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‘Red Dead Redemption 2’: Getting Lost in the West

True to form, at some point early on in the roughly 20 hours I’ve played so far of Red Dead Redemption 2, I lost the thread of the main storyline. I never actually set out to do this with an open world game, it just happens.  At least, it happens with the good ones.

While open world games do allow you to go off and do what you want (to greater or lesser degrees), it’s always an “eventually” kind of thing – “Sure, you can go and explore the world at your leisure, but first let us give you information you need in order to fully experience the game.”  Now, this information can be fun to receive or it can be dull.  It can take a long time or it can take a short time. I tend to have no patience for it — give me the controller, tell me what the buttons do, and set me free. Consequently, whenever I have my first chance to break from the pre-planned story opening, I do.  Red Dead Redemption 2, wasn’t a fan of my doing that.

The first time I tried to venture off into this open world was returning from a mission.  I was
quickly told that I failed the mission for daring to veer off the pre-planned return route — I was trying to go directly to the base, the game wanted me to stick to a path, even if it was longer.

Things went better the second time, as I went off after the true completion of a mission and saw the world. I spent hours doing this and then returned to the outlaws’ base camp to complete a mission or two. Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption 2was so stuck in its ways that the first mission I did upon returning taught me things I already knew from having gone off to explore.  As “realistic” (and you’ll hear a lot about the realism of the game if you read reviews on it) as the title was, it couldn’t deviate from the pre-planned dialogue even when it was so clearly redundant.

Truthfully, the realism angle is overblown.  Red Dead Redemption 2is a game that strives for realism when it wants to be (looting a corpse isn’t instantaneous, nor is cleaning your weapon) and in no way realistic when it doesn’t want that realism (I had to complete a mission in a town where I had a bounty on my head, but as soon as I entered the mission, the bounty disappeared so I could go about my task and reappeared following the end of the mission).

Essentially then, Red Dead Redemption 2is just a videogame in these respects – it may be huge and it may be insanely engrossing, but it is not a world that perfectly mimics ours.  Some of the choices that allow for this realism are good (like looting a corpse taking time), but some are just annoying (cooking food is too slow and mini-games can play out too slowly as well).

What Red Dead Redemption 2has going for it in spades is that even if you can’t do whatever you want, you certainly feel as though can.  I literally spent hours wandering around on my horse, filling in the map and checking out the views.   And those views were spectacular.  I went and got my beard cut, only to see it slowly grow back.  I randomly came across animals or enemies or people in desperate need of help.  They all felt like chance encounters, ones which might affect how other people in the game saw me, but not ones which were germane to the story.

At 20 hours in, I still only have the vaguest outline of that main story and where it will take me.  It isn’t about that for me as much as it’s about the feel of the world.  Robbing stagecoaches and riding the rails and playing poker or dominoes or five finger fillet.

So, do I recommend Red Dead Redemption 2?

Absolutely.  If you’re looking for a title that will take you hours upon hours upon hours of time and that you can truly lose yourself within, this more than works.  The version of the old west it offers is on one the edge of modernity, but which hasn’t lost its wild ways.  The game is utterly gorgeous and completely engrossing.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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