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Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

by William Schwartz

Rockstar's best open world to date.

Rockstar Games has long been the master of the open world game.  After all, it was Grand Theft Auto that popularized the genre all those years ago and things have just been getting bigger and bigger ever since.  Rockstar’s own titles in the Grand Theft Auto series have been getting more massive with each iteration, but in 2010 they tried their hand with a Wild West setting that had largely been untouched.  Red Dead Redemption brought a lot to the table, even if it took a lot from the GTA series.  It had everything that an open world wild west game should have and plunged players into the shoes of a retired outlaw named John Marston and had him tracking down his old running mates.  This time, Red Dead Redemption 2 takes the lead, forging its own path in the open world genre by introducing new mechanics to the Rockstar open world formula and the result is nothing short of astounding.

Despite being called Red Dead Redemption 2, their latest game is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption.  John Marston is not the main playable character this time around.  Instead, players will be playing the role of Arthur Morgan across the course of the game’s massive six chapter affair.  Morgan is a running mate of Dutch Van Der Linde.  After a botched heist in the familiar town of Blackwater, the gang is being tracked by the Pinkerton Detective Agency across this sprawling open world.  Being on the run, the Van Der Linde gang is seemingly always one good score away from freedom.  Being a prequel to Red Dead Redemption you already know how this story ends.  Red Dead Redemption 2 is story of how everyone got to where they were at the start of the Red Dead Redemption and how John Marston turned from the hunted to the hunter.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 is a much different game than the last one though.  There has been so much added to the experience this time around.  While there are still many of the tried and true staples of the Rockstar open world game.  There are some hardcore survival game elements at play here.  What’s most surprising is the cohesiveness of it all.  The challenges that developers face with the open world genre is that trying to tell a story while giving the player absolute freedom makes for somewhat of a disjointed experience.  In Red Dead Redemption 2, the player is in control of every facet of their survival.  From the micromanagement of their body temperature and huger levels, to the overarching health of the gang’s cash coffers and every thing in between.  There are so many different systems at play here, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolute marvel and new high bar for the genre.  It’s the ultimate ‘see that mountain, you can go to it’, game.  Not only can you go to it, but you can kill every man, woman, and beast on the way and change the world in the process.

The game is all about Morgan’s internal conflict.  As we said before, we know where the story is headed each step of the way.  The decisions that you make will change your experience though.  From weather to music, your actions in the world influence your specific playthrough.  There is only one way that the story can go, but on this journey you’ll see your friend and father figure, Dutch Van Der Linde descend into madness, taking bigger and bigger risks in his quest for freedom.  This leads the story experience to be a heist game largely.  You’ll be pulled into dangerous missions that have you losing friends along the way while never quite getting enough to start anew. Despite all of the new survival features that Red Dead 2 offers, the basic structure of the game will be familiar to Rockstar fans.  Visit markers on the map of a certain color and you’ll proceed down the main path of the story.  There’s a decent variety to the story missions, but they will mostly boil down to shooting a lot of people.  While the major plot points are going to be the same for most people, the way that they get there is going to differ wildly due to the sheer amount of side activities in the game.  On these main path missions come the biggest complaints from us.  There’s a restrictive nature that contrasts wildly to the freedom you have when exploring.  They’ve usually got you following someone or riding with a group for lengthy segments, and while it does give you a chance to take in the world, it can get a little long in the tooth before it’s all said and done.

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Once the action kicks off, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a blast though.  The shooting mechanics and Dead Eye system return and it’s as good as it was in the last game.  Morgan can slow down time with this mechanic and perform amazing shots with a variety of sidearms, rifles, and shotguns, often times getting treated to slow motion kill shots that can be incredibly violent.  There’s a deliberate pace to the gun play that feels great when using the Dead Eye system or standard targeting, all the while utilizing a cover system that will keep you out of harm’s way.  You’ll have to shoot people in the story missions, but when you’re out in the open world the way you interact with people is entirely up to you.

Over time you’ll become more and more proficient as you level up your different attributes like health, stamina, and your dead eye abilities.  There is a ton of micromanagement in Red Dead Redemption 2 and it lends to the authenticity and cohesion of the experience. You’ll not only be managing the aforementioned things like your body temperature and cash flow, but you’re also wrangling with your honor, bounties that the law will set on you, as well as your relationship with your horse.  Each and every thing in Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like its reactive to the player choice.  Whether that be whether you choose to take the high road in conflicts, or solve things with your weapon, whether you choose to push your horse to its absolute breaking point, or stay on the beaten path.  There is nothing but choices to be made and you’ll constantly be faced with the consequences of your actions.

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This is where Red Dead 2 is at its absolute best — when it gives the player the freedom to explore and interact with the world on their terms.  The good news is, this is all the time.  From the very beginning of the game you are free to do whatever it is that you want, go out into the world and explore it to your content and then come back to the story missions when you feel like it.  And you’ll find plenty to do out there.  Random encounters with strangers will set you out on unexpected adventures.  In fact, after playing the game for well over 70 hours, we’re still finding people out there that are in need of a little help.  But it’s not just these random encounters, there are a ton of collectibles to uncover.  There are a bunch of weapons to find or buy, outfits to collect, animals to hunt, or secrets to uncover.  Upon the completing of this review I was sitting at around 83% percent complete, and up until this point there hasn’t been an end to new encounters.

The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 truly is a marvel.  It features a fully recreated map of most of the previous game, as well as the new area which is about twice as big.  It’s absolutely massive.  Riding a horse from one side to the other will take you quite a bit of real world time, seeing every nook and cranny will take you awhile.  There are snowy mountains, an Indian Reservation, a modern city modeled after New Orleans, a gator infested swamp, plantations, rolling plains, and just about every sort and of course the southwestern climates of the previous game.  With these unique areas, there’s also a ton of different weather scenarios that you’ll encounter with misting rain storms, blizzards, bright sunny days, and cloudy, gloomy moments.  On the weather and terrain fronts, Red Dead Redemption 2 has just about everything you can imagine.  And it looks amazing at that.  Just riding or walking around this world is enjoyable if just for the combination of music and visuals, it’s simply a joy to explore in this game and stumble upon these random encounters, landmarks, and people.

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What’s likely the most impressive thing is how all of these systems work in concert.  There were only a handful of moments in these many hours that I spent with the game where I saw the same thing twice.  That is, these unique moments that give the game a layer of realism. Sure, you’ll have similar experiences in the game, but how you react to them can be vastly different.  While you may perform a robbery and get away clean in one instance.  In another, a witness to your crimes may make it to lawmen who establish a bounty on your head as a result.  Which can quickly spiral into being chased across the country side by horseback riders and scent sniffing dogs.  The sandbox freedom that Red Dead Redemption 2 offers to players is unparalleled.  The choices are completely up to you, but the consequences must also be dealt with.

Whatever it is that you come to open world games for, Red Dead Redemption 2 has it.  It’s a massive game that will take you many hours to see the credits roll, but you could spend many, many more hours in the open world just playing with the many systems at play here.  And it’s wholly satisfying.  From the way it runs in to Red Dead Redemption, to the cast of characters and varied missions and seemingly endless side content, there’s just so much good here that it far outweighs any of the bad.  What’s more, is that our review of Red Dead Redemption 2 only included the single player portion of the game.  With the world being such a shining star here, we’re incredibly excited about the possibility of what Red Dead Online will offer and how it can extend this already massive game into something even greater.

The Verdict

With Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar Games has set the bar so high that other games of this nature seem infinitesimally lesser because of its existence.

"loved"
loved

Red Dead Redemption 2

  • Available On: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
  • Published By: Rockstar Games
  • Developed By: Rockstar Studios
  • Genre: Open World Action Adventure
  • US Release Date: October 26th, 2018
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "With Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar Games has set the bar so high that other games of this nature seem infinitesimally lesser because of its existence."
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