- Game: Red Dead Redemption 2
- Consoles: Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed On)
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Rockstar Games
- (Red Dead Redemption 2 review copy supplied by Rockstar Games)
There’s something about Red Dead Redemption 2 that is simply awe-inspiring.
As I shuffled into town, covered in blood and claw marks, citizens stared in confusion at my raggedy appearance. After a prolonged fight with a particularly nasty bear, I had finally claimed its pelt as a reward. The butcher whom I sold the pelt too was by a shop that had a boarded up window. Two NPCs went at it last time I visited which resulted in one being tossed through the glass without me doing anything.
It’s in these small, calm moments that the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 truly comes alive. When the mundane act of returning from a quest to sell your loot fuels new stories and produces memorable moments. Even though the people living in these towns are fake, the level of detail and attention paid to, well everything, is staggering.
Developed by Rockstar Games, Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in 1899 and acts as a prequel to the events of the first game. You play Arthur Morgan, a gruff member of the Dutch Van der Linde gang. On the run, you and your band of outlaws must navigate an increasingly civilized America full of lawmen, enemy gangs, bustling towns, and harsh wildlands.
Rockstar spends a lot of time developing Morgan and his relationships with the various gang members. Unlike John Marston from the original, Morgan is an older and more weathered soul who is struggling to hold everything together. Even though Arthur is our point of view, this is very much Dutch’s and John’s tale. Acting as the gang’s father figure, it’s fascinating watching Dutch’s descent from charasmatic leader to ruthless villain over the course of the 60-hour story.
In contrast, John and Arthur see each other as brothers which can lead to some heart breaking moments. Red Dead Redemption 2 lets these interactions unfold in cutscenes and in-game dialogue. Fast traveling is limited, so you’ll spend most of your time riding along fellow gang members. This not only helps you feel more connected to the world but gives Red Dead Redemption 2 a chance to stop and breath between action set pieces.
Red Dead Redemption 2 builds a great sense of comradery amongst you and the other members of your criminal outfit. Periodically, your group will relocate and set up camp which acts as a home base. It’s from here players can change their clothes, shave, sleep, eat, craft, butcher animals, and interact with the different members of the gang.
The game goes out of its way to make you feel invested in the camp’s upkeep, but it’s never too overbearing. Most missions will have some of your money go to the gang, which you can then use to resupply their resources, along with upgrading specific parts of the camp. I rarely had to ever deposit my own cash into the camp, which is nice given how expensive items can be – especially early on.
Money can be earned by completing a variety of activities, side quests, or main story missions. There is a lot to do in Red Dead Redemption 2 outside of the core campaign and you can easily sink dozens of hours into playing poker, being a bounty hunter, hunting animals, or just getting hammered at the local saloon. All of the activities I’ve encountered are enjoyable distractions and do a good job of breaking up the carefully calculated pacing of the different missions.
Like previous Rockstar titles, side quests can be acquired a number of different ways. Sometimes there’s a clear marker for you to go to, while others pop up by interacting with random NPCs. This encourages you to stop and speak to any NPC that calls out for help or has a random event taking place. Despite all of these missions being quite linear, they offer some of the most memorable moments in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Of course, the core campaign levels are the heart and soul of this title. Surprisingly, these missions have a remarkable amount of variety to them. You won’t always be getting into big gun fights or robbing trains, as Red Dead Redemption 2 uses these levels as punctuation marks to end chapters or key moments. It’s a nice change of pace from Grand Theft Auto V’s constant frantic and chaotic design, allowing the player to really understand who the gang members are.
One early level simply revolved around Arthur and another gang member getting absolutely plastered at a bar. Your entire mission was to simply enjoy yourself and get into drunken mischief. Rockstar’s dark sense of humor is still present, but they’ve wisely reeled in the jokes a bit this time around. In its place are plot points that do a good job adding needed layers to the different characters.
Where Red Dead Redemption 2 stumbles a bit is in its combat. While the act of shooting, punching, and riding a horse all feel fantastic, the A.I. rarely presents a challenge. Most fights involve you just waiting until they decide to expose themselves so you can quickly dispatch them. They rarely display any tactics, which can make many of the fights feel like elaborate shooting galleries. Unless you’re going for level specific challenges, most of the story missions are shockingly easy.
This is a shame since there are a plethora of cool weapons and items you can use in combat. Some weapons, like the revolver and rifles, force you to really take your time and aim if you want to land consistent shots. Users can also take a stealthy option in some scenarios via silent assassinations, throwing knives, or the bow. The mechanics for sneaking around a bit limited, but it’s nice to have the option from time to time.
The Deadeye mechanic has returned from the previous installment and it’s still insanely satisfying to use. When activated, time drastically slows down and players can “paint” targets for Arthur to hit with his gun. Once completed he will quickly send out a volley of shots that hit everyone in the areas your marked. Deadeye continues to be extremely stylish and thankfully the charge rate for this ability is fairly slow. There was never an encounter where I felt like I needed Deadeye to win so you can be a bit more liberal with it in firefights.
First person mode continues to be a supremely odd addition to the game. Yes, it’s cool to see all the fine details up close, but the lack of being able to actually aim down the sights makes gunfights awkward and stilted. Thankfully, you don’t have to use this feature, but it feels weird that no real improvements have been made to how you experience the game from a different perspective.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also features a crafting system that lets you make tonics to restore your health, Deadeye, or stamina. Weapons can be upgraded and cleaned to improve their performance and there are a number of clothing sets to collect. Arthur can also wear talismans that give minor buffs, but obtaining them takes a bit of time.
Visually, this is far and away Rockstar’s best-looking game. There’s a surprising variety to the environments, as users will explore rocky mountains, industrialized cities, and dangerous swamps. All of this blends cohesively into a single world that doesn’t feature any loading screens between locations. It’s a remarkable technical achievement that towers over the competition.
The lighting in Red Dead Redemption 2 specifically deserves a ton of praise. The way the light breaks through the trees in the morning or artificial glow of lights in the city give every location a unique feeling. You’ll find yourself stopping from time to time just to marvel at the beauty of this world.
Red Dead Redemption 2 Takeaways
With over 70 hours into Red Dead Redemption 2, I still have a ton of animals to hunt, gang hideouts to destroy, and side quests to finish. The sheer level of detail to this world cannot be understated and it’s so easy to just get lost exploring. Despite the fairly simplistic combat, the unique missions and focus on developing the characters make up for any major shortcomings.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a marvel and the team behind deserves immense praise. It’s impossible not to get swept up in Arthur’s story and the ending might just make you shed a tear or two. This is not a game you just play, but one you get completely lost in.