Our Spoiler Free Red Dead Redemption 2 Review
While the online portion of Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn't come for another month or so, make no bones about it - Rockstar's sweeping western epic will give you plenty to do until then. Quite simply, this is the best western game anyone has ever made, and one of the most detailed RPGs we've ever seen. Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn't hold your hand, or give you an endless series of bullets on a map to complete like many open world games, and yet it's as richly detailed and filled with things to do as any game we've played. This is our spoiler-free Red Dead Redemption 2 review for the PlayStation 4.
Like many of you, I want this game so badly on the PC, but I will gladly play it for dozens or hundreds of hours on the PS4 while I wait - and then buy it up again for the online portion when it lands on PC (hopefully). I've played some fantastic RPGs this year, and they've all been wildly different and fun in their own ways. But where some focus solely on story, others focus on giving you loads of loot and points to check off a map, RDR2 gives you the wide open west and tells you to live in it.
Are there missions? Yep. Are there side activities? Of course. But minus a map Legend showing you what is where and yellow or white markers showing you where the next big story beat could be, Red Dead Redemption 2 just doesn't hold your hand. It will to show you where to go for the missions, and it'll give you general areas where side events might happen. Other than that, Rockstar gives you the wide open country of the west, a massive map that's teeming with wildlife and rough hombres, and says - "Go explore."
A motley crew...
RDR2 starts slowly, and I'll be honest, there's probably a little bit too much "run 5 minutes in this direction to get to the next objective" for my tastes. I found myself wishing for a fast-travel option when I just wanted to get through the story. There are stagecoaches and trains, but sometimes you're far from both. There's also an upgrade in camp that allows this more frequently, but the early game has a load of running about, so be prepared to let the game slow burn into your brain. This complaint could be because I was under a deadline to get this review live and the story is a big part of RDR2's appeal. If you're the kind who wants to get lost in a world, go hunting, rob banks, find buried treasure, craft new gear, and so forth - you're going to be pleased.
My main gripes with the game have been in the UI, and specifically, getting to the map. If you're like me, you're going to refer to it often, and first you have to pause, then select map. Then you have to back out of the map, and unpause to get back to playing. It's a needlessly slow process, and the game doesn't tell you (from what I could see) that holding down the Options button will bring up the map. In fact, I didn't even know that until our GameSpace review, Chris Coke told me after reading my review for me. Once I figured this out, my worries were gone with that minor gripe.
Other than the aforementioned slow start, and lots of running from point A to B, I've not got a lot to complain about RDR2. Visually, it's in a league of its own. And if it looks this good on a PS4 Pro in 4K, I can only imagine what it's going to look like on a PC with more bells and whistles. Every little thing is painstakingly detailed - yes, your horse's genitals raise and lower with the temperature. People greet you as you pass, based on your reputation, on your status, if you're holding a gun. Predators spook your horse, your horse needs to be washed, you need to bathe, eating and sleeping should happen or you'll find yourself basically nodding off on your feet, your stamina and health slow to recover. RDR2 stops just short of having Arthur need to pee and poop as in the recently released SCUM, and there's even a screen that can track your overall status if you need to know that much detail. And yes, your horses do poop.
But if you want to ignore all that stuff? It's easy enough to do so. RDR2 isn't a survival game, but for the sake of realism, it guides you to resting, to bathing, to brushing your horse, and eating stew or drinking coffee at camp. You don't have to do these things, but the game clearly wants you to to keep Arthur at his peak for the times when things get hairy on a train robbery, or on a jail break, or just a really long harsh trip through the mountains. You can break camp anywhere in the wild, craft health "potions" and food if you have the ingredients, which can be obtained through foraging in the wild or hunting the various species of animals that dot the landscape. There are over 500 different species of beast to encounter, and even a whole side task that includes hunting down legendary animals. If you manage to bring them down, you can use their hides and bones to make some of the game's best and most unique gear.
You can even go Grizzlie Adams if you wish...
Hell folks, you even have to clean your weapons every so often, or have a gunsmith do it for you, or you wind up with them jamming on you in the middle of an important fight. It really does, more often than not, feel like Rockstar thought of everything when they made RDR2. The amount of love and care and effort that went into even the blades and hilts of your pocket knife is beyond compare. It's realism without being tedium. A survival game that doesn't make you watch a thirst bar or punch trees for the first 20 hours.
The story of Red Dead Redemption 2 is probably one of the best tales in gaming, but I'll leave most of it for you to find out. Just know that it's going to take you around 50-60 hours to get through, and that a lot of that time is spent riding your horse or a wagon, listening to the characters unfurl the story as you do. You will be presented with plenty of moral choices and Arthur can either play the honorable rogue or the asshole you want him to be at any given time. I lost track of how many times I felt like I had to kill someone to get out of something, even if I didn't want to.
RDR2 is great at putting you in those situations, and the sheer amount of random world encounters with NPCs and wildlife is enough to make the game work without the main narrative. It could just be a single player western sandbox and be perfectly entertaining. But like all Rockstar games, it just becomes something even more when paired with their unparalleled motion capture and acting. I haven't even finished the full game, and I'm already jonesing to see what the DLC will hold.
Your horses will become your friends, if you care for them.
Red Dead Redemption 2 may very well be one of the most in-depth simulations of life we've ever seen. It manages to do all the things survival games have been trying to do while making them interesting and not invasive. It gives players a real sense of playing their role through the honor system and the character skill progression by actions your character performs. And above all, in truest Rockstar fashion, it's one of the best stories in gaming, and Arthur Morgan quickly becomes an even more lovable character than I expected. RDR2's start is slow, measured, but as the layers begin to unfold and the scope of the game's sandbox is known, you see just how impressive it all really is. This is easily a top candidate for one of the greatest open world RPGs of all time.
FINAL SCORE: 9.7 / 10
- Massive, intricately detailed world
- Some of the best acting in games
- Huge array of customization
- Poignant, riveting characters and story
- Absolutely gorgeous to look at
- A slow start
- Lots of running/horse riding between events
- Menus and UI feel cumbersome