I waited for the price of Red Dead Redemption II to come down and it did a couple of months ago. It’s not that I didn’t want to get it the day it came out but I was just playing other games at the time so I knew, if I got the game, my time would be split apart with too many games. Even so, I did get the game with the full intention of reviewing it. But I believe in giving a game its due diligence when making a review. I didn’t just want to play the first two missions and then give my verdict if it was good or not. I had to go through everything before I did and, last night, I finally completed Red Dead Redemption II’s Story Mode on my PlayStation 4, including the epilogue and most of the side missions. So it was finally time to write up my thoughts on Rockstar’s latest open-world game.
Was is worth the almost one year wait and two months of playing Red Dead Redemption II Story mode every day? Yes. A big, hearty yes.
Red Dead Redemption II is actually a prequel to Rockstar’s first entry in the series. You take control of Arthur Morgan, one of the lieutenants of the Van der Linde Gang, named after its leader, Dutch Van der Linde. After a failed heist, the gang flees to the west, virtually penniless, wanted as fugitives and down on their luck. As the Van der Linde gang tries to recover, Dutch attempts to fulfill his promise to the gang to earn enough money to flee the country and start anew. Arthur is willing to go along with Dutch but their luck can only hold out for so long…
If you played the first Red Dead Redemption, you probably are familiar with some of the characters already as most of the main member of the Van der Linde gang are the same people that John Marston was hunting down. However, while John Marston makes them seem like monsters in his game, things are a little bit different in Red Dead Redemption II as everyone of the cutthroat band seem like decent folk. Sure, they’re all thieves, robbers and murderers, but they take care of people in need. Even Dutch, who appeared to be a heartless bastard in the first game, seems much more benevolent this time around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next game in the series puts you in the boots of Dutch Van der Linde and how he managed to form this motley crew together. It would be fantastic to see how his vision of freedom was formed in the first place as well.
But the story isn’t focused on Dutch nor John Marston. It’s all about Arthur Morgan, the man you control throughout most of the game. Arthur is a fantastic character as, unlike other characters in video games, you can really see him change throughout the game’s story mode. From someone who agrees with Dutch’s vision of freedom and a staunch supporter of his leader’s ideals, Arthur does change ever so slightly when he sees Dutch’s actions become more savage as times goes on. Whether or not Dutch has changed or if Arthur’s is the one that’s changed or if it’s a little of both, it was good storytelling regarding a man torn between loyalty or ensuring the people he cares for are safe.
I do have to say that, despite Arthur’s growth, there are some leaps of faith the overall story goes through. The biggest one is how Arthur Morgan became closer to John Marston and his family. It’s never really fleshed out that well so I didn’t entirely believe that he would care for John and his family as much as he did in the end. There are also some weird segues, such as an entire stretch of story set in a totally different map. That entire story just felt weird and doesn’t really serve do to much than make the situation more dire for the people that were left behind.
Then again, I don’t really play an epic open-world game like the ones Rockstar makes for the main story. I’m generally more interested in squeezing as much of the side content as I can. And Red Dead Redemption II has more than a ton of them! Some of them are rather fun, such as helping a widow survive in the wilderness and helping a con artist find his “wild animals” who have escaped. There are also a few chance encounters while wandering through the game’s super large map that just pop out of nowhere. Things like rescuing kidnapped women, helping out two escaped convicts that hate each other and getting into a duel really flesh out the untamed feeling of the Wild West.
Most of the main missions are fun but a lot of them do take a while to get into the action. This is because, most of the time, you’ll have to ride out to the actual location. It can be a pain at times, even when you can listen to the gang chat it up while on the way. Also, most of the mission structures are very structures, which means that, if you deviate from the path, you’ll fail the mission. I kind of miss the times when you can do crazy things in order to fulfill the objectives. You can’t do that in Red Dead Redemption II, which is kind of a bummer. Even so, the missions are pretty good and creative… once you do actually arrive at the location and start doing stuff.
Like every Rockstar game, there are more than just missions to complete in Red Dead Redemption II. You can go out and forage for herbs, hunt for food, go fishing, play table games like cards and dominoes and even just set up camp somewhere. Some of the activities, like fishing and hunting are fun because there a certain kinetic energy to them. Most of the table games, however, do feel clunky and slow. It’s hard to fully explain but the controls also feel stiff and robotic. It’s as if I’m painfully aware that I’m playing a video game rather than feeling immersed in the experience that I feel like I’m at the poker table. It’s not too bad but, thankfully, you only have to play cards during one story mission and that’s it. You can skip over any activity you find boring for the most part.
Speaking of the controls, Red Dead Redemption has one of the most complicated control schemes ever! I appreciate Rockstar trying to map everything onto the already complex PlayStation 4 controller without having to resort to too many menus. But it took me two whole play sessions to commit everything to muscle memory! They did try to make some buttons to double duty depending if you press or hold down that button so that was creative. The issue is the first few missions don’t really tell you in a streamlined way on things like drawing a weapon, something you will be doing a lot of! I didn’t even figure out how to change into the clothes I packed on my horse until the latter chapters! It’s a huge hump to get over and rather frustrating since you’ll probably be doing some stupid things, like shooting your horse by accident or forgetting to bring a rifle because you forgot to get it from your horse. I’m not sure how many casual players will get the hang of it before they quit out of frustration. Basically, the tutorial missions could’ve been written better.
While the interface does take a lot of getting used to, it is easy to fall in love with the game’s presentation. The graphics are simply stunning. It may sound weird but seeing the game on the big screen is kind of like watching a hyper realistic version of a Bob Ross painting. It’s just calming and beautiful to see so many pristine mountains, grassy hills and, of course, so many happy little trees… with a few gruesome murders and robberies, of course.
The voice acting is also impeccable here. Every one’s performance is on point and you can tell that every one has their own distinct personality just by listening to their voice. Dutch’s booming voice is super charismatic. Hosea is more of the intelligent and more cautious. John Marston sounds like a tough guy but just a little green. Of course, the best performance belongs to Arthur Morgan as he has to balance being a tough guy but with a caring soul at times. In fact, I can’t think of anyone, even the random strangers, that didn’t bring their A-game here.
Despite the huge problem with getting accustomed to the controls, Red Dead Redemption II is another great game by Rockstar. It is a problem but, once I was over it, I simply enjoyed the game. Despite going through the main campaign and most of the stranger missions, I have half a mind to start all over again now that I’ve fully committed the controls to muscle memory. I won’t shoot my horse in the head again by accident… probably.
What did you think of Red Dead Redemption II’s Story Mode? Let me know in the comments section below!