There was a time when Hollywood was filled with movies trying to tell the crazy stories and adventures of what we nowadays call cowboys. Wandering through the deserts, playing with and against the law, those folks were something a huge number of children looked up to back in the day. Everyone strived for more of these stories until they simply vanished at one point. The genre of the Wild West had reached its maximum and people were getting tired of the repetitive cowboy shooting some good and bad guys along his journey for a better tomorrow. The video games industry, on the other hand, never really received the Wild West treatment as much as Hollywood did, and the genre had been stagnating since forever with only a couple game releases such as Outlaws and Call of Juarez. One franchise, though, broke that stagnation. The year of 2010 saw the release of Red Dead 2 (also known as Red Dead Redemption), a sequel to a pretty unknown game that only a diehard audience was ever aware of - Red Dead Revolver. Developed by Rockstar San Diego, it took the world by storm, quickly becoming one of the greatest games of the 7th generation, if not of all time.
The popularity of Red Dead Redemption, being a console exclusive, was incredible. At the time, the Internet was full of fan made art and posters of the game and even some fan fiction continuations of the story. But, beside a really great DLC - named Undead Nightmare, the franchise went silent for years, though, it was never forgotten. Everything went viral in Fall 2016 when Rockstar teased the return with a new company logo, themed similarly to the colors which the franchise is known for. It turned out that a new Red Dead game was in development, which is set years prior to the popular 2010 release.
Knowing 2010's Red Dead Redemption, RDR2 had a lot to live up to with a limitation to the story, having in mind that many players already know the outcome. It's oddly satisfying to say that it manages to deliver a beautiful, carefully written story with a big number of memorable characters you interact with. It's set in 1899, an era where the society began to modernize and little to no space was left for the dying breed that the cowboys were. Dutch van der Linde and his gang refuse to accept the new ways of living and are in constant clash with the law. You, Arthur Morgan, are part of that gang, one of Dutch's closest people and are set on a quest to earn enough money so that the gang can leave the area and disappear once and for all.
Dutch's ideals are phylosophical and often not the most unrealistic ones, but the way of going through that path has to result in constant robberies and a huge number of dead people, both innocent and guilty ones. After a disastrous robbery attempt in Blackwater, the gang has lost a lot of its members. The law is constantly chasing them and there are bounty hunters waiting around corners, ready to kill. On the run, the gang is slowly being torn apart. Arthur is a man of a slow realization of his gang's terrible deeds who, while remaining loyal, is starting to question Dutch's transformation and his way of handling situations.
The camp is crucial to the game and story... Or so they want us to think. Dutch will complain about being broke no matter how much money you donate. Essentially, all the camp activities can be totally ignored, and nothing will change, really. Beside Dutch, there are some, expectedly, familiar faces in the game such as John Marston, his wife and son and a few other characters known from the original Red Dead Redemption. Essentially, it is very hard to provide any details without spoiling the end of the story, but RDR2's story is beautiful and it features some of the best characters I've ever seen in any game. It's haunting once you realize Arthur's character transformation throughout the story and in reality, I started playing the game wanting to play as John Marston, but ended up wishing to remain as Arthur. His character arc is really amazing and objectively, he certainly is one of the best protagonists in all of the video games industry.
One of the crucial elements of any game is its gameplay. From the wide variety of animal life to the random encounters with strange NPCs and the weird and mysterious places you may come across, RDR2 has a lot of stuff to offer. Alongside the main story, you'll occasionally meet strangers who behave similarly to the ones from GTA5. Paleontologists, beggars, other outlaws on the run as well as an occasional NPC in need of help, their variety tends to be interesting and creative from time to time - there was an instance where I was able to watch a doctor amputate an NPCs left arm. Unfortunately, these seem to be too scripted and I found myself in a few occasions where I helped a prisoner on the run and left the area before he was able to speak to me, only to cross the path with the exact same NPC and the exact same problem a few hours later, just in a different place. Eventually, I helped him again and waited for him to finish his line in order to avoid the same meetup again. The game also has a lot of activies such as fishing and hunting, if that's your preference.
People can be weird at times and riding a horse often caused encounters with strangers who greet me. The game provides a fun option to talk to any NPC, but I found myself avoiding this since you can never really know what Arthur is going to say next, no matter whether it's positive or not. Random NPCs sometimes greet you in the wild, and while I'd gladly send some greetings back, it feels a bit too much work to stop the horse from riding, focus on the NPC who may already left and then talk to them. At the end of the day, it's the littlest interactions that truly magnify the experience. There was an instance in the camp where two characters had a discussion whether the gang is losing their way and after few arguments, Hosea turned to me and ask me of "my" opinion.
Both on foot and on horse, the controls are the way they are expected, but there are often really terrible and unresponsive, especially while riding a horse. The horse may or may not slip over anything. Other times, it will feel proper. The bond with your horse is important, since a stronger bond will result in both better and easier controls as well as the distance within you can call it. If it's far away, you'll have to wait for the horse to physically return to you. Stealing a horse will mark it as a temporary one, and a nice touch was seeing how the game will remember its existence and the last place you left it the next time you play. Combat, on the other hand, feels really good and it has the positive elements of GTA5's with some minor improvements. Guns will have lower stats if they are not cleaned, but those stats won't be low enough for most players to care.
The weather can change randomly within a few seconds and when it does, colder weather will impact your health, so you allegedly need to wear clothes intended for the current temperature. Arthur's actions won't have an impact on the story, but depending on the honor level, the same cutscene will play out differently. One of the things that impact the honor level is the so-called "witness system" - unfortunately, RDR2 suffers from the GTA police effect. The law will magically know you for killing a person in the middle of nowhere often which usually results in a randomly spawned traveler running away to tell the sheriff. The system sounds really good on the concept level, but its execution could've been more optimized.
5. Graphics & audio
Every step of the horse, every animation, every plant and rock you come across are meant to immerse you into its beautiful open world, and it's incredible to see that the game succeeds in doing that more than often. The lighting is just phenomenal and it works really well. The game features a wide range of terrains - from the foggy and snowy mountains all the way to the swamps filled with alligators, it never ever felt repetitive. Even visiting the exact same spot feels like a totally new place. Rockstar has really inducted the power of QUIXEL's Megascans in a proper way and the result is just wonderful.
The details of each gun and character is astonishing. The characters will be covered in mud if not cleaned, their health will worsen and Arthur's face and animation will changed based on his health or if he got attacked by someone. The skin may be brighter and reddish on sunlight and both mud and snow will have footprints if walked on.
There are around half a million voice lines recorded and while not all of them are great, there's an outstanding cast of talented voice actors featured in RDR2. Rob Wiethoff and Benjamin Byron Davis reprise their roles as John Marston and Dutch van der Linde, respectively. The main character is portrayed by Roger Clark and he delivers the line wonderfully most of the time - it's a performance of a lifetime. The sound of the guns is great as well and has a nice few touches depending on the origin and area of the gunshot, so it will sound different indoors and outdoors.
2010's Red Dead Redemption had entering Mexico playing "Far Away" by Jose Gonzalez, and that is one of the most wonderful moments in all of gaming. While "Far Away" doesn't return here, there is a similar equivalent - D'Angelo's "Unshaken", and it works well for RDR2's setting. Generally, Rockstar's music choice is top notch and I loved every bit of it.
Without a doubt, Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most beautiful and best games I've ever tried out. Rockstar's obsession with details may turn off some people, and while a feature to turn it off would be nice, by no means did it worsen the overall experience I had. The game has a few flaws and room for improvements, but its wonderful, deep and detailed story with some of the best graphics that a human has seen to this date provides an experienced good enough to say that everyone should be given the chance to try the game out. The one big thing that had been left out of the main review is the sad lack of a story expansion pack which could perhaps provide something new and focus on another character, but that is highly unlikely to happen in an industry that's filled with microtransactions and loot boxes for the time being.