What you won’t like (so far)

Above: Hey Dutch. Get off my foot.

Image Credit: Rockstar

Occasional bugs reveal the game’s limits

Just when you think that you’re not in a video game, and this all seems so real, little bugs remind you that it’s not entirely beautiful. I parked my horse and its head became stuck in a tree. My wagons became inextricably stuck in rock formations. It’s a big game, and a lot of the animations don’t look polished. Pathfinding is difficult, and so you rarely see all of the gang members together on missions. Usually, it’s just a couple of characters involved in most of the journeys. Every now and then, the targeting system seems really slow. These flaws knock you out of the fantasy.

Your horse can be hard to control

Above: Arthur Morgan rides his horse in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Image Credit: Rockstar

It’s hard to avoid pedestrians sometimes. You hit them with your horse and cause a major incident. Other bystanders will report you for an unarmed assault, and the law will come after you. They may kill you, or you may kill them. But either way, you will end up with a bounty on your head.

And when you are riding fast through the wilderness, you occasionally will be unhorsed as you ram straight into a big rock or tree. This is a major unintended consequence of having realistic physics in the game. You can’t just put the brakes on the horse or your wagon easily, or turn on a dime, the way you can in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto games, where vehicle maneuvering is a lot more precise. I would have preferred no consequence at all for bumping into a rock.

I got bounties on my head — or shot a few times — because I accidentally ran my horse into the people who were passing by on the narrow dirt trails of Red Dead Redemption 2. This taught me to be more careful, because the world reacts to my ineptitude, but I wished I could rewind these actions so that they weren’t so consequential. For instance, one of these simple screw-ups led me to losing my horse, which is like losing a character in the game. You can invest a lot in your horse, and if you lose it, you’ll feel sad. So steer it wisely.

It’s a man’s world

Sadie Adler has to beg to go out on missions.

Above: Sadie Adler, a widow who wants revenge, has to beg to go out on missions.

Image Credit: Rockstar

Most of the shooting, living, and dying in the game is done by men. That may be the nature of action in the Wild West stories from the past, but the female characters in the game do little more than fulfill the stereotypes of prostitutes, caretakers, and camp servants. You will encounter some strong female characters, but they only come to the forefront in some of the missions. Sadie, one of the would-be outlaws, has to beg Dutch to go on robbery missions. It reminds you that the game is designed as a man’s world, and that this could very well put off a lot of people who wished for something more modern. One of the women, Molly O’Shea, is constantly interrupted from talking by Dutch. It feels like Rockstar could have made better use of the strong female characters it created.

Small details don’t mesh

At the end of a bank heist, I scored about $20,000. The share for the whole gang was around $12,000. That was a huge amount for the destitute group. But when I proceeded to play further, the gang still only had a few hundred dollars. That bank heist was tough, but I didn’t get the rewards. Dutch always says the gang needs more money, but he never says how much, or where the gang’s money disappears to every now and then. If I knew that, I would know how much stuff to steal in any given region.

Animations can be stiff

Above: Don’t shoot. My aim is a little slow.

Image Credit: Rockstar

Nothing ruins the realism of a game as a lousy animation. Throughout the game, you see characters move in awkward ways, like they’re skating on the ground. I had a hard time tethering my horse sometimes. The characters may look perfect, but if they don’t move as humans do, or if they get in each other’s way,

Choices that aren’t real choices

You have an option to question a captive or beat a person. You can’t extract information nicely, and so your only choice is to be in character, an outlaw, and do what an outlaw would do. Arthur doesn’t seem have many choices to be good — or bad — as you might think in this open world. As Dutch says early in the game, “We’re bad men, but we ain’t them.”

On the other hand, if you make a series of mistakes in the game, you may be forced to give up your progress and start over. That’s because you may make the wrong calls and handicap your character. I found at one point that I had hundreds of dollars on my head, and that brought out the bounty hunters. If too many bounty hunters are on your trail, then you won’t be able to get anything done.

So I had to spend a lot of time on schemes to come up with cash so I could pay my bounty. That was a challenge, and it made me wish the game didn’t remember so much about the dumb things I did. The point is that you can dig yourself a hole so deep that you may have to start over to progress further in the story. You almost feel like you are doomed to be an outlaw.

Conclusion (so far)

Above: John Marston was the hero of Red Dead Redemption, and he is back in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Image Credit: Rockstar

The above list may seem like a long list of things not to like. And hopefully, some of these illusion-breaking bugs will be stamped out with early patches. The bugs are unsettling, considering it took a huge team about seven years to make this game. But make no mistake. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece. I see these flaws as small distractions, but they don’t kill my enthusiasm for the game.

I’m tempted to give this a thumbs up now, but I look forward to playing the second half of the game. I’ve seen enough to know that Rockstar has done a brilliant job blending an open-world game experience with the freedom of discovery and balancing that with the tightly woven narrative.

I’m going to keep on playing this baby until I drop dead from exhaustion or finish all those missions in the campaign. And I’ll let you know how I feel after it’s all done. The mature-rated game comes out on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Friday, though early access is available for some on Thursday.

Score: TBA

Red Dead Redemption 2 comes out October 26 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Rockstar provided GamesBeat with a physical copy of the game for the purpose of this review.