Should you play Red Dead Redemption 2, if you haven’t already?
Yes. Yes, you should.
Okay, that’s the short version of my review of this game, which I played for the better part of a year before I deleted it from my PS4 to allow room for other games I wanted to play, like Far Cry 5 and God of War.
No, I didn’t earn a platinum trophy playing this game. Nor have I from any Rockstar game so far. I think it’s because I’m more interested in completing the story than in grinding away at missions and tasks that otherwise didn’t capture my attention. The same was true of Grand Theft Auto V. Like GTA V, I’m not selling my copy of RDR 2, so that probably says more about my enjoyment of the game than anything else I could write. Although I’ve completed the main story, I don’t feel like I’ve fully experienced everything this game has to offer.
If you were a fan of Red Dead Redemption, you should know that this game is like that one, only more so. It is a massive open-world game with varied environs and land types. We get snow-capped mountains, forests, swamps, and sparsely vegetated dry lands. There are lakes, rivers, streams and even ocean. There are cattle towns and swampy Southern plantations, prisons, forts, Indian reservations, shanty towns, and even a city called Saint Denis that made me feel like I had time-travelled to old New Orleans. If the map isn’t expansive enough (and it is), we also get to make a surprising side trip to the northern Caribbean for a rousing series of story missions.
This game feels huge—almost overwhelmingly so—and while it may be slightly less populated, at least by people, than GTA V, it feels no less “real.” I used quotations for the word real because I’m defining reality as an in-game feeling, not as a delusion that threatened to make me forget I was playing a game. There is also a wide assortment of wildlife and, if it’s your thing, you can spend a lot of time hunting and fishing and enjoying the beautiful outdoor vistas that are plentiful throughout this game world. I have to admit that I’m more of a city mouse than a country one, and I enjoyed robbing banks and trains or engaging in gunfights than shooting and skinning wildlife. With some shame, I’ll admit that I never even caught a fish, although I tried a couple of times.
I seem to keep comparing this game to GTA V, but, other than the first RDR game, that’s the video game, also produced by Rockstar Games, that this one most reminds me of. And, that’s intended to be a compliment. RDR 2 has a more leisurely pace than that other game, to be sure, and even if you’re not the outdoors type you may find yourself, like me, spending a lot of non-story time just exploring this beautifully rendered world. The NPCs also seem to be living lives that have nothing to do with the gameplay, more than simply existing as set decoration. You can pet dogs and groom horses. The other nonplayer characters I interacted with most often, the other members of my gang, each begin to reveal unique personality traits. The attention to detail in this game is an achievement that’s nothing short of amazing.
You play as Arthur Morgan, who became a member of the Dutch van der Linde gang as a boy. The year is 1899, and Old West gunslinger types are becoming anachronisms. Arthur feels this shift and feels doubts about what Dutch and his cohorts are doing as the century is about to turn and the times are a-changin’. A younger John Marston is also part of the gang, and we even get to witness how he got the facial scars that distinguished him in the previous entry in this game series, set 12 years later.
The game trots out every trope you’re probably already familiar with if you’ve ever enjoyed Western movies or novels. The opening sequence in the snowy mountains seems straight out of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. We get bounty hunters and Pinkertons, army soldiers and a rival outlaw gang, robber barons and charlatans. There’s roping and riding, an assortment of side games to play such as poker or dominoes. You can even take in a night’s entertainment at a theater, or enjoy an occasional bath. Arthur isn’t against taking a drink once in a while either. Along the way, you’ll ride in trains, hot air balloons, boats and stagecoaches, in addition to on horseback.
I can’t really say much about the crafting system in the game. It’s there and I used it once or twice, but I don’t get much enjoyment out of collecting crafting supplies or picking flowers. I’m proof you can complete the game without spending much time with this aspect of the game, which I know some people enjoy. I also didn’t spend much time working on my weaponry, tending to use whatever was at hand and convenient, and I wore the same outfit for most of the game, only occasionally stealing someone else’s hat. I did take care of my horse, however, and had the same one throughout the game. I was even prouder of this achievement after I learned that your horse can, indeed, die without being respawned.
There’s an honor system built into the game that I didn’t spend much time thinking about. I’ve never been the type of gamer to get much enjoyment out of going on killing sprees and taking out innocent game characters anyway. Instead, I tried to make all of my reactions in the game be as realistic as possible, minimizing collateral damage. I still ended up a little on the notorious side of the equation, if my Arthur’s ultimate reward is any indication, but I can live with that. I am an outlaw.
The story itself is emotional and engaging. The voice acting is topnotch, but no less than we’ve come to expect from Rockstar. The musical score is also impressive and cinematic. If you played the first game, some of the story has been spoiled for you already, but I’m not going to spoil it further for you here except to note that, of course, John Marston has to survive the events of this game. And Dutch van der Linde, of course.
I am going to play this game again. I already know this. For now, it’s going in the drawer with my Mass Effect games and, of course, Grand Theft Auto V. I will probably never even try to earn a platinum trophy for this one. That’s beside the point.
Firewater’s Don’t-Squat-with-Your-Spurs-On Report Card: A+
The highest grade I can give. It’s just that sort of game.