The Life of an Outlaw: Red Dead Redemption 2

Gameplay screen capture of Red Dead Redemption 2 showing a man overlooking a city
Screen capture by Jesse Mattox

The highly anticipated “Red Dead Redemption 2,” released on Oct. 26, from Rockstar Games scored a 97/100 on MetaCritic and has already made $725 million its first weekend.

The game follows the story of Arthur Morgan, the right hand man to the leader of a band of outlaws, Dutch Van Der Linde. When a steamboat robbery goes south, the gang finds themselves on the run from the law and being forced to travel further and further into the uncivilized states of the west. Set in 1899, “Red Dead Redemption 2” captures the beauty, brutality and the realism of the U.S. at that time. Civilization is expanding, cities and laws are being created and the Pinkertons are hunting down outlaws in an effort to tame the wild west. The reality of the situation for Arthur Morgan and his acquaintances is heavy, and that is something the game doesn’t fail to remind you of.

“Red Dead Redemption 2” plays similar to “Grand Theft Auto V.” It’s an open-world yet story driven game where you are free to explore, do missions, meet strange characters and partake in random activities such as poker or dominoes, getting a haircut, stopping by the tailors for a set of new boots or robbing a stagecoach at gunpoint while forcing the driver to empty their pockets before you ride off to sell it to a fence. Whatever you do in the game, people will remember you and what you have done, and with every choice, no matter how minimal, there is a repercussion.

In the 60 hours it took me to beat the campaign, there wasn’t a moment where the game was getting repetitive. Shopkeepers, people in town and anyone you encounter remember you and your choices, both good and bad. The game presents you with small opportunities to bring some good into the world, but after all, you are an outlaw. If you want to choose to be ruthless, the game can be played that way too.

A task as simple as riding into town to purchase a new gun set me off on countless unexpected adventures. I came across an old town that had clearly burned down, but inside the sheriff’s office there was a lockbox containing a gold bar worth $500, which is a lot of money in 1899. While mounting back up on my horse, I heard a lady crying out for help. Investigating the noise I had found that her horse had died and collapsed on her leg where she was trapped. I helped get her leg free, but before leaving I stopped to talk to her which eventually led to me offering her a ride home in Valentine, the town I set out to go get a new gun from in the first place. She told me her whole life story and I honestly felt bad for the woman. She did offer me an old ring she received from her family as payment for helping her, which I later pawned to buy my new gun.

Aside from the characters and interactions, the detail and size of the map is also quite stunning. From snow capped mountains to the driest of deserts to riding through large canyons and valleys and climbing winding trails in the forests of the mountains or watching the light reflect off the morning fog in our camp by the water, this game has impressive immersive graphics.

From the subtle act of pressing the trigger to reload after each shot with a rifle, to charging an enemy from behind cover while they are reloading to tackle them to the ground and initiate a fist fight, the intricate details of “Red Dead Redemption 2” are littered throughout its gameplay as well. Guns smoke after each shot, bullets can be heard ricocheting off rock covered valleys or echoing in the mountains and fist fights leave your character bruised and beaten. GameCentral reports, “the main story is ‘about’ 2,000 pages long, with even many non-player characters having scripts that run for 80 pages. This required 1,200 actors, 700 of which have dialogue.” GameCentral continues, “Rockstar Games is ‘by miles’ the biggest employer of actors in New York, with the game having 300,000 animations and 500,000 lines of dialogue.” As much work as they put into characters, even more went into research. Rockstar Games has captured the essence of 1899. The spread of civilization to the west, the Pinkerton patrols, the treatment of Native Americans and the rise of towns featuring trolley cars, factory workers and immigrants.

All these small details earned “Red Dead Redemption 2” the most awards at The Game Awards 2018. While the Game of the Year went to Sony Santa Monica’s “God of War,” four of the top awards went to “Red Dead Redemption 2”: best narrative, best performance for Roger Clarke as Arthur Morgan, best music for Woody Jackson and Daniel Lanois’ score and best audio. The timing of these awards and praise by fans will surely help make this game a popular gift this holiday season.