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Review: ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ leads the industry in immersive storytelling and world building

(Image courtesy of Rockstar Games)

“Red Dead Redemption 2” is the pinnacle of the modern-day gaming experience. Rockstar Games is king when it comes to open-world entertainment, and the prequel to its historically acclaimed “Red Dead Redemption” (2008) shows exactly why.

Released in late-2018, “Red Dead Redemption 2” slowly and beautifully drags the player through the demise of the outlaw as civilization and industrialization take over the United States. The Wild West landscape is unparalleled in both size and detail, and the emotional narrative is the most in-depth of this current gaming generation.

The tone of the game is set from the opening moments. The year is 1899. A band of familial bandits and outcasts trek through the mountains during a deadly blizzard in an effort to escape from the law following their bungled heist in the progressive town of Blackwater. The player navigates the story as Arthur Morgan, as he scavenges for his life and the lives of his gang, and does whatever is necessary to bring security to his family.

(Image courtesy of Rockstar Games)

This theme continues as the player explores the diverse, lively and purposeful map of “Red Dead Redemption 2.” The game offers both the 60-plus-hour main story and a plethora of side missions and random interactions that enrich both the journey as Arthur the provider and Arthur the man.

The game’s pace is a fraction of Rockstar’s action-filled Grand Theft Auto series, and feels even slower than the original Red Dead Redemption. The calmer pacing gives the player a deeper connection with the polished, expansive universe (I can’t stress how big and polished this place is), and the intimate relationships with non-player characters — who all add something meaningful or fun to the game — are largely developed through player choices.

That’s not to say this is a boring game by any means, though. The game still provides high-stakes heists and shootouts, and players can start trouble just about whenever they please, with an obvious fallout to follow. Red Dead Redemption 2 is as far from “battle royale” style games as it gets, but the bevy of available weapons, legit gun mechanics and the franchise’s famous “Dead Eye” mode all make for an experience that can be just as exciting as it is deep.

Player autonomy and the game’s honor system, in which player choices — from saying hello to town folk to building up a thousand-dollar bounty as a result of a robbing and murder spree — equally affect how Arthur is perceived in the world and, eventually, his destiny. The player is free to go for the tried and true outlaw experience, or chase a true redemption tale. Both have their drawbacks and benefits.

(Image courtesy of Rockstar Games)

This level of player choice and the impact it has only elevate the game’s authenticity, which — thanks to the next-level physics, historical accuracies and real-life elements — is superb. If Arthur is hungry, he has to eat. If he’s tired, he has to sleep. If his health is low, he better take care of it and pop in a health cure. Neglecting these needs as a player will hamper abilities and eventually lead to an unceremonious death.

“Red Dead Redemption 2” is the epitome of why video games are untouchable when it comes to storytelling depth and immersion. In no other medium is the “reader” able to connect to the character and environment like in gaming, and in no other game is the player able to connect to the characters and environment like Rockstar’s latest release. If you’re looking for one of the finest single-player role-playing games the industry has ever seen, “Red Dead Redemption 2” is for you.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual. 

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