Red Dead Redemption 2 review for Xbox One, PS4

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PS4
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Studios
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1-32
Online: Yes

Confession time: even though I played the first Red Dead Redemption, I never really got into it. Don?t get me wrong: I appreciated everything that it had to offer, and I thought that John Marston was a compelling character, but in the end, I just found it all to be too much. Too many quests, too long a story, too much ground to cover on horseback — it wasn?t the sort of thing you could drop in and out of, and as someone who never has enough time to devote to enormous games, I couldn?t appreciate it.

And here we have Red Dead Redemption II, which is bigger than its predecessor in every way imaginable. A bigger map, way more quests, way more characters — you name it, and there?s undoubtedly more of it here. And you know what? I absolutely love it. I?m addicted to it. I?ve spent hours and hours just traversing the countryside, exploring everything RDR2?s world has to offer, and I still want more.

I know, understand, and accept that this is kind of counterintuitive. If my complaint about the first one was that there was simply too much to do, then that should be even more true of RDR2. But what can I say? We?re all full of contradictions. This game is so good, in fact, it?s making me want to go back and play RDR again, just so I can get more of this world.

As for what makes Red Dead Redemption II so great: it feels like it?s set in a living, breathing world populated by real people. The towns range in size from relatively bustling metropolises like Saint Denis, to one-horse towns like Valentine, to settlements that consist of literally a house, a barn, and not much else. In every case, you find all sorts of people going about their daily lives, and it always feels like they?d be doing that regardless of whether main character Arthur Morgan was around or not.

Better still, interacting with them changes the world in interesting ways. Giving money to a homeless Civil War veteran or helping out a person stuck in the bush by the sucking the snake venom out of a bite gives you better karma, and doing the opposite changes things for the worse (assuming, of course, your goal is to help Morgan be a better person; if not, then maybe you want to go on a spree of killing random people and robbing banks).

This, I admit, is where I got completely lost in RDR2. While the story is fine for what it is (if a little similar to the first RDR), there?s a ridiculous amount of stuff to do, from hunting down legendary gunslingers, to helping out a long-lost love, to acting as the muscle to a money-lender. On top of that, there?s all the stuff you stumble upon — personally, I had a lot of fun beating up a street corner eugenicist who was harassing black people on the streets of Saint Denis, though not as much fun as it was to come across/break up a KKK meeting held deep in the woods in the middle of nowhere. There was a randomness to the whole game that imitated life, and it made it easy to get sucked in.

In the wrong hands, of course, this randomness on such a large scale could have gone horribly wrong. That it doesn?t is, in part, thanks to the fact that Red Dead II makes traversing large distances relatively easy. You can pay (via in-game — rather than real-life — currency, it needs to be added) to fast travel by train or stagecoach to certain parts of the map, but the beauty of this game is that you don?t absolutely need to. You also have the option of setting your destination on the map, and then switching over to cinematic mode and letting Morgan ride down the endless dusty trails and across the rolling hills. It makes traveling substantially easier, while at the same time making it possible to fully appreciate what a gorgeous world Rockstar have created.

All that said, Red Dead Redemption II isn?t a completely flawless masterpiece. As I said a few paragraphs ago, the story is more serviceable than incredible. It?s the fairly standard ?antihero in search of redemption? tale upon which many Westerns (the first Red Dead included) are based — which should be enough to keep you interested from beginning to end, especially when you factor in all the side quests, but I have a hard time imagining that Morgan will be remembered as fondly as John Marston was after the first game, if only because he?s kind of dull.

My other problem with RDR2 actually became tinier and tinier the further in I got. The game begins with a couple of extraordinarily tedious winter chapters, during which you?re forced to muddle through endless flurries and snow drifts. While they were happening, they nearly put me to sleep, even taking advantage of the aforementioned cinematic mode. It?s essential, however, to keep that in perspective: you?ll spend an hour or two muddling through the snow (more depending on how much you want to venture into the snowy mountains once the world opens up). While it certainly feels a little interminable while you?re living through it, in the context of a sixty-plus hour game, it?s a drop in the bucket.

And it?s really that broader context you need to focus on (and, indeed, if you want to add in the even broader real-world context, that?s an entirely reasonable position). By whatever standard you want to apply, Red Dead Redemption II doesn?t just build on the accomplishments of its already impressive predecessor, it eclipses them. Much like the first Red Dead Redemption was unquestionably one of the high-water marks of the last generation, Red Dead Redemption II will be remembered as one of the most impressive achievements of this one.

Rockstar Games provided us with a Red Dead Redemption 2 Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: A