In my 10+ years of covering video games, I’ve never seen a game as highly anticipated as Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2.
The hype has led to an unusally dry video game fall, as most competitors have stayed away from releasing big titles alongside Rockstar’s first game since Grand Theft Auto V (2013). Luckily, Red Dead Redemption 2 totally lives up to the hype.
The Red Dead series’ history is a weird one, but all you need to know is that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a direct prequel to Red Dead Redemption (2011) (RDR1), Rockstar’s first big non-GTA game since Bully (2006). If somehow you missed the first game (or if your memory is foggy) I would advise you to go back and read up on the Red Dead Redemption‘s story, because much of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s story hooks directly into the events of its predecessor.
Like the first game, Red Dead Redemption 2 is set in a fictional version of America’s heartland, right before the turn of the twentieth century. It’s the end of the cowboy era and America is slowly turning into a ‘civilized’ society. During that pivotal moment, you take on the role of Arthur Morgan; an outlaw and career criminal, the last of a dying breed.
Arthur is part of Dutch van der Linde’s gang, alongside RDR1‘s protagonist John Marston and his family. Yes, the same Dutch van der Linde you spend most of the first game hunting after. At the start of the game, the gang flees from a robbery gone wrong and your first job is to set up camp someplace safe. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be tasked with keeping the camp stocked, keeping your fellow outlaws happy and – most importantly – getting some moolah.
While the first game lets you set up a temporary camp in the wilderness or sleep at saloons and rooms you rented, this one is much more focused on building out your gang’s hideout. You can still crash at those places — just as in RDR1 — but it faints in comparison to the comradery of the camp. There’s no better feeling than coming back to your base and seeing all your fellow gang members happily munch on a big hunk of bison you just hunted.
The biggest difference between Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2 is how insanely realistic and responsive everything feels. It’s not just that your gang members are stoked because you supply them with food, they’ll also comment on the length of your beard, the clothes you wear, and the ways you interact with them. There are so many little details like that in the game that I still keep discovering new ones after playing it non stop for more than a week.
Initially I was worried that all these systems would become stale and annoying after a while, but in practice they only help to bring the world to life and make you feel like your actions have impact. Having to brush your horse every once in a while sounds like a chore, but in reality it just cements the idea that you’ve been riding your horse across muddy dirt roads for a bit.
There’s one aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2‘s desire to turn every detail into a game mechanic that I didn’t much care for: its ‘cores’ system. Vitals like your health, your stamina, and your Dead Eye (the ability to slow down time during shootouts) all have their own ‘core’ stat, which you’ll need to maintain if you want those things to regenerate.
If you don’t eat enough food, your health won’t automatically regenerate, if you don’t drink enough coffee, your Dead Eye meter won’t fill back up, etcetera. I understand that Rockstar implemented this system to make sure Arthur gets enough food and sleep, but in practice it just doesn’t feel as fun and engaging as the rest of the game.
In the grand scheme of things (and the scheme is GRAND, my friend), that one complaint is easily overshadowed by the insane amount of good things Red Dead Redemption 2 has going for it.
The graphics are a-ma-zing. My jaw dropped when I first booted the game and it’s been on the floor ever since. I’ve only played RDR2 on the Xbox One X on a 4K TV so I can’t vouch for the other versions, but my god is it pretty on my TV. The lighting, the vistas, the details, the animations…
Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily the best looking game on the market. It raises the bar so high that I can’t see any other studio coming close any time soon. Every single bit of the world feels carefully crafted and you can tell a lot of passionate people put an unprecedented amount of man-hours into crafting these visuals.
The gameplay holds up its end of the bargain just as well. It’s the open-world formula we all fell in love with back in 2001, with Grand Theft Auto III, and it’s only gotten better since.
Personally I’ve always thought the first Red Dead Redemption was the best iteration of the Rockstar formula. The sprawling open environment forced the developer to get creative with its content, which resulted in a ton of enjoyable little side activities and challenges.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has all of that good side content and more. The ginormous map is riddled with strangers to help, animals to hunt, treasures to collect, pub games to play, cattle to steal, trains to rob, and weirdos to meet. I would be genuinely surprised if anyone manages to ‘100%’ this game any time soon, as it’s truly mind-boggling how much content Rockstar managed to fit in this bad boy.
Even though I had more than a week to play Red Dead Redemption 2 — and did little else — I still haven’t seen the vast majority of what this beauty has to offer. Red Dead Redemption 2 has been consistently awesome so far, so I would be surprised if the later parts don’t hold up. But just to be sure, we’re going come back to this important piece of gaming history sometime next week with a final review by the hands of my esteemed colleague, Rachel Kaser.
In 2001, Rockstar Games essentially invented the open-world action genre with the release of Grand Theft Auto III. Now, seventeen years later, they’re back to show the world they’ve still got it. Red Dead Redemption 2 is Rockstar at its finest.
It’s generation-defining, it’s bar-raising, and it makes me really excited for whatever this amazing team has in store for us next.