Red Dead Redemption II Impressions

I just finished Red Dead Redemption II (RDR2) on PS4. It’s another huge game where I have to clarify what the means. I’ve finished the main story and both epilogues. I don’t think the fact that there are two epilogues is much of a spoiler, but I’ll try to avoid spoiling anything story related.

The original Redemption was one of my favorite games of the last generation. Yes, there was convoluted story and lots of action, but I mostly loved the sense of place. You felt out there in the rugged west with beauty and danger over each ridge. The new version certainly lives up to that. It’s a beautiful game with huge vistas and scenic corners. When you’re riding across the map, it seems to go on forever.

Red Dead Redemption 2_scenic vista

There are some drawbacks. The controls are a mess. They cram too much in there and have ignored standards for third person action games. Personally, I couldn’t switch back and forth to any other game due to the complex controls. They work fine once you have them down. The game is more than long enough for anyone to master the controls, but there’s certainly too long of a period where I was fighting them.

It’s a Rockstar game, so you almost expect the over the top violence and language. The time period also allows for multiple encounters with racism. In combination, this can make parts of the story uncomfortable to play through. They managed to minimize a lot of the violence (including sexual violence) towards women. So it certainly seems like an editorial decision to focus on racism as much as they did. Of course, it’s never shown in a positive light, but the player should beware.

Red Dead Redemption 2_Balloon

I don’t mean to be too negative towards the game. It’s an amazing experience. It manages to combine adventure, exploration, base building, stealth, trade, ranged and melee combat with a sweeping story that carries you to all corners of a gargantuan map. You’re never at a loss for something to do. One trophy has you skin every animal in the game. It could take you as long as the rest of game to complete that hunting quest. The main quest includes over 100 missions plus there are optional honor missions and another 30 stranger mission. Did I mention that you’re never at a loss for something to do. A true tip of the cowboy hat to anyone who manages to 100% complete the game.

Red Dead Redemption 2_Fishing

It’s hard for me to understand how to write a game this huge. Maybe that’s why I give it a pass when there’s great writing right next to awful clichés. Most of it is well written and acted. There are few nice, pleasant or enjoyable characters in the game. I’ll be generous and presume that’s the atmosphere they wanted to create. It certainly gives the impression that Arthur is most at home when he on his own deep in the wilderness.

In one sense, it’s a hard game to recommend since so many of the details are dark, problematic or both. Really, things I look for in a game include challenge, vision, world building and, mostly, stories. RDR2 delivers on all of those. Overall, I’m left with the beautiful vistas and great stories. Some of those stories were set pieces, but many just happened out in the wild. It’s really an experience, one you shouldn’t miss. Note that the M rating is definitely earned, then go out and experience those stories for yourself.

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