When Rockstar announced Red Dead Redemption 2, I was of two minds, one side I very much wanted another open world Rockstar game, the other, I did not want a western, with a world that was devoid of things to do, now that I have sunk a lot of time into the game, I know where I fall.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to the last game, but rather than play as John again, you now get to control Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van Der Lin gang, lead by Dutch, who is part leader and part father to Arthur. The game picks up with the gang, heading deep into mountains, as a fierce storm carry’s on around them, they haste is due to the threat of Pinkertons, private detectives and security, that are attempting to arrest them, after a job went bad. The game’s story begins once they find shelter in an old camp and it is really quick at introducing characters, most of them are members of the gang, but there are a handful of names dropped that you meet later, but for now, it’s a matter of surviving. Soon though, you are down from the mountain and the gang needs to make a new camp, somewhere that certain elements won’t find them and with a location decided upon, it is time to head there.
It is when you begin to head down the mountain and see the world, that things start to come together, yes up on the mountain serves as more of a tutorial, but the game is more about showing you a few parts of live in the west. Once you are off the mountain, you get the freedom to do what you wish, and be the type of cowboy you want to be, it is at this point that the game throws a lot more information at you, especially once you start doing missions like hunting or playing poker. Arthur is given time to head off and see what he can find, now you can head into town, speak to members of your gang who are around the place, or just ride through the country and this is where the game had issues for me.
It is the interactions between Arthur, Dutch and the rest of the gang that make the game worthy playing, the world though, not so much, simply because there is a lack of things to do Yes, you can hunt, fish, drink, shop and all the other things you would expect, but none of that matters if you are spending more time heading to destinations than anything, The game is even aware of that fact, as there are times, when you are riding with members of the gang, that a cinematic camera will kick in, if you hold day the follow button, giving you the chance to just enjoy the scenery. The times when you are on your own though, are not devoid of things to do or see, just unlikely to happen a lot, which makes some sense, given that the west was not New York.
When it comes to missions, the vast majority of them are pretty straight forward, go to a place, rob, shoot or threaten someone, then escape, there are a few variations that jump up every now and again. Escorting someone is the common, but sometimes there are missions to just go and hunt, it was these missions where I really enjoyed the game, as it gave me more of a chance to get to know the gang members more. The missions that I was not a fan of, were the ones that required me to go and gather a resource or seven, then bring it back, being a mailman was not fun either, as they reminded me of times when games just padded themselves with pointless missions, to seem bigger. The other issue that I had with the missions, or at least several them, is that the difficulty spikes like nothing else, with many missions requiring a lot of attempts in order to complete them.
The game has you collecting materials that you can use to create tonics, helpful for restoring things like Dead-Eye and health, but even spamming the use of them, had me dying a lot. Some of the enemies seemed to take a sharpshooter tonic, as they never seemed to miss and most of the time, it was sheer luck if I survived. Riding out on my own, was not as fun, as the game seemed to have issues providing a challenge there, it was easier than expected, but when in missions or with other members of the gang, it thought harder was better. If the game was able to provide a suitable increase over time, it would not have been an issue, but the randomness of it, means that the fun is sucked out fast.
The most frustrating part of the game though, is its reliance on a good and evil system, where the actions you complete will modify your reputation, get spotted killing someone and letting the witness escape will not only draw in the law, but lower your rep. On the flip side, helping a stranger on the side of the road will help it, which in turn lets people know that you are a good guy, the problem with this, is that Arthur never admits to being a good guy, regardless of how high I managed to get my meter. People would thank him, tell him how good of a man he is, only for Arthur to reject that, stating he is not, even though I had spent hours making up behave in a decent manner. Another part that is a little confusing is when you are wanted in a town, or large area, you will find yourself sought after by bounty hunters, the larger the bounty, the more aggressive they can be. The issue is, that without any real notice, they can be on your tail and it takes either some serious riding, or a shootout to be done with them, the problem with the second one, is that if you get spotted doing that, your bounty will increase, and the cycle begins again.
Of course, one of the most impressive aspects of the game are the visuals, the game contains a host of characters that all look incredible, the world is just as stunning, with trees and grass that feel like they could be real. Animals area little strange at times in their behaviour, but they still look amazing, While exploring the wilderness, coming across a bear or a fox, can result in some intense action, but should you die hear, the game still looks amazing, your death just being another part of it. Even waking up in the camp can provide some gorgeous sights, with fog rolling across the fields and light filtering through the trees. There are few visual blemishes though, that while uncommon, when they do appear, are hard to ignore, weapons, especially those thrown over the shoulder, will clip through the clothes that Arthur can wear, but worse than that are the pop-ins and outs.
There were a few times where objects would appear in front of me, just out of nowhere and sometimes they were just slow loading, which given the size of the world, is forgivable, but other times, they were random. I had an instance early on, of a bottle appearing in front of me in the middle of camp, as it was suspended in the air, just sitting there. One character even walked through it, not stopping at all, which proved it was some random glitch, the problem was it happened multiple times, but it was not the worst offender. That comes from the vanishing act that people and animals would do, once example was that while riding, two people riding in front of me, just vanished, nothing left of them, they were just gone and another was a deer that I had shot with an arrow, popped away, leaving me to hunt again.
Stepping away from the visuals and into the realm of audio, the game gets even better, if that was at all possible, from a truly incredible voice cast, to sounds that help sell the fact that you could be in the west. The first time we hear the main cast speak, is in that snow storm and they are shouting, the sounds of the storm are raging around them, but when they head down the mountain, each character becomes clearer and its easy to pick out who is who. Other characters that you meet, such as the leaders of two warring families, random people and beyond, all sound wonderful, providing a sense of weight to their performances, but if there is one clear winner, it’s the music. The games score is incredible, it remains in the background most of the time, but will then pick itself up and take centre stage, whenever the need calls for it, with the effect being one of pure wonder. Rockstar announced a release of some of the soundtrack and as it is phenomenal, you can bet I will be picking up a copy.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an astonishing game, the characters and story are sure to keep you invested for the over 60 hours that they run, assuming you don’t get distracted like I did. The game has some issues, visual being the worst, but the frequent difficulty spikes hurt more than that, but if you look past them, you will find something great.