Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Coming off Red Dead Redemption, the critically acclaimed western game that revolutionized the genre of both westerns and open-world titles, is a daunting task for any developer, even for award-winning Rockstar Games. However, Red Dead Redemption II, bluntly, is a worthy sequel to Red Dead Redemption, creating an impressive weaving of story, characters, gameplay, and one of the most developed and authentic worlds in gaming history. Like its predecessor, Red Dead Redemption II revolutionizes the genre and creates an experience that is raw and what future open-world games will be compared to. Weaving itself into an interchanged web of disparate parts, this latest release from Rockstar Games will be remembered for its iconic developing of an engaging, riveting story, deliberate gameplay, and an open-world that seeps throughout the experience.
Starring an entirely brand-new protagonist in withered outlaw Arthur Morgan, the game tells the story of Dutch Van der Linde, the iconic antagonist in the predecessor, and his gang’s pitiful downfall through the innovations of civilizations. Serving as a direct prequel, the writers implement similar thematic material as seen in Red Dead Redemption. It deals with the innovations of civilization, capitalism, and the lack of reverence for the old ways. However, Red Dead Redemption II hits these themes far better than the original as it fully explores the emotional turmoil that does arise when civilization determines it has had enough of the Wild West. Arthur Morgan and his voice actor, Roger Clark, are engaging thanks to Morgan’s authentic voice and the uncertainty that rides with the character throughout, finally boiling to a point in the heart-wrenching finale.
Returning character Dutch Van der Linde is memorable and given far more to do here. He easily steals every scene with his lustered charisma, but the story of both his and his gang’s downfall is constantly reminded of, making his transition from a heartened leader to a sore, withered outlaw all the more resonant. Possible one of the most anticipated returns from the original is John Marston, the main protagonist in the original game. While the character isn’t used much in the story, with most of the screen-time being lent to Arthur, Dutch, and company, what he is given proves to be outstanding and serves as a direct bridge into Red Dead Redemption. Marston isn’t seen as the caring family man in this game, but rather a shadow of what he becomes. Like Dutch, his transition from Red Dead Redemption II to where he stands in the original is satisfying and resonant. The story as a whole takes an estimated 50 hours to beat, should the player completely ignore the other activities the world offers. In those 50 hours, the game often encourages the player to move at a slow pace and breathe in the authenticity that the world provides. But with such idealistic views for its audience, the story at times feels rather mellow and drab, especially during the middle portions. It never becomes boring, but it isn’t an integral part of the game until the finale.
As for the environment that Morgan and his fellow gang breathes in, it’s easily the most coveted aspect of the entire game. Each turn that the player makes is breathtaking, with massive draw distances that give the world a lush feeling. Each environment is impressively diverse and makes for one of the best looking games of this entire generation. Snow, rain and other physical obstacles look at times disturbingly real, bringing the world together in a soaring collage of effort.
In addition, the game is populated by a diverse roster of characters that Morgan will interact with on a daily basis. From hunters to workers to wanted outlaws, Red Dead Redemption II encourages the player to take part and interact with the countless NPCs. These are the moments that make the game memorable, as an interaction with one NPC can actually cause an unforeseen event later on. It’s essentially what Telltale Games strived for with its titles, and the fact that Rockstar Games is able to capture that and so many other attributes solidifies their position as one of the most respected developers in the entire industry.
Like the world, the gameplay is both diverse and polished. Riding a horse through open plains and grassy plateaus was satisfying, even if the system does take a while to get used to. Shooting is similar to its original but is far more refined, with each bullet feeling like an actual shot, thanks to the game’s outstanding score and audio system. From fishing to playing poker in a busy saloon, the game never seems to run out of things to do, contributing to the authenticity that is so richly realized in this instant classic.
But while the game does soar with praise, it ultimately does several notable issues. Bugs and glitches litter the game, some of them being catastrophic and removing entire sequences from the player. In addition, when playing on a standard PlayStation 4, I encountered many frame rate drops when moving the camera while on a horse. Hitching also proved to be an issue as the action is rather unresponsive at times.
Finally, the cover system is quite wonky. When moving into cover, the game often chooses the least beneficial spot, usually right into fire. And with some impressive shooters these days, it’s disappointing that Rockstar Games didn’t polish this system even further so as to prevent needless and unfair in-game deaths.
But while these issues are certainly prevalent throughout the entire experience, they never even come close to tampering with what is an unmitigated success from developer Rockstar Games in the open-world genre. It easily surpasses as the best game of 2018 and ranks as one of the best of all time. Revolutionizing the genre, Red Dead Redemption II takes every opportunity to delight players with an engaging story that serves as a direct prequel to its original, deliberate gameplay, and a massive, seeping open world that never fails to impress at every turn.
Score: 9.6 out of 10