Rockstar has made a habit of being the golden standard each generation. Their games transcend the level of quality that we get from all other games in the industry and their tireless craftsmanship begs any gamer’s respect and adoration. It’s nearly frightening how capable they are of crafting such groundbreaking titles that have the potential to send shivers down the industry’s spine. Red Dead Redemption 2 is their latest foray into blowing our collective minds and I can quite confidently say that they have achieved any goal that they possibly had with this title. You wouldn’t think that a sequel that is actually a prequel to a Wild West game would carry such praise, but they somehow still managed to do it and do it well.
You get placed in the boots of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw who is part of the Van der Linde gang led by the honourable and charismatic Dutch Van der Linde. Following a botched robbery that has placed the authority mercilessly on their tails, the gang is forced to constantly flee to avoid incarceration. The story of Red Dead Redemption 2 follows the plight of the gang and their escapades all across frontier America. The primary focus, however, is on the members of the gang and their individual arcs as they get caught up in more and more elaborate situations that stretch all across the moral spectrum. Each character wields their own individual backstory, intentions and fatal flaws and the exploration of this tightknit community is the biggest boon that the game’s story has.
You start to care about each and every person involved in this crazy tale of outlaws and robberies since the game loves to lay on the exposition thick by having a veritable mountain of dialogue and story missions. That’s not an exaggeration either because even just doing the story missions alone, you’re looking at a solid 60 hours of gameplay right there. The game really takes its time to colour in the world and the characters that you interact with by giving you the most exposure to both of those things as much as it can. You’re entrapped by this journey you’re on and you live yourself so heavily into this world that you start to gain a real connection to what is happening on screen.
This is helped along by the game’s stellar and polished writing that veers away from standard tropes in favour of giving each character their own unique personality. Arthur himself is endearing and has a frighteningly real moral trajectory as he gets placed in more and more seemingly impossible situations. Those situations vary from standard shootouts and robberies to things so frantically creative and bizarre that I dare not even mention any of them in fear of spoiling the myriad surprises. And those surprises keep on coming. I learned during the game to not expect anything because those expectations constantly get thrown out of the window and land straight on an island in the middle of nowhere.
Everything is framed so beautifully as well, using techniques that would rival anything in cinema. As I look back on this massive journey I was on, key moments get placed in front of my mind’s eye that have seared themselves into my consciousness because of how impactful they were. If you look beyond the surface story of a bunch of outlaws trying to rob their way to freedom, you will find something much deeper and more philosophical than you might have anticipated. That’s the brand of a narrative done right and while I can surely find things to nitpick and criticise, the scope of the whole experience remains astounding.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a showcase of inordinate detail that translates itself into the game’s identity. That’s quite a loaded sentence, but it’s one that perfectly sums up this colossus of a video game. Every single aspect of every single thing that can even remotely be considered relevant has been given as much attention as it can possibly allow. The level of detail here is unprecedented and something that will also continually surprise you. Rockstar went for realism with this game and they rigidly stuck to that design philosophy by making everything in the game revolve around it. Red Dead Redemption 2, despite its gung-ho outlaw appearance, is a methodical game. Bordering on simulation in many respects.
Your movements have weight to them, the environment responds to even the tiniest of changes, everything adheres to gravity as it should, animals move so naturally that you might confuse scenes with a nature documentary, each and every nook and cranny has been handcrafted and nothing is ever repeated. This adherence to realism also takes place in the gameplay and here’s where things might get divisive. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an incredibly slow game.
Most of your time will be spent on horseback as you ride to destinations and no fast travel is available outside of some stagecoaches and trains that only go between major locations. Everything has an animation tied to it, so even the simplest actions take time to do. Your inventory needs to be managed since you can only carry a set number of weapons with the rest stored on your saddle. Animal skinning is played out in its entirety and you can’t lug around a bear’s skin in your satchel, you have to put it on your horse. Looting bodies has a lengthy animation tied to it, so you can’t just go across the battlefield mashing a button and getting loot from the dead. Playing poker even has animations so you will have to witness a full game being played out instead of skipping to the good bits.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a showcase of inordinate detail that translates itself into the game’s identity.
Every single thing you do in this game takes time. And the cumulative effect of this is a game that feels slow. Here’s where the previously mentioned divisiveness comes into play. If you’re an impatient gamer that likes to be in the thick of the action and get things going as soon as possible, Red Dead Redemption 2 can be a struggle for you to get through. In a game where you’ll be spending a lot of game time riding on a trail to the next mission or destination, patience is most definitely a virtue. The game is contemplative at the best of times and its almost simulation aspects try their very best to keep you as grounded as possible.
You have three bars to maintain namely your health, stamina and dead eye. These bars have “cores” that slowly deteriorate the more you use them. For instance, if you sprint a lot, your stamina will drain and your core will eventually run out making your stamina recovery much slower. You maintain this by eating food and using various items, which definitely gives the game a survival aspect to it. It’s not overbearing, but if you want to be in optimal condition, you have to set up camp to eat some meat or take a nap. In a game of crazy outlaws and standoffs, taking a nap is definitely a weird direction. But it works.
The combination of all this makes for a game that is so immersive that you can easily lose yourself in the fantasy. Besides, the game also throws some high octane scenarios and random events your way to keep things interesting and not just you looking at the backside of a horse. The level of detail was done like this for its immersive qualities and it’s completely understandable if someone finds this approach boring. We are used to instant gratification and having to wait around or take long horse trips up mountains is a far cry from the manic experiences we’ve come to expect. But if you embrace the methodical nature of the game, as I have, you’ll find something truly beautiful.
Let’s also not forget, you get to shoot a lot of people in the game and thankfully that shooting is also fun. What makes it unique is, surprisingly, how complex it is. Guns respond how they should meaning that lever-action rifles need to be pumped each time before being able to shoot again, revolvers need to be cocked between shots and can only be rapidly fired from the hip and sniper rifle scopes are blurry and difficult to see through. It adds another dynamic to the whole shooting extravaganza by making you wrestle with your guns instead of them blindly obeying you. Regardless of that, the combat is always exciting and shooting enemies off horses has never felt more satisfying.
Since this is a Rockstar game, the sheer variety of activities and things to do is borderline overwhelming. I’m going to ramble off a few of the activities that you have available to you. Hunting, fishing, poker, dominoes, dressing up, bathing, theatre shows, stalking legendary animals, gun customisation, homestead management, lengthy side-missions, debt collecting, flower picking, crafting, train robberies, stagecoach robberies, random strangers on the side of the road, fencing stolen goods, drinking, sleeping and even growing your beard out. There is absolutely no shortage of ways to occupy yourself and each of these activities is in accordance with the game’s theme of stellar craftsmanship. Hundreds of hours can be spent between the various side activities and the main story, making this one of the most robust Rockstar titles yet. Gunning for a full completion would be an errand that only the foolhardy and the brave would take on, but every minute of doing that will be completely worth it because you want to spend as much time as possible in the game’s world.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is worth every second of your time and every dime in your pocket.
Red Dead Redemption 2‘s world is astonishingly gorgeous. This is the best-looking game I’ve ever witnessed, bar none. Screenshots do not do the game justice as you need to see everything in motion to truly comprehend how stunning this world is. What further astounds me is that this is an open-world game and this world is gigantic in size as well, with distinctly different locations. When you thought you saw everything, you get plunged into a brand new location with even more things to stare at in awe. The vistas are the stuff of poetry and to see the looming giant mountains in the distance or a quiet lake never gets old. You can quite easily just spend a full day touring around the country and stopping at all the interesting landmarks or vantage points along your way. It baffles my mind how they managed to achieve such a technical feat on consoles and this is certainly the standard that games will now aim to reach.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a marvel. A monolith and shrine to what games are capable of. Throughout my tireless journey with this game where it took me to unlikely places, made me fall in love with unlikely outlaws and took my breath away at every turn, I could not find much to fault. Anything I found would be instantly drowned by the surrounding brilliance that it would be nothing short of foolish to focus on an innocuous fault that has no real bearing. Rockstar has made history again and it was my pleasure to be able to experience the labour of their love. If you’re looking for your money’s worth, you need not fret even for a millisecond since this is the epitome of value. Let’s also not forget that an entire online component is waiting for us as well, Red Dead Redemption 2 is worth every second of your time and every dime in your pocket.