Open world games are coming back. They’ve been hugely popular for a while but they’ve also been pretty bad for a lot of that time. Titles like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed seem to completely miss the point of these types of games; why would you give the player a huge world to explore if you’re just going to flood their display with objective and highlights and markers that tell you where it all is? Why should I care about this world anyway, if you’re just going to reduce it to that set of to-do lists and errands?
One of the last games to get the open world formula (mostly) right before it went downhill was 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. If you needed a certain item or tool, you had to explore the barren wild-west wilderness for yourself and find out where you could get it from. Along the way, you could find anything from a stranger with an interesting request to an ambush by a rival gang. Rockstar games wove a beautiful narrative into this incredibly realized land, which put as much emphasis on life in the old west as it did on the gunfights most people picked up the game for.
Red Dead Redemption defined a generation of gaming and a sequel has been hotly anticipated pretty much since its release. After almost complete silence for nearly eight years, that sequel finally released on October 26. Can any game live up to that much hype?
Long story short: it absolutely lives up to that hype.
I should clarify before I continue that I have not finished the game: from what I can tell I’ve completed about a quarter of the story and around a third of the stuff to find out in the wider world. Maybe, at some point, the game will fall completely flat, or the story will stop dead and everything will just fall apart.
I find that very hard to believe though.
This game is stunning. It is a staggeringly beautiful adventure that builds on the success of the first, fine tuning its best moments and improving massively on areas where it didn’t quite deliver. The first thing that will strike you is just how gorgeous the world around you is. The landscape is incredible, from the prairies of New Hanover to the mountains of Amarino and even the almost tropical forests of Demoyne. But the real beauty is in the details: the way that mist slowly creeps in around you, or how rays of sunlight pierce through a treeline.
Indeed, detail is the name of the game here. The original Red Dead Redemption appears pretty simplistic, in hindsight: its sequel has turned every facet of life in the old west into a game mechanic with an incredible amount of detail. Hunting is no longer a basic point-and-shoot exercise as it was before; you need to track animals, study them and bring the right weaponry to make the most of it. Everything from eating to shooting has undergone a similar makeover, adding fathoms of depth to gameplay. None of it is overwhelming though; you can jump into anything fairly easily in this game, it’s more about learning through experience than having to remember an infinite amount of details all at once.
I’m sure there will be people who consider a lot of these things a chore. It’s certainly true that this game is much slower paced than one might expect (outside of the high energy gunfights, of course). The patience that some of these things require might not be what people are looking for but I found them hugely rewarding. This game is all about putting in the effort and watching things pay off: there’s an immense satisfaction to be had in finally finding what you’re looking for.
The story, at least so far, is also a brilliant improvement. The original Red Dead Redemption follows John Marston, forced by the FBI to track down the former members of the gang he used to ride with. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place 12 years prior and follows the gang itself. You play as Arthur Morgan, leader to right hand man Dutch Van Der Linde and a huge part of what keeps the gang going. Where as John Marston was a somewhat isolated protagonist in the original game, here the dynamics between the gang members are at the heart of the story. It’s a very interesting array of people and there’s as much fun to be had as there is tension in the air. While the player can run off and do as they please as often as they like, the gang is a huge component of the story and they add a wonderful element to it.
The only place the game is losing points for me at the moment is in the controls, which sometimes feel a little bit cluttered. Depending on the context a lot of buttons have several uses and the game often struggles to figure out what you’re actually trying to accomplish. It can ruin some great moments in the game to have to fumble around with the clumsy inventory wheel, or to not realize that the game has swapped the aim and fire controls around. Only sometimes, though. The amount of times it’s been a noticeable problem is so minimal, especially compared to how much brilliant stuff there is in this game. I haven’t been this enthralled in a video game world since I played Breath of the Wild last year. Red Dead Redemption 2 not only lives up to eight years of anticipation, but it’s even better than anyone could have expected. It’s a masterpiece.