A Wild West Masterpiece
The minute my Xbox One X let me know that Red Dead Redemption 2 was ready to be played, I booted it up instantly. My anticipation for this game was higher than it’s been for any game since Elder Scrolls V Skyrim came out in 2011. I’d been eagerly following this game since it’s first teaser trailer back in 2016. My expectations were high, and even more so when I saw that the Metacritic score (a whopping 97/100) was higher than any game of this generation. Yet despite all of this, Red Dead Redemption 2 still managed to blow me away.
I want to preface by saying that Red Dead Redemption 2 is by no means a perfect game and I will be the first to admit that. The story has pacing issues, the controls can be tedious, and riding your horse from one side of the map to the other can prove to be daunting at times. But despite all of these things, it has become one of my favorite games of all time.
Incredible Sound Quality
The first thing I noticed when booted it up for the first time was the sound quality and how well the sound editing was. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a very cinematic game, especially during the story missions, and it’s hard for me to think of a game that had better sound mixing than this one. Everything sounds crisp and incredibly immersive, even as I listened to the game through my cheap $20 headphones. I felt as though I was actually in a movie theater, or right there beside the characters every step of the way.
A Living World
The immersion of RDR2 doesn’t stop at its sound quality though. In fact, that’s just the cherry on top. Where this game really blew me away was with how alive Rockstar’s Wild West world feels. Each town in the game has its own distinct personality and character. Strawberry is a quaint little town nestled in the heart of a forest, while the city of Saint Dennis has a hustle and bustle vibe which is Rockstar’s equivalent of New Orleans in 1899. Settlements are populated with a fitting number of NPCs and the places all feel alive and lived in. Every NPC has its own day and night cycle and various houses and buildings will gradually be built up over time. and the game has over 200 species of animals that behave like they do in real life, all while living in their own ecosystems. The world as a whole is teeming with places to explore and secrets to find, all of which give more depth and character to it than any other game world I’ve ever experienced before it apart from maybe Skyrim or Witcher 3.
A Thrilling and Emotional Story
While I could go on and on about why I love the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 from its surplus of interesting characters to the fact that it’s teeming with places for the player to explore, the centerpiece of this game is it’s emotional and epic story.
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in the dying days of the Wild West and follows the Van Der Linde Gang as they are chased by the law across America, and are struggling to survive in a world they are beginning not to recognize anymore. The gang, which is more like a family in some ways, follows their charismatic leader Dutch Van der Linde while players assume the role of Arthur Morgan, Dutch’s lead enforcer. Arthur is a man who’s rough around the edges, who’s incredibly loyal to Dutch and what he believes in. As players get to know Arthur better, they begin to see the more sensitive man inside him, especially in the second half of the story when he begins his quest for redemption to atone for the mistakes of the past. Over the course of the story, it becomes increasingly difficult for Dutch, Arthur, and the other members to evade the law and rival gangs, which leads tensions beginning to rise as loyalties beginning to become questioned. This leads to the tragic downfall of the gang as players of the first Red Dead Redemption already know. Much like the first game, Red Dead Redemption 2’s ending is highly emotional in a variety of ways, leaving players who’ve beaten it heartbroken, yet hopeful in a strange way.
The characters of RDR2 are incredibly detailed and interesting. Seeing Dutch’s devolution into a villain is one of the most authentic and believable character arcs I’ve ever experienced. Arthur’s character arc is another powerful one, starting as a rough and tough enforcer with a short temper, to a smart and sensitive man, who genuinely wants to fight for what good is left in his world. When I first started playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I wasn’t a huge fan of Arthur, and didn’t see how he could be better than the first game’s protagonist, John Marston. By the end of the game however, Arthur not only exceeded my expectations of him, but he even surpassed John Marston to become possibly my favorite video game protagonist of all time. Dutch and Arthur are just a couple of examples of these fully realized characters and it’s fantastic experience getting to know them and understand them as well as other major characters throughout Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is littered with a huge variety of missions from story missions, strangers missions, to just random encounters with NPCs in the world. All of these missions are fun and entertaining in a variety of ways. Some of the missions aren’t very action packed, but don’t need to be as the interactions with characters are well-written and are almost always interesting. Some players have complained how the last third of the game feels like a shooting gallery with all of the missions that turn into gunfights with the law or other gangs, but again, I think this was another creative decision by Rockstar that this meant to instill chaos and show the player how close the gang’s way of life is to being destroyed. Strangers missions are incredibly interesting too, with each stranger offering different style of mission than others. One stranger mission had me help a photographer by chasing wild horses in a certain direction so he could get the perfect picture of them, while a different stranger had me exploring a derelict mine to find out why he and his town had gone crazy. No matter what kind of missions I was doing, I always felt engaged and interested in what was going on. Outside of story missions, Rockstar does a great job of blurring the line between missions and random encounters with people in order to make their world feel more real.
What’s the Issue?
While there have been many complaints that the story begins quite slow in Red Dead Redemption 2 (with the first 2 chapters of it serving as a tutorial of sorts), I think Rockstar made the deliberate decision to do this. The game wants you to essentially live in its well-crafted world and take in all of the little details you wouldn’t find in other games like pouring a hot cup of coffee in the morning while you listen to various conversations that gang members have around the camp, or stand by a riverside doing some fishing, or even going to the closest saloon and playing a round or two of poker to try to win some money. The long periods of time that can arise from riding from one place to another is also something that people have taken issue with, but with a world as beautiful and interesting, the chance to have an interesting encounter with someone makes it worthwhile often times. The pacing of the game isn’t for everyone though, and I understand why.
Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t a game for everyone, and it definitely won’t appeal to everyone. But it’s hard to deny that it is a revolutionary game, taking risks and doing new things that no game before it has been able to do. The world of RDR2 and its level of detail are astonishing to me, coupled with an incredibly emotional story and a fascinating array of characters, it all comes together to make Red Dead Redemption 2 one of the best games I’ve ever played.