Few games have moved me quite like Red Dead Redemption 2. A game I spent so many weeks upon weeks playing that by the end, it felt like I had lost a part of my life. RDR2 is about life on the run in the late 19th century, yet it is so much more. As Arthur Morgan, you are launched into a powerful narrative with the freedom to explore an expansive open world filled with countless opportunities, ranging from conducting raids to hunting down animals of legend. While several factors made RDR2 the success it is today, I believe this very idea of freedom is at the core of that success.
Every NPC Has a Story to Tell
For me, one of the distinctive features of Red Dead Redemption 2 is your interaction with the NPCs. As you ride through the countryside on horseback, you may hear a call for help from a bystander. For instance, a passerby once requested medical attention; I responded by providing him with medicine to alleviate the pain. What impressed me the most was that the game kept track of my actions, as the same man later offered me to purchase resources on his account as a way of thanks.
Every NPC encounter was different, though, and not all of them ended so pleasantly. Several times gang members attempted to rob me at gunpoint, and of course, instead of quietly cooperating with them, I would kill and loot them instead.
You didn’t necessarily have to wait for an NPC to come to you either; you could initiate the exchanges yourself. Whether this be through a polite greeting or by pointing a gun at their head, the choice was entirely up to you. By choosing the latter, you could rob the NPC, although some did not take to this kindly and responded with weapons of their own. So check to see whether they have a gun or not before making your decision!
The Honor System
The choices you make will impact your honor ranking. This system determines the outlook the general population has of you. Help out an NPC or do something admirable, and the meter will slide to the right, indicating people view you as a virtuous person. On the other hand, if you threaten and rob passersby, your honor level will drop. Sometimes the game gives you a choice. For instance, a struggling debtor offered to repay his dues by giving me a possession of substantial value as he did not have any cash. Seeing as he had a family to feed, I decided to abolish the debt, which increased my honor ranking. Interactions like these made me care about the NPCs in a way other games just haven’t been able to do, and it’s one of the many areas that Red Dead Redemption 2 thrives in.
These random exchanges with the world around me made my journey from point A to point B all the more enjoyable. When I first started the game, I thought I would get bored of constantly having to ride on horseback. But the game quickly proved me wrong through these engaging encounters, which brought a distinct and paramount dimension to the game.
A Living, Breathing World
Make no mistake; Rockstar has created a visual masterpiece. Blades of grass dance around in the gentle breeze, blood and mud gather on your clothes over time, your pistol gleams in the rain as the water pours down, the shadows lengthen as noon approaches, and snow brushes off trees as you make contact; talk about attention to detail! Rockstar specializes in getting the little things right in every one of its titles, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is no exception.
The size of the map means that there are a lot of diverse locations to explore and marvel at. From the snow-capped mountains in the Grizzlies to the desolate swamps in Bluewater Marsh in the East, the developers have spared no effort in making the environment as immersive as possible. Birds chirp in the background, wolves howl in the distance, and alligators growl, searching for a meal. The weather is also constantly changing within the game, adding to the realism. When the occasional rain strikes, it will make the world more beautiful than ever as the water reflects off the surrounding structures. Once midnight arrives, you can see the galaxies in all their glory, and when a storm brews, you can gaze in awe at the forks of lightning amidst the rumbling thunder and pattering rain. Few games today can match what RDR2 offers in terms of visual storytelling.
Never a Dull Moment
There is just an endless amount of things to do in Red Dead Redemption 2. Apart from the highly engaging main storyline, the game offers a host of side missions. You can initiate most of these side missions by interacting with NPCs who might ask for favors such as rescuing captives or collecting a specific item. For instance, there is a card collector who offers to pay you a handsome sum for assembling 12 cigarette cards scattered throughout the map. Others missions are simply highlighted on the map. You can access these at specific times of the day, such as helping out Albert Mason, the photographer.
Hunting is one of my favorite activities in the game. Dispersed throughout the map are 12 legendary creatures sought after for bragging rights and their pelt. You will have access to a map that shows their approximate location, and once you reach there, you must look around for clues using your Eagle Eye. Doing so will allow you to track them and execute them. You can then carry their pelt to a nearby trapper and use it to craft legendary outfits for yourself.
Become a Thief
If you prefer more straightforward tasks, you can rob bandwagons and homesteads with your gang members. This will bring in money not just for you but also for your camp, allowing it to stock up on resources that you can utilize later on. One thing I really enjoyed doing was uncovering hidden operations of seemingly law-abiding shopkeepers. Upon discovery, you can barge in, threaten the shopkeeper and loot their side business. Keep in mind, though, that they will probably be spiteful to you if you visit again in the future.
Just feel like stirring up a bit of trouble? Go to the nearest saloon, grab yourself a drink, and start throwing punches around. Pretty soon, you will have a riot going on. You can even choose to simply explore the glorious surroundings by traveling around on your horse with the Cinematic Camera activated. This unique feature gives you a broader view of your environment, giving you a chance to take it all in. The bottom line is that there is always something to do in Red Dead Redemption 2. I never felt that things were getting repetitive in three weeks of playing through the game. In fact, if you are a completionist, you are looking at nearly 200 hours’ worth of gameplay!
A Compelling Story: Righting the Wrongs
Undoubtedly, Red Dead Redemption 2‘s greatest strength lies in its main campaign. Driven out from your residence in Blackwater and with no money to spend, you and your gang members seek refuge in the snowy mountains to survive. From here begins a journey to find a place to settle down and start afresh, a place to call home.
Much of the campaign revolves around Arthur Morgan’s relationship with the van der Linde gang. Right from the start of the game, it is made clear that this is not just a group of random individuals allying with one another for their personal goals, but rather a small, tightly-knitted community – some even family, looking to make themselves a place in the world. As a long-time member of this gang, you aim to ensure these people survive and prosper, and you will steal, hurt, and murder to make this a reality – despite your ideals. Whether it is the Pinkertons, the rival O’driscoll gang, or the bounty hunters, you will cut through them all to protect your people.
By the end of the game, I had gone through a gripping, emotional storyline brimming with the ideas of loyalty and self-righteousness. What impressed me the most was Arthur’s character development over the course of the lengthy campaign; as the name suggests, this is a tale of redemption. Arthur is constantly involved in an internal struggle as he wants nothing more than to set himself free from life as an outlaw but refuses to do so until his companions are safe. Another intriguing concept was how your honor ranking subtly affects the storyline positively or negatively, encouraging me to act more honorably upon realization.
A powerful narrative complemented by memorable NPC interactions, intriguing side missions, gorgeous visuals, and an expansive, detailed open world means that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a title that has cemented its place in gaming history and will be celebrated for years to come. Offering a sense of freedom that few other games can rival, let alone transcend, it remains a fan favorite even today, and understandably so. If you own a gaming console/PC and still haven’t played this game, trust me, you are missing out.