Red Dead Redemption 2 provides the best single player experience of this generation of games to date. At the time of writing this review, the online component has not yet been launched. Whilst I would usually be upset at the fact that the game doesn’t ship with online multiplayer from day one, the single player campaign is such a behemoth that Rockstar could have afforded to delay the online multiplayer for another two-three months and I honestly would not mind. This is not only Rockstar’s most challenging and ambitious project ever, but RDR2 is set in the most jaw-dropping and at many times, the most overwhelming world that I have experienced in any game. We’re not just talking about vast landscapes of nothingness. Rockstar’s attention to detail is frightening. RDR2 reinvents what it means to make a truly open-world game.
Set during a period where America is becoming a land ruled by law, the story focuses on the power struggles between the handfuls of outlaws that are managing to slip through the cracks. You play as Arthur Morgan, who is part of a gang that has been forced to take refuge in the icy mountains after a failed heist attempt. You follow Arthur’s story throughout the entire campaign and whilst the story may seem quite linear, gives you an insane amount of freedom and opportunities. At the same time, it maintains a level of control over you to ensure that the gamer experiences what the developers wanted you to experience. The first few hours of the game allow you to really appreciate the visual fidelity of RDR2. Set in blizzard conditions, you’re instantly made to believe that you’re going to be in for a very tough (and often lonely) ride. The first few hours also allow you to get accustomed to the controls, which at times can be very complex only due to how much you can do. If you accidentally punch your horse, rest assured that you’re not the only one! I just couldn’t help but admire how the snow tracks were so perfectly rendered as Arthur and his allies would step on them. You instantly gain an understanding of just how deep the snow is because of the way Arthur struggles through it. This is just one example of the level of detail that Rockstar has put into its game. At no point did I feel that this detail was compromised.
Before you know it, the game allows you to let loose on the rest of the world. The higher you go, the snowier it gets. On ground level, you’ll see almost everything; lakes, greenery, villages and plenty of animals many of which are wild and dangerous. There are even caves that you can go through. Regardless of whether your surroundings are caked in snow, mud or water, everything looks perfect. Every little town has its own charm and has a separate community of people. Poorer villages have inhabitants that reflect the area they live in, whilst other larger towns will have nicer streets, restaurants and therefore, well-off people who behave very differently. Thankfully, Arthur’s many quests will have you going through all of these places. You don’t need to worry about missing out on any landmarks or locations as the game will often require you to visit these places. Not only will you need to visit them, you often have to interact with the people, go indoors and even play some hands of poker! Despite all of this, even if the campaign takes you approximately 75 hours to complete, it won’t be enough to cover every corner of the map. It helps that you won’t need a reason to just free-roam; it is very easy to get distracted in this incredible world.
My biggest concern before playing the game was that the focus may end up being too much on the environments rather than the actual story or its missions. This is not the case. RDR2 always keeps things feeling new. The missions don’t feel the same, and if you ever get tired of doing favours, you can just roam around and something very quickly will occur. This is the real magic of the world of RDR2. The fact that you can just sit in a pub and eavesdrop in a random conversation between two drunks is something that the developers really didn’t need to do. You can greet every single person, and you can often choose to help them if they have a problem. This level of interaction isn’t only indoors either – there are opportunities for you to mingle with humans and animals outside. A lot of them will just be carrying out their own business. There is AI individually crafted for the various characters and whatever tasks they have to carry out. You can interact with any of those beings if you want them to become a part of Arthur’s journey.
If you lack patience, RDR2 may cause you problems at times. The quests are often quite slow, and the pace of the story isn’t as fast as the likes of GTA V. After all, Rockstar has been spending so many years developing this game – why would they encourage you to race through the entire campaign? The main reason why the story lasts about 70 hours is because you have to travel a lot, and there are a lot of cutscenes. I generally don’t like this approach, but RDR2 is so beautifully made that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The slow pace of the game allowed me to really soak in every piece of detail. Besides, whenever I had to travel from A to B, I would often just set the journey to cinematic mode and let Arthur go there on his own. Even small details like looting are all entirely manually driven. You can’t just walk through a house and button bash to pick up all the loot. You need to manually walk up to each chest of drawers and cupboards to open them and them loot them. Any dead bodies need to be manually looted too – you cannot just walk on top of them to pick up any goods. If you don’t have the right weapon, you need to go to your horse and manually swap the weapon since you cannot carry so many. All of this takes time, but it allows you to appreciate every level of detail. Even when you refill ammo, there are manual actions that you need to carry out!
If you’ve just killed 30 enemies, you have the choice of looting them or just walking away. Looting 30 bodies manually will take some time, but you may be rewarded for it. RDR2 does a great job in making you feel as if resources are low. These resources can be in the form of more ammunition, or even food rations that help replenish your health and/or stamina.
Certain missions will require you to have specific weapons. The game will always tell you if this is the case. Sometimes you need to go back to your horse to swap the weapons, and sometimes (depending on the circumstance under which the mission starts), you may already have a rifle with a scope already equipped. Either way, the game ensures that you’re not going into certain missions without the right weapons to take on the task.
Events that take place in the game will also influence the conversations people have. This really is unheard of. In many computer games, people are programmed to make certain comments, but in RDR2, when you complete a mission that is widely known, you’ll actually hear townspeople gossip about it. Even small conversations about individuals within the gang who may be having a slight tiff are also the sorts of topics that people can be overheard discussing about, especially amongst your own camp. Again, none of it is mandatory, and you’re not forced to listen to any of it. However, most gamers would either choose to ignore it, or not even realize that it’s happening if the gameplay was faster. The purposefully slow-paced movement allows you to realize that such moments are happening around you. Whether you choose to engage is entirely up to you.
In the rest of the world, Arthur’s actions will influence the news that is spread. You’ll even see newspapers lying about, many of which will have headlines about Arthur’s latest deeds. For Rockstar to even bother caring about such detail is extraordinary, and my only fear is that there won’t be another game that will ever be able to match up to the depth that RDR2 contains.
There is an insane amount of variety in the missions you carry out. Even the ones where you’re learning the controls will have you taking out bad guys and getting into fist fights. As things progress, you’ll be carrying out heists, chasing bad guys on your horse and rescuing allies all whilst keeping an eye on your hat to ensure you haven’t lost it (or you can just steal one from a dead guy). Whenever you want to take a moment to relax, you can take part in some alone-time through activities such as fishing. Yes, RDR2 contains an entire fishing mode.
Your main mode of transportation is your horse. There are plenty of horses in the game and as the story progresses, so will the choices available to you. You can choose what types of horse you want to ride with; some will be faster whilst others are smarter in moments of gunfire. There are also plenty of missions where you’ll need to fight whilst riding your horse, and despite the fast-paced nature of the action, the gameplay is solid and highly responsive. The camera angles are well-aligned and you’ll have plenty of fun knocking enemies off their horses. In addition, Arthur can only ride the horses that trust him. Sometimes if you try to approach or ride a horse that doesn’t trust you, the horse will kick you or refuse to co-operate.
Those who played the original RDR will be pleased to know that Dead Eye is also back, and is particularly useful for taking out the tougher animals! There have been some upgrades to the mechanic, one of which allows you to identify the weaker spots of enemies and target those. Whilst it may not be a realistic way to take part in combat, it’s always fun to unleash a spray of bullets in slow-mo. Naturally, I hope that Dead Eye doesn’t make an appearance in online multiplayer! Whilst the map is huge, there is also a way to unlock a fast travel map, which will allow Arthur to fast travel from A to B. This doesn’t become available from the beginning however, which isn’t an issue as you’re going to be busy with the initial missions.
Your camp is a sanctuary for you to be able to rest and recover. You can cook food and even craft new items. You don’t have to do any crafting and instead, just stick to purchasing items. Camp is also a place you can resupply on any items that you used up during your most recent mission. However, if you’re the type of person who just loots every dead body, you probably won’t need to resupply back at camp.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the audio. I believe RDR2 has the most number of lines recorded out of any game in history. They aren’t just lines for the sake of content. They are all perfectly voice-acted – you genuinely will feel that you’re part of a huge western community. The sounds of the horses galloping against different terrains, the blizzards as they roar through the sounds of allies talking to you and even the way the guns echo in different environments are just examples of areas where Rockstar has focused on making the sound as important as the visuals. Also when interacting with people, I never caught the game out with any mistakes. Arthur greets women differently to men. He greets groups of people differently and similarly, they respond to him in various ways. Of course, RDR2 also contains an excellent soundtrack which really helps magnify the intensity of rescue and heist missions.
RDR2 acts as a prequel to the original and whilst it’s not important to have played the original, I would highly recommend that gamers do give it a once through. There are connections between Arthur’s journey and John Marston’s, and in order for you to fully appreciate the two characters, you should play both of the games. Marston is obviously a key part of RDR2, but is not the central character. Arthur always remains the main focus, closely followed by Dutch. If anything, watching Dutch’s character develop is more interesting, especially due to events that occur in the original RDR.
There are a large number of funny moments in the game too. Especially when the gang is making its way to a particular destination, Arthur has the option to engage in conversation with the other gang members. A lot of this chit-chat is casual banter, but it’s brilliant how the characters feel comfortable enough to rip each other apart verbally in ways that I can relate to with my own group of friends. It makes those long journeys worthwhile.
In typical Rockstar fashion, even completing the story doesn’t mean that you’ve finished the game. The epilogue of the campaign is probably longer than many other single player games! However, even once you’ve finished the campaign, there is plenty to explore and a lot of side missions that require completing. If all is done, I am sure you can just enjoy fishing, as there are close to 30 different species of fish, all of which have different AI! By the time you’ve done all of that, online multiplayer should grace the game, which I expect will be just as successful (if not more) than what GTA V’s multiplayer had to offer. I am already excited at the prospect of carrying out heists with friends in the world of RDR2.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s single player campaign is the best that I have ever played. It’s a tough call between RDR2 and GTA V (coincidentally also by Rockstar), however I have to give the award to Rockstar’s latest epic. I am still amazed at the attention to detail the developers have put into making the world feel alive. The visuals, audio, story and gameplay are simply put, pure perfection. In order to gain the best possible experience, you really ought to be playing this on PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. Many fans have waited for over 5 years for RDR2 and the wait has been truly worth it. Part of me wishes that either RDR2 was delayed until Q1 2019. Rockstar has managed to pull me away from every other AAA game that I was looking forward to playing. I’m already addicted to the game, and it will only get worse once the online multiplayer hits. Regardless of whether the online multiplayer becomes a success or not, the single player experience alone warrants Red Dead Redemption 2 with a truly perfect 10.