Rockstar Games is finally back after last releasing Grand Theft Auto V in 2013. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the prequel to one of the last generation’s best games, Red Dead Redemption. Taking place in 1899 at the tail end of the age of the wild west, the end of the age of outlaws, players take on the role of Arthur Morgan, one of the gang’s longest running members. Arthur finds himself on the run from the law, other gangs, and is unsure of the situation he is in. Throughout his journey, and your journey, Arthur just may find himself on the road to redemption. Society and civilization versus the wild west and its infamous outlaws, a tale so old it can almost write itself…
NARRATIVE / CHARACTERS:
Starting in 1899 after a heist gone wrong, we find our gang being led by the infamous Dutch van-der Linde and being pursued up into the snowy mountains. Which, for a game taking place in the wild west, is not the setting you’d expect to see. But right from the start you can get this sense of outlaws on the run doing what it takes to evade the law and survive. Instead of an explosive opening showing us the heist that failed, we are treated to defeated people just trying to make it, which helps set the tone for the rest of the game.
Business gets settled quickly up in the mountains and the gang makes its way down to camp outside of a town named Valentine. From here the game opens up, both gameplay and character-wise. You play as Arthur Morgan, someone who’s been around for quite some time and knows the way of the world and of his less than favorable nature. He’s aware to what he is but stays within the confines of the gang due to his great sense of loyalty to Dutch.
There’s a colorful cast of characters in the gang that Arthur meets, such as Hosea, played by Curzon Dobell, a man who is like the second in charge to Dutch and helped raise Arthur. There’s also Sadie Adler, played by Alex McKenna, a widow whom Arthur saved at the start of the game. Sadie goes down a path of reprisal against the men that killed her husband, while also being an unconventional woman in an unconventional time.
Mary Linton is played by Julie Jesneck and is Arthur’s former fiancé often making him question his own life choices. And of course the protagonist for the original game, John Martson, is played again by Rob Wiethoff. John is less mature in this game, and much more self-centered, but plays more of the younger brother role to Arthur himself.
Without spoiling anything as the game goes on Arthur begins to feel a rise in doubt regarding what the gang is doing throughout his ventures and even questions himself as well as the code he lives by. His dialogue and actions are also different depending on the player’s own morality. If you choose to act with high or low honor Arthur’s outlook will differ accordingly. Certain characters and events will even completely change based on your choices.
Regardless, Arthur Morgan’s path will lead him to seek some form of obtaining redemption, as the core of the game is about a man who’s made the wrong choices his whole life, and now wants to try and make some things right, as much as he possibly can. The narrative in Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily one of the best stories ever told, not just in gaming, but in general.
GAMEPLAY / OPEN WORLD:
The open world in Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the biggest we have ever seen in gaming. Taking place across multiple states, and featuring Red Dead Redemption’s original map aside from Mexico (which can still be accessed through glitches and even has models.) For a video game especially, taking in the wild west the locations is extremely diverse.
Many of the traditional settings appear much later into the game as the gang keeps getting pushed further out east, giving way to swamps filled with alligators and night folk, wintry cordilleras, large forests filled with animals and hunters, and anything else you can of in 1899 – this game just about has it all.
Saint Denis, which is this game’s version of New Orleans, is a huge port city existing as if to scream to the outlaws that civilization is coming to this land fast. It’s so different from every other settlement in the game to the point where it feels foreign and like something else completely, which is of course the whole point.
Traversing this vast open world feels more important and like a true adventure as your horse isn’t simply just a travel tool. As you need to feed, clean, and take care of your horse. Your horse can even die, which if you’re out in the middle of nowhere can spell a huge survival experience. As of course, you need to take care of Arthur as well.
Making sure Arthur eats enough food is very key as if you eat too much he gets overweight, but if you don’t eat enough he becomes underweight, which affects his health and stamina. The survival mechanics are very important to enduring each journey into the wilderness.
If you don’t sleep, you’ll become tired and can do some damage to your health core. But there exist things like coffee and certain foods that’ll help keep you awake until you can sleep in a hotel or a camp. Even certain tonics will give back your stamina and dead eye, like smoking or drinking water. Your appearance can also affect how people react to you. When you’re skinny people may ask if you’re sick. If you’re covered in mud or blood people will either be afraid of you hostile towards you, especially sheriffs and deputies.
The honor (or dishonor) of your actions affects what people think about Arthur. Shooting a man and robbing him in the middle of the street will of course get you wanted, unless no one witnesses it, but either way it will also decrease your honor. If the person you shot has any friends or family they’ll confront you in different ways, either just letting you know they don’t forgive you, contacting the authorities, or even attacking you. Making high honor choices in the heat of the moment will lead to your name being known in a good way though, you’ll be praised. For example, helping a man with a snake bite cling to life will get you honor points, but you’ll also meet him later on and he’ll be overjoyed to see you again. For saving his life he might even give you something like the gun of your choice, useful items, or cash.
Every measure you take affects the world in some aspect. Talking to a man while he is standing by his horse can end up scaring the horse and getting him killed by a kick to the head. This would allow you to loot his body (it’s only a crime if you get caught), and even claim his horse as your own. If you had walked up to him slowly instead though, his horse would have ran off giving Arthur the chance to catch up to it and retrieve it for him, for which he will be grateful in the moment and help you now with money, or later with some type of reward.
Combat in the game is a boundless evolution over what can be seen in the original Red Dead Redemption and Rockstar’s sandbox games in general. Dead eye returns in a big way, now letting you see areas on the body that will do the most damage when shot at, while also being upgradeable through usage. Shooting feels more grounded and better than ever, allowing you to carry 2 handguns and 2 larger weapons at once. You must invoke strategy when choosing a load-out to carry away from your horse, which serves as storage while on the road. Shotguns are useful for close range combat but are poor at a distance. Bows can be great for hunting and stealth headshots, but are too slow to be useful during heavy combat.
Players can even even dual wield now, but it does slow your rate fire ever so slightly. This also depends on which sidearms you prefer. Revolvers have longer reload times compared to handguns. In the original Red Dead Redemption, you could just switch through vast amounts of weapons at will, but honestly, I prefer this more realistic take as it really does make you think more about what you’re doing. This is not a game you can just run around in and try to hip fire constantly. Players who approach the game in this way will die a lot. Stay in cover, only run and gun when dead eye is full, it’s the best way to become the fastest gun in the west.
Stranger missions serve as the side quest in Red Dead Redemption 2. These have been a staple since the original Red Dead Redemption, but this time they feel extra structured and there is an increased frequency of them. Some of the missions in the original game were either really short or more like random encounters that you didn’t have much influence over. But in Red Dead Redemption 2, there’s usually at least 3 to 5 missions on-hand where you have to either help strangers with various task or sometimes it’s simply just about talking to them. An example of this is helping a sister nun by donating to the poor. You can choose not to, but doing so gives you higher honor, and you eventually meet her later on in a main story mission because of this.
Sometimes main story missions even stem into stranger missions, like helping Arthur’s former fiancé Mary, or helping out a young couple in love escape their crazy families. There also exist collectible stranger missions, which consist of finding dinosaur bones, fishing for fish, or finding weird artifacts and then mailing them elsewhere via the post office to receive money. There’s plenty of other side activities to do like hunting rare animals, trawling for legendary fish, gambling in poker, blackjack, five finger filet, horse racing, robbing homesteads, and even unexpected ‘Easter eggs’ which I won’t spoil here. This game just has so much content that you can only ever feel like you’re scratching the surface the majority of the time.
The music in Red Dead Redemption 2 is nothing short of amazing and has a contrasting vibe liken to the first title in the series which featured more historical western music while this title all-out creative in the music department. The spirit animal theme is a standout and one of my personal favorites. There’s also imaginative tracks like “That’s The Way It Is.” Even the theme song of the first game returns, whilst remixed to fit different emotions, nonetheless remaining nostalgic. Nice musical notes when riding your horse through the world, remind me a lot of Breath of the Wild’s score, but with a strong cowboy twist. One of the best tracks you can listen to is actually within the free theme for PS4, and just gives that building feeling of things going wrong for half-honorable outlaws on the run.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece truly worthy of the long 8 year intermission since Rockstar Games’ last project Grand Theft Auto V. To the fullest degree, this game pushes the boundaries of open world design and storytelling in video games. Everyone who plays video games should make an effort to experience it at least once.
The nature of Red Dead Redemption 2 being a prequel means there’s no excuse not to give it a go. This is also a game that in a way has “ruined gaming” for me, only due to the fact I know it’ll be a long time before I get to play a game like this of this quality again, but in the meantime I am still enjoying it, and have even returned to the original Red Dead Redemption to experience that again.
When the time is right I will do an in-depth review of Red Dead Online since I view that as separate from the campaign. In the meantime, I give Red Dead Redemption 2 a 10 out of 10 making it one of RGN’s very few Platinum Games of 2018. Of course it’s not 100% perfect but this is as close as you can get. Now saddle up for your own chance at redemption.
RGN Rating: 10 / 10 (Platinum)
Developer: Rockstar Studios
Publisher: Rockstar Games
(Subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive)
Available On: PS4, Xbox
Played On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: October 26, 2018
Review Copy Info: A physical copy of this game was purchased by RealGamerNewZ for the purpose of this review.
Editor’s Note: Rockstar Studios is the moniker used for development of Red Dead Redemption 2 representing the global effort of various Rockstar Games studios which worked together as a single entity comprising over 2,000 employees. These studios included Rockstar North, Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar New England, Rockstar London, Rockstar Toronto, Rockstar Lincoln, Rockstar Leeds, Rockstar India, and Rockstar International. This is the first time all subsidiaries acted as one.