Red Dead Redemption 2 Review
The reputation Rockstar has built over the last decade has fostered a level of expectation some may deem unfulfillable. Between GTA IV and V and the previous Red Dead, we’ve beheld iconic performances and tremendous leaps in animation, physics, and immersion. While you can sense the DNA of the acclaimed studio’s previous work in the follow-up to their Wild West hit, it’s nearly evolved past a point of recognition. I’ll come right out and say it: Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece that transcends the current generation and elevates gameplay and storytelling to a level of which is unprecedented. It exceeds far beyond my own expectations, and following more than seven years of passionate development, Rockstar has prevailed in crafting the finest game in their history and unequivocally the most immersive open world ever created.
The story occurs in 1899, more than a decade before the events of John Marston’s tale in the first game. As the 19th century draws to a conclusion, so too does the era of outlaws in the American West. You fill the boots of Arthur Morgan, a senior member and lead enforcer in the infamous Van der Linde gang. Following a job gone haywire in the town of Blackwater, the gang heads north to escape the federal agents and bounty hunters who are hot on their heels.
You quickly grasp a sense of the inevitable doom that awaits the gang’s lifestyle. The civilized world is rapidly evolving, and their ways of living within it are shifting to survival tactics as they rob and fight across the American frontier. Throughout the story, the gang relocates to diverse areas as they flee law and order. While they intend to steal enough cash to escape the clutches of justice once and for all, they struggle to make ends meet as divisions rise.
Expertly paced and masterfully written, the tale of the Van der Linde gang is one that will forever remain with me. The game takes you on an emotional roller coaster as you get to know Arthur and his fellow gang members throughout sixty plus hours of the main story. Themes of loyalty, betrayal, revolution, and the American Dream are woven deep into a truly captivating, funny, and at times heartbreaking narrative. I loved every moment I spent with the engaging and diverse cast as the story unfolded, and I desperately wish I could experience it all over again for the first time. What’s more is the prevalence of player choice, and the world reacts to your day to day decisions as Arthur Morgan.
My Kind of Outlaw
Arthur himself serves as an incredible protagonist. His reserved yet stern temperament makes for a fun role to inhabit, and dare I say my adoration of the character rivals that of John Marston. Though he’s a dedicated outlaw, it’s up to you to determine what kind of outlaw he’ll be. What’s most impressive is that every aspect of the game has an impact on the world around you, beginning with your appearance. There’s an extensive assortment of clothing to equip and customize, and Arthur’s hair and beard will grow over time. People will comment on what you’re wearing, your glorious beard, and even suggest you cleanse yourself when covered in muck and blood.
Beyond your appearance lies the responsibility of maintaining your health, stamina, and Deadeye cores. Depending on the food you consume, Arthur’s weight will shift accordingly. The same applies to your stamina and Deadeye cores. Waking up and sipping a cup of coffee will fully restore your stamina while chowing down on oregano seasoned bison you cooked the night before will fortify your health. Weather also affects your cores. Dressing for each occasion ensures their stability. Thankfully, maintaining your cores isn’t nearly as sim-like as I’d initially anticipated. The necessity of managing them is never overbearing, and they ultimately serve as another manner of immersing you deeper into the role of Arthur.
Embedded into the experience is the highly reactive Honor system. From petty crimes to charitable donations, every single decision you make perpetually shifts your level of honor. This glorified good versus evil slider is much broader than those you may have experienced in the past. Whether you play as a noble or diabolical outlaw, your actions are reflected in the surrounding world. People will fearfully react to your presence as a notorious killer, or gleefully give you a tip of the hat as you stroll into town. Your choices also impact Arthur’s dreams, his journal entries, and even alter music cues and the way in which the story progresses. It’s absolutely fascinating and encourages you to strongly consider every option before making any decision.
Living, Breathing, Extraordinary World
Due to the remarkable level of interaction that’s present, Red Dead 2 is the first game I believe actually fulfills the phrase “living, breathing world.” You can greet, antagonize, callout, and even defuse tense situations with nearly every person and animal you encounter. NPCs feel like real individuals with genuine emotions as they react to your presence. Bumping into someone will piss them off, getting too close to a questionable situation can lead to violence, and people remember things. I once punched a drunkard in the face for harassing a lovely lady. Hours later, that same drunkard commented on the ordeal as I passed by him in town. People will also react differently depending on whether or not your weapon is drawn. Overall, the AI intelligence is extraordinary. I could write an entire review on the encounters I’ve experienced, but know there are countless and many of which are truly astounding.
Interactivity significantly affects the state of your gang as well. You can speak with every member and listen to what they have to say at any time. It’s also fascinating to sit back and listen to them talk to each other. There’s a ton to witness as they go about their day to day activities and every moment you spend with them is worth it. Each character is complex and possesses unique desires and motivations. I certainly have some favorites, but all of them are memorable and elevated by excellent performances. Despite knowing how some of their stories end, it’s a pleasure to witness their arcs unfold.
Outrunning the law and living among the wilderness isn’t glamorous. In doing so, you’re provided the option to maintain the upkeep of your camp. Due to the relevance of my presence in the world, I felt responsible for donating funds and providing provisions for the gang. While neglecting your camp’s necessities doesn’t affect gameplay, it does determine your gang’s demeanor and willingness to offer additional activities in which to participate. Investing in your camp is totally worth it, as gang members are willing to join you on a hunting or fishing trip, challenge you to a match of five finger filet, or request your assistance with a robbery. Regarding gameplay alone, these opportunities are a blast, but they primarily serve as an outlet to revealing more about each character.
My Trusty Steed
One of the most significant relationships you’ll build is the one with your trusty steed. Before I continue – yes, Red Dead 2 features the best horse mechanics of any game I’ve ever played. While you can saddle up multiple breeds with varying attributes, you may find yourself attached to one horse in particular. My first nag Lil’ Sebastian and I were practically inseparable. The more you ride and care for your horse the stronger your bond will become. You can rear your horse in classic Wild West fashion, quickly skid to a halt, or drift from side to side. It also possesses health and stamina cores of its own. Feeding it will replenish its health and stamina while patting and brushing it will increase your bond. Visiting stables provides you options for customizing the look and attributes of your horse. From saddles, bedrolls, stirrups, to the look of their manes and tails, there’s a myriad of ways to alter their performances and appearances. It’s because of this I had bonafide feelings for Lil’ Sebastian. I can’t tell you how many times I screamed in horror as she fell down the side of a cliff or took gunshots to the legs.
You’ll spend extensive periods of time riding your steed across the most expansive, detailed, and diverse open world Rockstar has ever built. From the frosty West Grizzlies to the bayou of Lemoyne, the vast environments seamlessly blend together into one of the most breathtaking game worlds I’ve ever explored. Each area is rife with characters to meet, secrets to uncover, beautiful sights to take in, rival gangs, and over one thousand things to do and discover.
Complementing the alluring frontier are several towns flooded with people and livestock and brimming with intricate details. Between the mud-caked streets of Valentine to the industrialized Saint Denis, each location features unique individuals who go about their daily routines. I know, we’ve all heard that one before. However, it’s actually a reality in Red Dead 2. I once followed a guy who spent the day transporting lumber from one side of town to the other. He even asked me to quit following him on multiple occasions. I’ve witnessed characters wake up and go about their business, and others spend an evening drinking at the saloon following a long day at the general store. The list of examples I’m capable of providing is endless, and you’re bound to make riveting discoveries of your own.
Now, while the world is unabashedly stunning, it’s severely contrasted by the unrelenting brutality of the era. The first Red Dead is acclaimed for many reasons, but notably for its violent gun-slinging combat. And partner, there’s plenty of it in Red Dead 2. The gunplay mechanics feel better than ever. Aiming your weapon feels smooth and appropriately weighted, and firing it provides satisfying feedback. At times your kills are stylized in slow motion, adding a cinematic layer to combat as you witness the carnage up close. Interestingly, these kill cams shift based on your honor level. Better yet, combat encounters repeatedly feel fresh due to the diverse tactics employed by the multiple gangs you encounter.
Using Deadeye is equally satisfying. The iconic ability looks awesome, feels exceptional, and how it evolves throughout the game is beneficial. The same can be said for playing stealthily. A multitude of silent weapons including a bow, throwing knives, and hatchets lay at your disposal and are as effective as you’d expect. Another aspect I fondly admire is the fact that Arthur can only carry two rifles, two sidearms, and a couple throwable weapons at a time. However, your horse holds the entirety of your inventory where weapons and even stored outfits can be swapped at will.
Over fifty weapons can be acquired and customized in gun shops. From improving accuracy to adding engravings, you can provide each of your guns with identities of their own. The more time you invest in firing a particular weapon, the more its attributes will improve. However, it’ll also become increasingly filthier; inherently affecting the performance. This feature concerned me a bit before getting my hands on the game. Thankfully, akin to the simplicity of managing your cores, keeping your weapons clean isn’t overly demanding. As long you have a reasonable supply of gun oil on hand, your firearms will remain in pristine condition. Again, the level of detail in the appearances and performances of the weapons and the necessity of cleaning them is another aspect that adds to the overall immersion.
A Stunning Visual Achievement
If you’ve laid eyes on a single frame of the game, you’re aware of how graphically stunning it is. I’m a sucker for lighting, and it’s downright gorgeous in Red Dead 2. The beauty extends to the thousands of textures, the different ways blood seeps into surfaces, and over five hundred thousand unique animations. Facial animations are pretty believable and a testament to the rumored twelve hundred plus actors who were performance captured. The muscle structure of horses is incredibly realistic, and draw distances are divine. Concerning presentation, Rockstar seemingly thought of every minute detail. Not to mention the entire game can be experienced in first-person. What’s astonishing is that I can count the number of visual hiccups I’ve encountered on one hand. Considering the size of the game and the amount of time I’ve spent with it, that’s an unfathomable achievement.
Sound design and music have also improved. Weapons sound unique and intense, and the sounds of roaring rivers, rustling trees, wildlife, and bustling towns are enrapturing. The blood-curdling screams that people project when grasping their limbs you’ve blown off is another impressive yet harrowing sound of note. If you’re a fan of the previous game’s soundtrack, you’ll fall equally in love with the score of Red Dead 2, as the music consistently suits the tone of every scene and setting you’re in. Though the voice acting is great, it’s admittedly hilarious when characters whisper to each other when right next to enemies while they’re sneaking around. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a rather forgettable gripe on my end.
Whether I’m hunting a legendary animal, participating in a story mission, playing a game of poker, or just exploring the world I’ve absolutely adored every moment I’ve spent with the game. It more than fulfills every hope and desire I’d garnered as my anticipation for it grew over the last several years. The phenomenal narrative and performances are emotionally impactful, and the depth of interactivity embedded into the pristinely polished gameplay is nothing short of groundbreaking. Rockstar have outdone themselves with Red Dead Redemption 2 as it ushers in a new era of what the medium is capable of achieving. At this point, I can’t wait to start again to explore a different playstyle and especially jump into Red Dead Online.
***PS4 code provided by Rockstar Games for review***
- The most life-like open world ever created
- Groundbreaking interactivity
- Incredible detail
- Beautiful graphics and animation
- Impactful narrative
- Minimal graphical hiccups