Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

By Dave Horobin, 22 days ago
Eight years after Red Dead Redemption released to both universal critical and commercial success, Red Dead Redemption 2 is Rockstar’s most ambitious project yet. Built from the ground up for current generation hardware and as a collaboration of all the Rockstar studios across the world, Red Dead Redemption 2 sits as a shining example of what makes the developer's open-world settings so special. It’s been a long wait to saddle up and ride again, but once you get hands-on with the game, you’ll realise that it’s been well worth it.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Set 12 years prior to the events of Red Dead Redemption, where former outlaw John Marston was forced to track down some of his gang associates by government agents, Red Dead Redemption 2’s epic 60 hour story sees you take control of a new protagonist named Arthur Morgan. After an attempted robbery in Blackwater goes wrong, Arthur and the rest of the gang are forced to flee and leave everything behind. With the law, bounty hunters and rival gangs hot on their tracks, the members of the van der Linde gang must rob, steal and fight their way across America’s frontier to survive. With plans to complete one last big score and disappear from the eyes of their pursuers, their actions only serve to bring more heat and force the group into further trouble.

Like John Marston eight years ago, Arthur Morgan is a deep and multi-layered character who is easy to become attached to throughout your time with the game. Adopted into the outlaw life by Dutch as a child, Arthur is a senior and trusted member of the van der Linde gang and is often charged with putting its plans into action. Fiercely loyal to the gang and its members, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep the gang safe and provide for them. As he explains on more than one occasion, Arthur knows he’s a bad man, but he does have a sense of honour, and as the pressures of being on the run begin to cause cracks in the gang and force its leader Dutch to act increasingly wildly, he’ll have to choose been loyalty to the gang and his own ideals.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

Red Dead Redemption 2’s story is filled with twists and turns, moments of joy and sadness, memorable characters, epic set pieces and beautifully delivered moments that will pull you in further the more you play. There were times when I had to put the controller down and pause for breath, sections where I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear, and one heart-stopping moment where I turned the console off and went to bed as I refused to accept an almost inevitable outcome. I wasn’t only immersed, I was fully attached to Arthur and the seemingly living and breathing world that Rockstar has created. Never have I been so conflicted in a game as I eagerly pushed to finish the story and learn the fates of each of the characters, whilst also dreading that my time with the story was coming to an end.

Making up the main cast of characters that you’ll work with throughout the game are the other members of the van der Linde gang. Each of the outlaws and outcasts have been pulled into the gang following the charismatic Dutch and his dream of living free from the law as the world around them changes and the wild west era ends. Whilst each of them might not be as instantly memorable as the travelling salesman Nigel West Dickens or the graverobbing Seth Briars from Red Dead Redemption, each gang member has their own role and personality carved out, bringing them to life, and Arthur shares complex relationships with each one that you’ll discover on missions, and by conversing with them around camp using the contextual dialogue system that RDR2 introduces.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

How deep you wish to delve into each relationship is up to you as you can choose to ignore them completely and stay out on plains doing your own thing, or you can initiate conversations with each of the gang members and stop to listen as they approach you around the camp. When you do, they’ll be aware of both your actions and those of other gang members within the world, reacting to jobs you’ve been on and your contribution around the camp, as well as altering their mood depending on the events around them.

Players can also choose how much they want to get involved around the camp, which feels like a real dwelling that survives independently without you and reacts to you naturally whenever you are around. With little money and no supplies to keep the gang going, there is a box you can contribute money and looted valuables to, chores such as chopping logs to keep the fire going, and mouths to feed through hunting. If you choose to assist in keeping the camp well stocked, you’ll be rewarded for your contributions, and morale around the camp will be high, which will be reflected by the actions of other gang members towards you. Mess up, however, and the gang will also let you know, such as being scolded for riding a horse into the site or not pulling your weight.

You can also upgrade the camp depending on how much money you or the gang are sitting on. There’s no punishment for not doing so, but upgrading will give you ample stocks of food, medicine and ammo to take with you on your adventures, as well as improve the regenerative effects of grabbing a bowl of stew from the campfire thanks to better ingredients.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

The backdrop for Red Dead Redemption 2’s story is the vast, ridiculously detailed and stunningly beautiful world of 19th century America which can be viewed in both first and third-person perspectives, or with a cinematic camera that makes long journeys feel more enjoyable. Taking in varied landscapes from the snowy mountains, grassy plains, swampy bayous and the modern industrialised city of Saint Denis complete with its bellowing chimneys, the world seamlessly blends together without any loading screens or hiccups as you ride along the open trails. The world is an incredible example of what can be achieved on the current generation of consoles, with amazing lighting and weather effects, and a beautiful dynamic musical score that perfectly complements the deep and gritty setting. At times, it’s almost impossible not to sit back in awe and witness the world Rockstar has created.

One area in which RDR2 excels compared to many other similar games with large sandbox worlds is in keeping the action feeling fresh and exciting even as much of the game centres around riding to a point on the map and shooting a bunch of people, thanks to its well-paced mission structure that sees quieter moments and smaller jobs interspersed among the large and action-packed adventures of robbing moving trains and holding up banks. The game also avoids map clutter, with many of its side objectives such as strangers and spontaneous open-world events only appearing as you approach.

On both the original Xbox One and the Xbox One X, the game runs extremely well, with no noticeable frame rate issues or problems. On the original Xbox One, you'll certainly notice some rough textures on shadows and your horses tail, as well as some items in the distance slowly popping into view, whilst on the X everything looks stunning. I also didn't come across any bugs in gameplay, which is surprising given the size and scale of the world.

Further adding to the level of immersion in RDR2 are the new interactive options that allow you to initiate conversations and respond to most of the people you meet in the world. How they react to you will depend on your actions around them. Draw your gun and they’ll react in fear, get caught up to no good and you can attempt to diffuse the situation rather than shooting, and you can even thank the people who compliment your horse as you pass by. None of the conversations are especially deep or insightful, but having the option to share a passing word with a stranger on the street only adds to the sense that you are a part of RDR2's vibrant world.

The interaction also carries over to your trusty steed, with your horse now playing an even greater role within the game than in Red Dead Redemption. Your horse isn't just your primary form of transport and a walking weapons and supply cache, but also a surprisingly important companion that can be customised and bonded with by feeding, cleaning and calming him or her when predators are close by. As you bond with the horse more, you'll unlock its full potential speed and stamina, as well as new skills such as skidding around corners, but let your horse die and you'll be back to square one with a new horse.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

If you’ve played the first game, you’ll feel right at home with most of the game’s key features, although many of them have been improved and built upon in RDR2. The Honor system returns and will gradually change in the background depending on your actions in the world and will alter how people in the game will react in your presence. There are also points in the game where you’ll have the option to make choices. Do you collect money from a struggling debtor or do you write off the loan? Do you let the loudmouth who recognises you die, or do you spare him? Each choice allows you to tailor how your version of Arthur Morgan lives.

Hunting and collecting plants and herbs once again play a large part of being able to survive in the wilderness, either through simply providing food to keep health and stamina high or through crafting provisions and upgrades. To assist, you can trigger Eagle Eye, which will highlight tracks or droppings to follow an animal across a distance and indicate which way the wind is blowing so that you can make sure to keep your scent downwind.

Weaponry has also been built upon, offering a much deeper experience, whilst keeping the action easy and fun. There are over 50 weapons available in the game that can be customised alongside different types of ammunition. The more you use a gun, the better it will perform, but you’ll also need to make sure you maintain and clean it with oil, otherwise, it will begin to degrade over time. Arthur can now also double wield a pistol and shotgun to devastating effect. Dead Eye also returns, and now offers different levels that vary from slowing down time to highlighting critical hit areas on enemies such as their head or heart.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

Arthur can also be customised with a large range of clothes on offer, although rather than a throwaway visual change, what he wears will also have an impact on his health, as wearing thin layers in cold climates and vice-versa will cause his health core to drain faster. Even beard and facial hair styles won’t last without trimming them every now and again. It feels as though Rockstar has every major and minor detailed accounted for.

At the time of writing the review, the achievement list isn’t viewable on Xbox Live, although the ones that have popped on screen match up with the recent leak from last week which you can view here if you're interested.

Check out our Best Xbox Third Person Shooters Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Red Dead Redemption 2's vast, detailed and stunningly beautiful open world sits as the perfect backdrop for its compelling and well-paced story filled with epic set pieces. With deeper gameplay mechanics, a larger cast of diverse and interesting characters to meet, and a wealth of content from side objectives to mini-games, RDR2 is a shining example of what makes Rockstar's games so special. It might have been a long eight-year wait for a follow-up to Red Dead Redemption, but it's been well worth it as the game may go down as the greatest of this generation. Few games have ever had as much hype around them as this one, and yet few have ever met and even exceeded their expectations in the way Red Dead Redemption 2 has.
5 / 5
Red Dead Redemption 2
Positives
  • Compelling story
  • Stunningly beautiful and detailed world
  • Deep and interesting characters
  • Dynamic soundtrack complements the game perfectly
  • Fun and easy to use shooting mechanics
Negatives
  • Some texture issues on the original Xbox One
  • AI enemies can be quite dumb
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent approximately 70 hours robbing, stealing and shooting his way across America, completing the main story, epilogue, and taking in several hours of free roaming. A digital copy of the game was provided by Rockstar for the purposes of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Dave Horobin
Written by Dave Horobin
Dave is the TrueAchievements Social Manager and has been a Newshound since 2010. When he's not chasing developers and publishers for early review copies, he can usually be found on the TrueAchievements social pages discussing all things TA related.