Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: Red Dead Redemption 2 is nothing short of masterful. The multiple complicated systems at work coupled with astonishingly life-like visuals and a strong narrative all serve to give gamers an experience unlike very few out there. Never before, have I been able to simulate a character’s life in the way I have Arthur Morgan’s. After about forty hours, (and I’m still not done with the main story or stranger missions) I have been sucked into this horse-riding simulation with no chance of letting go anytime soon.
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t progressed past Chapter 6 of Red Dead Redemption 2, turn back now for risk of spoilers.
That being said, I didn’t always have so much praise for the game. I was initially caught off guard with the game’s learning curve. When I booted up Red Dead Redemption 2 and was greeted by an introductory cutscene with Rockstar’s brand of amazing visuals, I was in…but then I started playing. At first, as I trudged through the snow in Arthur’s shoes, I accepted the slowness of the walking. It was snow, Rockstar is obviously going for realism, the game was probably going to have more of a cinematic style in the beginning before it let me loose into the world, blah blah blah.
Then as I finished what I assumed was the prologue and entered Arthur’s camp to begin my main character missions, I came upon…more walking. Slow walking to boot. Arthur Morgan really loves to take in the dank smells of the Van der Linde gang camp.
Now, it wasn’t so much the walking that necessarily turned me off in the initial hours of the game, but what I like to call “Classic Rockstar Controls“. You know what I mean, hold X to run (not jog), tap X to full on-sprint, or use the control stick to walk slow. I understand Rockstar is going for the utmost realism here but is it too much? Where is the jog button? Why is Arthur always sprinting? Why can’t I just do a simple jog up to a character instead of running full-pelt at them? If Rockstar really wants to go for realism this is something that needs to be fixed for every Rockstar open-world moving forward.
I was also not very big on the narrative in its first hours. Until about forty percent through the story, I found the missions to be rather bland for the most part and forcing you into classic Rockstar tropes like miles of riding and talking with other characters, tailing missions, and “Take this horse/coach back to its owner”. The story meanders with Dutch constantly claiming that “we just need some money”, “we just need one more heist and then we can get out of here”. The list goes on. Granted, Dutch continues to say things like this over the course of the entire campaign, but I soon realized this wasn’t poor writing, and instead great characterization for Dutch Van der Linde.
Between archaic Rockstar tropes and a slow narrative, I was very disappointed because this was a game I had told everyone around me was going to be Game of the Year or even the generation. At that point in my experience, it was barely in my top three games of the year.
After five or so days of plodding through Red Dead Redemption 2, I decided to take a day off from it. On that day off, I thought a lot about the game and decided that next time I would go in with an open mind, accept the game for what it is, and really try to immerse myself in the role-playing aspects of being Arthur Morgan.
Two hours in with a new mindset, it clicked. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which I fell in love with the game, but when the gang heads into Saint Denis is when the narrative really starts to pick up and I realized that Arthur Morgan is my favorite Rockstar character and a deadpan comic genius. I started to become endeared to everyone in the entire camp, including Dutch and his desperation for a new life for the gang and a chance to start over.
I was floored by the side conversations at the Van der Linde camp, some were so strong and well-written, that they should have been full-fledged cutscenes. My favorite camp memories are the parties where the game informs you character missions are not available because everyone is celebrating some sort of event. I loved to just walk around camp with a beer in my hand, talking to and listening in to the gang.
However, one moment in particular really sold me on the quality of Red Dead Redemption 2. I was in camp and the gang was celebrating the rescue of little Jack Marston when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I could see John and Abigail going off by themselves to sit on chairs in front of the house. Me, ever the curious character, decided to go listen in. I sat on a chair a little bit off to the side of them, far enough away so that it didn’t seem like I was listening in. John and Abigail talked about running off, just the two of them and Jack. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Arthur makes an off-hand comment to them that makes Abigail irritated and she storms off. I was in a state of shock for a solid fifteen seconds. Here I was, just listening in to an entirely missable conversation, and I find out there was actual dialogue recorded for Arthur. It is such a subtle aspect of a much larger game but is easily my favorite moment so far.
Much later in the story, Arthur is hit with the news he has Tuberculosis. The game hadn’t really delivered that emotional gut-punch to me up until that point, but when I heard the news, I was as pissed and depressed as Arthur was in that moment. It baffled me that Arthur could be taken out in this way, and I was annoyed at all the stupid decisions and lives Arthur and I ruined along the way. I had thoroughly expected Arthur to just die in a blaze of glory (which he might) but seeing him violently cough his way from mission to mission really tears at my heartstrings.
It took a while, but I finally came around to Red Dead Redemption 2. It seems I wasn’t the only one to notice the game’s slower introduction, but all the game needed was a little patience on my part to prove itself. Does Rockstar perhaps need to focus streamlining their control scheme for future games? Yes, but I realize and appreciate what the developers were going for. I underestimated the emotional impact this Red Dead Redemption prequel would have on me. My own impatience stopped me from really taking in Rockstar’s incredibly detailed world and characters, and it is something I am going to be keenly aware of in any future game I play.
How have you been enjoying your time with Red Dead Redemption 2? Let us know in the comments below.