Red Dead Redemption 2: Review

I haven’t been this excited for a new release in a long, long time. Like many people, I played the original Red Dead Redemption at release and loved it. I knew we would get another game in the series eventually, I didn’t expect it to take eight years. Once you start playing Red Dead Redemption 2 you can see why it took so long. Red Dead Redemption sits in my Top 5 favorite games of all-time. I expected greatness for RDR2. Here are my thoughts.

TL,DR: At the end, as usual.

No spoilers.

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I am incredibly impressed by the level of quality and general beauty of the world of Red Dead Redemption 2. In my mind, Red Dead Redemption 2 has the same graphical impact that the Last of Us did back on the PS3. All expectations get pushed aside and we see where all games can go.

The minute details, the nuanced lightning, and the range of environments come together to create an immersive world to spend hours upon hours exploring. Each aspect of the game looks polished. I think in some games you can see sections where details were skipped in favor of spending time elsewhere. Not once did I feel like Rockstar skimped or missed out on anything.

I feel like I say “this is the best looking game we’ve ever seen” with every review I do. I need to revise that because not all games can be the best. Each of them can look amazing for different reasons. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most realistic open-world game I’ve ever played.

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The characters and other biological life look unique and realistic. I’m sure that some people were carbon copies of others, I never noticed. Everyone from main protagonists and antagonists to one-off NPC’s felt alive and singular. The fish looked and behaved extremely life-like. I have a weird infatuation with fishing in video games and Rockstar didn’t let me down.

My one graphical gripe is that for some odd reason, in cutscenes, Rockstar rendered the Whitetail buck’s antlers in a completely foreign manner. I’ll include a picture so you can see what I mean. Whitetail antlers’ just don’t look like the below picture. It’s like they took the main beam and three points and then added a fourth point on the back that is just a rerender of another main beam.

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This bothers me more than it probably should. Moving on.

Somehow Rockstar built different biomes into RDR2. The different environments transitioned well from one to another which created a sense of world-building I’ve rarely seen. I was riding my horse from one area and could see the physical transition in the world and then start to feel with the different lighting and weather systems.

Some games just feel alive. They feel like places we could actually go to. And while the towns and world Rockstar created with Red Dead Redemption and now Red Dead Redemption 2 don’t actually exist, I can believe that they exist.

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The sound is the single greatest accomplishment of this game. I was blown away by the level of quality with all sounds in RDR2 just playing the game through headphones. When the PlayStation companion app updated to include a setting for RDR2 I couldn’t believe how incredible the sound was.

The sound changes to match the environment and the general goings on accurately. The sound changed to match the world in the same way the weather changed. I felt like I was in the saloons, towns, and wilds of a western setting. I could hear realistic elk bugles, rushing water, and the sounds of everyday life in each aspect of the world.

In all aspects, the sound matched what I expected to hear. The trees and wilderness felt quiet and isolated. The bigger cities felt loud and cramped.

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As expected, the music fits the tone and feel of the world beautifully. The music was also timely for the story and felt right for the moment. I’ve just been listening to whatever music from the game I can find because I enjoyed it a ton.

I found myself adventuring through the game listening to the sounds of the world when music would pop in and fade out with the perfect tune for how I was feeling within the story.

The credits of the game list Lazlow and Alastair MacGregor as the audio directors for the game. Jeffrey Whitcher is the principal lead sound designer. Shaun Brennan is the foley artist. They all deserve equal credit for enabling the world to come alive with sound alone. I am hard pressed to find a more fitting and accurately audio feat within the games industry.

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While open world games have lacked loading screens for a while now, I am still impressed with the lack of loading times. Due to the nature of how travel works in the game, you can move from one side of the world to the other without a single loading screen. That is shocking, to me. I just can’t believe the scale of games today.

Combining the sound, the lighting, the graphics, the level of detail, the menus, and all aspects of the game, I can’t speak highly enough of the overall quality of the game. This game is a technical achievement.

I only encountered a few weird issues in the game, that didn’t impact my overall experience in any way. Once, my character walked up to the bar, ordered a drink, and then nothing. Everything just kind of stopped for like 10 seconds before resuming naturally. No crashes or anything, we just resumed like nothing happened.

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Another time, I equipped my character with a pistol and then he held it like a rifle. I was hiding behind a pillar trying to fight close range. The game kept going I just couldn’t do anything when my character held the weapon incorrectly.

The last issue was that my character failed to speak during an unimportant cutscene. The scene played out perfectly normal just without my character speaking. The person I was speaking to was a little invested in her own world so she may not have needed me to speak. It wasn’t game altering, just an odd interaction that should have played differently.

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If the game looks amazing, the gameplay is quite bad in general. Any time you have to shoot people, which is a lot, the game sort of falls apart the more that you try to play. If you rely on the in-game systems to do the work for you, its okay, but nothing special. If you try to manually aim a weapon you will be met with resistance.

The gunplay doesn’t feel great at all. You have to hide, aim, and shoot in that order. You can just hop out and fire away like a normal shooter. Or you can use the Dead Eye system to slow everything down to do the work for you even more. The Dead Eye system works fine and works in short engagements.

However, trying to have an extended fine becomes more and more obtuse as you play. Sometimes you shoot while on horseback only to have the the camera flip back and forth and make it altogether impossible to win the fight. Other times you have to shoot people far too many times before they go down.

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I feel like the hitboxes are a bit off as well. I found myself missing shots that were clearly lined up with the person. This is because when you pulled the trigger on the controller the guns would jump as if firing a real weapon. BUT, the fast pace and structure of fights don’t allow you to pull the trigger with a smooth action like a real-world weapon. If you want to make the triggers function like a trigger on a weapon in real life that’s fine, but the fights should also match that pace. I felt like I was fighting the game as much as playing. The gun fights just felt off.

I feel like Rockstar tried so hard to make the game realistic that they missed out on how games should play. Realism can be a great resource, but it can also hinder the enjoyment. I think there is a clear split between wanting to be as realistic as possible and wanting the gunfights to be fun that doesn’t line up for a fun experience in the minute to minute action.

The other half of the game, horseriding, felt great until it didn’t. I don’t understand why horses are so stupid in games. They always have been and at this point, I feel like they always will. I don’t even remember how many times I ran into trees on horseback, either in gunfights or not. I would pull the horse away from the tree and I swear it would run straight into it. This is not how horses work. They are intelligent creatures who aren’t going to run into a tree even when you try to force them. Of course, like people in the real world, a horse will run into trees. It does happen. Not to the extent that I ran into trees in this game. Can we just make horse AI better? Please?

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The two major aspects of the game didn’t play that well and ultimately hindered my experience quite a bit. I can’t give a pass for bad gameplay anymore. It’s time to get better gameplay Rockstar.

On the fun side of things, I loved the side activities, like hunting, fishing, and drinking. They have enough realism to be fun and accurate while also maintain the important aspects of gaming. I was glad to take a break from the annoying gunplay and horseriding from time to time.

The single worst aspect of the gameplay is the lack of fast travel. Rockstar clearly wants you to spend your time in the world they’ve created. No Rockstar, I didn’t forget that your game looks incredible, please don’t waste my time by making me ride my horse from one town to another. Sure, there are wagons to use and sometimes fast travel from the camp, but they don’t always work.

They literally only work sometimes and from some places. I felt forced into spending more time playing than I should have simply because Rockstar didn’t want people to skip the boring horse riding for ten minutes from one side of the world to the other.

Look Rockstar, I get it, your game looks amazing and you want people to spend time in this world. But, I don’t enjoy being forced to spend five minutes on the horse while I ignore everything else. This problem could have been solved by a better fast travel system.

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The story is both fantastic and terrible at the same time. The game starts slow and gradually builds into a well-told story about a gang of outlaws. But, the start to the game is plodding, at best. I understand Rockstar was attempting to set the tone and pace from the start, which they achieve pretty well. You know from the beginning you are in for a long, sometimes boring story.

Westerns, as a genre, make us feel a certain way and capture a certain moment in time. We expect certain characters in the stories of the genre. We those characters in a meaningful way and then some. But the story is all over the place with how its told.

Sometimes I was so invested in the narrative I played for 8 hours straight. Other times it felt like a chore trying to get something going or make something happen in the game. I played the opening of the game over the course of two days and it wasn’t until the third day playing that I felt like I was enjoying myself. I get what they were going for with the pace and setting expectations but I almost didn’t continue playing the game because it was so slow.

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After getting more involved with the story and the characters I started enjoying myself more. I loved some characters in the game, hated others, and felt pretty ambiguous about others. And that’s awesome because people should appreciate different characters within a game’s setting. The characters all felt realized and varied.

I loved getting to know certain people in the camp and developing the relationships further. And I only completed some missions because I was forced to based on the story. I loathed some missions because I couldn’t stand some characters. They felt more like a chore because of the bad gameplay. I had to rob some people with characters that I hated. Those experiences just didn’t feel great from story perspective.

I think you can dislike a story and still enjoy it. Sometimes that happens with RDR2 and other times I really didn’t want to play the game. The story just failed to capture me for about 15 hours.

And then I was wholly invested for another 15 hours. I couldn’t wait to see what was happening with my favorite people and wanted to finish the game as soon as possible because I wanted to see how everything played out.

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The game begins slowly, painfully slow, and it ends the same way. The game should have ended a good 8 hours before it did. Some people might appreciate having more game to play. But, the story faltered because it went on too long. You can clearly see the three different story arcs. And then you keep playing.

Some things are better left unsaid. But, we don’t get that here. We have to learn everything about everyone before we can end the game. The story would have been pretty good if ended about 10 hours earlier. I’m left by the extended stay in the game because I felt like the game ended but I had to keep playing in order to “finish” the story.

The story was just over done and overstayed its welcome. A slow ending and slow beginning with some good bits in the middle don’t make for an enjoyable experience overall. I am left with a bad taste in my mouth.

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The graphics, sounds, and technical aspects of the game deliver some of the most incredible experiences a game can offer on current hardware. The cast of characters was developed and pretty interesting overall. The gameplay and story leave much to be desired.

I wanted to love this game from the beginning, but in a world where amazing games come out every month, I want more from games of this caliber in the ways of storytelling and gameplay. The original Red Dead Redemption sits among my top 5 favorite games of all time, Red Dead Redemption 2 might not even make my top 5 favorite games from this year.


Pretty game. Fun to play sometimes. Interesting story occasionally. Not as good as Red Dead Redemption overall.

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