The wait is finally over; Red Dead Redemption 2 officially released last week. Having been someone who had played the original Red Dead Redemption back in 2010, as well as the Undead Nightmare DLC, I can safely say Rockstar’s follow-up with Red Dead Redemption 2 was a game that I had been highly anticipating for years now. As someone who enjoys the old school Clint Eastwood Western films, I always found there to be something interesting in the Western genre. I find it nice that games like Red Dead Redemption, and to a lesser known extent Gun, do such a fantastic job creating memorable worlds essentially being comparable to a Western film, except in the form of a video game. I find it quite hard to not appreciate the worlds these people had built in these games, providing such amazing experiences. I could probably go on rambling endlessly with this one, but I’d rather just get into the thick of things with Red Dead Redemption 2 because there is a lot to this game and a lot to get into. I’ll solely be focusing on the single player portion of the game here, so anyone looking to hear about Red Dead online may find themselves in disappointed territory.
First things first, I would like to mention that I am playing the Xbox One version of Red Dead Redemption 2. Right away, I had noticed that the game came with two discs, both used to install the entire game, which… I’d say is pretty uncommon these days. I’m not sure if the PlayStation 4 copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 also comes with two discs. I guess I’ll leave that to whoever picks up that version. Looking at the back of the case, it says the game takes up 115 GB, that’s quite a large install.
Getting a little into the story, I found that Red Dead Redemption 2’s story is probably the most serious toned I feel I’ve seen in a Rockstar game. The game itself is a prequel to the first Red Dead Redemption and has you playing as Arthur Morgan. Starting from the beginning of the game, it starts with a brief intro of how America was changing and that the gangs of the wild west were being hunted down. After that, we now see a cutscene of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang traveling through a blizzard until eventually finding refuge in the abandoned mining town of Colter. The opening chapter consists of looking for supplies to keep the group fed, and dealing with a gang of outlaws known as the O’Driscolls. After some events, Van der Linde’s gang learns of a private train owned by Leviticus Cornwall and spring into action to rob it, which they successfully do. After all of this the final segment of the first chapter follows the group caravanning to the east, where they eventually set up camp at Horseshoe Overlook. In the time I’ve spent thus far I felt that overall, the story and interactions within the game were some of the best I’ve seen in a game. Keeping in mind that the game revolves around an outlaw gang, there is a share of fun moments as well. Particularly remembering a mission where Arthur gets drunk with his companion, to where the mission becomes played intoxicated. Just random little things like this made the story feel even more enjoyable and felt like they tried to create sort of a bonding within the crew, verse feeling like just typical missions.
In terms of gameplay, at Red Dead Redemption 2’s core it seems to be pretty similar to other Rockstar titles. The open world consists of a variety of missions and collectibles, as well as various activities and mini games. Examples of content outside of missions, include activities such as hunting, fishing, taking up bounties, or playing mini games like five finger filet, poker or even dominoes. There game also a progression system, in some aspects similar to Grand Theft Auto 5. By performing different actions Arthur will level up his stats. For example: Swimming or running around full sprint will gradually level up Arthur’s stamina, which will then allow him to run further before he tires out. Similarly, the other stats will raise performing other activities as well, with the others being Health and Dead Eye. Outside of that are the perks, which can be obtained via collecting various special items around the games world. Not being done just yet, Arthur’s horse also has its own way of making progression. Taking care of your horse will level up bonding, which also increase its stats.
Another notable thing to do in the game comes in the form of the challenges. These varied tasks will unlock special equipment and provide experience towards Arthur’s stats, with examples of the challenges being activities such as gambling, picking herbs, skinning animals, finding treasures, and a few others. It’s really a lot to keep any kind of person who likes completing games to totality really busy. Outside of that, there are also random mission challenges. Each mission has a set checklist of random feats that can be done. Performing these tasks will grant a different colored badge next to each mission on the chapter list, completing everything seems to grant gold and completing nothing seems to be just a plain bronze. Again, for someone who wants to complete the game in its entirety by doing everything it has to offer, this is just another thing someone can do.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also offers a variety of customization. Different weapons can be purchased from Gunsmiths and also be upgraded to increase the weapon stats, with the stats in mention being Damage, Range, Accuracy, Fire Rate and Reload. Upgrades not being the only thing, you can also stylize the gun to personal choice with a variety of dyes and engravings available for individual parts of each weapon. On top of the available weapons for purchase, there is also a wide array of clothing items Arthur can purchase for wear. Items including hats, shirts, coats, pants and gloves. Each with different dye sets available, these different colors provide a solid amount of customization for anyone wishing to do so. Lastly there is also the horses. The stables allowing you to stable or purchase and sell new horses. Not being the only thing you can do there, you can also purchase different things for the horse. Items included being, saddles, saddlebags, stirrups, horns, blankets and bedrolls. Much like the rest of the items available for customization, all of these items have different colors to choose from. There really is no shortage of customization in Red Dead Redemption 2.
While still on the subject of customization, I suppose I should talk a bit about the camp. The camp can be upgraded by donating money to a donation box. From there it can be spent on various things through a ledger book. These upgrades include upgrading the gang’s wagons, which allow for better goods and ammo. There is also the lodging upgrades and other things, like purchasing a chicken coop, horse station or leatherworking tools. Getting to the actual cosmetic customization part, talking to Pearson allows for further customization of the different lodgings, wagons, and campfires in camp. To do this, you will need to hunt and skin different animals around the world. Pearson also offers upgrades for Arthur’s satchel, which in return will allow him to carry more items. Either way, I feel like hunting plays a big part in this game.
Hunting isn’t only useful for the camp and satchel upgrades either, so I guess now would be the time to talk about the games crafting. Hunting game and fishing both give meat which can be cooked at campfires. These provisions can restore health, stamina, or the Dead Eye meter, depending on what the item is. You can also craft tonics, which also provide different effects like fortifying health or stamina, though crafting these requires picking up different plants and herbs around the world. Other notable things worth crafting include horse care products, and ammunition. Either way, there’s no shortage of stuff you can make.
Being a Rockstar game, I figure that it’d be most certainly worth mentioning the world of Red Dead Redemption 2. Apart from just the massive scale of the world, along with its pleasant soundtrack, the game itself also provides one of the most immersive experiences I feel that I’ve ever seen in a game. The amount of detailing in Red Dead Redemption 2 can feel incredibly insane at times. With fine detailing from the games landscapes, as well as fantastic looking weather effects, it’s hard to not be impressed with every step. There is just so much attention to detail overall even outside of the environmental ambience. Arthur’s beard and hair will grow over time, and he may gain or lose weight depending on food consumed. There is also the matter of the horse. Over time, Arthur’s horse may become dirty and require grooming, which can be done at stable’s or at camp. It’s good to keep up with this because when your horse is dirty it can affect its overall health. Guns may also become grimy after a while and require cleaning, not cleaning your gun can affect its stats, so it’s good to maintain weapons every so often. Outside of all that there really is a lot of simple noticeable things to appreciate. Something like walking or riding against shrubs or bushes will cause them to bend or brush aside. With another thing I found interesting, riding too fast and ramming full speed into a tree or a rock will cause Arthur to go flying and cause his horse to fall over. Even something as simple as the way they both will pick themselves back up, along with the dirt and muck that will amass on Arthur’s clothes was a nice touch and having Arthur sometime lose his hat made even something like the clothing seem a bit more realistic.
I figured it would also be worth mentioning the ways to travel around in Red Dead Redemption 2. Obviously, you’ll mostly spend your time riding around on horses and running mostly everywhere, but there is also somewhat of a fast travel system to help speed things up. After upgrading your camp, you can unlock a map that will allow fast traveling to different places. Outside of that you can take trains to other train stations, and also hire stagecoaches to take you to available locations. These methods become very useful, as the world is quite large and takes a long time to traverse by just riding everywhere.
Another thing I found very interesting about the world was the character interactions and some of the random events that seem to occur throughout the game. Before getting into this however, I’d like to mention that the voice acting in this game is absolutely phenomenal and is some of the best I think I’ve ever heard. Everyone in the game, at least to me, seems very believable and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the interactions and dialogue exchanges. I found something as simplistic as going up and greeting random strangers in the little towns to be a laugh at times. One such occasion I can recall being an interaction with a random war veteran, where he eventually asked for a hug before leaving me to be. It was odd, but I enjoyed that kind of thing. Then there are the random stranger events that will occur traveling around. Exploring the world, you may come across someone who needs help. The way you go about this can also play into the games honor system, which I’ll briefly mention after, but you may choose to help people or not. A few of the events I’ve seen was a wolf attacking a random person, someone dying to poison, and a lady being trapped under a horse to the point where I had to lift up the horse to help her. Obviously, helping people will provide you with positive honor, but outside of this I thought it was a nice little way of making the world feel more alive with the things happening.
Getting back into the honor system I mentioned above, at least for a brief moment. It’s basically a karma system. Doing bad things like robbery, killing, or just straight up being a jerk will give you bad honor. I had mostly been doing good honorable things throughout my playthrough, and noticed that this had given me a 10% discount at shops, and the interactions I saw throughout towns seemed to be more positive. Either way, I feel like the game rewards you for trying to be a good person.
One other thing I feel I should mention is the games controls and item wheel. I do feel they are relatively clunky at times and can feel oddly messy. Though there are other control schemes that you can change to, but I’ll focus on the standard layout. On foot, holding down L2/LT will prompt to aim weapon using R2/RT. Holding down L2/LT when around NPC’s will also pop up interactions, such as greeting or antagonizing. Square/X will allow for picking up items and jumping, while moving. Holding down the X/A button will allow Arthur to run, while tapping it will cause him to sprint faster. While holding Triangle/Y you can mount horses and carriages, or loot random items and bodies. Triangle/Y can also be used to have Arthur rest, which will gradually restore his cores. Pressing the view button on Xbox will change the view of Arthur, there seems to be several views available, including a first-person mode. Holding down the menu button will bring up the map and just pressing it once will bring up the pause screen/menu. I’m still not even done. You can whistle to your horse to come to you by pressing up, if your horse is in range. Pressing left brings up your log of tasks and challenges, whereas holding left brings up the journal Arthur writes in throughout the game. Holding down the right button will open up the satchel, which is basically where all your items and provisions are stored. Pressing down will briefly show your honor tab, and holding down will allow you to change the size of your compass or completely turn it off. Pressing L3 will allow Arthur to crouch, and holding down R3 will allow you to look behind him. Making a return to Red Dead Redemption 2, obviously, is Dead Eye (The slow motion aiming). You can do this by pressing down L2/LT+R3, this one is pretty handy. Outside of combat, pressing down L3+R3 will allow Arthur to see plants and animals, as well as pick up their scents for tracking animals to hunt. Feeling like I mostly covered the base there I should mention that the controls on the horse are a bit of the same, at the very least, so I don’t think I really need to go too much into that one outside of mentioning that you can use R1/RB to slow down your horse and there are a few extra commands that allow you to perform different actions while on your horse after increasing your bond, but that’s about it.
Giving the item wheel its own mention, as this is another button command that can be done. To bring up the item wheel you need to hold down L1/LB. From there you have 3 options which can be done by pressing R1 or RB. The Weapons tab, which is all your weapons. The Items tab, which is consumables and usage items, as well as your bandana and binoculars. You can also use the items tab to set up camp around the world, camping is where you can craft items and rest. Then finally the Horse tab, which can be accessed while riding on your horse, this one lets you groom and feed your horse, as well as allows Arthur to reequip his hat, if it comes off. Lastly, I feel it’s worth mentioning that after rotating around the wheel using the right stick, you can also browse through the items on that part of the wheel by pressing either L2/LT or R2/RT. It’s a lot to remember honestly.
Since I mentioned the Dead Eye making a return, I feel like I should talk about the combat in Red Dead Redemption 2 a little more. First things first, I honestly have to admit that I’m a little surprised that Rockstar hadn’t changed the aiming reticle in their games after all of these years. I find it relatively odd that there isn’t an option to make the size of the dot any larger, as there are only two sizes options, Default and Small. Both feel hard to see at times and can make aiming at enemies further into the distance a bit of a pain. Then there are the dot options. You have three, one of which seems to be broke. Simple and Dot reticle, both seem to be exactly the same, something I feel like is probably could be patched, and an option of turning off the reticle completely. As someone with vision problems, I found that the reticle in the game was probably the most bothersome, at least on a personal level. Outside of that, the combat is simple. L2/LT to aim, R2/RT to shoot, and pressing Circle/B will reload your weapon. Talking about Dead Eye a little bit (the slow motion aiming), hovering your target over an enemy will allow you to tag it with an X mark, which will shoot at that target. You can use this to kill multiple enemies in a quick succession, making things a lot easier. There is also the hand-to-hand combat, which will come up and require you to basically pummel an enemy. Pressing Circle/B will melee attack, Triangle/Y will grapple an enemy, basically holds onto them, and Square/X will block incoming melee attacks. Again, it’s a lot to remember, but it’ll come with time and just playing the game. Another thing worth mentioning is that in order to restore health, you need to use items. Eating food, or drinking tonics. Doesn’t really matter whichever you do. I figured I should say something about this, since it’s become common ground for rechargeable health these days. In Red Dead Redemption 2, it doesn’t seem to be the case. Just be sure to keep an eye on the health cores of both Arthur and his horse!
Even though I feel most of the game is positive, I do have some other complaints. I found having to take your weapons off your horse to be completely unnecessary and at times I noticed that my guns would randomly be stored, which resulted in me having to take them back off my horse. I wasn’t entirely certain when it would happen, but at times I would go into a place and my weapons would still be on my horse, leaving me with only my side arms. I also found the game’s hunting to feel a bit like a chore. The ratings of pelts used in crafting was something I found particularly bothersome, as I feel just getting a pelt alone should have been enough. Instead, you have to get perfect rated pelts for use. This is relatively annoying because it seems to require well placed arrow shots, which is surprisingly difficult, but I can’t even count the number of bad pelts I’ve disappointedly collected. Another thing I found relatively annoying, was just how much you could spend looting bodies and containers. Holding down the interaction button just to watch Arthur start patting down corpses or individually open a draw then have to interaction with it again just to pick up an item gets a little ridiculous after a while. Admittedly, this honestly didn’t bother me until I had to loot like 30 dead bodies, which I had just completely gave up on doing and carried on my way. The positives in Red Dead Redemption 2 certainly outweigh the negatives, so even minor complaints like this don’t really ruin the overall experience.
In closing, I would say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is yet another great Rockstar game. I don’t feel like I can say it’s a best Rockstar game, but I definitely think it’s up there and I really feel that Rockstar have truly become masters of their art, though I strongly believe some aspects of the game may have been inspired by Breath of the Wild. Still, it’s hard to deny how strongly I feel about the games immersion, it’s something that I feel I could find myself getting lost in, something I feel I have a hard time doing playing games these days. Everything from the games rich story, to the vast attention to details even in small things, like cleaning off guns or seeing Arthur’s beard grow all big and bushy. I feel like I’ve come to appreciate so much about this game that any of the negatives that come off like a nitpick; I honestly feel I’ve been having a great time regardless. Whichever way you look at it, Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best games to release this year and I can’t wait to see what sorts of other things there are to uncover within this massive world.