When the trailers for Red Dead Redemption 2 came out, it wasn’t clear how the final game is going to look. Would it be a western-themed clone of Grand Theft Auto V? Would it be a massive hype for nothing? Will it have an online mode, just like GTA Online? Would there be a PC release? By now, not all, but many of the questions have been answered.
Rockstar Games did nothing that surprised us. They did just what we expected them to do. Build an awesome open-world game in a western theme on top of the success of a preceding GTA installment. This happened with Red Dead Revolver, and this happened with Red Dead Redemption. And that worked out just great. Red Dead Redemption 2 is excellent and not a hype for nothing.
Single player experience
Red Dead Redemption 2 picks up not quite where it left off at the end of the previous installment. To the surprise of some fans, the protagonist in the story mode (single player) is Arthur Morgan and not John Marston, who was the main character in the first part of the series. Though the fates of these two rugged Gentlemen are somewhat intertwined, even riding together at times, they remain two very different personalities. As you play the story mode of Red Dead Redemption 2, you will not be allowed to create your own character. Let me try to reflect on the story mode of the game without adding any spoilers.
The intro and tutorial of Red Dead Redemption 2 puts you on a snowy mountain together with a group of people, who appear to be part of your gang. You are trying to flee from some bad who are out there to pursue you. On one hand you know that a rival gang is behind you and on the other hand, you are wanted by the government who have sent their agents to get you. Well, both are more interested in the leaders of your gang than yourself but being like family, of course, it’s the same feeling for all who are involved in this. You don’t want to be found.
Characters are being introduced slowly and carefully. Everybody there has a backstory that you find out about more as the game progresses. Sometimes by just overhearing random fireside conversations at your camp. Soon after the game has made you familiar with the general controls and mechanics of the game, you will be able to leave the snowy mountain for a more “western worthy” terrain. Through a couple of vivid and exciting missions, you are also introduced into general functions of the game. While you can roam around freely at all times, many interesting features are unlocked as you progress through the story of the game. This is being arranged in a way that makes sense, and it does not feel restrictive at all.
Are you a good guy or a bad guy?
In Red Dead Redemption 2 you can mostly choose between making an honorable decision and committing a crime. You can gather money by gathering food, herbs, pelts, or going fishing and then selling the goods at the city market. You can also rob banks or steal stuff from random folks.
I think that having a karma balance like this is just the right feature for an open world game such as RDR2. If you want to be an evil character in the game, you should be able to, and if you want to be the savior with the white hat and outfit, you should also be allowed to earn points towards the light side of things.
Sometimes, however, I am unsure how my actions will be rewarded. Why do I earn honor points for helping prisoners escape but lose honor points if I try to stop escaping prisoners? If you want to grind towards being very good or very evil, you should note down how your actions will affect your score as well, as that might not always be how you’d expect it to work.
Until now, I have not seen any significant differences that would affect your gameplay measured against how good or how bad you behave in the game. Perhaps town folk will ramble a different kind of comment if they spot you, but there is no gear or piece of outfit that’s only available for evil-doers or exclusive for western saints. This is realistic, but I thought a little bit of an incentive would have been nice but it’s not a problem really.
Riding horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 feels mostly great. They have put a lot of effort into making it feel realistic and fun. At times, it can be a bit wonky though. When your horse stumbles over a stone on the ground and falls down along with you, you can only hope that it doesn’t hurt itself a lot. While you can heal your horse, and even revive it with the right medicine, it could also happen that your horse would die. Let’s try to avoid that, shall we?
You can steal horses, sell them, change how they look or go tame wild horses if you find any out there in the prairie. There are different types of horses from which some are native, and others are likely imported to the area by merchants. Cheap ones are perhaps not that fast, but if you want racers, you’ll need to pack a lot of hard-earned dollars on the table. The horse also becomes better at handling and speed as you ride with it and care for it, which will then increase your bonding level and unlock new features.
It’s certainly possible to tame wild horses without many issues, but until now I never found any that are even in the middle of the potential speed score. That’s why I only bought all the faster horses in the game, but perhaps there are rare occasions in which you can find and tame a fast horse as well. I’m not saying that this is impossible. Also, my personal feeling is that tamed horses sell for too little money. A living horse might get you less coin than a fox fur. I’m not a historian, but at least for me, that doesn’t feel right.
Graphics and atmosphere
While the visuals don’t seem to be that photorealistic, there is a great deal of quality that went into object dynamics. For instance, if you walk through the mud, there are not just steps in the dirt, the effects are quite dynamic, and the ground will be altered to match exactly what happened. If you choose to lasso and hog-tie a random evil-doer and pull him through the mud (for whatever reason that might be good), the ground will be shaped accordingly. I was quite enchanted by the way how your surrounding reacts realistically to what is happening, even if the textures aren’t on top of what we know.
I don’t want to complain though. Throughout the whole game experience, you feel like that virtual place could actually exist, and the open gameplay lets you immerse right into the places you visit. If you choose to go camping and BBQ some self-hunted game, you can do so. Sleep in a tent and wake up to some cowboy coffee, authentically served in a tin cup. No plans for the weekend? Grab a boat and go fishing. With a fishing rod? Yeah, sure, or with a revolver if you’re a good shot… or what would happen if you dropped some dynamite? That we should find out…
The cities and villages are nicely designed, though I would have enjoyed it if there were a little bit more places of interest such as cities, farms, settlements or other similar things on the map. But I get it … it’s frontier times. Everything is still being developed and built. It might be realistic like that and to rely on your camping and survival abilities first and foremost. What do you think about that?
Finally, Red Dead Online is here…
Or Red Dead Online as they say. Even though they label the current version of it a beta, I was very content with it all. If this is the baseline for years and years of more content to come, then nobody could possibly complain about an average AAA title pricing either. When I started playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I couldn’t find any way to swap into the multiplayer mode. I thought it might be revealed later in the story mode, similar to the implementation in Grand Theft Auto V, but after completing a couple of chapters, I googled the case only to find out that the online mode was not yet released.
You could argue whether or not this makes sense from the perspective of forcing people through the tutorials first before letting them on multiplayer servers, but I think that postponing the release of one function that the gamers have bought along with the game itself is not right. Especially, as it was in no way declared that the online mode would not be available at the time the game was released. But don’t let my frustration about that become yours. Right now, the beta is available for everybody, and as soon as Rockstar Games feels like it, they will hit the switch of it all becoming the normal Red Dead Online, losing the beta remark on it altogether.
Red Dead Online feels a little different from Red Dead Redemption 2 though. While you have the safety net of being the only human player in the story mode, you might struggle to have the same level of chill in the online play. You can be lucky sometimes, but at some point, there will always be some kind of griever who will come and shoot you down. At least you can get a “horse insurance” though, so that’s covered. On the other hand, grouping up with others can be quite fun and let you progress with a few missions that need to be undertaken with a group of human players.
But let’s talk gameplay now. Even though I am aware that I am in a beta phase, I did not miss anything in the online mode of the game. I did not encounter bugs, and there’s a lot to do. If you’re familiar with GTA Online, you will feel not that different here either as far as character progression goes. I spent a fair amount of time creating my character too, not because I liked to dwell on the options though. It took a lot of time and effort not to make your character look ugly. If I was doing an ok job or not, you could check out yourself, below in the footage video that I recorded for you, but I think I managed to get a decent character out of the character creation. Disclaimer: There is no way you could have healthy teeth for your character. That’s just historically correct, I suppose.
Alright, now how would one sum all of that up into a compelling summary about Red Dead Redemption 2? I found no real issues with the game. I enjoyed it a lot and still do. I am very confident that the online mode will keep on delivering for years to come and perhaps there will even be a PC release in the future.
From my point of view, you will not regret spending money on this title whether it is now or later, while you try to grab it during a sales event. You will have many hours of quality game time with this title and maybe even make the online mode one of your regular routines. I could imagine that it will be a popular place to go to in the future.
I have also captured the first hours of footage from both gaming modes in the YouTube “Let’s Play” videos below, that we posted on the TechAcute YouTube channel. Check through those if you want to watch it for yourself. Have fun!
YouTube: Let’s Play – Red Dead Redemption 2 [Gameplay, No Commentary]
YouTube: Let’s Play – Red Dead Online [Gameplay, No Commentary]
Photo credit: All material used is owned by Rockstar Games.
Editorial notice: The author played about half the story mode and seven hours of online beta before writing this review. The footage was recorded on Xbox One. Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Without additional cost to you, we might earn a commission, if you decide to purchase something.