After an eight-year wait since Red Dead Redemption arrived on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 back in 2010, tonight Red Dead Redemption 2 will finally be available for gamers who want to travel to Rockstar’s Wild West. For those who don’t know, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel, set ten years before the events of Red Dead Redemption, and follows new protagonist Arthur Morgan and his times with the Van der Linde gang. However, the game is much more than that simple story as Rockstar has apparently crafted a deep, immersive world that begs players to wander through and explore everything it has to offer.
The first reviews are now available, and unsurprisingly, they’re largely positive about Rockstar’s new game.
Unlike so many modern open-world games, Red Dead Redemption 2 does not want you to achieve dominance over it. It wants you to simply be in its world, and to feel like a part of it. It’s a crucial distinction, and a big part of what makes it all so immersive and engrossing. The thrill of playing Red Dead 2, like with many other Rockstar games, comes not from how fun or empowering it feels on a moment to moment basis. It comes from the electric sense that you are poking and prodding at an indifferent, freely functioning world.
While Red Dead Redemption was mostly focused on John Marston’s story, Red Dead 2 is about the entire Van der Linde gang–as a community, as an idea, and as the death rattle of the Wild West. It is about Arthur, too, but as the lens through which you view the gang, his very personal, very messy story supports a larger tale. Some frustrating systems and a predictable mission structure end up serving that story well, though it does take patience to get through them and understand why. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an excellent prequel, but it’s also an emotional, thought-provoking story in its own right, and it’s a world that is hard to leave when it’s done.
As I found myself wandering aimlessly for the umpteenth time, dealing with some of these random annoyances, it hit me why I was so connected to this world: Rockstar isn’t afraid to throw constant conflicts your way because they know the minute-to-minute gameplay can support it. Gunplay is fantastic (Rockstar has pretty much always nailed it), horse fundamentals are slick, random events/skirmishes keep things exciting, and the serene yet complex environments are the backbone for it all.
The slower pace of Red Dead Redemption 2 compared to something like the slightly more breakneck GTA V is also a big part of how it encouraged me to drink in all the world has to offer. Bodies have to be manually looted, and Arthur needs to physically manhandle a body to do so. Single-action pistols need to be cocked before firing. Guns Arthur isn’t currently carrying need to retrieved from his saddle. Coffee needs to be brewed before drinking it.
I suspect some folk may regard this sort of stuff as chore-like, but I really dig it. There’s something methodical about it that really helps ground Arthur in the world, rather than have him feel like he’s gliding through it. For instance, I love the deliberate and mechanical process of cycling a new cartridge with a lever-action rifle via a second pull of the fire button – you can even pause for dramatic effect halfway through. Rockstar’s designers didn’t need to factor that in but I think they understand that tiny, almost trivial instances of subtle control like this subconsciously seat me into the world as Arthur even more.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s best stories, as ever in a Rockstar game, are to be found in the margins, the very best to be scribbled yourself. Sometimes that’s just picking up on environmental details and connecting the dots – the gold prospector that sifts through their haul in the middle of a river, or maybe something even more sinister as you pick up the trail of a serial killer. Or maybe it’s losing yourself in an epic hunt – there are almost 200 species here, each lovingly realised for you to shoot and skin and scalp – or stopping to help a stranger in one of the seemingly endless incidental encounters.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is available tonight on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.