‘Red Dead Redemption II’
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Who it’s for: Those looking for a deep, expansive Western-themed, action-heavy experience
Platform: Xbox One, PS4
Developer Rockstar Games creates experiences on a different level. The studio best known for “Grand Theft Auto” spends years expertly crafting worlds to immerse players for hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Its latest creation, “Red Dead Redemption II,” places you in the boots of Arthur Morgan, second in command of the van der Linde gang. On the run after a failed ferry robbery, Dutch van der Linde and his followers run east through the mountains and begin a quest for survival spanning five states and likely hundreds of hours.
The game is actually a prequel to the original “Red Dead Redemption,” starting in 1899, toward the end of the affectionately named Wild West. Players get a chance to meet John Marston, the main character of the original, and see him with all his old gang members. It fleshes out his character, even though he is but one of many fascinating background figures you’ll encounter.
The best and worst parts of “RDR II” come from its size. Rockstar has designed a massive open world that seems to live and breathe. Diverse locations abound, with surprises around every corner.
It’s nearly impossible to ride from place to place without being distracted. Some people will ask for help while others will recognize and try to kill you. You’ll find homesteads and abandoned buildings to explore, plants to harvest and animals to hunt.
Consider that the main story alone runs between 70 and 80 hours, and you’ll see the problem. This game is a serious commitment, with the ability to span several hundred hours, and that’s before the online game gets added in the future.
If you’re down for such an expansive experience, you should also consider that “RDR II” isn’t a happy game. While you’ll find the rare moment of levity, Morgan’s existence is relentlessly violent and dark.
Few missions don’t descend into bloodshed, to the point you’ll find yourself responding to possible innocuous situations by shooting first regardless of consequences. It wears on you as you get deeper into the game and the situation gets darker.
Don’t take such observations as negatives. “RDR II” does what it does better than any game before it; it’s just that this isn’t a game with universal appeal. You should know what you’re getting into.
Everything about “RDR II” glints from its exquisite level of polish. Beyond the aforementioned living world, the game controls feel like butter.
Morgan runs, rides, ropes and shoots with balletic fluidity. Watch for the different animations Morgan has when mounting and dismounting horses, and you’ll realize the care that’s been put into the experience.
Never before have so many animals been introduced into a game world, each of them sporting realistic behaviors. There’s so much depth to the fauna that they could have made this a deep hunting game and sold a few million copies, and that’s without the equally deep fishing mechanics.
It’s the depth that will make you want to keep playing through all of the dark turns and tribulations. The story never ceases to amaze, with its twists, turns and in-depth character development. You’ll come to care about Morgan and the other characters, especially Dutch van der Linde as he witnesses the world he loves crumble, giving way to modernity.
I’ve avoided really discussing story particulars and describing missions because it’s nearly impossible to do so without spoiling something good. However, it’s important to note that the game focuses heavily on action.
It’s easy to fail a mission because you missed a shot or someone escaped or (most annoyingly) a fellow gang member died because a bad guy you didn’t even know was there slipped past you.
Checkpoints are fairly generous though, and death or failure during a mission doesn’t penalize you like death does during free-play. The latter hits your wallet pretty hard.
“Red Dead Redemption II” is the game equivalent of an old time movie epic like “Ben Hur” or “The Ten Commandments.” Those who succumb to its multifaceted charms should plan on being lost in this Western fantasy for a long, long time.