Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a Western game through and through. What I mean by that is that it is a game about the old west, good and bad, that is what it is at its core. It has taken the tropes and subtleties of the genre and made them accessible to everyone. You’ll see vast ravines, you’ll see snow capped mountains, vistas with pastel like sunsets… everything you think of as “a Western” whether in video game or movie or TV show form… It’s basically here.

Even though this is a sequel in name, it’s actually a prequel by nature. Set 10 years before the events of Red Dead Redemption (1), You play as Arthur Morgan, one of the delinquents of the Van Der Lind gang, headed by Dutch. You are basically Dutch’s right hand man as he relies on you to do his dirty work and a lot of the heavy lifting around the gang. As is true for most open world games, this game  allows you to basically do whatever you want. If you want to ride off into the sunset on your own as soon as the game allows you to… you can. But what the game really does excel at, in my mind, is the subtle ways it makes the world feel more attached to everything in it. If you leave for a long time, you’ll get crap for it. If you don’t contribute to the gang’s communal moneybox, or help out with chores, you’ll get crap for it. You can talk to your gang members and really feel connected to them in ways that most games don’t allow you to.

This is in no way a perfect game. There are flaws and the seams holding the world together can be seen a mile away in some aspects. But for a game as big and varied as Red Dead 2, it is phenomenal. Maybe I’m a bit biased, as my favorite genre of film is the Western. Hell On Wheels is in the pantheon of my favorite TV Shows of all time. There is something to the by gone era of the Old West, that you just don’t get in modern times. Again, that's what the game excels at. It takes quite a while before the game opens up and lets you really go nuts. It takes several hours to complete the “tutorial” part and gives you free reign, and that can be a hard thing for a lot of people to come to grips with. Not immediately letting you go rob and explore can be a huge turn off for many people, as a lot of games in this day and age are just sandbox experiences. But Red Dead 2 doesn’t do that, it holds your hand a long ways before if finally sets you free. And there is a reason for that.

Red Dead 2 is so dense with mechanics and systems that it takes a long time to get you to understand and get you familiar with all the the game has to offer. On top of that, they want to get you into the mindset of the old west. Things weren’t instant gratification. It wasn’t a quick 2 second trip several miles away to the store. These things took time. Everything moves at a “snail’s pace” according to most when they first sit down with this game.But that really isn’t the case, it’s moving according to the times. People didn’t sprint everywhere, you walked, you sauntered, you took your time to get to places, because that’s exactly how long it took. There wasn’t a rush. Yes you can’t push your horse to its breaking point, but the game wants you to take your time and soak in the beautiful surrounding of turn of the century Old West.

The game takes all you know about the “GTA” formula and adds onto it more. Weather and temperature play a decent role, as depending on where you are, you might have to equip warmer or cooler clothing. This requires you to walk up to your horse and equip a different outfit. Your horse can hold up to three outfits in their saddlebags. So hopefully you have a cool and warm outfit in there to change if the need arises. The health, stamina and Dead Eye (Slow-mo) meters also have a new “core” to it as well. An overall gage that can refill depending on how much you have available, then the “core” which is basically a reserve. The reserve can only be refilled by eating/resting. The outer gage, represented by a outer circle, is what can be regenerated by just giving it some time to regenerate. Think of the outer circle as a shield, and the core as the main health bar.

One of the most difficult/frustrating things about Red Dead Redemption 2, is that the game both holds your hand way too much in some points, but doesn’t tell you some what should be very basic things as well. The game has so many mechanics and systems layered on top of one another, and tries to teach you all of them, usually by a tutorial mission, like hunting, and it tells you all about Eagle Eye and tracking and scent covering and calling the animal… but then doesn’t let you do it again for several hours. So you forget all the basics and it’s hard to find that information again. It’s a lot of trial and error, after the game has already told you about it, and can’t really be easily found out again.

The Bounty and honor systems can be a little troubling and hard to understand at the outset. Anytime you do something nice or greet strangers or even contribute to your gang’s comunal money box, you’ll earn honor. This allows you to get better prices at shops, or have people recognize you as a upstanding member of society. If you start being a Neerdowell, such as robbing trains, stealing wagons, holding up strangers, breaking and entering, and just being an all around bad guy, you’ll lose your honor, or get dishonor. Doing bad things will gain you unwanted attention, if someone sees you and runs away, they will go tell the law. A bounty will be put on your head and then bounty hunters will come calling. Hunting you down across the state. This can be frustrating especially when you just want to explore and you’ve got a $300 bounty, the bounty hunters will find you and ruin your camping trip. The easy way to remedy this is, is by paying off your bounty at a Post Office. It sucks wasting all your money, but it will allow you to not have to constantly look over your shoulder for the law.

“Stranger” missions are back, and this time are a lot more varied. You will probably see maybe one or two repeats, but mostly its varied versions of several different encounters. Weather its a lady asking for help and then ambushing you, or a man who broke his leg and needs a ride to the hospital or someone who just is stopping to pee. These are just little “slices of life” that I think really adds to the overall presentation of the game and make it feel alive.

Red Dead Redemption 2 sets out and tells a extremely long story that takes its time. If you don’t pace yourself, and also realized that this truly is a Western in all senses of the word, you might find yourself either overwhelmed with how big the game is, or bored to death wanting to move the plot forward or at least move at a faster pace than a mosy. This game deserves and needs to take its time to breathe and tell its story. The characters are well developed, but it’s up to you to really dig deep and find the nature of who and what your gang is. If you rush through the game only wanting to see the main story, just so you can say you beat it, or if you don’t stop and smell the roses, you’ll miss what this game really is trying to say.

The game is beautiful, dirty, clean, crisp, hot, freezing, dry, wet, sereen, odd, bizarre and all around calm all at the same time. The real character of the game is the world. It lives and breathes. It isn’t like anything you’ve encountered before, and that is what makes it a must play game. If you want to experience all this vast game does have to offer, you have to take your time. You have to be willing to let the game unfold on its own. Exploration is the main draw. Set out on your own, away from the gang for a in game week and just explore. Take a trip to the Grizzlies, go hunting in the heartlands, go off the beaten path in the forest and explore that abandoned cabin, uncover the secrets of the backside of water, go spelunking and find hidden treasure… all this and so much more is hidden just beneath the surface of this western tale of a gang just trying to survive the dying west.

Cool Moments:

  • Found an abandoned farm with dilapidated barn and boarded up house. Searched and found a dried up well with a ladder. Climbed down the ladder and found counting marks in the bottom with a few coins as well. Seems that someone was left down there for at least a  couple months as a prisoner.
  • Found a abandoned school house with a skeleton set up in the front with a shall on it’s head. A piece of paper in a book with a creepy poem was placed in front of it while skeletons were “sleeping” in beds.
  • Hunting a Legendary Wolf in a rainstorm near natural geysers
  • Setting up a camp, sleeping for the night and waking up to a couple inbred mountain folk telling me to stay away or “we’ll kill you next time”. Not taking to kindly to them not taking kindly, I watched them mount their horses and I promptly murdered both of them. One horse road away while dragging the body on the ground still tangled in the saddle, and I picked the other one up and threw the body on the fire. Burned it to a crisp while cooking some meat to fill up my health core.