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An awesome game where it’s greatest asset is also it’s main weakness

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    Red Dead Redemption 2

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    An awesome game where it’s greatest asset is also it’s main weakness

    Red Dead Redemption 2 is a true and proper prequel. It doesn’t just take place before the events of the first Redemption; it ties directly into that game’s narrative, giving us detailed and cohesive insight regarding the events that led to the John Marston’s story in 2010. We heard several nuggets about the days of the Van Der Linde gang, and now we get to see them in action. When a prequel has you going back and playing the original to get a glimpse as to how the pieces fit together, you know it’s done something right. RDR2 is an awesome game that, while sporting a couple significant flaws, delivers superbly in it’s narrative and overall design.

    The year is 1899, and the age of cowboys and gunslingers is beginning to dissolve as the government seeks to ‘cultivateâ€?and ‘civilizeâ€?the western frontier, which basically means they need to tax people. This time around we play as Arthur Morgan, the right-hand man of Dutch Van Der Linde and a family of crooks and thieves. As opposed to John Marston in the first game, Arthur is not exactly neutral- he’s an outlaw and he knows it. After a ferry heist with sketchy details goes awry, the gang is struggling to survive and begins its slow descent into breaking up. The Van Der Linde gang is one of the best parts of the game. They aren’t just partners- you guys are family. I mean that in the sense that there are relatives you like, relatives you can’t stand, relatives that would rather be by themselves but are dependableâ€?pretty much every member has a distinct personality. You won’t just be robbing trains with them either. You’ll go fishing, get drunk, and beat up people in bar fights together. You really come to love certain characters and despise others, and that works in bringing out the emotions as you deal with death and betrayal within your ranks throughout the story.

    The overall narrative is fantastic, both in detailing out what we were told in the first game, but also in simply telling its own story. Dutch fancies himself as a Robin Hood figure, opposing government control and stealing from the rich while favoring freedom and liberty over all else. Unfortunately, the changing times and the constant pursuit from the law reveals Dutch’s flaws and show that he may not be all too different from that which he claims to despise. Arthur becomes disillusioned over time at Dutch’s sanity, and is forced to make decisions between the mentor who raised him and his own surfacing ideals. Some things are predictable, while others are not. Even when you can sort of tell what’s going to happen, though, it can still leave a strong impact when you come to appreciate the characters. The other members are not just quest dispensers, they all feel like a unit that is navigating one of the best intricate and detailed open-worlds ever seen. I’m not just talking in the sense of being beautiful or having stunning visuals (Although this game is an absolute beauty in the graphics department), but rather in how the world functions and responds to you.

    One of the biggest strengths of Red Dead Redemption was its encounters, where you could stumble upon situations or people would try to get something out of you, be that assistance or a duel. Red Dead Redemption 2 continues that, and makes it even more detailed and involved. While the vast expanse of the game is open plains, you never know what you may stumble across. A woman may be pleading for help as a man tries to ride off with her, a rival gang may attack lawmen to rescue their own, you could stumble across a woman pinned under a dead horse, a man may ask for help in ripping off his buddy, or you may find someone either getting attacked by wildlife. While you can naturally choose to either hurt or help those Arthur comes across, the effects go deeper than just some quick cash or a change to your honor. If you decide to bust out a criminal being escorted by a bounty hunter, they may reward you with a potential homestead to rob. If you help out that helpless idiot who got caught in his own bear trap, he might see you in town later on and buy something for you, which can lead to something as sweet as a new gun if you’re lucky. Not only do these events make the world feel alive, but the consequences and potential rewards for handling them makes everything feel much more connected. It’s not just these encounters, either. As you progress through the game, your actions will have a lasting impression. If you cause a massive amount of chaos in a town, they won’t be inclined to treat you well down the road. Sometime the progress you make can even cut off certain side quests, either temporary or permanently. If you’ve got a bounty in town, the locals won’t be as inclined to ask for your assistance.

    Even your connection to your steed is deeper this time around. Not only can you have multiple horses on hand at once if you stable them, but they go beyond being a means of travel. Your trusty is your companion, and spending time with it will yield various benefits. As you spend time riding a horse it will get stronger, faster, and be able to sprint longer. Take care of your horse properly by brushing it, feeding it, and not pushing its limits and your bond will grow. With time you’ll be able to pull nifty tricks. However, your horse is also basically your portable cargo stash. Through it you can hold multiple outfits, and you also use it to switch out weapons. Arthur can only carry one weapon per slot on foot, and it’s a rather nice touch that you have to pick and choose what to take off of your horse. Unfortunately, this also has an irritating little mechanic where the game will re-quip random weapons when you get on your horse from time to time. You might be wielding a bow, and have the game decide you’re wielding a shotgun instead. This is thanks to the game’s occasionally annoying controls, which will be covered later. For the most part it’s great.

    Since we are playing a proper outlaw this time as opposed to a neutral character trying to leave his days of gunslinging and robbery behind, Rockstar has provided more appropriate options to make the life of a western outlaw both fun and profitable. You can still rob people at gun point and break into banks as would be expected, but Arthur can also rob a train properly by jumping on it and holding up as many people as possible before it makes the next stop. As the narrative progressive you’ll gain access to fences who will not only buy your looted valuables, but will pay you for any stolen horses/wagons/stagecoaches you happen to come across. From time to time you’ll have access to side missions with your fellow gang members to go and rob places of interest, often featuring some colorful characters like a twisted redneck family that barely speaks an understandable tongue. Of course, one has the option to play more honorably if they so choose, which has its own benefits. While being a thieving degenerate provides some quick and easy cash, helping people can have long-term advantages. Aside from the previous mentioned NPC’s that will buy an item for you, how you treat various people can have a slight impact on story missions down the line.

    Red Dead Redemption 2’s attention to detail is easily it’s biggest strength. Ironically, it is also the source of its main drawbacks.

    As previously stated, there are a plethora of ways to play the part of the outlaw, but sometimes it becomes more of a hassle than it be should thanks to the complex Wanted system featured in the game. For the most part the way that crime is handled in this game is quite interesting and deep, adding to the atmosphere. It’s really nice that bounties are attached to regions rather than the entire map, and when being pursued by the law it’s not impossible to escape them. Witnesses are the key to your crimes, and I really like how you can catch fleeing witnesses to either talk them down or simply kill them and avoid a bounty. Wearing a bandana can help avoid being recognized, so long as you don’t stick around the scene of the crime. Sometimes you can even diffuse the situation with the lawmen if you manage to resist fleeing the scene of a lesser crime. Unfortunately, the crime system can also become a hassle thanks to the intricacies of itsâ€?implementation. Why is it that when I try robbing a store at night, the entire town seems to know what I’m doing? NPC’s are simply too aware for their own good, catching and reporting even what they aren’t around to see. There’s also the fact that thanks to the hyper-realistic horseback riding, just trotting through a town can result in you inadvertently trampling someone who decides to run in front of you, or even bumping into someone and aggravating them. As a result, just trying to get around town can result in the sheriff being called on you, or the local populace deciding they have a bone to pick with you. This is especially noticeable in the city of St. Dennis, where you sometimes can’t swing a dead cat without knocking over five NPC’s. Post-game patches have alleviated this to a degree, but it’s a still a potential aggravation. Because of this, the details of crime-tracking are really nice but the sensitivity of the mechanics can occasionally become a nuisance throughout the game.

    Then there are your cores, which maintain health among other things. On paper it sounds immersive and interesting that Arthur must rest, eat, and consume other items to retain his stamina, health, and dead-eye. Unfortunately, the way it’s designed makes it so that these can easily be forgotten until a core Is drained. There is nothing fun about discovering you have zero dead-eye in a fight because you forgot to smoke a cigar or eat an apple recently. These survival mechanics can be fun when done right, but here they seem like an afterthought that just doesn’t mesh into the game. If you actively think about it, you’ll have zero trouble keeping your cores filled, but once you get sidetracked by the world’s various distractions they’ll easily drain. Of course, just eating a couple pieces of cooked beef alleviates everything, so in truth the mechanic overall feels more pointless than anything. It’s not balanced and not really immersive, neither hindering the experience much nor enhancing it in any meaningful way.

    In general, the need for general maintenance is a series of hit and miss implementations. Maintaining your weapons is relatively neat and rather non-intrusive. Gun oil is rather easy to come by, and I can always appreciate weapons degrading overtime when it’s balanced well, which it is here. As previously covered, caring for your steed by feeding and brushing it is well done addition, and really does make it feel like your building a bond with your horse, unlocking tricks and making it stronger as you use it more and more. Arthur’s own cores are rather unbalanced, as you’re liable to either completely forget them until you have no health regeneration or just keep them filled without a care. The need to bath is alsoâ€?a little cool, but relatively pointless. It just seems a little excessive that Arthur’s personal hygiene needs periodic attention when it only results in people saying you stink. Getting a hotel maid to bathe you is a nice little detail and all and the moments of dialogue that stem from it are a little neat (Until they start repeating), but the overall process just feels a bit tedious. Realism can only be pushed so far in a game, and this game really straddles the line of how far it can actually go. When it works, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, it’s tedious and annoying.

    The other problem is that there is only so complex and in-depth a game can get before the controls become unintuitive. There are only so many buttons on a controller, and once a single button serves multiple purposes things can get crazy. The same button that grapples people in a fight is used to mount your horse, so make sure no one is nearby when you’re looking to get on horseback, lest you get the sheriff called on you. The worse thing I’ve encountered is that some genius decided the same button that aims your gun should be used to access dialogue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve engaged in a chaotic firefight, and then inadvertently aimed my gun at an innocent civilian when I try to talk to them because I didn’t put my gun away. I’ve had to shoot people I was trying to help because of this. After a while I adjusted, but it’s still a poorly laid out design decision. There’s also the need to adjust to the way Arthur handles. Rockstar characters have always been a bit floaty in their attempt to make movement as realistic as possible, and this might be their most detailed foray into that yet. From climbing objects to hitching your horse to entering a saloon to skinning an animal, the animations mostly serve well in making the world alive, rich, and immersive. However, the result is some noticeable input lag, which is deliberate in design but still irritating. Whether running, turning, or stopping, it takes Arthur a second to completely respond to a command. Immersive? Yes. Sweet to look at? definitely. Good for precise gameplay? Not really. Most controller woes in general can be adjusted to after a few hours, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t irritating at the start (And in some cases throughout the game).

    Combat is mostly done through the tried and true system of ducking behind cover and timing your moments to peep out and pull of a clever ahead-shot. It’s a classic system, but it’s classic because it works well in these types of games. Strategy mainly comes down to knowing which guns to bring, and in which situations to wield them. Deadeye returns, adding a layer of depth by slowing down time and letting your pick your targets for a brief period. That helps keep things slightly interesting as well as helping out in more dangerous situations, and the mechanic itself upgrades with game progress. Stealth has received a slight upgrade. Previously a mechanic that was rarely touched upon, more missions now have the option to bring down more enemies stealthily. The mechanics are not super deep or complex, but they work well enough. Stay out of sight, use silent weapons over a distance, and choke them from behind. It’s typical but it works well enough. While nothing in the combat mechanics scream revolutionary, the execution is solid enough to keep things fun and enjoyable. Besides, in how many other games can you lasso an enemy and drag them around? You’ve also the ability to craft different types of ammo for various purposes, be that extra firepower or better hunting results. I wasn’t too inclined to delve into it, but it’s a serviceable addition. The best part is that it’s something you can either utilize to your benefit or ignore if you prefer- you aren’t forced into it if it’s not your cup of tea. You can also get into fisticuffs, which is a straightforward but rather fun utility. You punch, dodge, block, and grapple. You can definitely feel the impact of your punches when you knock people out, and knowing how to time your blocks and attacks because quite instinctive rather quickly. Nothing too complex, but still quite fun when it happens. Sometimes simpler is better.

    Naturally, the monotony of stealing and shooting and looting is broken up by the plethora of activities you can do on the side. It wouldn’t be a Rockstar game, or a good sandbox game in general, if you didn’t have activities you can do on the side at your leisure. There’s plenty to do, which is great as naturally not every option is going cater to every person. If you want a bit of honest cash or need some food you can partake in hunting, a mechanic that is quite detailed and enjoyable. From tracking game to utilizing the right weapon in order to maintain a carcassâ€?integrity, I was worried it would be too involved but it’s actually quite addicting. My one gripe is that you get mere chunk change for any except perfect quality kills, but since hunting also provides crafting items there’s more to it than just profit. Others might prefer fishing, where you bait up your rod and hope for a big bite. It’s not my thing, but to each their own. If you prefer to do a little gambling you have five finger filet, poker, and dominoes in various spots. I can spend an entire day with poker, although I have little interest in dominoes. Once again, the different options will ensure there’s something for everyone. If you need a little action on the side, you can pick up bounties from the local sheriff’s office. While bounties are unfortunately no longer radiant and unlimited, they make up for this by giving each one its own story as well as objective. You might need to save one bounty from drowning, or maybe you have to take them out non-lethally in a duel. Quality over quantity in this case, though I do slightly miss unlimited bounties. This isn’t even touching upon the stranger missions you can encounter in the wild, which can make for some rather amusing tidbits of story.

    In conclusion, Read Dead Redemption 2 is awesome beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s got an amazing open-world design, it’s visually breathtaking, the music is immersive, and the narrative is powerful while also tying into the first game superbly. It’s extreme attention to detail, however, is both a blessing and a curse. It’s that attention to detail that makes the world interesting, organic, and immersive. It also occasionally makes mechanics too complex or sensitive for their own good, and leads to some less-than-ideal control design. These issues don’t take too much away from how great this game is, but it definitely straddles the limit of how realistic is too realistic. Those that really love immersion and story-focused titles may appreciate these things (Except for the annoyingly complex controls), while others may not. Even as someone who loves a certain degree of immersion, I think it may be pushing the realism aspect a bit too far. That being said, it’s still a title I highly recommend to anyone who love open-world games, western-theme games, or games with focus on narrative storytelling. It’s also certainly worth playing if you enjoyed the first Redemption title.

    Final Score: 9/10

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