Rockstar has been one of the best game studios for the past 20 years. They have developed and published some of the most well-known and influential games like Manhunt, Max Payne, and who could forget Table Tennis? Of course, there is also Grand Theft Auto as well as Red Dead Redemption, the latter being arguably the best take on the Western genre in video games.
In Layman’s terms, these games are kind of like Grand Theft Auto in a Western setting, but they are also much more than that. While they serve as dedications to Western films, they take place during a time where the Wild West was slowly becoming less wild. The law was taking over, technology was booming, and banks were on the cusp of owning everyone. It’s a period rarely touched upon in cinema. Red Dead Redemption II is a prequel to the 2010 hit game, taking place 12 years before John Marston went to hunt down his old gang members. 2 is set during his gang member times, but this time the story is told through the eyes of a new protagonist, Arthur Morgan.
Right off the bat, the game has a rocky start. The first few hours are spent in the cold, snowy mountains learning the basics of the game as well as the characters. The game holds your hand ever-so-tight during these segments, and it’s unfortunately necessary because Red Dead Redemption II is not your typical open-world game. Most of them nowadays include a main quest as well as a ton of sidequests that may distract you. Rockstar’s open-world games seem to have a healthy focus on both, and I personally felt more encouraged to play the main quests more so than the side ones. Not to say these side-quests, or in this case Stranger missions, aren’t good. You’ll encounter a colorful assortment of people who need help or simply want to talk, which may lead to more missions involving that same stranger. One of my favorites involved a Circus performer named Margaret. Then of course there are the more random encounters.
NPC’s will run into you asking for help or a challenge. Sometimes you will be ambushed by rival gangs and other outlaws that will try and rob you. And you will still be helping citizens along the way if you want, by bringing them back to their homes after their horse died, or helping them recover from a rattlesnake bite. These may lead into some pretty lengthy dialogue sections, only expanding upon the rich world of this game. Whether or not you decide to help these people will result in how honorable you are to the citizens of each area, and at times you may receive some money or shiny knick-knacks to sell. However, help the wrong people, and your honor will go down, making it harder for you to visit certain shops and towns. And if you just want to kick back and have some fun, you can play some five-finger fillet, watch a movie, a stage show, or play some dominoes to pass the time and gain some money through bets.Money is a very important tool in Red Dead Redemption II, and Arthur can gain some simply by doing quests, selling items, and hunting bounties. If you want to take the less-honorable route though, robbing citizens is an easy way to get some cash quickly, and you don’t have to just stop at stores and wagons. There is a mission where you get to rob a train, and after that, you can rob even more trains at your own will. When you get the hang of it, the world of the game is your oyster. If only the controls didn’t hold it back a bit.
I can’t tell you how many times my horse would hit a tree or easily trip on something it could have hopped over. A real horse wouldn’t hit anything no matter how bad you’re riding it. And if you’re moving the horse any faster than a trot, you increase your chances of hitting a citizen townsfolk on accident, only for your bounty to increase before the lawmen shoot at you. Usually you can surrender if an officer figures out that you’re a wanted man, but if they’re already shooting at you, forget it. That’s what irritates me about Red Dead Redemption II; for a game that has so many good aspects, the few bad ones are GLARINGLY bad. For their next game, Rockstar seriously needs to learn how to make the controls less frustrating. Because why would you make the button you use to mount your horse the same button you use to choke out the person next to you?
Fortunately, these are where the flaws of the game end. When you learn your way around the flimsy control scheme, Red Dead Redemption II is a work of art. The engine used to create the vast open-world quite possibly makes this the best-looking game to date. Sunlight shines through the trees, the grass looks like it was taken directly out of real life, and the mountain ranges feel dauntingly huge. Considering you’ll be spending most of the game on horseback, it makes sense why they would make the world look as beautiful as it is.
Then of course there is the story, one of the main reasons why Red Dead fans are playing to begin with. We can argue all day about whether Arthur is a better protagonist than John, but we can all agree that he has one of the best character arcs in Rockstar Games’ catalog of protagonists. And because it is a prequel, some of the story moments lose their impact a bit if you’ve already played the first game. However, some parts that you may see coming are executed so well that you still might appreciate what happened to one character as a result of the other’s actions. I’m not going to dive into spoiler territory here, but the story in this game only makes the story in the last game better, and that says a lot about how well they crafted the tale of the van der Linde gang in Red Dead Redemption II.
If it weren’t for the flimsy controls, the game would have been almost perfect. Aside from that, Red Dead Redemption II justifies an 8-year-long wait by delivering an immersive game world and an action-packed, emotional story. My only regret is that I played this game way too fast, so it’s definitely worth taking your time to really explore the world and do a bunch of sidequests before knocking out the story in one go. Red Dead Redemption II will certainly go down as one of 2018’s best games.