The year is 1899, and the wild west is dying.
So begins the opening narrative of Red Dead Redemption 2. The sprawling, open-world cowboy adventure takes 12 years before Red Dead 1, and in the decade following the events of the narrative unrelated Red Dead Revolver. The world is moving on, and, as we are quick to find, the world doesn’t want outlaws like Arthur Morgan, John Marston and Dutch Van der Lind anymore.
RDR2 is a lot of things wrapped up in a gorgeous package (Note: The game looks significantly better on Xbox One X hardware, but even on my base PS4 model, I am regularly blown away by visuals). The game is an extraordinary open-world adventure with light RPG elements and an incredibly engaging story. The game is also very slow, but I will get into the pros and cons of this a bit later.
A World Moving On:
The beginning of RDR2 shows us our heroes in a world that is moving without them. Before the events of the game, a robbery went catastrophically south, leading our gang to seek refuge in the snowy mountains. Images of the Donner Party reign supreme as the first cinematic shows a wagon caravan struggling through a blizzard. From here, the story ramps up to 110 percent. I won’t spoil anything, but RDR2 has some of the best storytelling I have seen in a Rockstar game.
Like most open-world games, RDR2 gives players the freedom to complete a number of tasks In a big sandbox. There are side and main missions for players to undertake and even an honor system to promote good behavior. I really enjoy this system in RDR2, even though I am not a huge fan of it in other games. Usually, there is a world-ending threat that is neglected while the hero learns how to cook and fish. In RDR2, the stakes aren’t quite so high, so the main character taking a brief minute to catch some fish fits thematically.
It is very relaxing to while away the days hunting and fishing while the gang lies low. It makes sense that an epic western story would unfold over weeks and months, so I love to kill time exploring and enjoying the world. This all makes it sound as though there are no criminal shenanigans to get involved in, and that is absolutely not true. The game is wide open in ways that Arthur can break the law, and, while some might make me squirm, most are fun, and morally justifiable with enough mental gymnastics.
Things That Don’t Work:
While I have enjoyed most of my time with RDR2, there are just some things that flat out don’t work the way you would like.
When walking through any town, you must be very careful, whether on horse or on foot, not to accidentally knock into any pedestrians. This might be excusable and brushed off as an accident, but the townfolk will either call the lawmen, who will shoot to kill on sight, or try to start a fistfight with you, resulting in additional charges leveled against you. This makes sense for the world, but it just isn’t fun. Maybe that is the point, but it is incredibly annoying to rescue a woman, ride into town, and have a man walk in front of your steed, causing you to lose the mission. This also can happen with bounties and is very annoying.
The aforementioned issues are only real issues because the game is trying to slow the player down at all costs. Every skinned animal, sale and interaction is slow. This is a divisive issue, as some people like games where the gameplay is so streamlined that you can loot a body from a corpse (*cough Assassins’ Creed Odyssey cough*). I don’t have a problem with the slow gameplay here, except when I am trying to travel the map. Fast travel is locked behind trains and camp upgrades, but this is the biggest issue I have with the game’s slowness. In total though, I don’t mind it. If feels good to slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Wild West.
The last big part of the game that doesn’t work for me is the glitches. The game has a lot of glitches- horses spontaneously combusting, for one. This isn’t a game breaker, and is admittedly very funny, but a glitch is a glitch, and I don’t like it.
RDR2 is a techinal masterpiece. With hundreds of animals, weapons and ways to be a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy, the game really stands out as one of the greats of this year. Coupled with God of War and Spider-Man, this is one of the best years for “mature” games in quite some time.
Even when the game is committing sins of being slow and getting me in trouble for townsfolk who can’t stick to the road, the game is a marvel. It sucks me in and doesn’t let me out again easily. Going in, I admitted that I was not the biggest fan of westerns, but RDR2 has opened my eyes to the genre.
RDR2 is not going to be for everyone. It is massive and unapologetically western. The narrative deals in some questionable activities and degenerate characters, but the whole thing feels alive.
If you are someone with the hankering for a new game to play, I have a hard time thinking RDR2 will disappoint you, especially if my drawbacks aren’t deal brakers.