Rockstar Games is considered one of the most successful video game companies in the industry. Releasing landmark title after landmark and helping create a popular genre we all know as the open world sandbox. These wide-open environments are filled with content and secrets to uncover.
They have received slack over the years for their business practices and have even been put on public news for how their games were some of the first to be targeted towards an adult audience. Grand Theft Auto 3, their first major open world sandbox, was criticized by news outlets for its use of drugs, mass murder, featuring prostitution, allowing players to run citizens over with cars, and much more. In certain third world countries they banned Grand Theft Auto 3 from being sold. Rockstar Games is one of the most controversial game studios out there, but they are also one of the most daring game studios out there. Tackling mature themes, addressing modern society, and pushing the boundaries of what their game engines can process. Creating believable worlds, memorable characters, and over the top moments that can only be done within a Triple A game. Everything these gentlemen release sells like hotcakes with Grand Theft Auto 5 being one of the highest selling games of all time. Their titles have been massively acclaimed and there’s no stopping the mass amounts of money they rake in each week. They don’t call them Rockstar for nothing and even if you’re not a major gamer you should have at least heard about one of their games. Most commonly Grand Theft Auto 5 as it is one of their defining titles of the last decade and is considered one of the best games ever made. Perfection in the eyes of many.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the sequel to the popularly acclaimed Red Dead Redemption released in 2010. The first Redemption was more of a reimagining of a property Rockstar Games failed to thrive off of, Red Dead Revolver. They wanted to take the formula they made with Grand Theft Auto 3 and apply it to the wild west, but they failed to do so, and Revolver didn’t stick around with that many people. One of the few reasons Revolver failed was maybe because of the hardware at the time and Rockstar Games wasn’t able to tell the narratives they have now back then.
The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 console era came about, and developers were now able to do more, and luckily Red Dead Redemption was the perfect chance to see what this new hardware could do. When Red Dead Redemption released it blew up bigger than Rockstar Games expected. Not only did they prove they could take their iconic open world formula somewhere else, but they were more than just gangsters and fancy cars. Red Dead Redemption had a memorable setting, action packed moments, and told a beautiful tale about leaving the past behind. It was remarkable and several review outlets considered it one of the greatest games of all time. Many were hoping Rockstar Games would follow up or reconsider touching the Red Dead franchise again, because they were just madly in love with what they got. A couple years passed by, and Rockstar Games releases more ambitious open world sandboxes. L.A Noire was one of the first major detective mysteries to hit the market that wasn’t a click and point, and of course the previously mentioned Grand Theft Auto 5. Rockstar Games was on fire, but around 2016 was when they announced their biggest project yet. A sequel to the western many alike grew up with. The public was finally getting Red Dead Redemption 2, which would serve both as a sequel and prequel to the characters and world. Everyone was hyped for Red Dead Redemption 2 and as time passed that hype train only got bigger and louder, practically transforming into a swarm.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was going to be the biggest, shiniest, and technically advanced open world Rockstar Games ever made. With an incredibly high million-dollar budget made from previous games, Rockstar Games was going to take a golden leak upon the entire industry. Weeks were spent working on Red Dead Redemption 2, and soon those weeks turned into months. Several messages were sent out notifying people of the game’s delays, and there was a point where the developers were working harder than they should have. One of the several controversies that surrounded the development of Red Dead Redemption 2 was crunch culture. The workers within Rockstar Games were forced to work more than one hundred hours per week to get the game working and out by the time they anticipated. They were being paid on the clock, and this led to Rockstar Games being a toxic place to work at. Around 2018 they were adding the final touches and the full product was released later that year. Sweat, tears, and mental health was spent to make Red Dead Redemption 2 the most highly polished and funded product that could come from the video game industry. Luckily the game was a massive success upon launch. It sold millions of copies, became one of the fastest selling games Rockstar made since GTA5, and received perfect review scores from nearly every major review outlet, currently being one of the highest rated games on Metacritic sitting at ninety-seven. Many consider RDR2 to be the pinnacle of Rockstar Games, a true masterpiece. It was apparently a perfect video game that didn’t deserve to be criticized for any faults or flaws because what it did well out masked them. Nobody really took the time to properly critique Red Dead Redemption 2, but at the same time nobody wanted to ruin the fun for anyone. Everyone was in the heat of the moment and that’s fine. It was a different time and games lwith top notch quality like Red Dead Redemption 2 were rare to see, even now.
It’s been nearly four years since Red Dead Redemption 2 came out. People are still playing the game and discovering what the world has to offer, but overall popularity and discussion has died down. The dust has finally settled and now it’s the perfect opportunity to finally start picking away at this goliath of a video game. Red Dead Redemption 2 has been one of the highest requested games for me to review. Friends, folks online, and even relatives have asked me to look deep into this game. Enjoy it with them and restate the fact that it is, to them, the greatest game ever made. The thing is, I used to actually have a review of RDR2 on my website. I was just starting out as a reviewer, and publishing reviews for the sake of publishing. I was naive and didn’t put any thought into my work, delivering half-baked content rushing content out hoping for the best. I beat Red Dead Redemption 2 because everyone else was talking about it and slapped a perfect score just to be like everybody else. I didn’t properly look at it, and shortly after I deleted my original review as well as a bunch of others.
With all that said, I loaded the game back up, started a new save, began a new journey, and finally finished up the epilogue. Let me say this very clearly. This game is a technical marvel and is still one of the most visually impressive games in the market. The world is vast, brimming with beautiful wildlife, and it’s one of the coziest games you could play during a midnight sitting. The amount of detail to movement, character animations, gestures, and even the opening of a door is impressive. The story is well written and all the characters are lovable which we’ll address soon.
All these factors are great, so forgive me and everything I’m about to say. Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a perfect video game. In fact, it’s not a very fun video game to begin with. I have more complaints with this than any other open world sandbox I’ve played, but why? How come all a sudden a game everyone loves is frustrating to me? That’s why we’re here today. This was going to be a regular review, but I found it so hard to pick away at RDR2 without addressing the major problems. Today we’ll be discussing my love-hate relationship with Red Dead Redemption 2. What it does wrong, how nobody noticed, and what we can learn from these design decisions.
Part 1: Walk Like a Drunken Sailor (Controls)
Red Dead Redemption 2 has some of the worst controls I’ve seen in a video game. Movement feels stiff, unresponsive, and it takes a while for it to finally click. One of the more important factors in an open world sandbox is how you traverse the world, but your character feels really clunky as the game struggles to figure out exactly what you want to do. Part of this problem is to blame on the game engine Rockstar uses. It’s a physics-based engine they specifically designed for their games where every object including limbs is weighed toward the ground. That means your character is lifting each limb little by little as they step forward. That allows the character to move around realistically like ourselves, but it also means they move extremely slowly. It can take you more than five minutes reaching one side of town to the next, and that’s not something you want from basic maneuvers. However, you can speed up the movement of your character.
By holding down on the run button, otherwise the X button on the Dualshock 4, your character will begin to move slightly faster. Well, that didn’t make much of a difference because the controls still feel stiff and all a sudden my character is worse to control! He doesn’t make sharp turns as easily and when I need to come to a stop he seems to slip around. This is extremely bad, because if you’re wandering in the middle of the street, you may risk bashing a pedestrian over or getting run over by a wagon. You don't want this because you can get arrested for disturbing the peace. Then there’s the ability to go beyond walking and fast walking! The ability to run which you do by mashing away at the X button! This feels genuinely terrible. Not only is it worse to control then the other two, but why do I have to mash away just to run? Wouldn’t it just make more sense if I double tap on the X button to speed up instead of having to mash away more than I really need to? Chase sequences on foot would be so much better if I didn’t have to do this. Movement isn’t just bad for your character, but it’s also bad for your horse.
This game not only contains the worst character movements, but also the worst horse controls I’ve seen in a video game. To gallop at a decent pace, you hold down the X button, but to speed up you press the X button a couple times. This is fine, until you figure out that to maintain a fast speed you have to mash away the X button as well. There’s no getting away from mashing X. Players have made the analysis that to move faster you have to time the X button to the rhythm of the galloping. That is false, because I mashed away and turned out to be the more responsive option. Your horse isn’t all that great when navigating around sharp turns, and when you are going at full speed and need to turn around a city block you may run into a pedestrian and get arrested for running them over. This happened to me a couple times when venturing through cities and honestly it was really annoying. You don’t have that many options to zoom out the camera, and the camera auto adjustment that is there when turning isn’t fast enough to show me what is in front of me before I hit it. This forced me to navigate cities slowly with my horse, which isn’t bad, but it kills more time than it really should. I’m surprised they didn’t add in the option to speed your horse but stop mashing away the X Button when you reach the right speed. Then hold down the stop button to slowly adjust to a slower speed. That way you don’t have to constantly mash away the X button when going on long distance trips. Speaking of which!
Part 2: Across the Empty Valleys… Again (Travel)
The game certainly has a beautiful world to traverse across and it’s quite a peaceful world in fact. It’s easy to let go, hum a song to yourself, and just enjoy the sounds of peaceful running waters and deer hopping across the road. There are forests full of pine trees, snowy mountains, dry desert sands, and those grassy plains which stretch on for miles. It’s a sight to behold, but there comes a point when that beautiful world becomes annoying to traverse.
It’s the backtracking which made the traversal of Red Dead Redemption 2 annoying for me. How come? I’ve backtracked a lot in previous open worlds, and I never seem to be bothered by it. Well, it’s more like having to do it as part of missions. Each chapter focuses on a new township, and the game has to reposition your camp to a closer area so that going to town won’t take so long. Main story missions can be activated in either your camp or somewhere in the said township. This is expected but imagine having a quest that takes place in camp and has you traversing to the city. You ride to the city, do your thing, get dragged to another area, do that, and possibly get dragged back to the camp to end the quest. Now imagine you have a quest that takes place in the city and the game forcibly places you back at camp. That means you have to traverse all the way back, down the same road, and to the place you need to go within the city you just traversed. Some missions do allow you to choose between riding back to camp or not, and other times the travel time will be fast forward so that you don’t have to steer the entire ride. However, that’s not always the case and you'll be forced to traverse the same valleys again. It’s also made worse with how you can’t set your path freely and have to follow a line on the radar in the left bottom corner of the screen. This is insulting. It feels like playing Dorothy and following the yellow brick road, which is pretty ironic because the line on the radar is colored yellow during missions.
You’ll traverse across empty valleys until something interesting happens. Usually an ambush, a gun fight, or being forced to get off your horse and pick up an object and then get back onto your horse as part of the mission. What happens in between the long rides waiting for interesting bits to happen? You talk with your companions. You talk for a really long time with your companions, and you have no choice but to listen. Unable to fast forward or skip what basically nails down to a cutscene. Some may say these conversations develop character or personality similar to the boat scenes in God of War 4, but where it differs is that I had a little more control over how long the boat sequences lasted whereas in Red Dead Redemption 2 you are forced to hear them ramble on. Half the time this information adds nothing to the story, because the characters are stating facts you already know because it was debriefed to you in either the mission description or before you set out for that location. Basically, these discussions are nothing but padding that help the main missions reach a runtime of plus thirty minutes as the developers wished. You just wasted my time, and these discussions are one of many reasons why the campaign length of Red Dead Redemption 2 is fifty hours. Not because of the story or major events, but I’m betting at least 2/8 of it is because of these meaningless horse ride talks. They could have at least provided some more choice over how long these discussions last.
Part 3: A Free World Full of Restriction (Mission Design)
One of the most important aspects of an open world sandbox is the amount of choice offered to the player. Not just giving them the ability to explore but figure out how they tackle a single problem. Showcasing the mechanics, what they do, and allowing them to experiment. A good example could be Breath of The Wild and how you can walk, fly, horse ride, shield surf, swim, and climb towards where you need to go. Elden Ring and how a boss has a specific attack pattern and speed, but you have numerous builds and weapons to use to beat them. The Phantom Pain and the numerous tools they have to let you go loud and quiet. There are moments in these games where the pacing and direction gets extremely linear, but you are given the options to experiment and figure stuff out on your own. Then there’s the other design approach. The guided approach. The design approach Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, and most commonly the Assassin’s Creed has. You are given an objective but are guided towards it. Going against this objective will lead to automatic failure, a game over, and forcing you to follow the way the game wants you to. However, the player is given guidance towards this objective. That way they don’t linger around too long and get plopped into the sequence where the fun stuff really starts to happen. I prefer the first design approach more, but if the second approach is done really well it can be fun. Signaling to the player when to take opportunities and feel awesome.
Red Dead Redemption 2 seems to be very confused on what style of open world it wants to be. Outside of the main story you are allowed to explore and get creative. Hunt down critters using either quiet or loud weapons to then skin them and obtain meat. You can threaten a bank keeper to open the vault, sneak towards it yourself, or blow it up using dynamite. You are given not only a multitude of guns, but also throwable objects that are quiet and eliminate enemies instantaneously if you aim for the head. You have all these options to experiment, but the main story doesn’t allow you to be creative in. If you’re in a stealth sequence, you are forced to be silent or will be punished for being loud. If you want to take another route that isn’t the one you are supposed to follow, you're punished. If you navigate to a building but want to take a different approach, punished!
There’s no better example of these restrictions than when you are required to sneak into an oil plantation to steal some papers later in chapter six. In this mission, Arthur is tasked by Eagle Flies to quietly sneak into an oil plantation to retrieve documents proving the natives own the land. At the very beginning he tells you can either sneak in by yourself or catch a ride in one of the oil wagons. A traveling oil wagon is spawned when the section begins, but you can still sneak in without it if you want to. The game signals an option you can take but doesn’t force you into doing this. For the rest of the mission you’d think you would have a little more choice. Turns out you don’t. Your honor goes down if you kill any guards in the plantation, so it discourages you from using any weapons. Even the quiet ones like bows and throwing knives which would be efficient. Imagine if the honor goes down if someone finds the body, but it remains the same if you find a place to hide it. There are a couple boxes that let you climb onto the rooftop of the main building. The way the building is laid out is that the bottom floor is like a rectangular box, but the top floor is half that block. Leaving side windows, you could easily climb into. At the end of this mission, you actually climb out of a window to escape. The player can attempt to climb onto the roof, but if they try to enter the office containing the documents this way they are instead punished. Why? You clearly set up this choice, but don’t make it available until the end. This mission is just poorly designed in general, because while it has ideas it doesn’t make proper use of them. Meaning the mission falls flat.
Part 4: Epic Gun Fights with Total Idiots (Combat)
The combat in Red Dead Redemption 2 is serviceable. You have a wide selection of guns to wield and as your arsenal expands you are offered more ways to take down foes. You have revolvers which are easy to wield, but don’t do much damage outside of a headshot, and repeaters which have large clips, fire rapidly, and are good for doing massive damage over a period of time. Shotguns which pack a punch up close, and bolt action rifles which have long distances. Dynamite to blow enemies up, and Molotov cocktails to burn them. Then there’s your stealth options like throwing knives and taking enemies out by sneaking up to them. You could go unarmed and beat an enemy with your bare fists, or just bash them with the hilt of your rifle. You even have a mechanic known as Dead Eye, when activated will slow time down to a crawl and locate the instant kill point of enemies in red. It’s kind of like what The Outer Worlds has only this time it’s not explained in context. It’s fine though and one cool maneuver you can perform is throw a bundle of dynamite, activating Dead Eye, and then shooting the dynamite so it explodes in midair. The first time I learned I could do this was during a carriage chase sequence, and afterwards I was like, “Cool. I wonder if I could do that in basic fights.” I tried it out and it actually worked. Like Dishonored showing you could shoot grenades in the trailer and allowing you to do it in the game. You have so many options… and they are all underutilized.
Remember the restrictive game design from earlier? Part of that could be to blame for how restrictive combat can be. Being forced to play in specific ways and not being allowed to experiment during the story. Then there’s the dozens of other problems which arose. Quiet weapons are basically useless during gunfights, and why use dynamite when it’s sparse and expensive? You can sneak around, but it only works in forests and areas with lots of cover which isn’t much when you are constantly traversing across open fields. The melee combat isn’t good as the stiff movement from earlier makes close range fights awkward. Pressing the block button doesn’t always work, but why bother when you can mash away at the attack button and still get an easy win.
Two factors specifically are what makes the combat of RDR2 flawed.
First, is that the game throws you into so many gun fights that overtime you realize this is the most optimal choice to every scenario. It’s faster, much easier, and there’s never a point where you should run out of bullets. We’ll address this issue shortly. Some of you may say this is fine, because the gunplay and sound design is great. However, if I can solve every problem using the same option and never utilize the other tools on me then combat is going to get extremely repetitive. Especially later on in the game where mission variety dies down and the game just throws large horde of enemies after large horde of enemies over and over again. The second major problem being the enemy AI, and despite appearing in groups they don’t do much to kill the player. They don’t seem to take cover all that much, and the enemies that do seem to pop in and out like groundhogs. Snipers and heavy gunners may be thrown in, but they are usually exposed and taking them down is easy as the basic blokes. They don’t really attempt to gain an upper hand. Plus, the large arsenal you have will make quick work of foes. The only time combat got hard was when they plopped so many foes in a wide-open area, and even then, it wasn’t impossible or fun because I had Dead Eye and a long-range rifle which could blow their heads off. They just keep throwing themselves at you and it shows how Rockstar hasn’t made an attempt to develop actual complex enemy AI, ones that can adapt to the player’s choices and work together.
Part 5: The Economy is Broken (Money)
During the early stages of the game, money is extremely hard to come by. You start off with nothing, and even looting corpses will only give you one to two dollars which can't afford you all that much. It means you have to go to work or take on jobs as part of the story mission. At first this works really well with the writing. Your outlaws are on the run and not only do you have to lay low, but also blend in with standard society and gain respect. However, the more you do these main missions the more you realize the economy of Red Dead Redemption 2 gets screwed.
At the end of every mission you obtain a stack of cash. The amount of cash you receive starts off small from twenty to forty dollars. As the game goes on, the missions reward you with more cash. The developers must have been thinking to themselves the harder the missions or the longer they are the more cash the player should receive. Problem is the missions are piss easy and they are handing the player more money than they really need. That isn’t the only main problem. The items which players can buy from shops can be obtained through exploring the world, looting corpses, and the camp system. Corpses may not contain much cash, but they’ll sometimes hold a canister of food or medicine. Practically every person carries a gun in this game, so you’ll never run out of ammo especially during fights with tons of gunmen to loot. Why even loot food off of enemies as you can obtain food through killing animals. There isn’t even a hunger meter, so you never have to eat unless your health and stamina are low. What was the point of giving me any of this money if I don’t have anything useful to spend it on!? It's like you give it just to have some satisfaction.
Then there’s the camp system which is a unique system executed poorly. For your gang’s camp to properly develop you have to donate and purchase upgrades through a catalog. These upgrades may include better beds to sleep on, better food and medicine supplies, or unique items like canoes and a fishing coop. One of my favorite upgrades which I highly encourage getting as fast as you can is the map, as it allows you to fast travel to townships or important spots in the world. It encourages you to put your money towards something instead of hoarding it all to yourself, but remember, the main story missions reward you with more cash than you actually need. By chapter three I was able to afford more than half the camp upgrades, because there was a mission which gave me two thousand dollars after completing it. Besides the map, which isn’t just the main way of fast travel, the other camp upgrades don’t really have any meaning besides reminding your camp members that you are contributing by upgrading. It makes the camp system extremely shallow even though it shouldn’t, and it’s made worse with how it’s tossed out once the main story is over. Making all that hard effort to upgrade it absolutely worthless. Don’t even get me started on how the final mission gives you $20,000 with nothing to buy with it.
Part 6: The Colors of Choice is Black and White (Morality)
One system I am willing to look past is the honor system. Honor is an important factor with how you engage with the story and world. Depending on how low or high it is, Arthur’s ending will play out differently. Good acts like saving a woman from being kidnapped or helping an injured traveler will increase your honor but robbing a stagecoach or killing an individual in the street will lower it. It’s pretty well thought out and there’s several scenarios throughout the main story where the game will offer you the opportunity to increase your honor or not. It works well with the writing, but much like everything else it seems to be severely flawed. One of the main reasons a player will want to rob somebody or commit a crime is because they will gain money. Robbing a stagecoach and bringing it back to this one specific NPC will grant you a lot, or breaking into a bank vault might grant you the resources and high-powered weaponry to survive. However, this is all meaningless with the amount of money you get from main missions. That right, this is still the economy section! Why go and rob a stagecoach, steal, or any of that stuff when the game keeps throwing you jobs that grant you thousands. There are even times when you are forced to commit a crime and lower your honor because it was part of the main story, and you can’t move forward until you do.
When the game does provide the player a moral choice option, they are most likely to choose the right one. Not because they wanted to, but because the more justified answer was laid out to them by the game. That isn’t an opinion, that is actually a proven fact! Part of this could be due to conformity and being afraid that by picking the wrong option we’ll be ridiculed. Which is somewhat right, but if there’s not enough factors to make you consider what could be justifiable with the wrong choice then why provide it? Fallout: New Vegas executed this perfectly and it came out back in 2010, the same year as the original Red Dead Redemption. If offered the player multiple moral choice options except instead of immediately pointing out what was right, it instead allowed the player to decide what they thought was best. Both choices had benefits, but drastic consequences. Two factions can’t cooperate together, so you’d have to choose which one you want to help and how what you did went along in the long run. Hbomberguy does a better job at explaining how this works, so go check him out instead. Red Dead Redemption 2 does get away with this by having genuinely good writing and making you feel better when going against that outlaw mindset, but the game is advertised to provide the outlaw dream. Then discouraging it with what I like to call black and white morality where the consequences are made too obvious.
Part 7: Immersion to a Fault (Realism)
You’ve seen a lot of folks compliment this, but Red Dead Redemption 2 has been praised for how immersive it is. Not just the environment and world, but how your character interacts with it. When you walk into a shop, they give you a catalog of items to buy, and you flip through that catalog to buy the item you want. When you walk through a gate your character pushes it open, but when you charge into it you bash through that door. Drawing your gun requires you to pull it out of your holster, and there are some mechanics that I actually think work from a gameplay perspective. One of them being the core system. You have a health bar, a stamina bar, and a bar for Dead Eye. These meters drain overtime and if the central cores turn red then the meters regenerate slower. The only way to refill these cores is to either eat or sleep. This is nice, because it means you have to keep yourself healthy and well-conditioned so that when you do get thrown into a dangerous scenario you stand a chance. Then there is gun conditioning where if the condition to your gun is low then the damage, accuracy, and reload speed goes down. That’s when you have to pull out gun oil and clean your guns. I like this mechanic, because it’s similar to weapon conditioning in an RPG and how it gets you to try out different weapons.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is extremely immersive, but is it fun? Does the interactivity improve or add anything to the game? The answer is no, because this immersion comes at a fault at times. The looting system is a great example of how immersion can make a game more frustrating. When you loot a corpse or pick an item off a shelf you have to manually watch your character grab the item, inspect it, and then put it in their satchel. This is fine the first time, but it gets frustrating when you're doing it by the tenth. Let’s say there are ten corpses about and each one contains two items. It takes seven seconds to loot a single item. It’s going to take over 140 seconds to loot everything you want which is about over two minutes. A lot of the time spent looting could be eliminated if you just let the player open up a screen, and preview what the enemy has before they go take exactly what they want to take. It’s meaningless!
It’s not just the looting which is frustrating, it's everything else. Watching Arthur slowly skin an animal and roll the pelt up. Picking a herb off the ground and plucking what bits you want. Then there’s the bits within story missions where you have to perform an action, otherwise minigame, to progress. Stuff like pour a glass of whiskey, drench a field in oil, or build a house because that’s what players want apparently. Kind of like the meaningless horse ride talks from earlier these sections drag missions on longer than they should. Plus, during a second playthrough you’d wish you could skip these sections, because the second time through the appeal of these bits don't work as well. (Deep breathing) Okay. We’re not even done yet with this essay.
Part 8: Second Time Doesn’t Do A Charm (Replayability)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an open world sandbox I would not replay or encourage replaying. The first time through it’s a high feeling, because you don’t know what will happen and just go with what the game throws at you. The problems aren’t apparent at first and it’ll all seem flawless. However, during my second time through I began to notice the flaws. The parts that didn’t age well which we’ve talked about over these last few sections. Horse ride talks which you can’t skip and don’t have any control over how long they last. Gun fights get incredibly repetitive as the story goes on. Scripted minigames which aren’t fun at all and don’t add anything to the engagement with the game. It’s a fifty-hour long journey that could have been cut down to thirty if they removed what wasn’t needed. The game keeps dipping up and down in quality!
The first chapter is a chore, because it’s literally a tutorial section teaching you the mechanics. Which is fine, but it lasts up to two to three hours long and you’re not dumped into the open world until after the first mission of the second chapter. Not a great way to leave good impressions on players. The game gets better with chapter two, but slowly dips down as they throw job after job onto you. It continues going down with chapter three until the conflict starts to arise and get interesting. Chapter four goes up, then down, and up when the bank heist arises. Then chapter five dips down with how you are dumped in a location that isn’t the open world, and it goes back up with chapter six to only then linger with how many overdrawn gunfights there are. Then the epilogue happens and depending on who you are it may work or not work, because what the epilogue is basically a whole second game cut a little bit shorter. It’s… very difficult to take in. This game does have good moments, but they are every so often. With all these complaints I should be disappointed, but I’m not. I still like Red Dead Redemption 2 despite the annoying gameplay. Why is that? It’s because of the story and how it redeems it all.
Part 9: Bleeding Out My Spirit. Breathing Out My Soul (The Brilliant Story)
The game follows the Van der Linde gang, led by of course Dutch Van der Linde, a group of outlaws on the run from the law. Their last job involved them robbing a boat in Blackwater, but they were quickly alerted and the money they stole was left behind. Three members of the gang were killed, and the rest ran up to the mountains to hide for a few weeks. They soon make their way to Horseshoe Lookout, station a campsite there, and reattempt to earn the money they lost by taking jobs in Valentine. The gang is composed of twenty members and the one we follow is Arthur Morgan, the right-hand man of Dutch. He’s stern, grumpy, and doesn’t really care what happens as long as the ones he cares about don’t get harmed. Otherwise, he’s the stereotypical bastard with a heart of gold. Yet, Red Dead Redemption 2 gets you to care about each character and who they are despite them being stereotypes. Sadie Adler was once a faithful married woman until during a home invasion her husband was killed. She begins hunting down the men who killed her husband, but over time becomes more of a scoundrel than a hero. Dutch is this advanced talking leader who keeps the group chugging along and motivates them to work towards their dream. You have Bill, Micah, Javier, Lenny, Uncle, Tilly, Marybeth, Molly O’Shee, Charles, Abigail, Pearson, Mrs. Grimshaw, and even John who we get to see during his early days when he was traveling with the fearsome gang. What was this dream they all desired?
The American dream. The promise to live freely amongst the land and be rewarded for your hard work and effort. To be cherished by the people and respected for the work you did. To never be harmed for your beliefs and traditions, because all it took was the sweat of your brow. Unfortunately, that dream didn’t remain intact. America is constantly evolving, changing, and with that comes new counter measurements. To fund new cities, roads, and railways you need money and the only way to get that money is through the people. Tax them, take more of their income, and use their work to fund your own personal gains. If they fail to meet these requirements then arrest them, and if they resist you have the right to shoot or hang them high. The good old western days are done and done, and those who don’t adapt to modern society will be left to wander the streets. Broke, without a home, and to starve in the streets of poverty. The American dream was once a vision and now it’s a luxury too hard to achieve. RDR2’s overall theme is about time and how nothing can last forever. Our friends will die, disappear, or never want to be associated with us ever again. We can fight for what we believe in even if that dream is corrupt or change and aim for a life and duty far better than before. This topic of change and being forgotten is especially reflected in Arthur and how he changes over the course of the plot.
As the stakes rise, Arthur is forced to do more terrible jobs for the gang. Beat people, take their money, rob harmless folks, and kill dozens of lives who are just trying to get by. The love of his life wishes for him to change, and when he fails to please her, she leaves and sends the ring he gifted her back to him. His friends are either gunned down or run away knowing what they’ve been working towards is ultimately worthless as Dutch grows crazier each day. Then there’s the big change later on. Near the beginning of the game, Arthur has to beat a sick person to collect a debt for the camp. We don’t know what the sickness is, but during the last chapter Arthur attains a cough similar to his. He visits a doctor’s office and quickly discovers he has tuberculosis. It symbolizes karma and how following these evil commands eventually led to a faster death for Arthur. He could die any day now and the dream he desires has been taken away. Depending on how many people you decide to help, Arthur will confess his sin to a nun while sitting at a train station. He states that his entire life was a waste, and he threw away any opportunities to settle down. He’s weak, dying, and most of all he is afraid of death. Not just being left to wander in the abyss alone, but that his good deeds will never out mask the crimes he had committed. Afterwards the game starts dumping moral choice opportunities onto the player. Allowing Arthur to make the most out of his last few weeks on earth. The final choice in the game is between protecting your best friend, John, or darting towards a chest of money which is utterly pointless seeing how you are about to die. Choosing to protect John will result in Arthur defending a hill with all his might and fighting a mole within the gang. Being beaten to deaf and choking his last bit of air out. Depending on your honor meter you are either shot to death or left behind to die peacefully. Watching as a rising sun appears. Signaling a new dawn for John who survived, and Arthur finally being able to move onto heaven where he’ll see his parents and son. RDR2 may be dragged out at times, but it has an incredible narrative worth witnessing. It contains a lovable main character who grows, develops, and becomes more appreciable as he tries to redeem himself. That’s why the game is called Red Dead Redemption, because it tells the redemption of a man who fought till the day he died. God, that ending gave me man tears.
Conclusion: Turn My Eyes Away and Watch the Setting Sun
As you can tell by now, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game I’m very conflicted on. The gameplay just did not click for me and by the end I was drained of all spirit and life. Having to grind through a fifty-hour long game to write an essay such as this. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, but there was that feeling I could have played something better or actually had fun. The design choices are terrible, and it seems like Rockstar Games is taking a step back. Not knowing their sandbox formula has aged terribly and that so many developers have upped the ante recently. If you want a good video that is better than this essay, then check out NakeyJakey. He is like a super sweet guy and his content is entertaining, informal, and comedic. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a title I struggle to recommend, but I know a lot of people will enjoy this. It’s a game I understand why people give it 10/10s, because it contains the quality and content that can come out of a Triple A product. It came out during a year when single player games were dying, and it was this alongside God of War which proved they still have a place in the market. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I can respect what it does. In the end I would give Red Dead Redemption 2 an 8/10, which is pretty high for everything negative I’ve just said but trust me this is good. I hope you can all understand where I’m coming from and move beyond our disagreements. Peace out!
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tune for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!