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. That didn’t make sense, as it should have been enough for our whole gang to escape to a better place.

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. I felt like the failure to do proper accounting just stretched the story out longer, as Dutch could pretend we didn’t have money when we really did.

Animations can be stiff

VB Transform 2020 Online - July 15-17. Join leading AI executives: Register for the free livestream.
Arthur Morgan rides his horse in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Above: Arthur makes riding a horse look easy in this screenshot.

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. There’s often a lag between when you do something, like press a button to dismount, and when it actually happens. That makes you have to press the button again.

Flawed narrative paths

In the Lemoyne region, you come across two feuding families, both of them owners of plantations. There’s a Romeo and Juliet plot here, where one of the sons in one family falls in love with the daughter in the other family. Arthur plays messenger between them, working for pay. The whole story plays out and the feud gets worse.

There’s a chance to unite the star-crossed lovers. But it is just a side mission. Since it wasn’t part of the main narrative, I never learned how that part of the story ended. This seemed like an obtuse outcome, as they should have told us what happened to Romeo and Juliet.

There are also times when confrontations should result in one character being dead, the other standing. But Rockstar appears to want to drag out these confrontations across many more hours.

Choices that aren’t real choices

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

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

Image Credit: Rockstar

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 to have as 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, 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.

Some mysterious stay mysterious

Arthur Morgan dreams of deer moving in slow motion.

Above: Arthur Morgan dreams of deer moving in slow motion.

Image Credit: GamesBeat/Rockstar

If you’re looking for an answer about why that deer keeps coming up in recurring dreams, you don’t really get an answer. Perhaps you see the deer if you’ve been good in your life. The game doesn’t explicitly explain itself to you. Nor do you get an explanation for why the epilogues go on the way they do. You’ll also wonder why the game ends the way it does.

But this isn’t really something to complain about. With most games, you don’t have something to figure out. If you want things spelled out for you, you won’t get answers. But if you want to interpret things for yourself, you’ll like this aspect of the game.

Conclusion

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 eight 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. Those bugs seem like nitpicking against scenes like the one in the video above, as Arthur rides to the sound of a beautiful song.

It is a long experience. Parts of it are tedious. It’s a big ask to get players who are accustomed to nothing but pure action to embrace a game like this which has a lot of dead time. But Rockstar sent a lot of messages with the full arc of the game. Like how violence isn’t always the answer. Like how the life and death of a gunslinger isn’t nearly as glamorous as we have all been taught. In some ways, these messages negate the Rockstar games that have come before it, as they have been awash in violence. Yet the messages were delivered skillfully, without heavy-handed storytelling.

I loved so many things about this game, even down to the story in the final credits. It was sad to finish it, but so rewarding.

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. Nearly 3,000 people are listed as contributors to the game. I don’t know if we’ll see the like of this again.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an amazing work of art.

Score: 96/100

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