Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption 2 is already one of the most successful video games ever to release, but does it live up to the hype? Taking place several years before 2010's Red Dead Redemption, the follow-up game is a prequel that follows the outlaw Arthur Morgan, who's a key member of the Van der Linde Gang along with the previous installment's main protagonist, John Marston (who's is much younger this time around).
It's been eight years since Rockstar's last Western game hit store shelves, and consumers have gobbled up the new installment in droves, thus giving Red Dead Redemption 2 the second-biggest launch of all-time, only behind another Rockstar video game: 2013's Grand Theft Auto V. And while Red Dead Redemption 2 is deserved of its commercial success, it's also equally deserved of its acclaim. In addition to giving people a new, bigger open world to explore on horseback in the Old West, Red Dead Redemption 2 puts players into the shoes of the main character and actually has them live through Arthur Morgan's life, just as he would.
Cruising through Red Dead Redemption 2's six main story chapters actually doesn't take as long as people would believe, but taking a break from the campaign to explore West Elizabeth, New Hanover, and New Austin can be quite time-consuming, but that's all part of the game's value. Coming off popular video games such as Fortnite and Marvel's Spider-Man, adjusting to the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 may be difficult for many players, especially since it forces people to slow down - perhaps not as life possibly was back in the Old West, but close enough for a video game. Looting requires full animations and traveling from one location to the next takes several minutes, but where the slowness and realness come into play is in Arthur's daily activities. Players have to quite literally live his life: eating, sleeping, shaving, and so forth are all part of the core experience.
A constant gripe with open world games is that there isn't much to do outside of the main story. Sure, exploring is always fun, but that can only last for so long before it becomes monotonous. Thankfully, that's not the case with Red Dead Redemption 2. Gamers can freely explore the open world and partake in an array of activities, ranging from hunting Legendary Animals (and then selling those in animal pelts to the Trapper) to becoming a professional poker player, all while collecting bounties and finding treasures hidden across the plains. Red Dead Redemption 2 may have a 60-hour story, but consumers can put well over a hundred hours into a single playthrough. After all, Red Dead Redemption 2 does have multiple endings.
Everything from fishing, hunting, and earning money to robbing, dueling, and traveling aren't mere mechanics in this open world game but core aspects of the adventure and story itself. Sure, Red Dead Redemption 2 holds players back from the outset, but once people progress through Chapter 2 and then into Chapters 3 and 4, the game opens up in all sorts of ways that allows gamers to experience the Old West in ways they haven't been able to before. However, there are some notable drawbacks. While those aren't design, mechanic, or programming flaws, Red Dead Redemption 2's fundamental features may not be for everyone.
Performing mundane tasks like shaving, brushing your horse, and setting up a campsite to cook/rest, among many, many other things, may turn people away from the game. It can be, at times, a bit too realistic. Fast traveling is a signature part of open-world titles, but in Red Dead Redemption 2, players have to go to actual train stations or stagecoaches in order to travel across the map. Just like everything else in the game, Red Dead Redemption 2's fast travel feature is very much realistic. Moreover, Red Dead Redemption 2 holds back way too many functions from players and presents any and all bits of necessary info in an inconvenient way. The sheer amount of detail in Red Dead Redemption 2 is astounding, though the fallout of that can be overwhelming consumers.
Other aspects that could've been refined are the combat and movement systems. Combat, for many reasons, is too analog, and there are times when moving around a room can be difficult. Players very much feel the weight of the character, and walking can border on trudging. While these are all fundamental drawbacks for the game and may become deal-breakers for some consumers, they may not be far-reaching enough to diminish the enjoyment factor for most people. All in all, they are annoyances that can be overlooked after getting through the game's first two chapters - but the question for consumers is, is that worth it? If Red Dead Redemption 2's passiveness is too slow for players, the story tends to move at a breakneck pace. But part of Red Dead Redemption 2's charm is straying away from Dutch van der Linde's gang and heading off into the wilderness (or snow or desert or plains) on your own.
Aside from the award-worthy main story and the groundbreaking graphics, what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 an achievement in gaming, specifically with regards to open world games, is that it contains a truly living and breathing world that presents actual consequences - both good and bad - for players' actions. If gamers come across an escaped prisoner who is asking to be cut loose, he may just murder someone at a later point. Or if players decide to suck out venom from someone's leg, that guy could come back and award Arthur with special equipment as a thank-you. Actions and consequences are perhaps a disregarded cornerstone of what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 unique in practically every aspect. This is something people will likely discover when their horse is killed... actually killed and gone forever.
Ultimately, Red Dead Redemption 2 is, at its core, like playing through Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. It's a modern take on the Old West, but one the genre very much needed. It's a breath of fresh air for gamers and a departure from the run-of-the-mill open world games that have plagued the industry over the past few years. While it's not a 100% perfect title from a gameplay perspective (no game is, honestly), Red Dead Redemption 2 is very much the game it needed to be, and the one that fans wanted it to be. What Rockstar has done is truly remarkable, and it set the benchmark for the gaming industry as a whole, not just open world titles.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is now available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Screen Rant was provided a PS4 copy for review.