The release of the original Red Dead Redemption in 2010, along with the Undead Nightmare expansion, left players wanting more of everything. More shootouts and saloon fights. More eccentric and wily characters. More riding horseback through the vast, open world of the western frontier. And while it was a long eight years, Rockstar made sure that the wait was well worth it – albeit not without some controversy. Red Dead Redemption 2 immerses players in the grueling world of the wild west with familiar gameplay dynamics that have been taken to the next level to not only make Red Dead Redemption 2 an easy favorite for game of the year, but also Rockstar’s crowning achievement to date.
Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan, who starts the game as the right-hand man to gang leader Dutch van der Linde. After a ferry heist goes awry, the gang is forced to flee the town of Blackwater and live a life on the run from the law and others hellbent on seeing the gangs’ demise. The gang performs various odd jobs and heists to fund their survival, but Dutch’s leadership and decisions eventually begin to take their toll on Arthur, who starts to question Dutch's intentions. Red Dead Redemption 2 features many of the characters from the first game – including primary protagonist, John Marston – with the story ultimately tying into the beginning of the original game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 brings with it new realistic gameplay mechanics for maintaining Arthur’s well-being. Failing to eat for a few hours results in Arthur becoming hungry and sluggish. Horses must be groomed and cared for in order to be most effective for speed and travel. While this sim-style element might seem like a chore, it ultimately aids in pulling players into the world and grounding their experience with a sense of realism.
Those familiar with Rockstar’s recipe for game narratives will immediately feel right at home. The extensive amount of side-quests alone will keep players busy well beyond the 60-hours of primary story content. Although some of the optional missions do not necessarily have much to do with the main storyline, they still intertwine enough to shape the surrounding world and time-period. Most importantly, the missions and side-quests are fun. Bounty hunting; escorting characters to nearby towns; large-scale shootouts; Red Dead Redemption 2 manages to make each mission feel fresh and fun to play. Believe it or not, Rockstar has even managed to make something as mundane as fishing enjoyable, if not for anything other than appreciating the surrounding scenery while waiting for a bite.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s visuals are astounding. Considering the size of the map – which takes 16 minutes to cross on horseback from one end to the other – and keeping in mind that the game features a vastly underdeveloped western world, it should come as no surprise that traveling from one point to another comes with a lot of wide, open terrain. While this may make travel seem boring and tedious (admittedly, one of my own personal gripes from the original game), Red Dead Redemption 2 does a stellar job of keeping players engaged with ever-changing weather, authentic architecture, and gorgeous, sprawling landscapes and scenery. While it may seem like there is not much to do in such a vast open-world, the game does a superb job in balancing random interactions and mini-games along the trails.
Red Dead Redemption 2 improves upon the original with its focus on player choices. Whenever Arthur crosses paths with an NPC, players can choose how they want to interact with them: either warmly or antagonistically. Each decision will result in its own outcome, such as a potential shootout if the NPC is antagonized. The outcome will also ultimately have an effect on Arthur’s honor, which directly impacts item discounts and unlockable outfits. A higher rating results in better discounts at stores and unlockable outfits, whereas a low (or even negative) ranking will increase money and item drop rates from dead NPCs.
While more money and better drop rates may sound tempting, players should keep in mind that every action in the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 comes with a price. Often, quite literally. In the same way that the Grand Theft Auto series has treated crimes within its cities, Red Dead Redemption 2 makes sure to punish offending players by sending lawmen and designating players with the “Wanted” label, which can be paid off via bribes. These are likely to occur more so in populated towns, but even along the lonely trail, NPCs might witness a player’s deed and speed off to report the crime. Players can choose to try and stop the witness by either threatening them or by taking them out through more violent means. This brief encounter is a simple, yet effective detail that provides a genuinely fun feeling of panic. And ultimately, that is what Red Dead Redemption 2 does best.
No small detail is overlooked. It is the collection of countless minor details that makes Red Dead Redemption 2 so captivating. It is unbelievably satisfying watching horses trudge through miles of deep snow en route to a mission, only to find the same player-made snow trail upon returning to the mission’s point of origin. Throw a corpse into the river, and the body will continue on until it gets stuck, or flows into a lake at the mouth of the river. And last, but not least: hats. Hats easily fly off in the heat of a shootout or during a bar fight, but any hat can be picked up and worn by Arthur. Collecting hats across the western frontier might be one of the most satisfying, unofficial mini-games within Red Dead Redemption 2. In fact, as of this writing, the topic of hats was actually trending for the game on Twitter.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was worth the wait. With so much to do in the game, we will likely be uncovering easter eggs and more secrets for years to come – as is standard for most Rockstar titles. If the main game is any indication, Red Dead Online will be absolute chaos. And we cannot wait. Red Dead Redemption 2 delivers well-and-above what anyone expected, showcasing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the wild west in one of the most detailed and entertaining games of 2018.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is now available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A copy of the game was purchased by The Gamer for this review.
5 out of 5 stars.