Rockstar Games has consistently crafted fantastic open-world games year after year, with Grand Theft Auto acting as the gold standard for the genre. Grand Theft Auto V took the world by storm, and after it debuted, gamers were left waiting for the next sprawling, behemoth adventure they'd be embarking on next. In the time since Grand Theft Auto V shook the industry, Rockstar has been hard at work on its first project created entirely to take advantage of the current console generation. The result of the team's hard work can be seen, heard, and felt across just about every aspect of the Western-flavored adventure Red Dead Redemption 2, as it bests its predecessors in every single way.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the sequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption, which followed the PlayStation 2 title Red Dead Revolver. The Red Dead series is now three games large, but it's clear the one players will likely look back on with the most fondness is indeed this prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption. While players took on the role of John Marston for that sprawling Western tale, Red Dead Redemption 2 puts outlaw Arthur Morgan into the spotlight. Morgan is a member of the Van der Linde gang, lead by Dutch van der Linde and his band of ragtag ne'er-do-wells. The gang includes a young John Marston before the events of the original Red Dead Redemption, so it's intriguing to see how his path as an outlaw began before his life took a dramatic turn.
The year is 1899, 12 years before Red Dead Redemption, and the "wild west" lifestyle is slowly beginning to fade away. You follow Morgan and the rest of the gang as they're dealing with the ramifications of a botched attempt at robbery in the town of Blackwater. The gang struggles to keep its cool in the midst of regrouping and dealing with enemy posses, all the while looking for a new place to set up camp. The tumultuous game opening finds the Van der Linde crew pushing through a hell of a blizzard, all the while trying to figure out their next moves. This becomes something of a running theme in the game — survival while running from the authorities and rival gangs. In this, there's a particular air of tension that so many open-world games are lacking and the feeling that you're always on borrowed time.
As Arthur Morgan, you're essentially Dutch's second-in-command, spending a lot of time running his errands and indulging his whims. Dutch consistently shows signs that his mind, typically as sharp as a tack, may not be what it used to. Despite this, Morgan is content to believe in his boss and behaves as loyally as possible, even when things begin to descend a little bit further into madness than Morgan is comfortable with. The overarching narrative is gripping, especially with these themes in mind, and we won't ruin more of it here, but you'll be on the edge of your seat as the game progresses.
Most of your time is spent completing story missions, but you have the ability to do just about whatever you like, whenever you like, as you open up the massive map. There's a wide variety of locations to explore, even plenty of familiar areas from the original Red Dead Redemption, so long as you play long enough. You can travel on foot or on horse (and occasionally stagecoaches and more) across different biomes, including the swamp, desert, plains, mountains, and everything in between. It isn't set in a "real" version of the American West, but a fictional amalgam of the area that gives you plenty of space to play with.
You'll spend much of your time in the game's main settlements, which look a lot like any quintessentially "Western" film or TV show. You've got your saloon, general store, and all the typical storefronts you'd normally see in a stereotypical frontier-style area. Travel plays a big part of the game, and you'll be doing quite a bit of it if you want to see everything there is to see, and, trust us, there's a lot. Every new area is home to new stores, NPCs, and activities to complete. Trains run on their own particular schedules. Townsfolk mill about and go through their own daily routines. There are several ways to interact with others you meet, be it through being a total jerk to them or chatting with folks who just want some company, like a particularly friendly war vet that you can meet early on in the game.
Arthur Morgan is your character to shape as you see fit, with your actions shaping his reputation and the way others will end up treating him and speaking to him. With that said, you can kit him out the way you desire as well. From horses to guns to his Sunday best, Morgan is entirely yours to mold. He even gets dirty, an issue you'll need to deal with hastily by having him go for a swim in a river or take a bath in a town. If he's dirty and disgusting, others may even comment that he stinks — and you don't want that.
You can dress Arthur how you like as well, but you'll have to be mindful of keeping him dressed appropriately for the weather. If you don't wear a warm coat in the middle of a frosty, snowy area you'll be seeing your health drop at a much faster rate than if you were prepared for the cold. You can keep additional outfits and supplies on your horse to facilitate this interesting feature, which is just one that sets Red Dead Redemption 2 apart from the rest of the pack.
Arthur's hair grows, too, as does his beard. If you want to keep him looking trimmed up, it's not as simple as just choosing a hairstyle and running with it. You have to stay on top of grooming if you want him to look the way you really want him to. If you let him go a long while without a shave, he'll start looking scruffy, for example. If you don't feed him enough, he'll become more gaunt and craven. It's all up to your decisions in-game. not some predetermined character creator and a bunch of sliders at the beginning of the game.
On top of his appearance and reception by NPCs, you also need to take heed of Morgan's health, stamina, and Dead Eye meter, all of which are massively important if you want to have any hope of proceeding all the way through the game. You'll find them leveling up slowly over time, so the more you do things, the better you'll become at them. All of these are things to remember, and ways to customize Arthur go a long way as far as immersing you in the game. It's just like a living, breathing version of the Wild West from top to bottom, whether you're making a getaway from having just robbed a bank for some cash or you're sitting down to a meal with the folks in your gang at your camp.
There's a staggering amount of things to do otherwise in Red Dead Redemption 2, such as hunting, fishing, completing optional side quests like seeking out legendary outlaws for a biographer, or just taking in a few games of poker. It's the closest thing we'll ever get to really living in the real Wild West, down to the gunfights, traveling on horseback, and the amazing vistas and landscapes of the time. From the expertly-crafted music to the fantastic voice acting, we frequently felt as though we were simply playing a film from one of the Western filmmaking greats.
We were also frequently astounded by the game's startling attention to detail, the high quality voice acting, breathtaking graphics, and commitment to making an unforgettable product. From start to finish, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a stunner, and a testament to what the game industry is capable of in terms of storytelling and grandeur.
If you’re not a fan of the open world game format, Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t likely to change your mind. It’s still very much set firmly within the genre. But if you’re into richly-developed worlds, memorable characters, jaw-dropping graphics, and nearly-perfect decisions for just about every feature within the game, you owe it to yourself to check out Red Dead Redemption 2. Not only is it one of the best games of the year so far, but it will certainly go down as one of the best open-world games of all time. That's a fact.