I’ve never been a huge fan of Rockstar Games. While I had some interest in L.A. Noire, the Grand Theft Auto series in particular never really click with me. Sure, just about every title from Rockstar is a visual powerhouse, with a strong story, characters, open-world… yadda yadda yadda you’ve probably heard this all before. Then I played the first Red Dead Redemption. Suddenly I had realized what makes these games so special. It’s a western setting, a sprawling world built on the history of the wild west. I’ve always been someone who’s avidly into history, and playing a game like Red Dead Redemption was the comfort food I needed. Of course, it’s a stretch to say a video game is historically accurate. The Red Dead series is as authentic as they come through. Obviously, the game does have a lot of Hollywood pizazz as Rockstar throws you into a world that’s comparable to Sergio Leone’s western films of the 1960s.
Red Dead Redemption II is not a game for everyone, no game ever really is. But I personally think to say it’s anything below outstanding, or good at the very least is a disservice to the immense amount of work Rockstar has put into this title. You play as Arthur Morgan in Red Dead II, a member of a gang led by Dutch van der Linde, who’s the antagonist of the first entry in the series. As this game is a prequel, we get to see how the seemingly tight-knit group of outlaws ultimately falls apart. Which then leads into the events headed by John Marston, another member of the gang, in the previous game.
The gang is the blood and bones of this tale. While much of the cast initially steals the show, you do begin to see Arthur shape into a character that’s totally worth getting invested in, one that even rivals John Marston himself. I’d say that the story works best when a majority of the cast is involved. Seeing them work together as their personalities bounce off of one another during heated scenarios makes for some of the best moments I’ve experienced in a game this year. You also get to see these characters grow amongst each other at the games camp during downtime. They’ll sing around a campfire, gather for a game of poker, start conversations and side quests that are completely off the beaten path of the main story.
Outside of character development, there’s also a lot of other things to do in the camp. Each character contributes to the overall well-being of the group in different ways. You yourself can hunt for food, craft items, and donate money to improve the quality of life of everyone with camp upgrades. Through masterful storytelling, you’ll begin to see each character change throughout each chapter. Their opinions will fluctuate as the world around them crumbles. Each, holding motivations that make sense to the game’s overall narrative. It’s easy to see how things up the way they do, but heartbreaking in ways I didn’t expect. I was apprehensive at first to hear that Red Dead Redemption II was a prequel, but as soon as I saw the credits roll I realized I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Outside of human characters, your horse is an integral part of the game. There’s something to be said about the relationship between man and animal. While you can capture, buy, and sell horses throughout the game, I found myself sticking with one. There’s something really special about the way Arthur develops a relationship with his horse. It’s a relationship that few games have tackled before, I can only compare it to something like Shadow of the Colossus.
Speaking of which, traversing Red Dead II’s wide open-world is unequivocally beautiful. Like the first game, the landscape of the country is so varied and ever-changing as the game progresses, it can occasionally feel as if you’re not always playing the same game at times. While I found myself focusing on the overall story throughout most of my playtime, fans who love to explore every nook and cranny will have so much to find. Side quests spring up very naturally and like an RPG epic you can be pulled from whatever you’re doing to ultimately find yourself in a scenario you never even planned on being a part of.
All of this is accompanied by one of the best soundtracks of the year. And to that point, I really have never liked country music. Each scenario is given so much extra oomph with the perfect musical score behind every moment. Rockstar has taken full advantage of the power behind the PS4 and Xbox One, delivering a tremendous game that runs incredibly well. For reference, I played on a PS4 Pro. Intense lighting effects, character, and animal design all play a large role in bringing this time period to life. It’s incredible to even look back on the first game, a title I thought looked really good at the time, and compare it to Red Dead II. With the power of more modern game engines, every environment is completely brought to life, with an unbelievable attention to detail.
While some might say realism can hamper a game, it works to make the journey in Red Dead II feel long in a meaningful way, not drawn out by any stretch. I truly grew to care about everything that was going on as I felt as though I had spent specific time getting to know the world. In that regard, Arthur’s hair and beard will grow over time. The game completely relies on you to keep him shaven, and additionally, if you’re not eating a healthy Arthur could be overweight or under. While Rockstar holds the reins over the overall narrative, it’s easy to feel as though Arthur is a character that you’re directing in this world.
Gunplay is obviously a huge part of Red Dead Redemption II. While I don’t think it’s controversial to say Rockstar has always been weaker when it came to shooting, there’s an incredibly forgiving auto-aim system that makes you feel like a total badass most of the time. Dead Eye also makes a return in Red Dead II and it still feels incredibly satisfying as it did in the first game. It is worth mentioning that I never found anyone encounters all too challenging, but I was more focused on the game progressing at a good rate as opposed to getting caught up on a tougher mission. There were definitely more challenging encounters than others but none that ever really made me want to rip my hair out at all.
There is a multitude of weapons to acquire, so players will have the opportunity to craft an arsenal that’s fit for their play style. Surprisingly, there’s a considerable amount of stealth options which is something I did not expect going in. Guns will also deteriorate over time so it’s important to keep them clean. Thankfully this process is quick so I never felt hampered by it in any way. It also gives you the opportunity to check out your gun modifications up-close if you’ve made any. I could definitely see why some wouldn’t like this small feature though.
You’re also definitely not a killing machine, as Arthur is only allowed to equip a set amount of weapons at one time. To make any changes, you’ll have to grab guns off your horse’s cargo. You’ll also constantly have to restock ammo as it’s not available in large quantities throughout the world and missions. This means you may have to make a pitstop in town to resupply, or you can get ammo from your camp.
I haven’t even really begun to talk about all of the activities that are available in Red Dead II. Yay activities! Red Dead Redemption II has a really big hunting system, where you can find some of the Wild West’s most deadly beasts or rarest animals. You can also go fishing to find rare catches which in return you can use as food among other things. Outside of poker, there are also other games you can play, some of which I was totally unfamiliar with. Don’t fret though as they’re all pretty easy to learn.
The beauty of open-world games like Red Dead Redemption II is the fact that players can really experience it however they want. I think it’s unfortunate that due to its lengthy story, players may not see it all to the end, but nevertheless, there are so many unique experiences to be had. With online coming to the game very soon, there’ll be even more reason for me to jump back in and do more.
Players may get caught up on Red Dead II’s realism but with every design choice being so particular, so well executed, I personally enjoyed every second of time I had with the game. For that reason, I can’t give Red Dead Redemption II anything but an outstanding score. It’s a game I’ll be thinking about for many years to come and I just hope we’ll get to enter this world again sometime in the future.
Written by: Jordan Boyd
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