The Wild West was a crazy time in the history of the U.S., especially when witnessing a deer rundown some poor lady or a group of the KKK trying to light a cross on fire, but setting themselves on fire instead. Rockstar Games delivers a Western, unlike anything that has in the genre. The most anticipated game of the year is finally here after a long break from its predecessor. Now the developer has unleashed its first current generation title and as always, they manage to push technology and the industry forward by this ambitious title.
Taking place before the events of the first RDR, players dive into the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a member of the infamous Van der Linde Gang. Yes, that is the gang John Marston was a part of in the previous game, and you get to see a younger Marston grow through the eyes of Arthur. A slow-burning narrative that takes its time to develop characters that players of the first title will know with plenty of fresh faces. The exciting journey takes through a harsh adventure as the dysfunctional family of criminals tries to follow their leader Dutch to find a way to flourish in such difficult times.
Rockstar has always been top dog in the industry by not creating great games but making the narratives have the same quality as the gameplay. The character development is through the roof, unlike anything the company has done. Full of bombastic random characters that come up in the open world. Charismatic characters like Dutch help drive the story. Arthur is the best protagonist the company has ever brought into the world. He is a conflicted man trying to survive and do what he thinks is right despite his unethical occupation. The personalities in the game are not just characters, they feel like real people with motivations, flaws, quirks, and interests. With excellent writing and voice acting, these people come to life magically.
The open world is a massive landscape full of activities and surprises around every corner. Interactable people pop up all over the area to give Arthur a unique experience. Everything presented allows for a choice. See a man with a snake bite? Suck the venom out, provide him with medicine, or blast his head off with a shotgun to loot his corpse. Every opportunity feels real, and the outcomes are in the hands of Arthur by the way he speaks or acts.
With such a vast map, transportation is vital. Horseback riding is a ton of fun but can be tedious when riding across the country. Fast travel maps, stagecoaches, and trains help to get from point A to point B much quicker. A price must be paid to travel, but that does not become a problem once enough money to acquired. I only fast traveled once, every other time I took my sweet time with my beautiful companion across gorgeous landscapes. The introduction of swimming, a mechanic, missing from the first game, is a nice gesture that is useless due to boats and how Arthur swims painfully slow.
Choices have rewards and consequences. If Arthur mugs someone, then honor goes down. Help an old lady get to her home then honor rises. The differences in the experience will not vary too much, which is a disappointment. The differences I have seen will not ruin the game by wanting to take a different moral path. Some people will treat you differently like store owners giving you a discount for being the good guy.
The number of details will make heads start spinning. The way snow seeps into the ground after a horse takes a step, mud getting on clothing, and how every area has unique properties based on the climate. Arthur gets to explore places from developing cities, lush forests, wide-open grasslands, or snowy mountains. The weather mechanic puts every other game to shame by the variety and quality delivered. Freezing blizzards, pouring down rain, and high winds that pick up dirt into your eyes, the world feels real with its highly dynamic ecosystem. Depending on the weather, the clothing Arthur wears will affect his stats. Make sure you bring a jacket, the game acts like your mother to make sure you do not catch a cold. The vegetation, wildlife, and people will change based on where you decide to take Arthur.
Fully rendered holsters, bags, and over materials throughout the world enhance the immersion. When holstering a revolver, the gun does not clip through. Instead, you see Arthur put a weapon into its proper holster. Opening bags to store goods feel like something is inside, compared to most games where the illusion is always there. The rendered equipment gives that small detail to create for a more realistic experience.
Laid back activities are available to take a break from murdering and stealing from innocent people. Various games from poker and blackjack make a return. Fishing is a new way to gain food for your camp and to relax around beautiful lakes and rivers.
More exciting choices are available. Rob a store, loan shark, or hunt one of the 200 different species. Hunting strategies change based on each animal. For a more immersive wildlife experience, the ecosystem runs with or without any player being present. Prey feed on plants, predators feed on the prey, and scavengers will pick off the rest. Plenty of games have animals, but nothing has gone to this level of creating a real ecosystem. Using bates and the right weapon will give Arthur the best quality pelts and meats to use for new items and nutritious food for himself or his gang.
A new eagle eye system that every video game now has to implement enters Rockstar’s latest title. The vision allows to see animal tracks when hunting or see clues when investigating areas. An unoriginal idea that works perfectly well with the game mechanics.
The Van der Linde Gang is a family more than just a gang. People have wonderful chemistry and will change throughout the game. Arthur and everyone else must put in work to make everything run smoothly. Bringing in stolen goods, money, and food will help the camp thrive. Once enough donated money and supplies circulate into the settlement, plenty of options become available to customize the settlement to look less like a slum and more like a prosperous community.
The survival elements will either feel unnecessarily tedious or make players feel like Bear Grylls. The survival mechanics are lightly done to give tension, but not waste time. Wearing the wrong clothing for the weather will slightly drain stats, health, dead eye, and stamina while making recuperating harder. Arthur must eat, sleep, and drink to keep his stats in excellent condition along as his horse. To do all of the above is not necessary. Just using the right items refills each core to maximum capacity then Arthur and his horse are off on the next adventure. Weapons must also be clean for efficient use. Using them too often or going in the water will degrade their condition, making gun oil a precious resource.
Just like the people, the horse is a real character. Not brushing or feeding will lead to a weak bond between man and animal. As the relationship between Arthur and his trusty steed rises, so will the horse’s health and stamina. Buying the right equipment like better saddles and bags will benefit your horses use. The best part, you can name your horse. I called my two horses Mystery (yes, from Spongebob) and Drogon (Game of Thrones is the best).
Combat has had a complete rehaul. The shooting feels better than any other game in 2018. Each gun has a special feel and purpose. Simply cocking and reloading weapons feels satisfying and never gets old. Customization options can be available for all weapons to give a unique look along with upgrades to create a more precise killing machine. The variety of options for upgrades feels too limited. I wish there were more range to improve my weapons.
Deadeye makes a return that gets better as it levels up from use. Time can slow down, highlight enemy weak points and more to make an easy kill during a tense moment. The mechanic feels fresh and remains just as good as the previous game.
Melee combat is significantly improved. Grand Theft Auto V had an atrocious hand to hand fighting with or without weapons. This time enemies take longer to be taken down. Fights feel more realistic and dynamic.
Stealth is much improved. Unlike previous attempts. The NPCs react accordingly with some satisfying takedowns as you make your kill. The addition of a bow and arrow makes for the distant killing of enemies or animals a lot of fun.
The GTA V first-person update was a nice touch, and now we get an improved version of the viewpoint. Since the mode here was developed from the ground up, the feeling is smoother. Traversal and gunplay feel just as good in third or first person.
Law enforcement interactions have changed dramatically. Hiding from the police works instead of the law automatically finding you after a crime. Now people need to investigate areas as you try to escape. If a bounty is left unattended, then hunters will come after Arthur looking to get his head for a reward. Crimes can never be found out if Arthur eliminates any witnesses or evidence. Witnesses can be threatened or killed into silence. Most of the time the enhanced witness system works, but at the time I have been found out by lawmen even when there were no witnesses for miles or that I was wearing a disguise.
Customization has been enhanced significantly to make Arthur look the way you want. Shopping anywhere is done by a book or going up to a shelf to look at an item. Each item is fully rendered, so looking at a piece of cheese feels real. Arthur’s choice of clothing, whether he bathes, and gets a haircut will change people’s perception of him. Being covered in blood will cause a major reaction. Dressing up nicely and being clean will make interactions more positive. The range of clothing and how to grow out hair can suit anyone on how they want Arthur to look. Growing hair does take time, thus throwing out the idea of choosing styles by a menu. If Arthur is clean shaving then you cannot give him a full beard with the press of a button, you must wait.
Obtaining items can be done legally from the shops, but looting bodies and homes can be done too. Looting is fun, rewarding, but sluggish. After a while, I got used to the mechanic but felt Arthur needed to pick up the pace. Almost everywhere has rewards that will satisfy any venture. Many buildings can be entered, but not all. That can become unclear when some homes can be viewed from a window with a seemingly open door. Plenty of times I left a property disappointed that I could not rob them.
Every issue found can be easily corrected or ignored. I feel I will get nitpicky with the game’s slight flaws. Bumping your horse into anything becomes a pain quite quickly. The horse and Arthur go flying in the air and hitting the ground hard. Hitting civilians will cause a panic which gets the police involved unnecessarily. The cinematic camera is inconsistent with some unflattering views. My problem with enterable buildings still stands. Missions force Arthur to use certain weapons. I feel disappointed by this because I want to use my pimped out guns; instead, I am forced to use a weaker rifle. The main issue comes from the controls. Most of the time everything runs smoothly until things turn for the worse. So much is trying to be done which creates problems with some objectives in the story. Press one button then hold another can be overly complicated or not work as well as it should.
Rockstar has not just made a game; they created something that shows how far technology has come. While some holes in its animations can be seen alongside glitches that can be found in every gigantic open world game, the positives overcome those blemishes. Arguably the most beautiful video game ever made to date with some of the most immersive gameplay to date can be breathtaking. While its methodical, tedious pacing and gameplay will not be for everyone, but patient people who can enjoy an array of activities from the adrenaline pumping action to the chill card games, those are the people who will fall in love here. While technology has a way to go before getting to complete immersion, the developers have taken leaps that will push gaming to new levels in the future.
Due to Red Dead Redemption 2 not having the online available at launch, I do have to review the game as incomplete. The score listed does not reflect the final product, a separate review will come whenever multiplayer is released. You can buy the game and see the current score below:
All images captured on a PS4 Pro