It’s a self-contained and linear introduction but it’s a clever one. The slick cinematics make a hell of first impression, embedding you in the gang and bringing you right up close to the characters who are doing their best to bellow over the howling wind. It also placed me in a distraction-free bubble while I learned some of Red Dead Redemption 2’s early controls and systems, which heightened the impact of having the full map open up to me a few hours later. The conditions on the mountain are almost claustrophobic, with visibility at a premium and thick snow trapping Arthur’s feet. Being set loose in the true open world after toughing it out in this intentionally oppressive environment really underscores the incredible feeling of freedom the full map offers.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sprawling Western tale of loyalty, conviction, and the price of infamy, chronicling the inevitable collapse of a motley crew of Wild West holdouts kicking against the slow march of civilisation and industrialisation. Set in Rockstar’s most authentic and lived-in open world ever, there are so many things to do, so many people to meet, and so many places to explore it’s giddily overwhelming. Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t just Rockstar’s greatest achievement to date; it’s a game so lacking in compromise it’s tough to know where best to start discussing it.
So let’s start at the beginning: It’s 1899 and American outlaws are an endangered species. Dutch van der Linde and his gang are on the run after a botched heist in the growing town of Blackwater and they’ve retreated high into the mountains where an atrocious blizzard is covering their escape. We slip into the spurs of Arthur Morgan, an exceedingly cool and capable outlaw who was found by Dutch as a boy and raised on the wrong side of the law, and settle in for a roughly 60-hour story.
The Big Country
And what a world it is; broader, more beautiful, and more varied than the one we explored in 2010’s Red Dead Redemption by a massive margin (though parts of that game’s map are also included). There are snowy peaks and dank, alligator-infested swamps. Thick forests and open plateaus. Quaint homesteads and grand plantations. Narrow streams and great lakes. Dusty gulches and dim caves. There’s the muddy livestock town of Valentine, with its wooden buildings and rustic charm, and then there’s the imposing city of Saint Denis, a grimy and growing metropolis full of modern extravagances like electric trams, paved roads, and Chinese restaurants. The vast assortment of ecosystems and environments seamlessly stitched together here is nothing short of remarkable.
Red Dead Redemption 2 does an exceptional job at slowly rationing out reasons to visit every corner of its huge world, too. I was still led to areas of the map I hadn’t yet visited even in the closing stages of its 60-hour main storyline.