Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC, while still retaining most of the issues present in its console versions, remains a visual and storytelling masterpiece.
There's a moment in the opening mission of Red Dead Online where, while holding the left shift button and periodically tapping A or D to keep up a proper horse-riding pace alongside a NPC, the player is told they will be allowed to do whatever they want as soon as they hear out what the next NPC has to say, stating, "After all, freedom out on the range can wait a few minutes longer, can't it?" Once the destination is reached and the aforementioned conversation occurs, upon exiting the cutscene and returning to gameplay with yet another mandatory task to complete, the same character quips "The sooner you do it, the sooner you'll be done."
This dialog perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy which exists in Red Dead Redemption 2, one which the story itself emulates with the main character's persistent quest for freedom and search for a life without rules or law being constantly interrupted by the forces of civilization. The story is the fulcrum point under which all of Red Dead Redemption 2 balances, occasionally teetering too far in one direction or another as it desperately tries to give equal weight to every single action taken by the player, at times to a infuriatingly tedious degree. The amount of sections in the game where the player is forced to slowly walk, usually while being talked to or, especially during the Red Dead Online sections, talked at, is in itself enough to turn off many, but underneath the massive amount of self-indulgence lies one of the most beautifully-crafted Western stories ever told.
Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC looks absolutely gorgeous with all the graphical settings kicked up to Ultra, although even players with higher-end computers may experience some graphical glitches and frame rate stutters during cutscenes and transitional landscape shots. Importantly, everyone will definitely need to make sure their graphics card drivers are updated to the latest version. There have been some reports of more serious technical and graphical errors, enough to prompt a link on the Rockstar Games Launcher to their tech support page for common solutions to the most prominent problems, but none of those were personally experienced during multiple hours of playtime here, save for the occasional dead body wiggling strangely in the mud or bouncing up and down in the snow.
One of the most common issues in the console release of Red Dead Redemption 2 saw players continuously accidentally shooting NPCs they were only trying to talk to, thanks to the confusing controller layout Rockstar had implemented to account for the game's vast array of interactive options, many of which are context-sensitive and some only occurring once or twice throughout the lengthy campaign. The PC version here, thanks to a keyboard, does not have such issues, but instead decides to assign seemingly half the available keys to one action or another, causing a bit of confusion until the player gets used to picking options with G, R, F, E, or I on the fly depending on the situation.
Much has already been espoused about Red Dead Redemption 2's tutorialization of gameplay, of how new mechanics are introduced slowly, methodically across the first ten hours, requiring the player to complete numerous missions to unlock both protagonist Arthur Morgan's full move set as well as revealing all of the different options available to the player in the overworld. The first time through Red Dead Redemption 2, this comes across as a disappointing but almost understandable compromise, as players are learning mechanics along with Arthur. On a second playthrough, however, this becomes tediously unnecessary, with even simple tasks like taking a weapon from a horse being locked from the player until they are specifically told how to do so.
These are all inarguable issues in Red Dead Redemption 2, and that's before remembering so many of the lavish animations and breathtaking vistas were crafted by people who were supposedly overworked and stressed for months on end. However, when taking in the breadth of the game's story as a whole experience, it's easy to see why so many of those decisions came about, and why, even though many fans complained about having to hold down buttons unnecessarily in order to perform simple actions, those mechanics remain unchanged here on the PC version. Slowness IS life on the frontier, punctuated by moments of humor, drunkeness, and death.
In much the same way as the controversial Death Stranding forces players to laboriously walk from one far off location to another, Red Dead Redemption 2 wants the player to fully embody Arthur Morgan throughout their experience in the game's world. On a first playthough, this can take some time to get used to, as Arthur isn't exactly the most forthcoming about his needs, wants, life, thoughts, or desires. It's a relationship which builds over time, but by the end of Red Dead Redemption 2 players know Arthur nearly just as well as they know themselves. As uncomfortable as it may be to slowly, methodically re-learn all of the mechanics on a second playthrough, the amount of emotional presence and immediate understanding which comes from knowing Arthur's full story from the start makes the early chapters of the game all the more poignant upon repeat viewings, and highlights the fantastically-written characters Rockstar has always been known for in an even greater fashion.
Dutch Van Der Linde, leader of Arthur's gang and family, is perhaps the most interesting catalyst Rockstar has ever created. Equal parts Charles Manson and Jesse James, Dutch leads his family of outlaws from one bad situation into another, always scrambling to avoid rival gangs and the government while also being unable to pull himself away from the deep-seated hatred he holds for people who he feels have wronged him. The player, as Arthur, has been with Dutch ever since he was a young man, having joined up with the gang in his early teens, and thinks of Dutch not only as a leader and brother-in-arms, but also as the closest thing he's ever had to a father figure. Much like Manson, over time Dutch has surrounded himself with younger men and women, placing himself in the position of authority over them, telling his "family" time and time again he is the only one who can keep them safe, as long as they trust him completely.
Charles Manson, along with Susan Denise Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, and Patricia Krenwinkel, was sentenced to death in the state of California in March of 1971, although those sentences would later be converted to life imprisonment via a ruling in the California State Supreme Court which temporarily abolished the death penalty. In the trial, it was determined Manson had created a "family" of his own making filled with younger people who he was able to mold and direct through suggestion, domination, drugs, and other methods. The jury agreed with the prosecution's evidence that, although Manson himself did not commit the murders of Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, and five others (for that particular trial, others would be held later for separate murders) himself, the fact remained he was the one who ordered the killings, making him just as culpable in such actions if not more so. Manson was a father, a priest, a God, and a Devil to his followers, and he amassed broken souls so they would carry him along and do his bidding, discarding them at his own discretion without a second thought if such an action would advance his own needs. There has never been a video game character whose actions so closely mirrored those of Charles Manson, until Dutch Van Der Linde came along.
Once the parallels are realized, it's hard not to take Arthur's (read: your) own decisions into consideration when playing Red Dead Redemption 2. These emotional connections, the way some actions feel morally repugnant even though it's all technically "still a video game," these are the elements which keep Red Dead Redemption 2 from falling into it's own trap of self-indulgence and overlong opening hours. And once all those gameplay options are unlocked, once players can ride or fish or treasure find or rob or hunt or collect bounties at their own discretion, the game becomes one of the most versatile open world experiences ever crafted.
Like the recently released Death Stranding, Red Dead Redemption 2 is equal parts introspective experience, movie, and video game, and it's understandably not for everyone. However, those players who do take the time to be talked to, to be immersed, to become Arthur Morgan, they will find something many video games have striven to achieve but few do: an actual work of art. Although this PC version does not offer much in the way of additional experience from its console counterpart, players who prefer the ability to spread out their fingers, adjust graphical and tech settings, or just never got around to playing it the first time will find much to love in Rockstar's massive ode to Western outlaw mythology.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is out now on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. A Rockstar Games Launcher code was supplied to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.