In 2010, Rockstar Games released the amazing Red Dead Redemption, a game that would finally do the Wild West true justice, and then some. Despite enjoying the likes of Red Dead Revolver from Rockstar and Gun from Neversoft in 2004, however neither games in my opinion lived up to their true potential. The original Red Dead Redemption had everything I’d want from a Wild West game, a rough around the edges protagonist, saloon fighting, horse riding and showdown shooting all combined with the huge, filled with immersive stories and a wealth of interesting characters, in an open-world that we know only Rockstar Games can deliver.
Then years in the making, Rockstar Games outdoes themselves once more by delivering what could quite possibly be their greatest achievement of all-time, Red Dead Redemption 2. Set 12 years prior to the original Red Dead Redemption, rather than playing as our previous protagonist, John Marston, we are now led by Arthur Morgan, a leading member of the Dutch van der Linde gang. Now you may recognise that name, because if you played the previous game, you as John Marston chased down and hunted members of the Van der Linde gang and namely, their leader Dutch, who John Marston accused of leaving him for dead in a heist gone wrong. So with the fact that we now play as Arthur Morgan in the Van der Linde gang prior to those events, a gang that features none other than a young John Marston, the story makes for a very strong prequel dynamic and it’s interesting to see what really happened during the events leading up to the alleged botched heist, leaving Marston for dead. Now in terms of the plot, I’ll leave it there, because being involved blindly as possible in this story as it unfolds, is a joy to behold.
Let’s begin with the visuals, and oh my, this game is gorgeous! From what I hear, Red Dead Redemption 2 looks stunning on the standard PS4 and Xbox One consoles alone. I’m currently playing on the PS4 Pro and this is easily up there with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and the God of War reboot in terms of visuals, albeit each games has their own art-style. The character and facial animation is absolutely top-notch and despite still having somewhat of a cartoony art design with its characters, at the same time, their mannerisms, expressions and body language can be eerily lifelike at times, which only allows you to form a stronger bond with its diverse and interesting world of characters.
However, it’s not just the characters of the world that look amazing, from Arthur Morgan, leading NPC’s and the interesting Strangers of the Wild West, the open-world of Red Dead Redemption 2 can at times often be quite breathtaking and distracting at the same time. The world for starters has a complex Echo System with not only the NPC’s going about their daily business, but also the dense wildlife too. Whether it’s the lush countryside, the snow-filled mountain tops or the harsh deserts of Mexico, each element of this world is brimming with life and activity. At least from what I’ve played on a console over the years, Red Dead Redemption 2 offers the closest to a living and breathing world in the video game that I’ve ever seen. To say that this is a technical marvel is an understatement.
But arguably most importantly, how does Red Dead Redemption 2 play? Well that in itself is a complex answer, because just like its dense world, there is A LOT to behold in terms of a gameplay perspective that this game offers. From simple interaction with NPC’s, travelling on horseback, getting into a fight, hunting, crafting, providing for you camp to keep them happy, looking after Arthur Morgan (or neglecting his health and appearance), there’s an insane amount to explore and immerse yourself with Red Dead Redemption 2. So without going into every minor detail, otherwise I’d be here for a very long time, I’ll prioritise to what I believe are the most vital aspects in this game.
Other then its world, the beating heart of Red Dead Redemption 2 are its stories. Even though I’m still yet to finish it (and I swear one day I will), one of the most impressive aspects of The Witcher 3 was its stories, not just the main campaign missions, but also its side-quests. They are at such an impressive level of attention to detail, it’s at times difficult to distinguish which are main missions and which are side-quests, and Red Dead Redemption 2 also reaches that high acclaim of story-telling. It’s such an impressive feat that when so much attention has gone into the worlds echo system, that the same level of care has gone into every mission and experience in the game. It would be so easy to fill this game with simple fetch quests, don’t get me wrong they are here, but even those are executed so well, every mission feels as important as the last and every NPC you interact with are portrayed by the same standard quality of voice-acting quality as the leading characters of the game.
Hunting also plays are vital role in the game. However, unlike the previous Red Dead Redemption, if you are to gather the best resources, then you’re going to have to ramp up your hunting expertise. You could simply shoot a dear or a horse in the head, skin them to claim their fur and gather the meat to feed your camp or sell to a butcher. Yet, if you want the best results and gain the most pristine resources, then you’re going to have to learn the best ways to hunt each specific animal. If you achieve this, not only will you gain the best quality of meat, but you can also earn more money if you choose to sell your resources and if you want to craft the best items, you’ll need to be at the top of your game. It might sound like a ball-ache, but trust me, once you get the hang of things, you can lose yourself in the expansive hunting mechanics as anything else in the game and before you know it, many hours have passed as you aim to claim that Legendary hunting trophy.
Now you may have noticed me briefly talk about feeding and keeping your camp happy? Well normally I’d hate this level of micro-management in any game, but Rockstar have done so well to get me feeling immersed into its world at such a deep level, and genuinely care for the characters around me (well, apart from perhaps Micah), it becomes second nature to help look after my camp, my companions and to do my part. This can be done be bringing food back to the camp, the better the meat, the better the food that the cook serves up. Or you can donate any cash you may have gathered (whether it be legally or illegally acquired) or items such as valuables. However that is not all, because you can take part in camp chores, interact with your companions with a game of poker or dominos and more. Also, the stronger bond your form with certain camp members; you may even unlock some extra side-quests.
Speaking of bonds, arguably the most important bond you may have to form in Red Dead Redemption 2 is with your horse. There are many horse breads available in the game, some are best suited for heavy cargo, some for quick getaways or some that are good all-round. The more you use a particular horse, your bond will grow and the horse will become more loyal to you by being more responsive when you call it and it can even learn new tricks. You can also form a stronger bond by feeding, cleaning and generally keeping your horse happy. I must also point out that your horse is much easier to control in this sequel (well prequel), in comparison to the original Red Dead Redemption.
Other gameplay improvements have been made to fighting and shooting. The melee combat feels more satisfying then before and that includes being compared to GTA V, the Dead Eye slow-down shooting mechanic feels more slick and responsive, which now highlights critical hit areas, and there’s also great attention to detail that has gone into the customisation. Expanding on GTA V, there is more freedom and choice when upgrading your weapons, which you’ll also now need to clean to get the best out of them. You can even customise and name your horses, and that’s aside from the already mentioned and impressive level of crafting available in the game.
Also expanding on GTA V, you can change the physical appearance of Arthur Morgan with a beard and hair trim or you can even grow it out if you choose. Maintaining Arthur’s health is also quite important. If you eat too much, Arthur may pack a stronger punch in a fight, put he’ll have reduced stamina as a consequence. However, if you’re somewhat underweight, you might lack some added physical power, but you’ll have better stamina for it. So it’s a matter of personal preference as to what you might prefer. You’ll also be wise to choose the best item of clothing’s for certain times of the year or areas on the map. For example, wearing just a shirt and jeans in the snowy mountains is seriously going to have a negative effect on Arthur’s health; likewise wearing a big heavy jacket in the heat of the desert isn’t going to do him any good either.
The Honor system also returns from the first Red Dead Redemption. How this will works is that it relates to the choices that you make for Arthur in the world. Helping out those in need, outright murder for no reason, killing bounty targets rather than bringing them back alive, or not being nice to your horse, is all going to have a negative effect on your honour. However, being a little kinder in the world, is going to push your honour rating in a more positive light and depending on how you act, it also influences how the NPC’s of Red Dead Redemption 2 interact with you.
I must also note that to support the superbly told stories and voice-cast of Red Dead Redemption 2 is the equally as impressive (and vital) soundtrack composed by Rockstar Games favourite, Woody Jackson. This talented composer is no stranger to Rockstar, as he has not only worked on the original Red Dead Redemption, but also L.A Noire, Max Payne 3 and GTA V to name but a few. His talent in bringing life to video games with his mesmerising music is second to none and truly has that authentic spaghetti western aurora to his sounds. I would almost go far as to say that Woody Jackson is the modern day equivalent to the gaming world to that of Ennio Morricone, who worked on the iconic Man with No Name trilogy from Sergio Leone.
In conclusion, the term “masterpiece” can be thrown about way to easily, but I can’t think of a better way to describe what Rockstar Games has achieved with Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s intriguing cast of characters from front to back will urge you wanting to know more of their back-stories. The world is full of meaningful activities from hunting, a spot of fishing, crafting, bank robbing, hunting for treasure, partaking on side-quests and so much more, yet none of it ever feels like filler. Then to top it all off, this is one hell of a beautiful game to admire, it’s just a shame that we have no true photo mode to share our experiences, other than the basic console sharing functions. 2018 has truly been a blessed year with Game of the Year contenders, however in my opinion, not only is this a major GOTY contender, but Rockstar Games has created another genre defining game in Red Dead Redemption 2 and that’s even before Red Dead Online launches in its beta stage late November 2018. So stop wasting time and buy this game now, even if you have to rob a train or stage coach!