Red Dead Redemption 2, the tale of Arthur Morgan and his life with Dutch van der Linde’s merry (read: not at all) band of outlaws, is a compelling tale of a person’s daily struggle to do right – or not. It’s so satisfying to play as renegade Arthur, stealing from donation boxes, robbing stagecoaches, or generally causing mayhem by shooting up a saloon over a card game.
It’s also incredibly rewarding to play as paragon Arthur, who helps those in need, tends to injuries, fetches things, and stops robberies in progress. Sure, there are some parts of the story that make Arthur do one or another, but ultimately, the way in which he lives his life is up entirely to you, the player.
However, for me, one of the most compelling parts of this game is what happens in between the story beats. If you wanted, you could complete RDR2 in record time, going from story mission to story mission. I’ll grant you, it’s still immensely satisfying to do, because the narrative, voice work, and visuals are stunning in every sense of the word. Your experience as a player, however, is entirely buoyed by everything that supplements that story, including Stranger missions, interacting with random encounters, gambling, and hunting.
The ‘Stranger’ missions are almost a part of the story themselves – they include meeting the mayor of a town, helping an archaeologist find bones, preventing the death of a forward thinking (perhaps too much so) French artist, the list goes on. There are Stranger missions in every chapter of the story, and they evolve along with Arthur’s – and thus, your own experience – throughout the game. They range from funny, to scary, to downright sad, and yet every single one of them is entertaining.
Paired with those are the random encounters, which can happen literally anywhere: inside a small settlement, on a dirt path to nowhere, inside a saloon, in a bank. You name it, it can happen. They too also have incredible range – you can a stranger, bleeding from a gunshot wound, who had his companion kidnapped. You can shoot the chains off an escaped convict, who, by way of thanks, will give you a tip on a juicy – and unguarded – treasure. Perhaps my favourite included riding my horse past a decrepit house, only to be invited inside by the jovial – but still incredibly menacing – tenant, who insists on serving Arthur a drink. So many incredibly authentic reactions can be had from these random encounters, and nothing points the way to them other than your love for exploring the countryside.
Hunting and gambling are perhaps the easiest ways to lose track of time in RDR2, as they are time consuming and rewarding all at once. Arthur can use any tool at his disposal to take down an animal, and can also use the game’s Eagle Eye tool to track the path of any creature in the game, from a small rabbit to a giant moose. Taking them down is not as easy as it seems, either – most rewards require Arthur to retrieve the animal’s pelt, but in top condition. That means dispatching the targets with the utmost care, taking great pains to engage with the animal’s legs, heads, or neck. It’s incredibly easy to mess up a kill, but if done properly, can quite literally be the game’s most rewarding conquest. To add to the difficulty, each region of the game presents the player with a Legendary Animal, a beast with a white pelt that sells for huge amounts, and can also be used in crafting some awesome looking outfits.
I almost feel like gambling explains itself – after all, we all do it in some form in real life – but in RDR2, Arthur can play blackjack, poker, dominoes, and five finger fillet. Playing them in every location they’re found can unlock some challenges, which comes with its own set of rewards, be it XP or wearable items. Perhaps the only flaw with gambling is that liar’s dice, a popular diversion from the first game, has been removed – maybe it hadn’t been invented yet?
Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily one of the year’s best offerings, and as mentioned, it’s not just because of the rich narrative. It’s because along with that, the player is allowed to see and feel every single part of the world – every character, every card game, every animal. It all feels so incredibly detailed, and the only fitting response feels as though it’s to engage with it all as much as possible.
Best of luck tearing yourself away from this one. You’re going to need it.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is currently available across PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms.
You can find Sho on Twitter at @SNSAlli if you want to chat more about Red Dead Redemption 2 or anything else. He’s a cool dude, we promise.