Red Dead Redemption II Review- Living the Outlaw Life

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Posted November 10, 2018 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Rockstar Games

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Release date: October 26, 2018

Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Westerns have long been a staple on the big screen. From the early days of Hollywood to the present, audiences have thrilled to adventures with cowboys, Indians, outlaws, and gunslingers. Films ranged from epic in scope like the John Ford classic The Searchers to the stark realism of The Revenant. In between all that rode the Man With No Name, as portrayed by Clint Eastwood in films like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Pale Rider. But for videogamers, the selection has been a bit more sparse, with titles like the PS2 game Gun and The Call of Juarez. In 2004, GTA developer Rockstar entered into the mix with Red Dead Revolver, which introduced the Dead Eye mechanic for spectacular gunfights. Red Dead Redemption followed in 2010 on the PS3 and Xbox 360, introducing us to the character of John Marston and opening up the Old West in the early 20th Century for exploratory gameplay. The game was highly successful, later including a zombies meet gunslingers mode in Undead Nightmare.

With the success of Red Dead Redemption, it was no surprise that Rockstar would return to the franchise. But rather than create a sequel, Rockstar went the prequel route with Red Dead Redemption II, introducing us to the beginning of the end for Dutch van der Linde and his gang of outlaws, which included Marston, Bill Williamson, Charles Smith, Sadie Adler, and the new playable character of Arthur Morgan. It’s through Arthur’s eyes that we witness the events that put Dutch’s gang on the run in 1899 following a botched robbery in the town of Blackwater. The opening of the game, which serves as the primary tutorial to much of the game’s mechanics, begins in a blizzard deep in the mountains. From here you’ll later traverse through forests, small towns on the plains like Valentine, swamps, and larger cities like Saint Denis. It’s a rich, sweeping narrative, something Dan Houser and others do well for Rockstar, containing intimate, heartfelt moments as well as moments of betrayal and explosive violence.

The tale of Arthur and the rest of Dutch’s gang is one of the best stories ever told in a Rockstar game, and may be one of the best in gaming period. It chronicles the gang as they follow Dutch, who always maintains he has a plan, and how time and time again that plan seems further out of reach. Dogging the gang is the determined Pinkerton agent Andrew Milton, along with the rival gang, the Driscolls. The game’s story stretches across 80 main missions that take place over six chapters and a two part epilogue. I had 55 hours into the game once the extensive credits rolled, and there was still more to do post credits. If you want to do all side missions, however, you may want to wrap them up prior to your final mission, as they appear to be unavailable post credits. But a second playthrough is needed anyway to see how alternate choices play out, as well if you wish to indulge in using the game’s cheat codes (the use of which negates trophies/achievements, so use a separate save file if you want to play with the cheats) or play n a different manner. I played Arthur in my playthrough as a bit more honorable, dutifully paying off bounties placed on my head and trying not to cause trouble unless trouble found me. But I’m already thinking of a more ruthless second playthrough, and it’s nice that the game allows you to take either approach.

Your choices are usually dialogue options or whether you will or will not aid another character. Missions will still fail if you allow a fellow gang member to die, even when you’d prefer to shoot them yourself (looking at you, Micah Bell!). For the most part, the game has decent checkpoints during the missions, but there are some that set you back farther than you might like if you trigger a mission fail screen. Sometimes that can happen wholly by accident, where an NPC runs into you or gets in your way. Sometimes these oopsies just add to the game, adding an extra challenge to overcome like having to escape the law when you thought you were free and clear just because another rider collides their horse with yours. These accidents can also be frustrating at times, but because the game world is a living, breathing entity, what happens one moment that causes a fail may not occur on the retry. It’s a testament as to how ell Rockstar has constructed this world, as it feels alive and the inhabitants go about their business, regardless of what you’re doing.

The game world itself makes it very easy to get lost and sidetracked from the main story. Wandering about can open side missions and encounters with strangers, some of which can be a bit involved. There are treasure maps to check out and mysteries to solve. The world is also teeming with wildlife, and hunting and fishing can end up occupying a bit of your time. Doing these activities, including camp chores, have benefits as well, including increasing your attributes or contributing to the overall well being of the gang’s camp. In this way the game at times can feel more like an Old West simulator. Animations for skinning game have been altered from the previous installment, and you can choose whether to skin your kill immediately or take the whole carcass back. Be aware that dead carcasses decay over time, so to deliver a fresher kill you need to act in a timely manner. Delivering perfect hides can lead to cosmetic camp improvements, as well as sell for more money. As with the previous game, collecting herbs and killing game can give you supplies for crafting.

Shopping for supplies has gotten an upgrade as well. Walking into a shop no longer just pops up a list to choose from. Now you can actually peruse items on the shelves, or you can page through a catalog and purchase items from there. You’ll need plenty of supplies, as you’ll need to eat and drink to keep your health up, as well as sleep on a somewhat regular basis. Tonics that enhance both your health, attributes like stamina and Dead Eye, and the health of your horse can also be purchased in stores as well as finding them through looting or exploration. Looting a corpse isn’t just a quick button press, however. You’ll be put into an animation that has you searching the corpse, and that can take time. Sometimes that searching is worthwhile, other times it can leave you open to attack or cause a witness to alert the law of a crime. You can pick bodies up and hide them, which can be useful for not alerting anyone else if you’re trying to be stealthy on a mission or just if you want a more private place to loot the victim.

Taking care of your horse as well as yourself is more of a priority in this game than it was in the preceding title. Gone are the days of just riding your horse off a cliff, only to have him be resurrected when you whistle for him later. If your horse dies, it’s gone for good, and you need to buy or otherwise procure another horse. Horses need to be brushed or rode through streams to clean them off, as not keeping them clean can cause their stamina to replenish slower. You’ll also need to feed them to keep their health up, so that means having a good supply of apples, carrots, and oat cakes in your satchel. Taking care of your horse forms a bond between you, and the higher the bond, the more your horse will respond to you and be more reliable in dangerous situations. You can name your horse, making that bond even more personal. As a result, you can grow more attached, and thus you get more careful in how you ride and treat the animal. My horse was with me until nearly the end of the game, and when I lost him, it was heartbreaking. It’s just another mechanic that immerses you in the world of Red Dead Redemption II, and it’s one that works quite well.

As with any Western, you’ll have a variety of weapons to use against enemies and the wildlife. As expected, you’ll have time period appropriate firearms, like pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns, as well as a bow and a knife for melee combat. Weapons are equipped through your weapon wheel, which is brought up by the left shoulder button. The wheel is broken down into three sections, where you can also access items such as binoculars or your campsite, as well as items to help your horse while you’re riding. Aiming is done via the left trigger, and firing through the right, and your Dead Eye, provided you have your meter filled, can be activated by pressing R3. You’ll need to use tonics and food items to replenish your health, stamina, and Dead Eye cores, so make sure your satchel has enough supplies when you go out on missions. Camp sites can be used for crafting and cooking as well once you have the necessary recipes. Controls will take a little to get used to, but once you do get use to them they work quite well.

Your bed at the gang’s camp will enable you to equip outfits and even shave off that scraggly beard. Having the proper outfit equipped is necessary depending upon the weather. If you don’t have warm enough clothes for a colder climate, for example, your health will degrade over time. Same thing if you’re overdressed for a warmer area. Each outfit will tell you in its description what weather it’s best in, and you can store up to three outfits in your horse’s saddlebags, so you can be prepared for any change in weather as you travel across the large map. Clothing can be acquired sometimes by looting, but you can also purchase most in shops through a catalog. Shaving is more a cosmetic thing, though your beard will only grow so long without the use of tonics.

Missions are a varied bunch, with some lasting only 15 minutes or so, while others may be more involved and take over an hour to complete. Missions will have you robbing a train, delivering a package, and even taking young Jack Marston on a fishing trip. Side missions can be just as varied, with one having you deliver letters between two lovers who belong to opposing, warring families, to finding clues and tracking a serial killer. You’ll get a camera early on, which you can use to enter the game’s Photo Mode. Don’t expect a mode as robust as the one found in Spider-Man or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, however. You need to be on foot while using the camera (no using the photo mode for those action shots; for those, you’ll have to rely on your respective console’s share function), and you’ll be unable to access it during missions. While this gives a more realistic feel to the Photo Mode as it relates to the time period, it feels very limited when compared to other recent releases.

Outside of the limited photo mode, my only other real complaint is with the occasionally slow load times, though these are mitigated when you start each game session by viewing a series of vintage photographs of the game world. Some may find the travel times tedious, as you’ll often have to ride great distances between points. You can activate a cinematic camera during travel times, which then allows you to be able to sit back and enjoy the scenery without the worry of controlling your horse. Should any event occur, like being shot at by bandits, it’s easy enough to take over again. A fast travel option is opened up once you upgrade the camp, but I rarely used it, as the world was just so enchanting to travel through. By just traveling I could come across something I hadn’t seen up to that point, or find something to divert my attention, like a poker game or a round of dominoes. Plus the game is just so pretty to look at that it’s easy to get lost in staring at the scenery.

Red Dead Redemption II is yet another phenomenal achievement for Rockstar, as they once again have topped themselves in bringing us, in my opinion, their richest game to date. The writing. voice acting, and visuals are all top notch, as is the musical score by Woody Jackson, with original songs written by Daniel Lanois, among others. The game world feels completely alive, with plenty of ambient sounds and conversations to listen to. Missions are varied, and there is plenty of side content to distract you from the main story. Throw in hunting, fishing, poker and other games, plus doing basic chores around camp, and you have the makings of a game in which you can easily get lost in for far more than the 50+ hours it takes to complete the main storyline. Rockstar has created another masterpiece, and the online component hasn’t even dropped yet (as of this writing, the public beta for Red Dead Online will be held at the end of November, 2018). The single player game is a must play, and if the online is as well defined as GTA Online, that will just be icing on the cake. Now it’s time for me to saddle my horse and be on my way. After all, I’ve got plenty to do. And maybe even a train or stagecoach to rob.


About the Author

Thomas James Juretus