About two hours into Red Dead Redemption 2‘s first chapter, we began to grow weary of the game’s beginning tutorial section set in the snowy mountains. It serves as an introduction to certain aspects of the game’s cluster of mechanics and responsive gameplay by way of short missions. The surroundings hid the title’s supposedly impressive graphics under a deep freeze blizzard and closed us off from exploring the rest of the world. It’s admittedly impressive AAA Hollywood-quality plot was drowning itself with exposition, spending more time setting up the doomed story of the Van der Linde Gang than showcasing actual gameplay.
During a conversation with another rider, in the thick of the snowstorm, our horses stopped walking and began freaking out. Our steeds spotted it before we did, but one of the game’s many primal animals, a bear, was coming upon us. A prompt revealed how horses freak out when a predator is lurking for a kill. The riding mate, Hosea, suggested another route and lead the way, continuing our conversation once we found higher ground to avoid it. Soon after, our camp was finally able to move out of the mountains and into different terrain. The skies lifted and luscious foliage began to encompass our horse and carriage. The weather was warm, and another prompt arrived telling us our protagonist Arthur was getting hot. This is when we realized how truly alive and interactive the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 would be.
The developers of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar, return with the prequel to its breakout 2010 Western epic. Using the very expansive and critically-acclaimed GTA V as its guideline, Red Dead Redemption 2 broadens everything introduced in the original game, from the size of its world, the character animations, and even the exchanges between them, of which Rockstar boasts the title of having over half a million lines of dialogue. Although the game posses a deeply immersive world with a tight narrative and amazing graphics that reinforce the title as one of its developer’s best, we found a few of its mechanical elements get in the way, hindering the overall playing experience.
But does the game hold up in spite of this? We look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the open world title to answer your question, “should I cop?”
The gameplay is tight, as we said, whether you’re entrenched in a gunfight or riding your steed out into the sunset, everything feels authentic to real-life. Old-timey weaponry from the old west function as such, revolvers require Arthur to cock its hammer back like John Wayne to fire. Horses must be groomed and fed in order to maintain their health and stamina on the road, which comes into play when riding. And once you’re out there, you must bond with your stallion to further improve its physical traits as well as your ability to control them.
That type of maintenance extends to our protagonist, Arthur. You’re expected to match his outfit with the terrain in mind, or have his health suffer as a result. He must be fed by means of snacks or cooking various types of meat you’ve gathered while hunting. These actions keep your health and stamina in check, which drains not only when taking damage, but if you’re starving yourself. It will also affect your abilities in battle or when exploring. Even your guns have to be cleaned routinely to keep them from degrading.
All of the hyperrealism lends itself to the immersive world the game takes place within. Environments are breathtaking and highly-detailed, down to the crisp leaves on a maple tree. Consequences exist for everything you do in this game. Rob someone, don’t kill them, kill them; somehow your decision will reverberate and come into play later down the line. Compared to other Rockstar games like GTA V, random encounters feel much more realistic here, from a situational and contextual standpoint; people aren’t just standing around waiting for you to find them like the aforementioned title. Arthur is just a squirrel living in this world, adapting to everything it throws at him.
The difference between navigating this world with your weapon drawn versus holstered can radically change the way you’re responded to. Although the control of conversations are limited by only giving players the options of “Greet,” “Antagonize” or “Defuse,” the varying situations in which you can decide to interact bare different results. This system comes into play in your story, whether it’s from big campaign decisions, down to scolding a dog before a trivial poker game.
And naturally as expected from a Rockstar Games title, RDR2 has a very engaging plot that plays like a Hollywood movie. Moreover, given the events of the original game, we already know the fate of this gang runs on camaraderie and respect for one another. But we also know the group is already doomed from the start. However, only as the campaign unfolds is more information about mechanics revealed, and this is where a few small issues rear its head.
Crafting is a big deal in this game. You can craft meals, health cures, tonics for you and your horse, and improvements on your ammunition and equipment. These are great extensions of the game for how meticulous and realistic these activities are, which only lends itself to the deeply immersive world.
But, some things can only be crafted in certain ways or by certain people in locations undisclosed by the time you may need them. Piecemealing information linearly as it did in the beginning chapter is fine since you’re contained to a single location unable to explore and discover things. But once the world opens up and you’re free to roam, you realize a lot of information wasn’t explicitly made clear yet, like where to take animal pelts to craft clothing, who to sell loot to, or glossing over how some of the game’s many overwhelming mechanics function in greater detail.
There’s a lot of things to learn, so much that even its opening tutorial section didn’t have time to further explain the game’s wealth of content. Confirming actions, like picking up your hat or tying your horse to the post can be clunky. These actions can be confirmed by either pressing or holding a button, and sometimes the difference between the two inputs can get frustrating and cause you to do something you didn’t mean. But once you get used to the layout, it becomes less tedious. Sometimes the prompt to confirm these actions take a little bit of rearranging your character and camera position to pop up, which can be a headache to deal with as well.
Although the deep immersion of the game’s world and its meticulous crafting/maintenance lend itself toward the overall realistic experience, when typical video game things happen, it does mar down that experience. A random encounter happened on the road and we decided to help a woman escape from under her collapsed horse. When we rode her back home, we ran over a man with our horse and had to wait until our WANTED meter went away before the authorities stopped looking for us. This locked the mission we were on with her as she stayed on the horse. In an attempt to ditch the lawmen, we entered the stable. Our screen then went black and we were back on the outside of the stable, the woman now gone, with a notification saying other people can’t come inside with us. Now that entire story is lost to us, with no way of knowing if we saved her, if it counted or where she went. But more than anything, it revealed typical video game nature in a title that boasts realism, and it marred the experience of that in the moment.
Although the game has some things to complain about, they are minuscule when compared to all the great aspects the title has to offer. Sometimes its wealth of content can be overwhelming when first starting out. And maybe the meticulous upkeep and maintenance keeps the game at a slower pace most may not be used to, but it does so in order for the players to stop and smell the roses and interact with this beautiful world Rockstar carefully developed.
With all of that said, of course you should buy Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s almost certainly a high Game of the Year contender and is possibly the best outing by the acclaimed developer thus far.
You can purchase Red Dead Redemption 2 now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, priced at $59.99 USD or $79.99 USD for the Ultimate Edition that includes several pieces of DLC. Head over to rockstargames.com to learn more about the title.