Review: “Red Dead Redemption 2” sets new standard in open-world games

Genre: Action-adventure
Publisher/Developer: Rockstar Games
Platform: Xbox One, Playstation 4
Rating: Mature

By Gieson Cacho

Open-world games have evolved into monstrous behemoths. The commitment to play these enormous undertakings is equivalent to a second job.

Instead of feverishly playing a game in quick sessions, open-world titles ask players to slow down and enjoy the journey. These aren’t projects that can be finished in a week anymore; they have become hundred-hour epics that players live with.

Red Dead Redemption 2” stands as the current king of this genre. The follow-up to one of the best games of the past generation returns as a prequel. It examines the events that led to the demise of Dutch van der Linde’s gang with a new character, Arthur Morgan, at the center of things.

The Dutch that players encounter in “Red Dead Redemption 2” is different from the one they eliminate in the original. Rockstar Games paints him as righteous outlaw, the type of criminal that would rather steal from other robbers and wretches than take from the poor. Throughout the campaign, Arthur and the crew find themselves on the run after a disaster in Blackwater. They are outlaws in a world that’s increasingly becoming more civilized, and that fight against progress and its drawbacks is the running theme.

The campaign is spent moving from one camp to the next, as the van der Linde gang tries to stay a step ahead of the law. In the meantime, Arthur has to explore the West and find ways to generate income to keep their crew afloat. Players accomplish that through missions that gradually teach players the mechanics of the game.

It’s a slow process. The narrative and the gameplay keep rhythm with the era of the Old West as it unfurls into a violent epic. Players shouldn’t rush to finish every quest they can find. Instead they should mix it up and take time to explore the map and hunt between missions. The magic in “Red Dead Redemption 2” is not just in its visuals, which are breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s also in the detail and subtlety.

While exploring the world, players happen upon strangers who offer them side quests. One involves rescuing a woman from under a fallen dead horse. Another has players freeing an escaped convict who offers a tip on a potential mark. They can go into town and help the sheriff nab criminals with bounties on their heads. During their wanderings, fans can come across rival gangs and wipe them out.

As they finish these tasks, players will find their impact on the world in subtle ways. A captured bounty may end up being executed on the gallows. A person you saved from snakebite may buy you a weapon from the gunsmith. If players linger around the base, they can eavesdrop on their comrades and get a glimpse into the internal drama of the gang.

Players may miss these moments if they zip along from one mission to another. If they rush through “Red Dead Redemption 2” they’ll miss the moments that make the game great.

The other big activity is hunting and fishing. Both have taken on a bigger role in the sequel as players kill wildlife in order to get skins and meat. Both can be sold to a butcher for profit, but they also can be used for crafting power-ups and better items that improve Arthur’s chances of survival. The meat also can be used to keep the gang from starving.

These features are part of a deeper role-playing game element that’s used to get players invested in the world and character. Like a lot of mechanics in “Red Dead Redemption 2”, the concept of cores is hard to understand at first. Players have to maintain Arthur’s health, stamina and Dead Eye meter by giving him food, booze and cigarettes. These items keep Arthur’s stats filled up and refilled over time.

Players can improve these cores by using them or fulfilling challenges in nine categories. These unlock experience points and gear that go toward making Arthur more powerful. They’ll need these upgrades because “Red Dead Redemption 2” can be difficult at times. It gets worse if you have to adjust to the clunky controls, gunplay and cover mechanics. Players will lean heavily on the Dead Eye feature that slows down time so players can gun down foes.

Those stats become important in other ways such as chasing down witnesses to crimes, so Arthur can intimidate them to staying silent. More health can keep Arthur alive longer during some of the more intense gunfights. That along with a bounty system and other gameplay mechanics makes “Red Dead Redemption 2” feel more cohesive. These are some of dozens of details that makes this one of the most immersive open-world experiences.

It’s one that comes at a slow burn and fans should take their time to enjoy.