When the first Red Dead Redemption released way back in 2010, I was blown away. I must have sunk 100 hours into my first play through. The graphics and music, the story, the characters, all of it sucked me in and refused to loosen its grip. All these years later, I still load it up from time to time just to get a brief moment of that feeling again.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced back in 2016. When I watched the linked trailer, there were very few adjectives that could describe my excitement. How big would the map be? Would this actually be a prequel to RDR1? Would John Marston (one of my favorite gaming characters) return? Hype was off the charts.
Two delays and multiple teases later, and the game finally arrived in October of 2018. I proceeded to shut myself off to the outside world and became a cowboy. Luckily, I had a few friends that also chose to be cowboys with me. I literally ate, breathed and slept Red Dead Redemption 2.
All in all, it took me just over a month to beat the game (and the epilogue). I can’t remember the exact amount, but I probably sunk in at least 120+ hours. At the time, I couldn’t put the game down. Everything drew me in. There was always a side mission to complete or a fish or legendary animal to kill.
Besides that, the graphics are beautiful. I spent probably half of those 120 hours just taking everything in. Lets get this out of the way now – Red Dead Redemption 2 is a technical marvel. It might just be THE best looking game of all time (on console at least).
We’re easily distracted by shiny things and Red Dead Redemption knows it.
During my play-through with RDR2, I did nothing but sing its praises. As I said, I was obsessed. The game had its flaws but I totally ignored them. After I beat the game, something weird happened that didn’t with the first RDR – I lost any real interest in going back for another adventure in the wild west. I figured maybe it was because I had just lost 30 days of my life to it or maybe because I had started something else right after.
Months later, I decided to take a harder look at the game and why I had no desire to go back to it. The world was huge and I had hardly scraped the surface, so why was I so reluctant to dive back in? Especially since I had played the previous game so many times. I was finally able to come to my first conclusion – the technical wizardry at play had slapped big ol horse blinders on us gamers.
We were so busy watching the sky change colors, rain puddles form in mud, and lightning strike across the sky, that we were happy to ignore cracks that were forming in this well crafted fun-house. It’s not that the game was glitchy, because it absolutely wasn’t. It’s that the story and mission structure were kind of crappy, but more on that later. Its like when you look at a well-built RX7 and its smooth curves distracts from the fact that the rotary housed inside will fail you at any given point.
The next heist is the last…but maybe just one more before the last one…or two.
The entire story centers around Dutch and his crew doing one last heist and then retiring. The problem is, and its not exactly shocking, one last heist turns into one last heist and that last heist turns into another last heist – you see where this is going. The heists themselves are pretty fun, so those aren’t the shortcomings. Its everything that happens between them that often leaves a lot to be desired.
Its weird that the story itself tends to fall flat, because the voice acting is top notch and the cast of characters is interesting. The problem is – at its core, there really isn’t a whole lot happening. The story doesn’t really unfold in an organic way. You move set pieces around until you trigger the movement of the camp – rinse and repeat. Its unfortunate because the writers clearly tried their best to bring us an engaging story (and at times, it’s incredible) but they were held back by something. That brings us to the worst flaw of the game.
When the missions are more like chores.
With the exception of the aforementioned heists, a large majority of the missions (and there are A LOT of them) are flat out boring and worse than that, they are short. They feel like fetch and grab quests that you’d normally find in World of Warcraft. After just a short time, they begin to feel like chores. I found myself delaying them and exploring the world for the far more interesting side quests.
The bigger problem with these missions is that it forces the story to be stretched far longer than it needs to be. A 50 hour game (on average) could have easily been a much tighter 30 hours. We would have had a far more focused start, middle and end. Us, as the players, wouldn’t have to had endure countless filler plot points.
Gamers are used to developers stuffing their games with filler missions to extend playtime. In the case of Red Dead Redemption 2, it feels like unneeded roadblocks were put in place to help drag the campaign out. Which brings me to my last point.
A gorgeous map with little to do.
A gripe many had about the first RDR was that the map was too big for the amount of activities available to the player. While I didn’t share those feelings, I most definitely did in RDR2. The map is beautiful and its worth exploring, but only to a point. The rest of the time you’re either traversing the map via fast travel or you’re riding for quite some time from destination to destination. This would be fine if there was always something to do on these journeys. This is an inherent problem with most open world – lots of flash, little substance.
Of course, if you’re someone that likes to explore every nook and cranny of a game, RDR2 is heaven for you. That is usually me. But when the map is so large that even looking for those nooks becomes a drag, something is wrong.
So did I actually hate Red Dead Redemption2?
God no. I very much enjoyed the time I had with it. On many levels, it was a ridiculous success. However, when you take off the the mentioned horse blinders, you’re left with a game with a broken mission structure and a story that mostly falls flat. Its only when you reach the Epilogue that you get to a game that is focused and fully polished. Maybe that’s b/c it continues RDR1’s story (or starts it rather) but I almost found the after credits material far more rewarding.
Bottom line, play RDR2 if you want to sex up your eyeballs. Play RDR1 if you want to come away feeling something.