Red Dead Redemption 2

I didn’t have a PS3 or a 360 back when the original Red Dead Redemption came out, so I ended up playing it only within the last couple years. Maybe that fact, or the fact that John Marston makes a reprisal (though as a minor character), or maybe the fact that there are so few Wild-West games I’ve played (Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is about the only one I can remember at the moment), makes this one stick out even more as a special game.

In terms of gameplay, it’s very nearly “GTA V with horses instead of cars”. If you want to move through the story, you follow your radar to the yellow dot, follow the prompts, shoot some people and run away, then head to the next yellow dot. The formula is a little bit played at this point, but this can be said about nearly every game in the genre.

Like so many open-world games, this one shines when you’re doing whatever the heck else you (the player yourself) want to be doing in the world. Maybe you accidentally shoot a bird, and that “1/3” taunts you to ride around until you find another flock and take down two more. Maybe you just want to hang around a saloon, or stir up some trouble in town. Maybe cross-country horseback riding is more your style. Personally, I really enjoyed hunting down big predators, but barely touched the camp upgrade system at all.

The writing is pretty reasonable, for a video game story. It’s a rare game where I remember more than two or three characters’ names. Here you’ve got Dutch, Charles, Micah, Herr Strauss, Bill, Tilly, Javier, Ms. Grimshaw, Hosea, Uncle, Abigail, John, little Jack, the Reverend, Sadie, Arthur (of course)…. I don’t think I can remember that many characters and their respective personalities from more than a tiny handful of games.

Most of the events that occur are exciting enough, but there is some repetitiveness in the “go here, shoot these people, then run away” thing. The game also suffers from stormtrooper syndrome, and players are supposed to care about the death of a single individual after having just mowed down 20 or 30 minions.

In the middle of what I could tell was the final fight of the main story, I thought to myself “I wonder if the writers are gonna be brave enough to actually do that” and then they did it. Good on them—it’s one of the more impactful story moments I remember from any recent game.

The multi-part Epilogue was a bit of a surprise. It reminded me of Toussaint in The Witcher 3, where Geralt settles down and starts his life as a vineyard manager. Well here it’s Marston (or Milton, rather) who’s getting his fresh start. Although it could have been intensely boring being a ranchhand after so many hours of being a crazy outlaw, it was actually pretty peaceful. The ending-ending is weirdly Journey-esque, climbing a harsh snowy mountain to finally find peace, but it wrapped up the major loose end fairly neatly, if a bit predictably.

Play it if

You like cowboys, Rockstar, riding horses, crazy characters, or roaming wide open spaces.