Western epic Red Dead Redemption 2.

The steed I had during my time with the game had a white body with a grey mane and tail, which gave her a distinguished look. More importantly, she was incredibly easy-going; according to Rockstar, you build a bond with the animals over time, and this one apparently already had a great relationship with Arthur. You can forge that connection simply by riding the horse, but you also have the option to fawn over it, by feeding, petting, or brushing it. As that relationship deepens, the horse will learn new abilities. The one I rode could skid around corners at high speed, like a racecar, and even knew a bit of dressage. The horses can also die, and they stay dead, making the bond feel even more precarious and meaningful.

For Forbes’ Dave Thier, it’s all in the details, and Rockstar has gone to great lengths to load Red Dead Redemption 2 full of them:

This is what I’ve seen of Red Dead Redemption 2: a series of reasonable answers to a list of simple questions so long that it appears infinite. If you kick a rock does it fall down a hill? Of course it does, what sort of a question is that? If you yell at the drunk in the bar, will he fight you? How should I know? Depends on the drunk. If your character fires a revolver from the hip, does he smash the hammer every time he loads up a new shot? Of course he does, that’s how a revolver works.

There are, of course, seams. I could guess at some in my limited time and I’m sure I’ll see more when I dive into the final version. Does the dead animal carcass decay smoothly in real time, slowly falling to pieces over in-game weeks? Do small bits of it disappear as rats and bugs nick away at the decaying flesh? Probably not. But: it does decay. You might see the seams if you stand over a dead deer and stream the game on twitch for two days straight. Rockstar is hoping you don’t, and this is a reasonable hope.

One last hands-on special, this time from GamesRadar (this one is more than an hour long so buckle in):

Red Dead Redemption II launches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 26, 2018.