I miss John Marston.
Okay, that’s not fair. Arthur Morgan is the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption 2, and he’s charming and interesting in his own right. Morgan’s a bit less eloquent than Marston, and a bit rougher around the edges at times, but he’s still a perfectly fine vehicle to go through the game with. But one of my biggest issues with Red Dead 2 is that a younger, less experienced Marston is hovering around the peripheral of Morgan’s story most of the way.
Marston was a huge hit with most of the people associated with Team Objection (he was the #6 male character in our big list a few years ago), so it’s fun to see his strained relationship with Abigail and Jack and his fresh scars from a wolf attack. If anything, I think I just want more John Marston. The events of the first game make it a bit difficult for a sequel to be an option, so prequel was the only route we had. I don’t want to harp on this too much, because it’s nice that RDR2 gives us that extra insight into John (and Dutch and Javier and Bill and…) at all.
The story is entertaining, if a bit predictable. Even that’s not necessarily a complaint — it’s the wild west, and we know what eventually happened to outlaws and gunfighters from that era, not to mention knowing certain characters that appear in the first game. You’ll probably want to shoot Micah in the face at some point. You might take a liking to some new characters like Charles. It’s sorta fascinating to walk this line between hero and outlaw; one minute you might help a woman whose horse broke its leg while she was traveling, and the next you might have an entire town pissed off as you mow down its citizens one by one. You can choose whether your Morgan is a softie or a hardened criminal to some extent, which also has an effect on the ending.
One of the best and worst features of RDR2 is its vast possibilities. There’s about as much here as you want to sink your teeth into. If you’re all about playing six million minigames, there’s everything from dominoes to poker to fishing to hunting to that knife game where you quickly stab between your fingers because that’s, you know, fun. The new core system takes a bit of getting used to — there’s essentially two gauges, an exterior one that is easier to refill if you don’t deplete it, and an interior core that you can tap into when the other gauge is gone, but has negative effects if it empties. You can level up these things over the course of playing the game — it’s easy to max out stamina, for example, if you’re willing to sprint across the wilderness instead of riding a horse.
Speaking of horses, RDR2 is also a pet simulator if you want to take the time. The animals have been rendered in almost ridiculous detail, and you can raise the abilities of a horse over time if you’re willing to pet it and brush it occasionally. It does a great job of setting up a sense of loyalty with a particular horse that you’ve been riding for a while, which is why you might find yourself investing in revival items in case something goes wrong. You know, like accidentally jumping off a cliff. Or accidentally getting hit by a train. Or accidentally running head-first into another rider on a horse because you weren’t paying attention. Hypothetical stuff.
Rockstar has another hit on its hands, which won’t surprise you if you’ve read other reviews or seen its aggregate score. The game isn’t perfect by any means — it’s a bit slow and plodding at times and certain decisions feel questionable at best (I really miss cheating at poker, for example). But it’s still been a lot of fun to play, and while I prefer the first game by a slim margin, it’s pretty close.