To say that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a big game would be a vast understatement. The game is absolutely huge in both scale and content. In many ways, it’s revolutionary and will be a high talking point among gamers for years to come. It is also by no means perfect and has its own share of glaring issues and faults.
The game is set in 1899 toward the end of the wild part of the west. You play as Arthur Morgan, one of the leading members of the Van Der Linde gang. The story is long, the voice acting is spot on, and the script is stellar. By the end of it, you will have run through every emotion possible. It’s not a story full of giant twists or head-scratching mysteries. Instead, it feels very human, and it’s a unique take on an epic western.
The Wide Wild West
The graphics are incredibly gorgeous and detailed everywhere except the faces of NPCs. The main cast looks great, but the NPCs look rigid and robotic up close. It’s only really noticeable when playing in the first-person perspective, however. The lighting and reflections look great and the first thunderstorm you experience will probably leave you slack-jawed. Red Dead 2 is one of the most graphically stunning games on consoles today.
The sound and music score are both sound incredible. Gunshots feel rightfully loud, and the wildlife sound real and, you can often hear them in the distance. It’s very atmospheric and contributes well to the game’s immersive nature.
There are no difficulty settings, and the game defaults to an absurd sort of auto-aim, not an aim assist like you might be used to in other games. A literal auto-aim that aims for you with the push of a button. I disabled this immediately and recommend everyone else do the same.
It’s archaic and has no place in modern games. Its existence is cause for concern for the upcoming inclusion of Red Dead 2 online. In any case, by essentially letting the game play for you, you cheat yourself out of the experience of the gunplay.
The game is slow, deliberate, and immersive. The world and its inhabitants have weight them. Animations take time, and you’re restricted on how many weapons you can carry. Likewise, you can’t fit the corpse of more than one deer or other large animal on your horse at a time.
The game wants you to live it, not simply play it, and it honestly succeeds at this. You feel like you are Arthur Morgan living in the wild west. Running through town feels out of place, and I felt compelled to walk instead. Greeting those I passed by with the handy button prompts.
Along these same lines, you have several light survival mechanics. Arthur’s health, stamina, and dead eye meter can drain out, and you need to eat and rest to refill them. Guns also need to be maintained with gun oil, and If you go too long without bathing, people react to it, while wild animals can sense you easier.
You can increase the bond with your horse (that also needs to be fed and rested), and it can die permanently. Hunting and fishing are slow, methodical, and realistic. I can’t see everyone enjoying this style of pacing, but I found myself liking it quite a bit. It was fun to get lost in the immersion of the world.
The pace extends to the main storyline and side missions as well, nearly every mission has you start with a long walk or ride alongside companions who chat away with story and exposition. Other missions have you follow the button prompts to do a task, or sneak around.
It’s interesting the first time, however, I don’t see the game being re-playable because of this. The slow pace of everything combined with the massive amount of ride and chat would likely be frustrating rather than enthralling the second time around. I feel that this is actually Rockstar’s intention. Experience all you can, then move on to Red Dead 2 online next month.
The details of the game are unrivaled anywhere else. I mean that both graphically and in the details of the world around you. The world feels very alive and dynamic, and the towns feel real and lived in. While I could fill a book with a list of little details it’s not something that can easily be explained.
It is a definite case of show-not-tell, and when you look around and breathe it all in, it’s incredible. It’s not just the small stuff either, it’s the sheer amount of things that Rockstar was able to pack into the game. The amount of voice acting and animation alone is staggering. I can not overstate Rockstar’s accomplishments with the details enough.
One example that sticks with me is that I had a side quest that led me to a theatre. You can visit some of these shows during free roam, but this was my first time, and it was part of a side quest.
The theatre had three different acts, and the whole thing lasted around twenty minutes. That’s twenty minutes of specialized voice acting and animations for the acts, and they were entertaining to watch. That’s a lot of extra effort for something not all players will ever witness. It’s quite an achievement.
An Open Shut World
Here’s where things start to get shaky though. Video games differ from movies in their interactivity. The best story in media and the most detailed world mean nothing if the gameplay is not up to the same standard. Those things are icing on a cake, it might be the best icing in the world, but if it’s on a dirty sock, you’re still eating a dirty sock. Does the gameplay live up to the rest of the game? No, or at least not all the time.
The shooting is solid, and the controls are tight. The dead eye system allows you to slow down time and shoot, which feels both badass and ridiculously overpowered. But at its core, it’s a cover shooter, a decent one, but that’s really it.
The game’s missions are incredibly easy even without using the absurd auto-lock. Mainly because it always gives you perfect cover, companions that actually kill enemies (not just pretend to like some games), and limits the enemies’ AI so that they usually stay in one place until you pick them off.
The nature of the game means each enemy dies in one or two shots, you get a wide array of weapons and ammo types to use, and you can even sneak and perform stealth kills in some circumstances. Yet, the potential is squandered.
Since the enemies are dispatched just as fast regardless of what you use, it all feels somewhat pointless. The only challenge the game offers is getting caught in the wild, either randomly, by bounty hunters, or by provoking the law yourself. Without the perfect cover placement provided by missions, and the fact that AI is willing to move in on you makes the game feel more like it should.
The melee combat is laughably simple, it’s two buttons, one to punch and one to block, that’s it. It wears out its welcome after the first fight and thankfully does not come up often.
For an open-world game, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like it’s on the rails. The missions usually have you following specific instructions dictated by your companions who are with you, and you have little to no freedom in how to complete them. It feels like you are playing a movie and not a game in these instances. But when you try to do some free roam activities on your own, it falls apart even more
Like I mentioned earlier everything in the game is slow, and if you want to make some cash in free roam, that’s still true. However, outside of the main missions the game does not reward you for your time.
You might spend 10 minutes hunting a buck only to find its skin and meat only nets you five dollars when you haul it to the butcher. You might spend time finding a wild horse to break and sell to the stable, and it nets you two dollars. Main missions net you $100 or more and take an equal or less amount of time.
The game has an honor system that tracks your good and bad deeds and changes how people react to you based on it. If you want to play honorable, your only activities are hunting, fishing, and collecting trinkets. Any outlaw activity lowers it, and it gets even uglier at that point.
You have a mask that you can put on during your more nefarious deeds, but it does not work in a manner you might expect. It protects your identity (not your honor) from civilians. They will run to get the law but won’t immediately identify you as Arthur Morgan.
IF the law spots you, they know it’s you automatically, mask or no mask, and you get a bounty. Kill a lawman on your way out, and that bounty is going to exceed anything you may have earned from whatever dirty deed you were doing. Even worse, it seems to bug out at times.
I hopped on a train in the middle of nowhere, and stealth killed the first guard with no witnesses, but suddenly the lawmen knew where I was, who I was, and gave me a bounty. They showed up within seconds on horses, and looting the train became a pointless endeavor.
Once I was aware of this. I wagered that maybe once the story was finished the free roam activities would have more meaning. So I continued forward and ran into the game’s next issue, overabundance.
Despite the game’s survival-like systems I never once had to hunt for food to cook or craft, nor did I ever buy a box of ammo in my entire playthrough. I got more than enough supplies simply by looting the dead and areas during the main missions. Furthermore around 30 to 40% of the way into the game, I was given a main quest mission that gave me so much money I could buy anything I wanted anyway, making it a moot point.
Not to mention you don’t have too much to spend money on in the first place. Most weapons cant be bought, only found, but you can customize them with a few add-ons and aesthetics. You will never need to buy supplies, you can buy clothes, horses, and a limited amount of camp upgrades. You can gamble at one of the mini activities such as poker, but you only ever play with a couple of dollars at a time. It all feels shallow and unsatisfying.
When you put it all together it feels like a linear story game trapped in the body of an open-world sandbox. The game seems to push you to play the story, punish you if you don’t, and shower you with an unbalancing amount of rewards if you do. Combine this with how incredibly easy the main chunk of the game is, and the experience gets soured. The world is detailed, beautiful, and immersive. The slow and deliberate pace seduces you to get lost in it but slaps your wrist when you do.
What Rockstar achieved outside of that is truly a marvel, the amount of detail and the length of the game is insane. I’m still coming across new things, new encounters, and witnessing new spectacles. But the cost of having those things seems to be the gameplay and balance in many instances.
Whether that tradeoff is worth it or not depends on the player. It has me looking forward to but also concerned about the prospect of Red Dead Online. Maybe the true sandbox nature is there. If the auto lock-on system is enabled, the game will be severely damaged in any activity involving other players as they more or less aim bot each other.
UPDATE: As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Among many other issues. Red Dead 2 online automatically enables the absurd auto-aim for all players. Gunfights are decided by who spots the other first as the game does the aiming for you. I stand by my verdict. Red Dead 2 is a wonderful season of a Netflix show wrapped up like a video game. It is, however, a rather poor game.
If you like story-based games that have more gameplay meat to them. Consider checking out my God Of War Review.
- Giant and beautiful open world
- Details that are unrivaled by any other game
- An enthralling story that will stick with you for years to come
- Immersive systems and weight make you feel like you are Arthur Morgan
- Incredible atmosphere
- Solid shooting and cover system
- The game’s economy is an unbalanced mess
- Free roam activities feel pointless and unrewarding
- The easy-on rails main missions feel like a cinematic experience instead of a video game
- No difficulty settings and the game defaults to an archaic auto-aim
- Not much replayability due to the games slow nature
- The online suffers from similar issues in addition to being cowboy aimbot.