Game Name: Red Dead Redemption 2
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed; Xbox One X Enhanced,) PlayStation 4 (Pro Enhanced)
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
Developer(s): Rockstar North
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Red Dead Redemption 2 is definitely Rockstar’s most ambitious project to date. A beautiful, expansive, meticulously crafted world awaits you, as the stories of a rag-tag crew of outlaws in 20th Century America begin to converge into one of family, loyalty, treachery and eventual collapse. Rockstar does a masterful job telling the story through the eyes of its ensemble of characters, the world-at-large and the overall exposition. It’s such a smorgasbord of things to do, it’s hard to know where to begin once you get past the opening chapter of the story. Speaking of the story…
1899. Dutch van der Linde and his gang are caught in a massive snowstorm as they seek refuge away from Blackwater, the town where they are wanted Dead or Alive for a robbery gone horribly wrong. You are put into the role of Arthur Morgan, who was raised by van der Linde since he was a child, as we learn about some of the central pieces of the story, including younger versions of the protagonist and antagonist of 2013’s Red Dead Redemption, John Marston and Bill Williamson.
The opening chapter of the game serves as its tutorial, teaching the mechanics of the game in typical Rockstar fashion. What makes this opening chapter even more unique – to even Rockstar standards – is the way that it’s structured. Red Dead Redemption 2 is notably open world. It’s an expansive universe left only to your imagination. The opening chapter intentionally locks you into that one snowy area in the mountains while you complete the necessary missions for that chapter. Having to traverse the snowy mountainside as you deal with the O’Driscoll Gang, as well as your initial hunting and scouting missions, as well as rescuing John Marston, is well crafted and gets you primed for everything you’re going to experience throughout this epic of a game.
And it truly plays out like an epic. Every single detail appears to be meticulously designed for pure exploration. Playing this game on an Xbox One X – where I’ll echo Digital Foundry’s statement that it’s the definitive way to play both Red Dead Redemption and Red Dead Redemption 2 – brings out the beauty of the landscape that Rockstar has created. Exploring the countryside is so much fun to do, so much so that you’ll easily get sidetracked with all the different things that you can do in the world. Fishing, hunting, gathering, as well as just admiring the day and night cycles pass by as you explore the West Elizabeth region can leave you with a sense of wonderment. The attention to detail, while it doesn’t rival a game like Forza Horizon 3, Forza Motorsport 7 or Forza Horizon 4, is just as amazing. The effects of the wind going through your hair, the effects of the cold on your body, the blinding nature of specific times of the day are all parts where Red Dead Redemption shines, and it truly shines while playing on the Xbox One X.
Outside of the near 3-day playthrough of the main story elements, there are a lot of pop-up stranger missions and interactions that you’ll be finding yourself doing along the way while exploring West Elizabeth. Things such as completing your Compendium of all the animals and plants that inhabit the countryside, to finding several fishing areas for different kinds of fish will keep you occupied for hours beyond the standard single-player playthrough. Even taking territories before rival gangs get to them and the various bounties you have to fulfill will keep you moving throughout the various towns and homesteads that inhabit West Elizabeth. There is never a dearth of things to do in Red Dead Redemption 2 and that’s a credit to what Rockstar North has created over the last half a decade.
The story feels like it’s been written for accuracy to the historical nature of what we know as “wild-west America,” and yet there’s a story of inclusion that feels genuine. It’s well known that America at large had – and still has – very sexist and racist views about quite a few things integral to functional society, and Rockstar handles it with near surgical precision. I love the little touches provided, such as a random person in Saint-Denis advocating for racism to stay prominent in America, or even the idea that the town of Rhodes being a place where “progressive” is considered a dirty word, and even protesting for Women’s Suffrage could get you murdered. However, there’s this feeling of unity and equality that is present, such as with the interactions of the van der Linde gang. Despite Karen Jones, Mary-Beth Gaskill and Tilly Jackson appearing to be harlots, they’re all very capable, especially Karen and Mary-Beth when it comes to information gathering. Sadie Adler, who was saved by the van der Lindes when the O’Driscolls raided her home in the opening chapter, is revealed to be just as trigger happy as any of the men there. Charles Smith, born to a Native American mother and an African-American father, is integral to the van der Lindes as a valued and trusted guide to the land, as well as a formidable opponent to ANYONE. Needless to say, Red Dead Redemption 2 takes no prisoners when it comes to telling a good story, and it’s more than pleasurable to play through, even though at times it can be a slog.
Despite the slower moments, Red Dead Redemption 2 plays fairly well. Combat is as smooth as its ever been, keeping it simple, and not messing with the formula established in the previous game. I’m enjoying the crafting and cooking system that’s in place. Having the ability to cook and make tonics out of meat and plants that I have acquired through hunting and gathering to replenish my health, stamina, and Dead Eye rings is a blessing in disguise. Speaking of health, stamina and Dead Eye, the leveling up of each of these returns to the game, but enhanced with the new core system. Each of the cores, available for you and your horse, are essentially your emergency reserves when your rings run out. In short, your rings are your main reserve, the cores are your backup. And both your rings and cores are affected by your overall health. Being underweight and overweight affects the cores, as well as your overall damage absorption. This makes nourishment way more important in this entry than it was before.
Hunting is a lot of work to get those clean hits to get the best possible pelt to make hats, vests, coats, etc., to match the conditions of the wilderness. It’s worth it, because getting that perfect pelt is quite fulfilling, especially after finally killing that damn bear! Horseback riding is just as smooth as it was in the 2013 title, even with some additions – the horse bonding system, which I loved being able to max out my bond with my horse, Carrie. The Horse and the Furious: Wild West Drift. Let’s do it. YOU CAN DRIFT HORSES.
Red Dead Redemption 2 does one thing great: Emotional Investment. That’s what several story-based games tend to come up short with, but this game brings it in spades, and while not as striking as the 2013 game’s ending, it still hits you in the feels with the poignant storytelling that Rockstar excels at. Red Dead Redemption 2 is truly a classic game for this decade and a must-have title in any library.
Review Disclosure Statement: Red Dead Redemption 2 was provided to us by Take-Two Interactive for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Red Dead Redemption 2
I’ve given quite a few games 5-star ratings to games, for various reasons. This specific 5-star rating is different. If I had to equate Red Dead Redemption 2 to any other form of art, the first thing that comes to mind is Nas’ Illmatic or Madvillainy by Madvillain, two absolute classic albums in Hip-Hop. Red Dead Redemption is a true video game classic, and being in elite company wasn’t something that was going to hinder this game’s vision. Effective storytelling with fleshed out characters who don’t trample over each other, amazing soundtrack, and unrivaled photo-realism makes a truly complete game.