Red Dead Redemption 2

One of the most cherished memories of my childhood, and my father, is the night when I was 12 years old and he let me stay up late to watch Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with him. Burt Lancaster’s turn as the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp was my first taste of the wild west, and I’ve been fascinated by the accounts of antiheroes like him, and Doc Holliday, ever since. There’s something real and true in the moral ambiguity of frontier justice, where things aren’t always so black and white, sometimes even the good guys aren’t so great, and maybe it’s all just a matter of perspective in the end.  Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar Studios’ latest entry in their beloved Red Dead franchise, nails that truth in a way no other game, in any other genre, ever has.

 

I DON’T HAVE FRIENDS, I HAVE FAMILY A GANG

Set in 1899, some 12 years before the events of the original Redemption, Red Dead 2 takes place in a fictional region of the southwestern United States and focuses on Arthur Morgan, the right hand of gang leader Dutch Van der Linde and his band of outlaws. Fresh on the run from a heist gone horribly wrong, our journey begins in the snowy mountains as Arthur and company work frantically to find their lost, heal their wounded, and keep the whole gang moving forward lest the long arm of the law find them, or the gale force blizzard bury them. Throughout this prologue area we learn how to ride, hunt, cook, track, and fight, but mostly we learn about the odd assortment of family, friends and even adversaries that make up the Van der Linde Gang.

It’s the kind of group one might expect to collect when living on the edge of both the law and civilized society, where loyalty counts more than anything and a willingness to steal, con or even kill are the only qualifications you need. There are more than a dozen members of the gang, and everyone’s looking to pull their own jobs; Arthur, as second in command, of course gets thrown into the thick of it all time and again. Most of the missions you undertake in Red Dead Redemption 2 revolve around helping other members contribute to the collective survival and prosperity of the gang. Hosea needs your help with a hunt; Javier has an idea for how to rustle some horses and knows just who you can sell them to on the down low; Uncle just wants to sell you bad tips for booze money.

 

Red Dead 2 does a fantastic job of fleshing out each of these characters and allowing you to connect with them on personal terms, rather than simply using them as vectors to point you towards different goals. Over the course of the game I came to greatly prefer working with a select few members of the gang, and found myself avoiding others, based solely on my desire to interact with them. I’d put off doing a big score with Micah just so I could go hang out with Hosea a little more, and often found myself intentionally steering clear of Uncle while in camp just to avoid his beggar’s pitch. It’s rare, for me, that the personalities of NPCs so directly affect the choices I make in a game, but Rockstar invests a lot of time in building these characters into something much more than mission waypoints.

 

TAKE A MOMENT AND BREATHE

One of the reasons Rockstar is so successful in this is that they commit so fully to it, taking all the time they need to let these relationships develop organically. A significant portion of the first 20 hours of game time is dedicated to building bonds within the gang and easing you into the world, and Red Dead 2 has no problem developing, even relishing in, the small moments, not just between characters but between Arthur and the larger world that surrounds him.

Everything is so deliberately paced that, at first, it was a bit off-putting. This world is so big, and beautiful, and I wanted to see it all right now, but I was soon forced to realize that this game moves at its own pace and won’t be rushed for anything. Once I learned to relax and soak in all the little details around me, I realized what an intelligent design decision it really was. Instead of becoming bored by the methodical pace, I was seeing, hearing and experiencing things that I otherwise would have completely missed if I’d been able to plow ahead at full speed, only ever mindful of the next objective; an overheard conversation between two other members that became relevant later on, or a potentially good hunting ground I’d want to note on my map for later.

The biggest payoff to all these small moments, though, is that it made the big, dramatic moments bigger, more dramatic, and more believable. There’s an authenticity to this world, and the people who inhabit it, that I didn’t think an open world game was capable of, and it’s because Rockstar took the time to lay that ground work.

 

WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE

The game isn’t all small moments, of course. There’s work to be done, trains to be hijacked, banks to be robbed, businessmen to be fleeced, and a great big world to explore. Arthur is competent and thorough, but in his particular line of work bullets start flying more often than not and you’ve got to be a crack shot if you want to make it out of most jams.

Combat in Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolute pleasure. An evolution of the cover-based shooting mechanics they’ve been working on since 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV, with just a dash of Max Payne thrown in for the hell of it, gunplay in Red Dead 2 is fast, brutal, weighty and incredibly gratifying. You’ll start out with a basic assortment of firearms (a revolver, a repeater and a sawed-off shotgun), but even these simple weapons feel satisfying to use; I’m still using the first repeater I acquired, some 50 hours in, simply because I like the way it handles.

Once everybody in your way is dead or run off, you’re still not in the clear. While this is the wild west, there’s still law out here and they will inevitably be called in to investigate, assuming they weren’t who you were shooting at to begin with. Depending on the circumstances of your disagreeable encounter, you can bluff investigating deputies by choosing to speak before shooting, using dialogue options to try and persuade them to leave you alone. Failing that (or that simply not being an option in the first place) you’ll get a wanted bounty on your back for the particular state you’re in. Each state tracks bounties separately, much the way games like Skyrim track them separately between holds, meaning that one option for evading the law is simply to flee to another jurisdiction. However, unlike GTA games, your wanted level doesn’t disappear once you have. Bounties remain on your head permanently, and your only option is to pay them off at any post office.

 

Being an outlaw can be expensive, too. Even one moderately big gunfight with the law can leave you with a price of over $200 on your head, and in a game where literally every penny counts, it pays to be discreet at least some of the time. If you’ve been disreputable enough, you’ll even wind up with a Wanted: Dead or Alive bounty, which means that the law will attempt to murder you on sight. It’s a fun mechanic that can change the way you play, simply because you may not have enough money to pay off your bounty in the state where you want to pull a job, so you’ve got to go earn some cash elsewhere before you can get where you want to go. It adds a sense of weight and consequence to your actions, so that you can’t just go around shooting every poor sap you come across.

 

A HORSE AND HIS BOY

As I mentioned earlier, this is a game that revels in the small moments, and one of the best examples of this is the bond you form with your horse. Unlike other open world affairs with horses, such as Skyrim or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 are not interchangeable. Each horse is unique, with their own stats, and their own personal relationship with you. Anytime you acquire/purchase a new horse, your bond with them starts at 1, with a maximum level of 4. At each bonding interval, you unlock perks for that horse, such as the ability to skid, or rear, or recall them from greater distances. Your horse can be trained not to run at the sound of gunfire, or to buck you if they get scared. They can even learn to come galloping to your rescue in the heat of battle. If they like you.

You increase your bond simply by doing all the things you would to bond with a horse in real life; cleaning and brushing, feeding, showing affection, and spending time together. There are even special treats you can purchase, such as peppermints, to greatly speed up this process, but mostly it comes down to developing a natural affinity for the animal and its quirks and perks. Some people might find it irritating to always be performing maintenance on a horse, but I took no small joy in keeping my horses well fed and clean, and almost always stopped at the stables when in town to pick up more treats.

It is, of course, possible to tame and ride almost any horse in the big country of Red Dead 2, but even if animal bonding isn’t your strong suit there’s still plenty of reason to always keep your own horse close at hand. Only your horse can store and carry your gear, including extra sets of clothing should the weather change suddenly, additional weapons and supplies, your lasso and, of course, your hat.

 

CORE SYSTEMS

As you and your horse spend time roaming the countryside or galloping away from enemies, you’ll both increase various base stats that determine things such as health, stamina, and your Dead Eye ability, which can be used in the heat of combat to target multiple enemies at once and dispatch them with a flurry of bullets.

These base stats are known as your cores. They are represented by icons inside your various meters, and they determine not only the size of your health and stamina meters, but how quickly they drain and refill. Your cores are also affected differently than their corresponding meters, too. For example, getting shot in a gunfight might drain your health meter, but not your health core. Not eating, or getting enough sleep, however, will drain your core, which will affect how quickly your health meter can be replenished. Additionally, any time a meter is drained, you can continue to use up any resources that your core represents, acting as an extension of its corresponding gauge.

It all seemed a bit convoluted at first, and too complex for its own good, but it begins to make sense after awhile as an analogue for how our real systems work; we can push ourselves very hard for short periods, and recover very quickly without too much effort, but if we continually punish or neglect our bodies it begins to take a serious toll on our ability to function. The core systems feature of Red Dead Redemption 2 perfectly encapsulates that. It’s not intuitive, but only because no one’s ever really thought to try this before. I have a feeling that will change, though, and we’ll see other games aping this mechanic before long.

 

IT’S THE OUTLAW LIFE FOR ME

I could go on about the systems and features of this game forever (honestly, I’ve really only scratched the surface here) but I don’t want to give away too much, because this is truly the kind of game that needs to be experienced to believed. More importantly, it’s no one mechanic or idea that makes Red Dead Redemption 2 so special. What does make it so special, and one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played, is how flawlessly it all comes together to create an experience that encapsulates the human condition in a way few, if any, games ever have. There’s an authenticity to Red Dead Redemption 2, a feeling that you’re actually a small part of a much bigger world, and one that doesn’t necessarily value or desire your presence; something that makes you take comfort in the small part of it you’ve managed to carve out for yourself and want to fight to protect it. Arthur’s story is one of a man who feels civilization closing in on him like a noose around his neck, and he’s not about to let that happen so long as he draws free air.

The game is not without its flaws, such as some AI pathfinding issues, a few graphical hitches, and some convoluted menus, but they pale in comparison to the technical and narrative achievement that is on display here. A game of unparalleled scope and ambition, with breathtaking visuals, a broad-ranging but intimate story, and an incredible sense of identity and purpose, Red Dead Redemption 2 will go down as one of the greatest games of the generation, and perhaps video game history.

Publisher:
Rockstar Games
Developer:
Rockstar Studios
Genre:
Open World
Release Date:
October 26, 2018
Final Rating:
10.0


 

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frostface
frostface
2 years ago

Too many great games coming out this year, I can’t keep up with them all. Deadly review.

Ryan Hartmann
Ryan Hartmann
2 years ago
Reply to  frostface

Thanks, Frosty!

Gavin McMahon
Gavin McMahon
2 years ago

The game is great but I couldn’t personally score a ten because of the sloppy qte’s, missed button prompts, lack of direction on the on-screen map as in following someone through a fast horse pursuit only to lose them because your on-screen map is only vaguely telling where go, by which time you have lost them.

The lack of general explanation overall is annoying, and even the pace that your character walks is annoyingly slow.

However, the game is amazing to look at and the detail is simply amazing, being possibly the most indepth rpg/sim I’ve played.

I think I’ll end up ignoring and getting used to these issues, so ask me again in a month and I’ll most likely be singing it’s 10/10 praises. So while it’s fresh in my mind, these are my initial niggles.

There are other lil niggles but i would be spoiling the game if i continued.

frostface
frostface
2 years ago
Reply to  Gavin McMahon

I’ve not played the game myself so I can’t make comments on the game. But I don’t think any game is 100% perfect and for any game to get a 10/10, there’s still going to be niggles. For that reason I can’t say I’m a big fan of assigning numbered ratings to games when there’s sites who work off a ‘Recommended’ or ‘Must Buy’ scale. For me that allows a game to be great but also room to point out the games small imperfections. Also, a game getting a 7 or 8 out of 10 could still be a very good game worth checking out but how many of these people won’t even entertain a game below a 9.

I think there’s room for improvement in how games are rated.

Gavin McMahon
Gavin McMahon
2 years ago
Reply to  frostface

Well yes. The 10/10 only mean very very very good these days, nothing is perfect.
But my issues are one that have plagued R* since GTA3, but then at least those cars reversed. Ever try reversing a stage coach that is inches away from the drop off point only to have to restart from the last check point because you were unable to get it quite right and ended up killing two people while parking.. Twice.
At least the check points arnt too far away from where you think it should have saved, and if it didn’t then I can guarantee that the next or even the retry after that, you will nail the mission.. Or it will go so horrendously wrong that you will just go with it, and hope for the best.

Like a situation where you have someone asleep in a bed in the house you are robbing at night, at the bottom of the bed theres a chest, you get near the chest and a button prompt flashes up asking to search the chest.. only to then change to what you want to do to the person in the bed.
no, you want to look in the chest, but now no matter how much you creep, run, walk up to the chest, you really can’t get the game to prompt that chest info any more, it’s only about the person in the bed.
I ended up pressing the wrong button, and literally ran across the bedroom floor and threw myself out the top floor window.. This ‘weirdly’ alerted that sleeping person, and now they are screaming.. All ends up with a mound of bodies, two from the house and three possible eye witnesses, lol…

Also I’m finding the restarts in the missions becoming unnecessary and the horse crashes a little too sensitive, especially when it’s obviously a mistake that you rode into them, but then everyone starts shooting at you, even though you can diffuse most conversations going south, there are certain circumstances that you can’t, it’s a shame.

But these are my own unconditioned feelings of a new game that I haven’t even begun to master yet, give me a week and I’ll probably wonder why I was moaning so much..

I forgive many games, too many. And I’m being hard on RDR2 because of the incredible reviews it’s had, but don’t get me wrong.. I am really enjoying it and the stories to be told of the wtf moments are at times awesome.

Rogueagent01
Rogueagent01
2 years ago
Reply to  frostface

I have no problem with number ratings, but i do think either 0-100 or 0.0-10.0 are needed to account for any flaws a game has. Any critic who uses a flat 0-5 point or star based system never gets my attention.

I have argued with a lot of people over the years about perfect scores. Me personally i don’t believe one should ever be given, since imo that implies that no one will ever make a better game in that genre. I feel gaming is still in its infancy and will continue to grow by leaps & bounds over the next 50 to 100 years, and because of that a perfect score is just unacceptable to me at this time, at least from a critic.

I don’t hold the same standards to user reviews, since i have seen some users stick wholeheartedly to one game for over a decade. Now i believe they are being truly sincere in their personal assessment of whatever game it is they claimed is a 10 out of 10.

I hold each to different standards, since one is just a personal opinion versus the other being essentially a marketing tool that is intended to influence consumers minds.

Sorry for the wall of text.

frostface
frostface
2 years ago
Reply to  Rogueagent01

I tend to think a buy or miss recommendation is more than enough. Isn’t that really what we’re looking for when we read a review? Is a game worth getting or not?

Rogueagent01
Rogueagent01
2 years ago
Reply to  frostface

For me a Buy or Pass system would pretty much never work. See i have only found less then a handful of critics that i could trust with that style system(in 35 years of gaming). Most critics don’t look at games the same way i do and because of that i prefer a detailed number system. That is also why i tend to not even check the scores if the reviews are detailed enough(i didn’t even notice this was given a 10 till just now).

I don’t see 10s handed out like candy here, so don’t take anything i’m saying personally. And Ryan i read your explanation and understand it.

Ben and the contributors that have taken his place are the only reviews that i read and respect. I have on the rare occasion checked out a review from other sites and always find them irritating for one reason or another. I used to tell Ben that he was the only critic that i would bother to read, as his taste in games and his writing highlighted many of the things i looked for. The contributors here now have taken the torch and even improved upon what he did. Hell, this review almost sold me! Then i remembered my experience with the first one and was quickly brought back to reality.

Ryan Hartmann
Ryan Hartmann
2 years ago
Reply to  Rogueagent01

No worries, Rogue, I knew what you meant and didn’t take anything personally 🙂 I’m glad to have been of help in your buying decisions over the past few years!

Ryan Hartmann
Ryan Hartmann
2 years ago
Reply to  Rogueagent01

I felt this way for a long time, and until God of War earlier this year I never gave any game a 10. I handed out my share of 9.8s and 9.9s, but for 16 years never gave a perfect score.

My thinking has changed on that a bit, though I actually agree with Frosty in thinking that things would probably be better if no outlets scored games and just let the actual review do the talking, because I’d much rather talk about the review, or the game itself, with you guys rather than the score 🙂

Ryan Hartmann
Ryan Hartmann
2 years ago
Reply to  Gavin McMahon

Hey Gavin! Thanks for reading! First and foremost that’s what it’s all about, so thank you for your feedback 🙂

I get where you are coming from, I do, but I made a judgment call based on the fact that while there are some minor irritants or bugs, they are seriously outweighed by all the things this game does right.

It’s not an easy game to get into, and I hope you keep playing, because I think you will see the brilliance in the design eventually, the same way I did.

It’s not perfect, but I’ve come to realize, after giving God of War a perfect score, that you don’t have to be perfect to be perfect, if that makes sense. You just have to do it better than anyone else ever has.

When it comes to the western, to the open world, and to open-ended narrative, I truly believe that Red Dead 2 does it better than anyone else ever has. That is why it got what I believe is a well deserved, and very rare (especially for me) perfect 10.

Again, thanks for reading! I love feedback from our readers. This is why we do what we do, so seriously, thank you 🙂

Gavin McMahon
Gavin McMahon
2 years ago
Reply to  Ryan Hartmann

Cheers Ryan, I didn’t say before but I did really enjoy your review.

As I play more and more I forgive more because I discover more that distracts me from those times I feel screwed over. Its totally GTA all over again.. Sounds like a complaint but its not, not really.
I found poker last night… I hate card games in video games, normally they put some twist on the game or just reinvent it. This is poker, and I love it.. Lost every penny i owned.

But I agree whole heartedly that I haven’t played a better Wild West game. Fps is interesting, i must try more in that mode, but overall I’m astonished at what they have achieved here. I’m glad they took the time to take the fps seriously rather than just tag it in the game in the name of fan service ala GtaV.

I still stand by what I’ve said, but even now I’m softening up about it, because the good outweighs the bad 100%. The level of detail in replacing a wagon wheel, I appreciated that. Certainly the deepest rpg that boarders on a sim that I’ve played.

Rogueagent01
Rogueagent01
2 years ago

Great review! To bad that i’ll never get it though, didn’t enjoy any part of the first one and i won’t fall for it again. One thing people should know about me, is i hate just about anything cowboy related, so that alone keeps me from most Western games. However i gave RDR a chance because of the developer and found it to be extremely boring on all levels, never even finished the game though i did make it deep into Mexico.

frostface
frostface
2 years ago

I decided to take the plunge and bought it Enjoying it for much the same reasons of nostalgia as Ryan. I don’t have a lot of complaints but I’ve had a couple of glitches, one that cost me a part of the mission causing me to fail and do again. Also there’s a lot of weight in the characters movements. Like he has weights on his ankles when he’s walking.

Also I completely get where Gavin was coming from with the slow pacing so far. (I expect this is just during the beginning of the game?)

Also not a fan of failing missions because one of my gang dies in a firefight. I’m fighting my own fight and was not told I had to babysit them. I was actually doing OK taking out the enemy then the mission failed screen appears because Lenny my crew member that I have no control over died. The games AI should be better.

TrueAssassin86x
TrueAssassin86x
2 years ago

First perfect 10 for the new site sweet ! I finally just start my game im 5 minutes in and i am enjoying it. Sorry gang but i picked it up for the Xbox 1….

Sidular
Sidular
2 years ago

Second perfect score actually. We also have God of War a 10.

Adam Jenson
Adam Jenson
1 month ago

I finally got around to playing RDR2 a few weeks ago. It’s a good game but it has some serious flaws. The controls are average to mediocre. Everything in the game feels sluggish, Arthur walks slow, runs slow, draws his gun slow, cooks slow, and so on. The control slowness will get you killed a number of times especially in the early game for no reason then that it sucks. Other problems include gun auto switching. Often when you perform an action, like skinning an animal, the game will automatically switch to another weapon seemingly at random, then you will get attacked and instead of pulling your last gun out Arthur will draw his bow, rope, or nothing at all. There are numerous little annoyances like this and there is no excuse for these in a AAA game like this.
RDR2 is a C+ to B- game. Not bad, but it has issues that should not be in a game with a pro review score of 97 from metacrtic.