On October 26, 2018, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 came out and took the gaming world by storm. Even though it’s been five years since its initial release, RDR 2 managed to set a high bar for what a narrative-driven open-world game can be, and very few games have come close to reaching it since.
IMMERSIVE GAMEPLAY AND OPEN-WORLD
RDR2 features one of the most immersive open-worlds I have experienced in any game. The world itself feels alive and lived in with photorealistic landscapes and many dynamic systems, such as weather, NPC interactions, and even horse poop. I’m not kidding. Rockstar put mountains of detail into the world of RDR2, and it shows.
The game’s map features five different states to explore and get lost in. From the snowcapped mountains of Ambarino to the muddy swamps of Lemoyne, each state has a distinct feel and plenty of things to do.
There are so many side activities, quests, and secrets to uncover in the world of RDR2. You can gamble, rob, hunt, fish, find treasure, and so much more. But the game never feels unnecessarily bloated, and anything and everything that you engage in is fun and rewarding.
As much fun as it is messing around in the open world, RDR2‘s gripping narrative also deserves praise and attention.
Red Dead Redemption 2 tells the story of Dutch van der Linde’s gang and their steady fall from grace. On the run from the law, the gang must fight to survive in the final days of the Wild West.
We heard a lot about the van der Linde gang in Red Dead Redemption, which takes place roughly twelve years after the events of RDR2, but actually seeing the gang in action is a whole different experience. Dutch’s Gang is an eclectic blend of colorful characters who, on the surface, may seem odd and dysfunctional, but their interactions with one another make you buy into the fact that these people are family. Making their demise all the more heartbreaking.
But one member in particular steals the show, and that’s the game’s protagonist, Arthur Morgan.
COMPELLING MAIN CHARACTER
While the main protagonist of Red Dead Redemption, John Marston, is part of Dutch’s gang as well, we get to experience the gang’s collapse through the eyes of Arthur Morgan, one of Dutch’s most loyal and trusted guns.
The decision to put Arthur at the forefront of it all is genius. He is arguably Rockstar’s most interesting protagonist. He’s cunning, witty, and tough, but underneath the bravado, he’s a good man, and we get to see him discover that about himself over the course of the game’s narrative.
He hasn’t been around as long as iconic characters such as Nathan Drake or Master Chief, but Arthur Morgan is an unforgettable protagonist who has already earned his place in the video game character hall of fame.
THE PERFECT PREQUEL
As I mentioned before, RDR2 takes place before the first game, and John Marston is part of the ensemble cast. He doesn’t become very important until later, though. John spends most of the story serving as a background character, just another member of Dutch’s gang. He’s also kind of a loser.
Unlike Arthur, John’s loyalty to the gang is questionable. He’s consistently looked down on by other members of the gang, including Arthur, and picked on for being “dumb as rocks and dull as rusted iron.” He’s a lousy husband to his wife, Abigail, and a deadbeat father to his son, Jack. Needless to say, the John Marston we see in RDR2 is far from the cool, rugged, gunslinging family man we know and love from Red Dead Redemption. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t get notes of this John in RDR2.
After the final numbered chapter of the game, we get a three-part epilogue in which we play as John and witness his transformation first-hand. Some might call this part of the game boring, as it’s very story-focused and involves completing a lot of menial tasks such as farmhand chores and building the ranch at Beecher’s Hope. But I personally love following John through this, as it is imperative to his arc.
Playing through the epilogue is bittersweet. It ties together the narrative threads of both Arthur and John’s stories and seamlessly bridges the gap between the two games. The Marston family is at peace; they’re happy, seemingly free of the shackles of their troubled past. But the tragedy of it all is that it’s only temporary.
That’s my retrospective on Red Dead Redemption 2. I fell in love with the game five years ago when I played it for the first time, and it is a love that has not faded since. The story, characters, world, and gameplay work together to make for one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a beautiful and tragic tale that ropes me back in every time I boot it up.