Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive simulation of the Old West around the beginning of the 20th century. It’s an incredibly detailed game, loaded with quests, challenges, secrets, and several systems in which the world responds to how you play the game.

You play Arthur Morgan, a member of the Dutch Van der Linde gang. Among the other gang members are John Marsten and Bill Williamson, who will be (in the story’s internal timeline) the main protagonist and antagonist in the original Red Dead Redemption. The West is shrinking, and there’s less room for a gang of freebooters like the Van der Linde gang; the overall plot of the game is how your character plays a role in the gang’s fate.

I’ll mention that to get through the game, I found the following non-spoiler guide to be extremely helpful:

https://kotaku.com/tips-for-playing-red-dead-redemption-2-1830016535

RDR2 has generally received high praise. However, I did not like it as much as I did the original RDR. I’m going to try to describe why.

My first major annoyance was with how the game uses the controller. The controls are context-sensitive, so a given button will do different things when you’re interacting with a shopkeeper, when you’re in camp, or when you’re wandering around a town. The game offers several controller layouts, but you’re limited to those choices; you can’t redefine the buttons individually.

The problem is that, when you’re not in specific situations, one of those buttons is always “insta-shoot.” I could be standing in front of a bartender, wanting to ask him a question, and I innocently press a key that seconds ago was used to order a drink. Only now it’s a quick-draw, I’ve killed the bartender, and the entire town starts shooting at me.

It sounds funny, but in practice it makes it difficult to play the game if I don’t want to play a character that shoots everyone. I had to hold the controller in an exaggerated way throughout most of the game to make sure I wouldn’t fire off my gun accidentally.

The game does not come with an “old folk’s mode” (aka Easy Difficulty) as many current games do. As I understand it, once you complete the game you can start a new game at harder difficulty level, though at 100+ hours to complete the game I imagine only a few die-hard players will get to that point. I didn’t have too much trouble playing the game at its default difficulty level, except for those situations that required precise movements of your character; most of that occurs in Chapter Five.

Since I mention the length of the game: Much of the time will be be spent traveling. The game offers few fast-travel options. It’s not unusual to spend more than ten minutes going from Quest A to Quest B. Optional activities like hunting and fishing also encourage a relaxed attitude towards time.

That leads to my second annoyance: You may learn patience while playing this game, but the NPCs don’t. It’s jarring that a game with such a level of detail that it makes you watch dung come out of horse has characters that aren’t much more reactive than the NPCs from 8-bit video games from 20 years ago. In particular, if an NPC makes a comment that indicates you’re taking too long, you’ve got at most two seconds to satisfy them; otherwise they’ll give up or start shooting or whatever.

Here’s an example: I’m riding down the road when I see a woman whose horse has fallen on top of her. I want to do a good deed, so I get off my horse and help her up. She tells me that her leg is injured and asks for a ride back to her place. I go to my horse and lead it to her, intending to help her up. She doesn’t react to this, and I can’t figure out what controller keys are needed to help her onto my horse. She complains “Aren’t you going to help me?” Just as I figure out that I have to get on my horse in order to offer someone a lift, she snaps “Well, I guess I’ll just walk on my own.” She starts limping down the road. From that point, she is completely unresponsive and I cannot interact with her, even as I ride alongside her on my horse.

Again, this sounds funny. In practice, it distorts every NPC interaction you have in the game, especially those involving doing good deeds for strangers. I eventually learned that there’s not much point in trying to do good deeds for anyone, since more than half the time a single delay or slip of the controller meant getting a bounty on my head.

I liked the overall story of RDR2. In many ways the story development was better than that of RDR. The problem here is the epilogue: RDR had an epilogue, but it only took a couple of hours. RDR2‘s epilogue took me about half as long as the original game had, and it wasn’t worth it; it was predictable for anyone who had played the the original RDR.

My overall verdict: I guess I kinda sorta liked Red Dead Redemption 2. But for such a big and complex game, I was hoping to love it. Looking back on it, I think I would have enjoyed playing Skyrim yet again over playing RDR2.