Red Dead Impressions

Review by: David D.

Rating: 4.5/5 Hands

Reviewer Venue: Albany, NY

It’s been 6 years since Rockstar games let us live the fantasy of being a rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ cowpoke in Red Dead Redemption and after years of rumors circulating about a sequel and Rockstars hundreds of thousands of work hours and over time they have finally given it to us, Red Dead Redemption II. Before we get started I find it important to let you know, currently, I have only completed 48% of the story and I’ve played just about 100 hours. While this seems like a lot I’ve only made a dent in this game, so this is less of a comprehensive review and more of a first impression. With that out of the way, grab your holsters, put on your 10-gallon hats, and saddle up as we break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of Red Dead Redemption II.

I’ll start with the story. We open the game in the year 1899, with our gruff protagonist Arthur Morgan riding his steed through the treacherous snow-capped mountains in the dead of winter. He and his gang are trying to escape the law after a heist they pulled went south and are now struggling to survive the harsh cold of the tundra. The game then jumps to the spring where Arthur is tasked with helping come up with the funds (by any means necessary) to move his gang west where they’ll be safe from the fuzz, at least for a while.

The game uses this plot to introduce you to all of the colorful members of the gang and their personalities by giving you a multitude of opportunities to interact with them along your journey. From the charismatic leader Dutch Van Der Linde, to the smarmy cook Pearson, and even an old friendly face, in the protagonist from the first game, John Marston who has an ongoing rivalry with your character. The camp that you establish later in the game has all sorts of activities you can do to interact with these people. For example, they will be singing and telling stories by an open campfire, playing a game of poker with some of the gang, or even having a cup of coffee with a comrade and having an idle chit-chat about what happened on your last mission. You may think that because they are all outlaws that they would be hard to relate to but, the members of the Van Der Linde gang are so well presented you begin to see that this gritty band of thieves and murderers are a lot more relatable than you’d think. You begin to see them less as ruff and tumble outlaws and more as human beings, and more importantly, a family. They have a skewed Robin Hoodesk moral code to them and you begin to see that these people are just trying to do what they can to survive and keep moving westward toward their freedom.

But you might be thinking, “Story and character development are great and all, but is the game any fun?” and to that, I’d say; it depends. I feel like this game is less of a video game about the wild west and more of a cowboy simulator. A lot of the gameplay elements are meticulously detailed to help immerse the player in the experience. For instance, the first time I used a lever action rifle, I had to press the trigger again on my controller to chamber the next round and I thought that was the coolest thing I’ve seen in a video game for quite a while. Another cool mechanic is that you can go hunting in the game and depending on what kind of round you use and where you land a hit on an animal will determine the condition of the animal’s pelt for crafting or the amount you can sell it for. Most of the fun though, comes from the open world, whether it be challenging a drunken gunslinger to a duel at high noon, hijacking a stagecoach and selling it to the local fence, or busting a gang member out of the pokey. There are so many things to do and it helps establish a feeling that the game you are playing is it’s own living breathing world.

The game isn’t without its faults though. And its biggest fault actually comes from one of its greatest achievements.  Because of how incredibly meticulous the game is when it comes to details, it can get in the way of the gameplay.  For instance, when you are looting a house of its goodies, there is an animation for opening every drawer and taking each individual item one at a time, wherein other games you would be able to grab everything at once quickly and move on. The game also has some standard features of some survival games such as having to eat and sleep, as well as bathe and trim your hair which grows dynamically as time goes on. While you don’t need to do any of these things to keep your game going, you’ll find that they’ll help you stay alive much longer in the harsh wilderness. These gameplay details lead to incredibly immersive experience and I find that to be great, but I can see how some of these immersive gameplay choices could be a nuisance to other players. As well, the story is a lot slower paced than most titles in this genre. While astonishingly well written, the story can drag on a bit slower for those who aren’t engrossed in it. So prepare to spend a few minutes watching cutscenes or listening to characters speak while you ride your horse.

As of the day this is written, Rockstar has rolled out the online component for Red Dead II as a beta test and for those familiar with GTAV you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the free roam isn’t (as much of) a chaotic free for all. Now before I start, the game is still in Beta state so much of what is stated below can be due to change in the future. with that said, I’ve found that most of my interactions with other players have been fairly peaceful aside from the occasional band of murder hobos and random shootouts. As well, you’ll find that open world missions have made a return with a cowboy twist. There are missions such as protect the caravan, where bandits will ambush you along the way. But be careful, after a 30 second safe period other players can attack the caravan and turn it in for their own reward.
One of the biggest problems this game has right now is that it is incredibly hard to unlock any in-game items such as weapons or clothes due to it’s grimy and possibly manipulative game economy. You see in-game prices are adjusted for inflation in 1899 or lack thereof so, a weapon in the game can only cost a few hundred dollars. BUT when you take into account that you only make an average of 4 dollars a mission that leads to a lot of work. The real problem is that the game also boasts a premium currency that will be purchasable in the future called gold. You can earn this gold in the game as well but just like the other in-game currency you only get about .02 gold bars per mission. This grind will lead to more impatient players pulling out their wallet for an edge which is a pretty scummy move. The good news is, as of writing this Rockstar games has stated they know the problem exists and do plan on changing the reward rates in the coming weeks leading to the full release.

On the flip side though Red Dead online also boasts a traditional matchmaking mode called a series where you can play your traditional game types such as team deathmatch, and capture the territory. They have also introduced a few new game modes such as team deathmatch races and capture the territory but, they’ve also introduced a few new game types as well. The first of which is “Name Your Weapon” where every weapon on the map has a point value attached to it so harder weapons to use will give you or your team more points per kill. The next is by far my favorite, it’s called “Most Wanted”. The way it works is that every kill you get the more points you are worth so the better you do the more the other players want to take you out. Lastly, Red Dead II wouldn’t be a proper online shooter game in 2018 if it didn’t include a battle royale mode, in this case, “Make it Count”.  I’m not personally a big fan of this mode but I do have to say it is an interesting twist on the whole battle royale genre. Rather than jumping out of some sort of air vehicle “Make it Count” starts you off on a small portion of the map and the boundaries shrink as time goes on. The catch here though is that you are only given one weapon (either a bow or a throwing knife) with limited ammunition that will instantly dispatch whomever it hits and the last one standing wins. Looking back at Rockstar’s track record I’m sure they will add more and more to the game as it goes on so keep an eye for more content.

So, is Red Dead Redemption II the messiah of modern gaming? No, it’s bogged down by a few small tarnishes such as a slow story, a focus on realism over gameplay, and potentially manipulative in-game economy. BUT these are only a few small blemishes on an overall astounding game. If you are looking for a beautifully polished open world action game with hours on hours of content. you could do a whole lot worse than to play Red Dead Redemption II. I’d say as far as difficulty goes it’s about a 2. You’ll find yourself dying fairly often but just like its predecessor, there isn’t much really much of a consequence in doing so. Overall, I’d give Red Dead Redemption II a solid 4.5 out of 5.