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Reader Review: Red Dead Redemption II

Image via Rockstar Studios

Kamryn Kniffen, Contributing Writer

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“Red Dead Redemption II” has been one of the most anticipated games of the year. Gamers all over the world have been dying to get into the brand-new prequel to the original game of the same name released in 2010. The original “Red Dead Redemption” was a massive hit with both fans and critics, so this game has had a lot of high expectations to live up to.

Since “Red Dead Redemption II” was released in late October of this year, I have gotten about six hours into the story with a few extra hours of side quests and random events. This review will discuss the story and characters so far, the controls and gameplay, the graphics, the music, and how fun and interesting the game has been thus far.

Above all else in a game, the story and characters are the most important. If the story is boring or messy, or if the characters are uninteresting or underdeveloped, the entire game will suffer immensely. This, however, is not the case with “Red Dead Redemption II.”

The game is set in 1899 in fictional areas of the United States that apparently share a border with Mexico. Players start out with an introduction cutscene featuring a gang of cowboys trekking through a harsh blizzard in search for shelter. After escaping a major conflict in a town called Blackwater with another gang known as the Pinkertons, the gang has lost several members, and the one who escaped is dying.

When the group manages to find an old abandoned mining town, they quickly work to set up camp. Players see right away that the group has a tight bond; after one of the members dies on arrival to the ghost town, the leader, Dutch, gives a heart-warming speech about how much he loved those who had been lost. That although luck has not been on their side recently, they need to stick together and remain hopeful. After this scene, the player gets to control a character named Arthur who, along with Dutch and later another member named Micah, rides out ahead to find food.

Image via Rockstar Studios
The Van Der Linde gang, lead by Dutch.

Throughout the story, we see how close Arthur and the rest of the gang are, constantly cracking jokes and jabs at each other like family. We also see how much Dutch cares about the group, and how much respect they all have for their leader. While they are not without their conflicts and disagreements, they stick together and support each other no matter what. The characters are interesting and lovable, and it is easy to find oneself emotionally invested in them. The story is also quite interesting, and although I haven’t gotten very far into it, I find myself wondering where it will go and what will happen. I’m also enjoying the cut scenes and interactions between characters, from the more heavy and emotional scenes to lighthearted and goofy ones… including what is quite possibly the best drunk sequence I have ever witnessed in a game. Every cutscene and interaction feels real and interesting and keeps the game feeling lively and realistic.

Controls and gameplay are probably the second most important aspect of a game. If the controls are too difficult, it ultimately detracts from the overall experience of the game and can even make some players give up entirely. In “Red Dead II,” the controls can be a bit frustrating. They are confusing at times and just downright annoying at others. The character walks too slowly in camp and outside of camp unless the player repeatedly taps the x button, and the horses can be frustrating to ride at times as they are programmed to behave more as real horses do.

After some time playing I have found that I’ve gotten more used to the controls, so it isn’t a major downfall. However, I often find myself wishing that the controls felt just a little bit tighter and more intuitive. Given how far video games have come, it is pretty upsetting that something as simple as bad controls continues to detract from otherwise fantastic games.

As for gameplay, there is definitely no shortage of ways to keep busy. Although the fast travel system in the game is limited and one finds oneself sprinting around great distances of the map frequently, there are many random events and side quests for the player to keep busy with on the way to and from main missions and the hunting in the game is rather fun as well. If the quest involves another character, there is also a lot of interesting dialogue between characters to listen to on the way to one’s destination.

Image via Rockstar Studios
An in-game map.

Another great side-feature of the game is the customizability. While this doesn’t add anything to the story and very little to the gameplay, the customization of everything from Arthur’s outfit, to his hair and facial hair (which grows as time progresses in the game and can be cut, shaved, and styled in various different ways), to the saddle, mane, and tail of the player’s horses, there is a vast amount of options for the player to choose from, so if you’re the type to spend three hours in-game just designing your character, this is the game for you.

While graphics and music may not be game-enders, they are important factors that can help or hurt the experience of the game. The audiovisuals should fit the type of game that it is, and should stand out in a positive way to the player. The developers certainly outdid themselves with these aspects. The graphics in “Red Dead” are absolutely stunning. The characters look and move in realistic ways, and the even animals look fantastic. I constantly find myself captivated by the beauty of the scenery around me in-game, and the massive map gives the player a very real sense of magnitude. Additionally, the music is fantastic. Every musical piece for the various situations in-game gives the player a very old-timey, wild-west feeling, and when combined with the graphics and realistic interactions between characters, the player is immersed in the game and the world it has created.

Overall, despite some flaws with the controls and minor annoyances with the gameplay, “Red Dead Redemption II” is a very fun and interesting game. If you like the open-world style with lots of side quests and interactions with the world and non-player characters, then this game will be great for you. In many ways, it plays very much like a modern “Skyrim” with better graphics and characters. Since overcoming my initial frustrations with the controls and map, I have found myself deeply invested in the game and the story and am excited to continue on and see what happens next. I definitely recommend this game to anyone who likes a good wild-west action story.

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