In most subscribed games, this would likely activate a short sequel in which you may watch Red Dead’s main character, Arthur Morgan, a charming outlaw, enjoy his morning caffeine rush. However, this is a more engaging experience. Early morning is a busy time in the 19th-century Wild West camp, with all of the gang’s 20 or so members rising to begin their day. You walk about, sipping hot coffee, as others greet you and discuss impending jobs.
This is, obviously, a small addition that has no discernible effect on how Red Dead Redemption 2 plays. The tiny features, though, are what set this open-world Western unique. In many aspects, RDR2 follows the template established by creator Rockstar with games like Grand Theft Auto V and the first Red Dead Redemption. It still takes place in a wide, sprawling universe, and it still requires you to commit numerous crimes to proceed. There are numerous shootouts and chase scenarios, and you will kill a large number of police officers.
But Red Dead Redemption 2’s near-obsessive attention to detail, combined with a new gameplay structure centered on a family-like group of outlaws, makes it the most believable open-world game I’ve ever played. Except for a few rare exceptions, everything you do in the game feels authentic, as if you were a bank robber attempting to make it in the Old West. Small subtleties like these add to the simulation’s allure. You could be struck by how muck accumulates on Arthur’s boots on a rainy day or how his beard develops over time. Sometimes all it takes is a simple cup of coffee to give the impression that you are in a real, living environment.
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Red Dead Redemption 2 Backstory
But, at the turn of the nineteenth century, with cities and towns spreading across America, that was not an easy task. The group is continuously on the road, dodging the law while looking for the big score that would provide them with enough money to finally break away from the rest of the world. The game’s theme isn’t exactly subtle; several times throughout the game, Arthur or Dutch will explicitly lament the fading of the Wild West and the development of modern civilization.
“A new century is on its way,” Arthur declares at one point. “This way of life? I believe we are the last.” The skyline of Saint-Denis, the game’s huge city setting, is dominated by smokestacks and factories, with dense, smoggy air providing a claustrophobic feeling.
Aside from Arthur’s attitude, the group dynamic proves to be an amazing approach to arranging an open-world game. The issue with these kinds of broad experiences is that there is frequently a gap between what you should and want to be doing. There is a villain that must be destroyed or a magical object that must be recovered to save the world. But all you want to do is goof around driving automobiles and conversing with locals.
In most games, the side activities feel entirely disconnected from the main plot, but not in RDR2. Your only actual goal for most of the game is to survive. The gang is continuously in need of money and supplies, which fits in nicely with a game about committing a lot of crimes. There are missions to complete, generally involving a large sum of money, such as robbing a bank or hijacking a train. However, almost everything else you do in the game contributes to this as well.
One of the gang members, for example, is a loan shark, and there are a series of missions in which you must recover unpaid bills. It can be unpleasant — I didn’t enjoy beating up impoverished farmers for a few dollars — but it always made sense in the context of the story. People in dire situations are pushed to do desperate things. The gang is chilly, malnourished, and broke at the start of the game, and when conditions improve, later on, they always appear to be living on the brink.
Even seemingly little extracurricular activities serve a function. You can go hunting for buffalo and deer or fishing, which not only gives essential commodities but also helps keep the group supplied. Going off to play poker is enjoyable, but it is also another method to make money. These moments occur in a very natural manner. You don’t choose side missions from a menu; they appear naturally. You might be on your way back to camp to drop off a rabbit carcass when someone stops you to inform you about a new theft or ask you to take their boring youngster fishing.
In RDR2, the boundary between main and side missions is rather unclear, as are some of the little encounters you’ll have throughout the game, which can open up new storylines or unlock the content. As you travel, you meet a variety of people, many of whom require assistance. Needy strangers will approach you for money, and you may come across someone being kidnapped on the open road. Intervening can often lead you to unexpected areas.
I once came across a man on the side of the road who had been bitten by a deadly snake and consented to suck the venom from his leg. Later, I saw him sitting outside a general store in town, offering to purchase me anything I desired. These interactions can potentially go wrong. Someone on the road asking for water or money could be a hoax to rob you. RDR2 takes place in a cynical era, and it requires you to be cynical when determining whether or not to help others.
As natural as it may feel, the game’s skeleton will be familiar to anyone who has previously played a Rockstar game. The game’s structure is extremely similar to GTAV. The majority of missions involve sneaking into a location to take something or kill someone, and most inevitably deteriorate into a shootout. RDR2 has a hefty feel to it, which complements the theme. The guns are heavy and take time to reload, and the fistfights can be vicious, savage slogs straight out of Netflix’s Daredevil.
The violence can also be exhausting. Big shootouts all require an unusually large number of adversaries coming at you in waves and staying behind cover and firing cops gets monotonous after a while. RDR2, like Fallout 4, enjoys displaying exceptionally nasty murders; if you get a good headshot, time will slow down and the camera will zoom in on the bloody spectacle. It’s cool the first time you see it, but not so much the hundredth.
Unsurprisingly for a Western, the majority of the game is spent on horseback. The horses are similar to cars in Grand Theft Auto. They are your primary mode of transportation, allowing you to navigate the vast landscape of RDR2. If you need one, you can steal one, and there are different breeds with distinct characteristics. A horse can even be “upgraded” by giving it new shoes or a new haircut.
This is how large swathes of the tale unfold. Characters will chat about almost anything on lengthy journeys across the country: the gang’s hardships, personal relationships, future dreams, and the relentless encroachment of civilization. These scenes would be monotonous if they weren’t so well-executed. I never got tired of getting to know these folks while admiring the breathtaking scenery: pure white fields or vast open plains, beautiful blue sky, or dark ones lit up by lightning crackles.
Horses, on the other hand, provide a personal connection to the world in addition to transportation. You can form a link with a certain horse over time, and its powers will improve if you care for it and pay attention to it. After tense combat, I found it relaxing to brush down my horse. They can be frightened in battle and perhaps die if you aren’t attentive. There are stables where you can keep many horses, however, I only kept one for the majority of my time with the game. It was strange to merely trade her in after having shared so much with her. The world is changing in RDR2, and you’re always on the go, so your horse can be the only constant in your life.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is without a doubt the most detailed and emotionally complicated game that Rockstar has ever created. This isn’t a developer known for restraint or grace, but both are evident in RDR2’s characters and stories. The game’s approach to race is particularly noteworthy. Dutch’s gang includes black, Mexican, Native American, and mixed-race members and its leader is fiercely protective of them all.
Offhand remarks about how a horse dealer “doesn’t like Cubans” enrage him, and he gets visibly offended when others refer to Native Americans as “savages.” The game also focuses on the difficulties of fully understanding the lives of others at times. When the gang moves south to evade the cops, Arthur — who, aside from all of the murder, is generally a fine person — says he doesn’t detect any difference in the prejudice there and elsewhere. “With all due respect,” Lenny, a black gang member, says, “you wouldn’t notice.”
When it comes to the treatment of women, the game is less effective. While there are lots of female characters in the gang, women are largely restricted to supporting roles, such as mothers, lovers, and caregivers, except one woman, who only becomes a genuine gunslinging badass more than halfway through the game. Even when the game appears to have something significant to say about women’s rights, especially in such an oppressive period, it stumbles. In one assignment, Arthur is tasked with defending a group of protestors pushing for the right of women to vote.
Only in certain of the unscripted situations inherent in the crime-focused GTA paradigm does the immersion of RDR2’s universe completely break down. The major issue is that it is so easy to commit a crime by accident, and when you do, you are penalized. Contextual buttons in the game, which do different things based on the scenario, can be particularly aggravating.
I once left a saloon and attempted to mount my horse to return to camp. Unfortunately, the same button that allows me to saddle my horse is also used to rob people, and someone was standing close enough to my horse that I mugged them instead. This resulted in a lengthy pursuit episode in which local law officers compelled me to flee town. Another time, I accidentally mounted someone else’s horse — it was a dark and misty night — and it was promptly reported for theft, resulting in a similar law police chase. I ended up braiding my horse’s tail so I could easily identify her in a crowd.
These were unusual occurrences, yet they stuck out because of how cleanly they disrupted the immersion. RDR2 goes to absurd lengths to make its world feel real, filling it with minutiae that many players are unlikely to notice or explore, yet giving an extraordinary level of credibility to the simulation. You can talk to everyone you meet in the game, for example. Many will have little to say other than “hello” or “leave me alone,” but now and then, you’ll be treated to an exciting new story or task.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the familiarity of the camp’s routine and the fact that I could predict where everyone would be based on the time of day. I spent an embarrassing amount of time grooming Arthur and making sure he has dressed appropriately for the occasion. I made certain to replace his hat when it blew off in the middle of combat. It can feel like you’re gliding across a slick synthetic recreation of the actual world in many big-budget games. It’s as though you’ve been sucked into the universe of RDR2.
You can’t talk about this game without mentioning the circumstances under which it was produced. Hundreds of individuals worked long hours, frequently under the stress of prolonged crunch, an industry phrase for forced overtime, to create these minute, world-building details. Rockstar has been accused of this in the past, and while the studio initially disputed that certain employees were forced to work 100-hour weeks on RDR2, a revelation from Kotaku earlier this week indicated that crunch was a key aspect of the game’s development. With this knowledge, it’s impossible to distinguish between the game’s developers’ experiences and the game itself.
RDR2 is an extremely intricate and expertly designed game, but it’s difficult not to ask if a game of this magnitude can be developed without harming its creators. Of course, Rockstar isn’t the only one who uses crunch in their games; it’s a common practice in the industry. However, as we learn more about how games like this are developed, it’s something to keep in mind when considering big open-world games of this scale.
“Odyssey is magnificent and I love playing it, but I’m left wondering just what the human cost was for my enjoyment,” Heather Alexandra of Kotaku noted in her review of the similarly massive Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. While I admired the grandeur of Odyssey’s world, I found it difficult to participate in it.” The same can be said about Red Dead Redemption and the games that will certainly follow, which will develop in size and detail as time goes on.
Red Dead Redemption 2 Twitter is #RDR2
A story with a lot of heart and a universe filled with intricacies to unearth lies beneath its gruff, brutal veneer. It gives you much to mull over while sipping your morning coffee.