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Red Dead Redemption II – The First 20 Hours Impressions
Getting lost in the wilderness
It’s here. Eight years since the first Red Dead Redemption and five years after Rockstar Games’ big game release Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption II is here. It took many hardworking (maybe too hardworking) men and women to get this game out and we are trying our best to go through this massive single-player open world experience.
While we worked on getting our full review done, we are comfortable enough to talk about what we feel about some of the game feel after playing through the first 20 hours of an alleged 65 hours worth of content. Here’s what we feel so far.
The short answer: It’s really, really good.
The game starts bleak. The Van Der Linde gang is in a rough predicament. A job has gone bad, federal agents are chasing them, and they are now fleeing into the mountains during a winter storm with low food and low morale. Things are rough. But these tight, linear sequences serves as the game’s tutorial, introducing you to all the basic controls and mechanics while keeping together a strong narrative progression.
From GTA and Red Dead veterans to newcomers or folks that forgot what the controls are from these games like me, everyone will be well acquainted with the basics really quick. The first chapter is dense and filled with story beats, including a set-piece mission as covered by early previews. The game walks you step by step of a few basic mechanics you need to be familiar with. But never is it overwhelming.
Because when you have access to most of the open world proper, then that’s another story.
The Massive, Living World
Red Dead Redemption II is massive. Overly massive. When you reached Chapter 2, you can traverse the whole map, though there is a high bounty that will discourage you to explore the lower part of West Elizabeth and New Austin, returning areas from the first game. Some missions will occasionally stray bit further than the state of New Hanover that this part of the game centers on.
But being this massive means there’s a lot of time spent on horseback. For players who just wants to go from story missions to another it’s going to be a bad time because these missions can be far apart. The world of Red Dead Redemption II is designed for you to take it in slowly. Stop and pick some herbs. Hunt animals, skin them and send it back to the gang’s camp to feed the folks there. Encounter odd strangers, good and bad, that may even lead you to side quests.
Out in the wilds there’s a whole ecosystem of animals, big and small. Snakes that can spook your horse if it gets too near. Small rabbits that can be hunted for food.. or get trampled on if you’re not careful. Some birds fly in flocks.
Then there’s the towns. The first town you encounter, Valentine looks like what you expect from a town in this era, but it is always lively. Town folk chatting up and about. A menacingly-looking dude that sits in front of the gun shop sharpening his knife. There’s a doctor in town that may have some side business if you peek around the establishment. Shops open and close according to their business times, and if you’re feeling cheeky you can rob them too, which will see the building not operating for a few days afterwards.
While the open world is huge, it is also teeming with life. It’s enough to give you an illusion that this is a world where people live in, not just set dresses to guide you to the next main mission. It helps that the game gives you more ways to interact with it.
Red Dead Redemption II expands on the interactions that you can do with people in objects from past Rockstar games. Giving postive or negative remarks on someone has been seen before, but you now have to lock on them first. In most cases, you can choose to draw a gun, either to threaten them or escalate the issue further.
Some conflict can be resolved by just words too. Accidentally bumped a person and now he gave them glaring eyes? Apologise so he won’t go report to the sheriff. Or draw a gun out to scare him. Or kill them. Witnesses will report dead bodies so you either have to leg it afterwards or carry and hide somewhere else.
One time I saw a public hanging being held. Then I get to say something to the sheriff after that gruesome act is done. Arthur blurted out “That must’ve been satisfying huh?” or along those lines. It is not consequential, but that I have the ability to express and react to the event leaves me a bit satisfied.
You can engage with the gang using the simple interaction menu, which lets you small chat with them. The Van Der Linde gang is quite a posse, around 21 interesting characters, and the little banter Arthur has with each of them help make them all memorable.
Going indoors has also seen some tweaks. Now you can scavenge for items in drawers and wardrobes, which also means you can rob people’s homes. Items need to be manually picked up, except ammo on fallen enemies which will be added automatically by just running near the bodies. Some items, including your guns can be inspected up close, flipped around and zoomed in ala L.A. Noire.
Shopping also uses this change too. You can now browse a shops’ aisle of items, see anything you fancy and buy it from there. Or browse through a catalogue, all written down with clear enough fonts to read it as it is displayed. But you have the ability to see them in normal text, handy for handwritten notes.
Still, it has some quirks and issues that left me irksome. The controls is like you expect from a Rockstar game, a bit sluggish. It’s all in the name of realism, sure, but it doesn’t mean I like that your character either stops moving or moving slowly because it’s stuck in geometry or could not keep up with my inputs. This really bothers me during indoors. Picking up items are context-sensitive and trying to wiggle yourself to the right spot is a pain. It works better in first-person, however.
Also, there’s something about the missions. It’s not that it’s bad. I love how the structure of the missions are varied enough so you don’t feel like it’s another “go here, do this, go there, repeat” loop. But some of them seems like similar ideas explored in past Rockstar games. A mission where you go all trippy? Sure. A cult? Is this GTA V again?
Red Dead Redemption II looks great in official screenshots and videos. But playing on a base PS4, it looks a bit muddy and blurry in certain places. Understandable, the game is pushing the base consoles at the limits here though in the early areas the game maintains a nice 30fps.
This game might be a strong case to get a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X if you haven’t yet.
Playing the first 20 hours gave me enough of a good impression and the where the direction of Red Dead Redemption II is heading on. It’s a game that demands your attention, that wants you to soak in the atmosphere. It is unraveling itself slowly, but each time you see its marvels.
Now is the case on seeing how the quality of the story content is shaping to the end and whether I am still engaged enough with all the systems (some not mentioned here but will be covered soon). Expect a full review from us soon.
Played on a base PS4. Review copy provided by the publisher.