In general, I don’t buy brand new games – I’m usually content to wait for a sale or buy them second hand, but there are some games you just can’t wait around for and that applies to pretty much everything Rockstar. I loved the first Red Dead Redemption so I pre-ordered the second one as soon as I could and patiently waited through the repeated deadline changes, safe in the belief that Rockstar wouldn’t let my expectations down. This weekend, it landed on my doormat. Friday evening was spent doing all the things that one is obliged to do if one wishes to eat, have clean clothes and so on, whilst the game installed. And from then until today (Monday) I have not left the house.
First off, with no pre-amble, this game is so beautiful. The rendering is brilliant, with so much attention to detail – the light in particular is captivating. The blue-ish hues when you’re trekking through the mountains in the twilight, the shadows under the trees, the way it glistens off the coat of your horse, the sunsets and sunrises – you could almost just not “play” as such and just find somewhere to sit and watch the light change through the day. The movement of the snow is also very realistic – the way characters kick it up in sprays as they wade through it and (not that I have any real world experience of this) the way corpses sink into drifts. And because I know I “should” mention it, I have not noticed the changing of horse … anatomy … depending on temperature. I did look, I admit it, but the tails get in the way a lot.
At this point, I’m roughly 30 hours in (I know you’re disappointed, but I need to sleep!) and not a quarter way through the story, having been distracted by side quests and staring at vistas. There are a lot of the classic Red Dead features in here that I still like – playing poker, hunting legendary animals, wearing some frankly ridiculous outfits, going on treasure hunts with the vaguest maps ever – it’s pleasant and familiar, like putting on a comfy jumper you only wear when it’s really cold. But you can tell that Rockstar haven’t just shoved in the same mechanics from the first game without thinking – there’s a lot of work gone into improving these familiar features. The skinning of animals is definitely more graphic and the extra subtle touches like the realism applied to the playing cards makes everything that much more engrossing.
Realism seems to be the key in this new world, which is equal parts brilliant to frustrating. For example, when one skins a legendary bear (after being mauled a bit), I was caught out by not having the Mary Poppins style bag that makes all massive gear just vanish inside. Instead, one needs to load up one’s faithful horse with said gear, but now it takes up actual physical space. You can’t say, go grab a bounty and plonk a trussed up human down on your patient horse as well as a massive bear pelt. It’s one or the other. Which is pretty annoying when you a) don’t know what you’re supposed to do with the bear pelt (find a trapper, it turns out) and b) have no place to store large gear. Now, as I say, I’m still pretty early on in the game and have just unlocked camp upgrades, so it may be you get places to stash things later, but when you’re fresh into it, you need to careful what order you do things. That goes for travel as well, as until you upgrade your camp, there’s no fast travel.
To be honest, I don’t mind that though. I rarely use it anyway in games like this because you can sometimes miss out on the quirky fun stuff that the developers have strewn about the landscape. I’ve uncovered a few interesting things already, just from ambling about. A creepy deserted town, supposedly ravaged by plague if the paint on the barn door is anything to go by, but the gravestones reveal some disturbing facts about events that occurred within the first month of the town’s existence. Some serial-killer-esque animal remains with an eerie foreshadowing message painted on the rock face. A message cut into the ice. This is what this game is all about for me – sometimes these things are cheat codes, sometimes they’re part of side quests and sometimes they’re just there.
I’ll temper my enthusiasm now with some things I like less. Some of the gameplay can be quite vague. I know I’m not the only one to have found the legendary bear pelt, discovered I can only lug it around on my horse at the risk of losing it and ended up having to go online to work out what on earth to do with it. Now, I know when I first got it that I noticed a teeny tiny Trapper icon had appeared on my map, but I didn’t associate one with the other – a hint would’ve been nice. I probably would have worked it out eventually, but at the point where you still have no fast travel, it was mildly annoying having left the area to have to hike all the way back when I finally knew what to do with it. And that interaction itself was also a bit odd – because the gear is on your horse, it wasn’t obvious to me how you give the item to the Trapper. He has plenty things available with “Trapper does not have ingredients needed” listed under them, so I assumed (because there was no other information on screen) I’d have to sell items to him first, but the pelt is on the horse, not on “me”. It took several attempts of nudging my horse into his face before the game registered that it was there with items to sell.
I’ve got the typical whinges about the same button doing multiple things, but that’s a minor complaint being as you’ve only got a limited amount of buttons, so what else can developers do? Another minor one is camera angles in combat, which is a common one in a lot of games for me. I draw my gun whilst on horseback and instantly get a side view, which might be handy, but it also means I now can’t see where I’m going and more often than not, slam into a rock and fall off the horse.
To round this whole review off, I want to briefly go back to the detail in this game, specifically around shops. The shopping mechanic now includes catalogues in shops and as a crafter, I’m loving the style of this. I’ve always loved ephemera (if you’re not familiar with that term, google it) and the style of the catalogues is just fantastic. This applies to the cigarette cards and other bits as well, but I think as part of the gameplay it really deserves a shout-out for incorporating style and function.
I love this game – I recognize my bias in already loving the franchise, but if you love RPGs there’s a lot to like about RDR2. The map is massive, there’s so much to do and so many things to discover. My only question is – when does zombie mode come out?!
- Stunning graphics
- Classic mini-games and side quests
- Realistic gameplay
- Incredible detail
- Vague goals for some side quests
- Occasional frustrating camera angles