Stealing many a week from gamers, alongside cash from their wallets, Rockstar has released their new game in the Red Dead franchise, Red Dead Redemption 2. Following on from the well-loved Redemption, 2 takes us on a prequel ride as we learn about John Marston’s past life in the Van Der Linde gang, though seen through the eyes of our new protagonist Arthur Morgan. With plenty of people calling in sick for work, booking time off or staying up until ungodly hours, I myself have spent an insane amount of time on this new release but was it time well spent.
Redemption 2 is set around 8 years before the start of RDR, and so if you’ve played the earlier game you may know how plenty of the characters end up, or where storylines lead. This prequel approach can lose some of the anticipation and tension when you know X dies or Y lives, but the storytelling does make up for this somewhat with vibrant story arcs, backstories and interactions between the gang members alongside the civilians they come across.
You take on the role of Arthur Morgan, one of the older members of the Van Der Linde gang and a close friend of the leader Dutch. Thrown into the thick of it, we find ourselves recovering from a botched ferry job, running into the snowy mountains to rest and recuperate. Allies dying, food needing to be gathered and ambushes later we are taken across the map to make new camps for the gang or set up new heists and banditry jobs.
Most of RDR2 is set around the gang trying to survive in 1899 where outlaws are becoming a thing of the past, with the law, government and the world all fighting against their existence. Dutch is hunted by the law, alongside most of the members having prices well into the thousands on their heads, which is a lot of money for the time period this game is set in, around 20x more in current coinage.
The main story will run you around 40 hours on average, but with many Rockstar games, RDR2 is jam-packed with optional missions, mini-games, collectables, random events, crafting, challenges and more. A 100% playthrough would easily last over 100 hours or more, with several playthroughs being viable due to some of the choices you can make along the way, though most of the crucial choices are found towards the end, allowing for a previous save to be used to find out most of the outcomes.
RDR2 continues the same style of gameplay from the previous game, refining the UI and flow of all previous systems. While RDR2 does improve on RDR immensely in terms of gameplay it still sticks to the core of gunslinging and realistic movement combined with speed. Changing weapons, shifting sides and editing equipment is all done with immersion in mind, you will see your character take a weapon out of a holster, shift it around, rotate handguns to fit into holsters, open up their bag to take an item out, skin slowly while moving the pelt and animal around and much more. This slow approach to gameplay helps get you immersed more than before, but can also be off-putting to more action-orientated players.
The combat in RDR2 is mostly done via gunplay, you can have up to 2 small arms and 2 long arms, mostly coming in the forms of revolvers and rifles respectively. You draw/sheath with L1, aim with L2 or quick draw with R2. You can fire from the hip by pressing R2 or aim and shoot with L2 and R2 together, though shooting from the hip is generally faster. Deadeye, or slow-down fire, makes a return and can be activated by aiming and pressing in the right Thumbstick, starting off with an auto paint but evolving into a targeting system with R1, to which you can fire at all targets by pressing R2.
Alongside guns you also have a satchel to store dynamite, throwing knives, lassos, knives and more. Besides fighting your way through enemies you can also try stealth by clicking in the left Thumbstick and stealth killing enemies with circle. Tapping X lets you sprint, Circle for melee attacks, square for jumping and R1 to get behind cover.
RDR2 gives you plenty of opportunities outside of the main story, though most of the mechanics are taught via the story. You can hold up stores to steal their money or merchandise, or even get into their illegal back rooms. You can steal from banks, hunt for animals, steal and sell wagons, hijack trains, search for treasure, ransack houses and much more. If you’re ever hurting for entertainment or money, RDR2 has plenty on offer to sate both appetites.
Continuing the Redemption honour system, RDR2 extends the implication of morality and choice. As you ride around you can help strangers from snake bites, giving them rides to town and stopping escaped convicts. Your honour will affect item drops, store prices as well as how civilians treat you. The system itself is a bit broken though, as you can increase honour by petting dogs or returning fish after fishing them out of a river, allowing you to weirdly grind honour, while the story and mechanics push you towards dishonourable deeds like thievery. It seemingly wants you to do everything, instead of being a paragon of good or a denizen of evil. While you can ignore plenty of the mechanics that force dishonour upon you, you will be missing out on plenty of gameplay due to this decision.
For most of your gallivanting around the map you will be greeted by lovely ambient noises, sounds of gunfire in the distance and yelling of people in need. While this is great for immersion it can feel a bit too quiet and empty without the soundtrack playing, though thankfully this is not the same during missions or times of action. The music is a mix of old-timey pianos and strings during bar visits and times of comedy, whereas vistas and traversal are treated to heavier tones on the previous instruments alongside drums and guitars. For a majority of the soundtrack, it keeps to the Wild West style and fits amazingly with the setting. You will also be treated to camp songs and singing after certain events which add into the feeling of community.
The difficulty in RDR2 is pretty steady throughout the game, headshots pretty much always kill whereas body shots require 2-4 hits depending on the weapon. Some of the later units and hunting squads can be a major hassle to deal with, but are generally avoidable either through hiding or paying off your bounty. Sadly the whole masking up mechanic doesn’t work for the most part, as people know who you are regardless, only really aiding you in shorter spurts of illegal activity.
RDR2 is full of glitches, like many other open world games, yet still reigns them in when compared to other studios like Bethesda or Ubisoft. Ragdolls will fly into the air, people will get stuck inside of objects, textures or people won’t load, controls will break, missions will get stuck in loops “That’s a nice fish” while other occurrences are situated with the AI of both human and beast. Although there are plenty of glitches, due to the size of the game and the hours you will be spending with it you won’t be seeing them all the time. Through my playtime with the game, only 2 missions broke on me, but you may have differing luck in that department.
Overall Red Dead Redemption 2 gets a 9/10, it is a blast to play with great attention to detail. Picking up your hat after a bar brawl, changing your equipment or shaving your beard all feel natural with some amazing flow between actions. Some missions are kind of boring, with some events forcing you down a certain path or telling you to take dishonourable acts when you could be wanting a more honourable playthrough. The game is prone to glitches and breaks, though can be worked around or fixed rather easily. Choices don’t always become apparent until later down the road, or for 1 different line of dialogue. Upgrading equipment both feels rewarding and unrewarding at the same time, as the increase in numbers isn’t felt too immensely during gameplay. For fans of the series you will love this entry, but if you’re coming in for just all guns blazing you may be a bit disappointed by all the slow parts the game has to offer.