Back in October of last year, Red Dead Redemption II was released to great critical acclaim, making it tied with Grand Theft Auto V as the highest rated game of this generation on Metacritic (both at a 97). While some may view this review score as a bit overrated, I’m here to tell you why it isn’t.
People often think that a masterpiece game needs to be perfect, that needs to nail every single aspect of the game, but there has never been a game to do just that. Instead, it makes more sense to argue that if a game does enough right, as well as executes bold and daring new things that have never been done before or done as well, then it should be qualified as a masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II does just that.
The claim by some that the game is a 21st century work of art is an accurate one. The game boasts arguably the most beautiful landscapes and world ever created in a game and look almost as if they were taken from a photo by Ansel Adams.
The one thing that Rockstar excelled most at in Red Dead Redemption II is creating a sense of immersion. Nearly everything in the game is done as realistically as possible with the goal to make the player feel like they’re stepping into a living, breathing world. By and large, Rockstar is able to pull this off better than any open world game before it.
To further this sense of realism, Rockstar has created incredibly realistic animations for its characters and the environment around them. The way Arthur Morgan walks and moves around is incredibly realistic. There is a real weight felt to him as he’ll leave footprints and impressions in the snow or mud wherever he walks around. If he finds himself in a brawl with someone and the two of them fall into some mud, the mud will leave an impression of whatever made contact with it and it will get on their clothes and bodies.
As you travel around the world, you can interact with every single NPC in the game in various ways from politely greeting them, to antagonizing them, to robbing them and starting a fight. In games such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Witcher 3, you are only able to interact with a select few NPCs which isn’t necessarily bad, but it limits your feeling of freedom to do whatever you want. There are also small ways that the world changes as time progresses such as certain houses being built up over time.
Nearly anything you can imagine doing in the Wild West you’re able to do in Red Dead Redemption II. Whether it’s gambling, fishing, hunting, robbing, killing, helping strangers, bounty hunting, and just exploring in general, you’re able to do it all. The game doesn’t make everything available to you right at the beginning because there is a lot to learn to begin with, but as you progress through the first act, you’ll gradually begin to see everything that Red Dead Redemption II has available to offer you.
While the realism of the game does not cater to everyone, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t there or that the world doesn’t feel alive the vast majority of the time.
Rockstar’s attention to detail and the ability to build a world that feels alive is also unparalleled to nearly any other game out there. If players are looking through things to loot such as drawers or cabinets, the player will actually open up the drawer and physically grab anything of value before they stuff it into their satchel.
The world itself is the largest Rockstar has ever built. The game boasts multiple biomed from deserts to snowy mountains, to lush forests, and murky swamps. There are over 200 different species of animals in the game that are designed to behave like their real life counterparts.
While large worlds run the risk of becoming boring if there isn’t enough to do in them, Rockstar avoids this problem by littering it with places to explore, random events with strangers that players will stumble across, and a good amount of side missions that are always engaging and interesting.
For example, players can track down a serial killer hidden in the game by finding the bodies of the victims which offer clues to the serial killer’s location. One random stranger interaction I came across was a KKK cross burning ceremony that goes horribly wrong when the flames accidentally catch several of the members on fire. Also in the world are various secret items to find like viking helmets or a monster that a mad scientist assembled together. After putting in over 100 hrs in the game, I still feel as though I haven’t found everything the world has to offer.
Where games that have item or weapon wheels or inventory menus that allow players to carry like 30 weapons at once, Rockstar once again strives for realism, only allowing the player to carry a couple or weapons at a time, leaving the rest on the player’s horse, instead of letting them stash weapons in some magical pocket in their pants that allow them to pull out a 4 foot rifle from nowhere.
When it comes to the relationship between the player and their horse, Rockstar arguably does a better job than any game of making horses feel important and cherished, rather than as a disposable vehicle that can be retrieved at any time. They do this by allowing the horses to level up to increase their stamina, speed, and other traits the more they are used and cared for, but they really achieve this by making them have permadeath. These new mechanics cause an incentive for the player to keep and care for their horse for as long as possible. If their horse does become critically injured and the player has no horse medicine to heal it, it can be a truly heartbreaking moment.
One time I was fleeing from a group of bounty hunters, and not seeing where I was going, I manged to ride Sparkles, my horse, off of a 10 foot drop, breaking her legs. I fought off the remainder of the bounty hunters and ran to my horse, only to find it lying there and whimpering in pain. I felt terrible for what I had done to her and I felt even worse when I had no horse medicine to revive her, giving me the only option to put her down. I wasn’t going to give up on her though and so I immediately began sprinting to the nearest town in an effort to get to a general store and buy some horse medicine for her. By the time I got back to her it was too late and I went and drank my sorrows away at the saloon in Rhodes.
All of this though, is just the tip of the iceberg, as I haven’t even begun to talk about the story yet.
Red Dead Redemption II’s 60 hour story takes place in the dying days of the Wild West, where civilization is creeping into once untamed lands, and threatening the way of life that outlaws have become accustomed to. Much like the GTA series, Rockstar has us play on the side of the outlaws and criminals. Rockstar excels at making us sympathize with these people who’d we consider bad in our every day lives. The story of Red Dead Redemption II follows the members of the Van der Linde Gang, as they flee across America to try to escape the law that threatens their way of life. The members of the gang see themselves as a family, all under the protection and guidance of their charismatic leader Dutch Van der Linde. Players assume the role of Arthur Morgan, Dutch’s right-hand man and lead enforcer. Arthur looks up to Dutch as a father figure since he has been under his care since he was a child.
The gang faces countless hardships whether it’s encounters with the law, or struggling to keep supplies and morale up around the camp. As a result of these constant hardships, tensions begin to rise in the gang and relationships begin to splinter. For players of the first Red Dead Redemption, you know that this story will likely not have a happy ending. Though there are many references and characters that players of the first game will notice, this game takes place before the events of the first one, and thus is able to be enjoyed by people that haven’t played the first game.
While people have complained about the slow pace of the beginning of the game, I never had much of an issue with it because I found the story constantly interesting and engaging. One of the most memorable and hilarious missions in the beginning of the game is meeting up with Lenny, a fellow gang member, and getting incredibly drunk with him and getting into shenanigans.
Red Dead Redemption II has no shortage of things to offer to players who are willing to find it, but I’d argue the most important thing for players interested in the game is to just to enjoy the ride and to try to lose yourself in the game. For those willing to play until the end of the game, you will likely understand why it is held in such high regard.
This isn’t a game for everyone and I’ll admit that. It’s often times slow, and deliberate pace doesn’t cater to the masses, but for those who don’t mind it or enjoy it, you will see that the game is an incredible achievement by an incredible developer and should be respected as such.
It’s important to remember that not all masterpieces appeal to everyone. My colleague compared Red Dead Redemption II to a work of Shakespeare, saying that “there is a reason people love it but it absolutely puts me to sleep.” There is some truth behind his statement. While Shakespeare’s work may put some people to sleep, there is an overwhelming consensus that his works are masterpieces and aren’t overrated. Red Dead Redemption II is exactly that. Though it might not be as appealing to the mainstream as people thought it would be, the sheer quality of the game and what it does as a whole is almost uunparalleled, and has rightfully cemented itself as one of the best games of this generation.
For those interested in trying Red Dead Redemption 2, you can purchase it for Xbox One or PS4. Try to go into it with an open mind and create your own opinion of it. Even if it doesn’t appeal to you, try to see why it is considered a masterpiece by so many people.
What are your thoughts on Red Dead Redemption 2? Do you think it’s overrated or do you think it deserves the critical praise it has gotten? Let us know in the comments below and be sure subscribe to BYOG for all things gaming.