Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) is the sequel to the original RDR released in 2010, though in terms of the story and plot, it’s a prequel. Like its predecessor, RDR2 is an open world action game set in the wild west of America in the 1900s.
Developed by Rockstar Games, the same developer for the much loved Grand Theft Auto series, the game offers a full-fledged open world experience with loads to do and plenty of interactions with non-player characters (NPCs) in the game. Expect endless side quests, challenges and mini games.
RDR2 lets you fulfill your fantasy of the old American wild west, including train robberies, drunken saloon punch-ups, gunslinger duels as well as hunting and fishing in the great outdoors.
In terms of timeline, the events of RDR2 precede that of RDR. You play Arthur Morgan, a tough and surly outlaw who had joined Dutch Van der Linde’s gang as a youth.
In the same gang is a younger John Marston, who was the protagonist in the first RDR. After high praises for the conflicted character of John in RDR, can RDR2’s Arthur Morgan top that?
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
You start the game with Arthur and his gang on the run for a botched robbery attempt in Blackwater. Caught in a snowstorm, the gang has fled into the snowy mountains to lay low. Short on food, money and supplies, they have to scavenge for food and hunt animals in order to survive.
You play Arthur as he supports the gang by contributing money and food to the camp. As outlaws, money is scarce, so Arthur and his gang are often on the lookout for ways to make money, legal or otherwise.
Hunting, gathering, bounty hunting, looting, stealing and robbing are their way of life, so leading a purely honourable life isn’t easy. As a start, hunting is a good way to get food and some money from selling pelts, but it earns a pittance.
Occasionally, gang members offer Arthur some missions such as stealing from homes and farms, robbing stagecoaches and trains, or rescuing those who are arrested or in trouble with bounty hunters or rival gangs.
They may even ask for small favours such as procuring items for them that Arthur may find in his travels, such as herbs, novels and even a harmonica.
Later in the game, we witness the gang getting into more trouble and having to move from place to place to avoid arrest, with conflicts and discontent rising within the ranks.
As a key member of the gang, Arthur has the ability to make life better for the gang by investing on improvements for the camp or donating more food and money.
Arthur’s deeds can gain him positive or negative honour – robbing or killing someone will gain negative honour while helping people, performing chores around camp or throwing back small fish while fishing increases honour, and may also score you some rewards.
For instance, I had Arthur help a guy suffering from a snake bite and he rewarded Arthur with a free weapon at the town’s gunsmith. However, when Arthur was helping a guy who fell off his horse, he tried to grab Arthur’s horse – shooting him gained negative honour, even though he deserved it.
Likewise, if you break the law or even if you did something seemingly innocuous that annoyed the Sheriff, he can also throw you in jail. I made the innocent mistake of searching the Sheriff’s desk in his presence and Arthur had to spend a night in jail and pay a fine.
Moral of the story? Just like in real life, sometimes you try to be good but circumstances may lead you the other way. If Arthur chalks up too much negative honour, the law enforcement agents will be in pursuit, and there will be a bounty on his head in that area.
Once that happens, Arthur will be arrested if spotted entering the state by the sheriff or even pursued by bounty hunters, which makes travelling a lot more challenging. The solution is to pay off the bounty or actively avoid the main roads and steer clear of oncoming riders.
All About the Base
The safest place for Arthur is the campsite where Arthur can hang out with his gang, play games, be entertained by lewd songs around the campfire, eat stew and catch some Z’s to restore his vitals.
To increase positive honour, Arthur can help out around the camp by doing a bunch of mundane chores, like chopping wood, fetching water and distributing food.
You can also upgrade the camp if there are sufficient camp funds – this is useful for getting access to better food, medicine and ammo supplies. You can add a horse station for easy access to owned horses (much like your personal garage) and a chicken coop for better stews, as well as prettier decor around camp.
If you have some personal cash to spare, you can even play mini games like poker, five finger fillet, dominoes and blackjack with the gang members, which is actually quite fun and may even win you some decent money. Some NPCs that you encounter outside the camp may also offer gambling games.
Much as I love hanging out at the camp, returning to the base all the time might mean longer rides out to missions or limitations on how far away Arthur can explore. It’s great that Arthur has the option to pitch a small tent, light up a campfire and sleep outdoors. Or if Arthur is in a town, he can check into a hotel for a bed and a bath, assisted by a bath maid at extra cost.
Towns are great places for trading, shopping and interacting with people and getting new quests. Think of the saloon where drunken punch-ups are a daily affair. Or talk to the Sheriff and check out the “Wanted” posters.
One of the more hilarious missions has Arthur and a gang member becoming so drunk that everyone at the bar looks exactly like Arthur’s friend and he has to stumble around trying to find the right one while dancing on the bar top and punching some random patrons.
In towns, you can sell animal pelts and meat at the butcher’s, herbs at the drugstore or go shopping at the General Store where things are super cheap by today’s standards to buy pomade for your hair, provisions, snacks and tonic to restore your vitals.
Post offices are where you can pay off your bounty and find more quests. In addition, you can go to the gunsmith where you can buy upgrades for your weapons and maintain your guns. You head to the stable to upgrade and care for your horse.
“Zhng” your Horse, Pimp your Ride
The best part about the game is the relationship between Arthur and his horses. He speaks sweetly to horses, calms them down when they are spooked and takes care of them by brushing and feeding them.
Over time, the bond between man and horse is strengthened and the health and stamina for the horse will improve and additional manoeuvres will also be unlocked.
A strong and fast horse is especially crucial when you are pursued by the law and need to make a quick getaway. Compared to driving cars, I feel this is a more tender relationship between a man and his ride.
Just like cars in Grand Theft Auto games, you can steal horses with no riders or even forcibly pull a rider from horseback and make off with the horse. However, note that horses without proper documentation will fetch a lower price, so unless the horse has better stats than your current one and you intend to keep it, it might not be worth the effort and the loss in honour to steal one.
Arthur can also tame wild horses with some patience, although he can be badly kicked if he scares it. There are 19 different horse breeds in RDR2, each with different speed, acceleration and handling attributes, so it takes some work to get a good horse for Arthur, but it will be worth his while.
Horses are incredibly useful in the world of RDR2. Not only are they a great form of transport, a horse can hold additional weapons, spare hats and warm clothes, hunting trophies, as well as a tent and bedroll.
If you have more than one horse, you can leave it in a stable, which is equivalent to parking vehicles in garages, and even purchase a Horse Station so you can access all your horses from camp.
Apart from performance, you can customise the look of your horse and saddle, the capacity of saddlebags, change the horse’s name, and the style of the mane and the tail, and even tacks to upgrade your ride’s performance at a stable.
Be warned that unlike in certain games, horses in RDR2 can die, so don’t do crazy dangerous stunts with your best horse.
Are We There Yet, Cowboy?
What marred the enjoyment of the game for me was the excessive micro-management. For instance, what Arthur is wearing needs to suit the weather, otherwise he will feel too warm or too cold and lose health. The trick is to dress light and always carry a warm coat on the horse.
You will also have to ensure Arthur eats sufficiently, gets enough rest and takes a bath occasionally. Otherwise, he will lose health and honour. I feel like sometimes Arthur’s life, just like in real life, is overwhelmed with tedious minutiae that are not always fun but necessary. Yes, it’s more realistic but rather tedious to play.
Also slowing the game down is the long commute from place to place – I have dozed off countless time when Arthur is on the horseback riding off someplace.
The horse is the primary form of transport, but it is limited by stamina and hence how long it can travel at high speed, so it takes a while to get anywhere without tiring out the horse.
As the game progresses, fast travel can take place in the form of stage coaches or by trains, which can be expensive as you need to buy tickets to ride.
Although slow, some of the advantages of travelling on horseback are enjoying the beautiful scenery of the rugged wilderness with lots of flora and fauna to appreciate.
Arthur also keeps a compendium of beautifully hand drawn flora and fauna, and tracks whether he collected the plants or tracked or hunted the animals, which helps to break the monotony of the long rides. Arthur can use the Eagle Eye ability to look for animal trails, interesting plants as well as clues during an investigation.
Horseback journeys also let you encounter NPCs who can offer you fun side quests like finding collectibles like cigarette cards where you can mail them off to a collector for money, maps that can guide you to a treasure stash, or shooting competitions where you can win some rewards.
While travelling, Arthur may encounter random events that you can choose to intervene, such as rescuing prisoners in transit, or helping a stranger who is hurt, lost or without transport, or killing rival gang members.
Although I didn’t feel much for Arthur in the beginning, I did grow to like him more as the game progressed. You can feel his pain of wanting to do good but not being able to break out of his lifestyle, his conflicted sense of loyalty to Dutch, his feeling of despair that his kind are no longer wanted in the changing world, and his tenderness for the ones he cares about.
He breaks the law but he has his own moral compass, and this is clear when he expresses his disdain for making the destitute to pay their debt by force.
All these are revealed in his journal entries which reveals his innermost thoughts as well as campfire conversations with friends. These help in Arthur’s character development and the story, but the trade-off is the slow pace of the game.
Another issue that slows down the game is the way the controls are set up. I find myself fumbling with the buttons on the PS4 DualShock controller quite a bit, which makes for a rather clumsy experience as the game uses a combination of pressing versus holding down buttons. Sometimes these are tied to other combinations.
Some commonly used actions are activated by pressing or holding down buttons for about one second, which slows down the act of looting a body, opening a drawer or picking up something.
Imagine if you have just raided a rival camp, shot 20 people that you have to loot, then open several containers and pick up items. This can all add up to a lot of time.
And one does not usually have the luxury of time when the law enforcement agents are rushing to the site to arrest you, so looting has to be done hastily or minimally.
A lot of the tale is told while in transit to somewhere, like riding on horseback or on caravans, which means you do have to use your hands to hold the controller instead of snacking while enjoying the story.
A “cruise” mode would have been useful. If you are travelling by yourself without companions and are heading towards a set waypoint, you can use the cinematic mode to watch Arthur riding with fancy cinematic angles, hands free, but not if you are travelling with companions.
Like the previous game, the Dead Eye skill is featured in RDR2. By aiming with the left trigger and pressing the right thumbstick on the DualShock controller during a gunfight, you can activate Dead Eye to slow down time for Arthur take careful aim and tag enemies’ heads for scoring headshots.
The ability will be upgraded as the game progresses and you can eventually see the precise points on your enemies that you can hit for instant kills.
The Dead Eye meter will run out when used, and refills with kills during a gunfight. It can be replenished with chewing tobacco or certain tonics, so use it wisely!
Ride with Your Posse
Rockstar just launched its Red Dead Online public multiplayer beta on December 6, which greatly expands the world and playability of RDR2. To start, you select the gender of your character and customise how he/she looks.
The game opens with your character serving in the penitentiary for a crime he/she might not have committed, and was busted out of a prison transport by a benefactor for whom you have to perform missions.
Just like in the single player campaign, you need to find ways to make money, upgrade your weapons and horses, and also level up in order to unlock better gear.
There is even an “online shopping” concept where you can buy items from a handheld catalogue and have them delivered to your camp.
You can join any open game modes when you see an invitation for it. One game modes in the multiplayer mode that I managed to try out in the beta include Dispatch Rider, where you and other players have to attempt to ride a marked horse to a checkpoint while everyone tries to kill you.
Another is Cold Dead Hands, where the winner is the one who can hold on to a bag of cash for the longest time. That was hard as I couldn’t even get near the bag before being killed every time I spawned.
Apart from timed games, you can also perform missions for NPCs, but beware of other players because they can sabotage your missions. They could try robbing you of the supplies that you are tasked to deliver, so forming a posse will help a lot more than going at it alone.
The actual multiplayer mode will be free and available to all who own a copy of RDR2.
If Rockstar’s track record is anything to go by, the online mode will take on a life of its own and will greatly expand the RDR2 experience for years to come.
Even til today, five years after its launch, GTA Online is getting new content and updates, and is still attracting a large community of dedicated gamers.
If you are a fan of westerns or Rockstar’s open world games, and love characters that you can grow attached to through long conversations and reading journals, RDR2 will satisfy your fantasy of the wild west and its associated activities.
But if you prefer fast paced action, and you would rather sacrifice realism for convenience, you might want to go for action games with more instantaneous gratification.
This is one huge and activity-filled game that I feel has plenty of merits but might just be a tad too slow moving.
RDR2 is available on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One platform for S$81.90.