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In defense of Red Dead Redemption 2's realism

Red Dead Redemption 2, set in the closing years of the Wild West. While the myths surrounding this time period have become exaggerated and romanticised via Hollywood and other mediums, it wasn't so long ago that all historical records of life in those times has been erased. Red Dead Redemption 2's story takes place through a lens of realism-meets-romanticism, with a side order of good gameplay over historical accuracy.

That said, there's a growing chorus across commentators that Red Dead Redemption 2's gameplay errs too close on the side of realism, to the point where you can even complete chores in your gang's campsite to make people view you more favourably. I've read lamentations that the gunplay is too slow or "clunky," and even that Red Dead Redemption 2 is too big, even.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but big entertainment releases (the world's biggest, ever, reportedly) often come with a chorus of contrarianism that seem forced and overthought. In any case, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Rockstar for taking the time to build a game world that delivers something increasingly rare in games today, that of immersion.

Immersive games are OK

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

One of the biggest issues facing open world games today, for me, is diffusion. Like the heat death of the universe, open world games seem to be getting bigger and bigger, expanding exponentially, while actual good gameplay content, you know, the meat in the sandwich, simply gets spread thin. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the only games this generation that deliver an open world that feels truly alive, where side activities don't feel like busy work — they feel like they're part of your character's life. Other games have come close, but things like cartoony character writing hold them back from reaching the top spot. When side activities boil down to checking a tick box in a text-based menu, they feel like busy work, whereas in the case of Red Dead Redemption 2, they feel necessary and, therefore, rewarding.

Even something as mundane as ammo crafting feels like it's intrinsic to the narrative experience.

In Red Dead Redemption 2, resources are split into two meters. One regenerates over time, as normal, while another depletes more permanently. The "cores" need to be maintained with items, such as food, booze, and even cigarettes, in order for your character to perform properly. If your Dead Eye core is empty, your aiming sway will be increased, and the targeting reticle will remain dispersed for longer.

If your stamina core is low, you won't be able to sprint, and if your health core is low, you won't be able to regenerate.

There was a trend in games, for a time, where managing and maintaining your character fell by the wayside in favour of making everyone feel like super heroes. Take a bullet to the face? Just hide in a corner for five seconds, you'll be fine.

There's certainly a place for these sorts of experiences, don't get me wrong, but it seems the trend has swung back in the other direction in recent years for the sake of interactivity. Even Call of Duty now has active health replenishment, doubtless following the success of games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, where tense, mid-fight bandaging only adds to the experience. Red Dead Redemption 2 pushes interaction to the extremes, to the point where something as mundane as ammo crafting feels like it's intrinsic to the narrative experience, adding custom split points to your bullets to inflict added pain.

In other games with crafting systems, you don't actually, feel the crafting. The crafting takes place in some text-based menu, and the things you create are simply entries in a database. In Red Dead Redemption 2, they come with 3D models, animations, and intersect with other side activities like hunting and fishing, which are also represented by 3D objects with complex systems and behaviors behind them. Every aspect of the game has a purpose, and is complemented by their interactions with other systems within the game.

When you're studying animals with your binoculars, sometimes you might see deers interlocking antlers in a fight. Other times, you might see a pack of coyotes on the hunt. Examining them reveals information on how best to hunt them, to keep their hides in tact for the best selling price or for crafting purposes. Additionally, though, the game's main character, Arthur, might sketch them into his journal, which is an on-going hand-written record of the decisions and story you build up for yourself as you play. He'll also hand-sketch locations of animals onto your map, and cross off the noteworthy hunts once they've been completed.

For detractors, these features are exactly that, just features. Perhaps extraneous and unnecessary, getting in the way of "real gameplay," therein being shooting and being Clint Eastwood. Red Dead Redemption 2 just isn't that kind of game. These features interact deliberately, because they want to immerse you, they want you to lose yourself in this meticulously constructed world Rockstar has put together. They want you to think about how clean your weapons are, they want you to take care of your character's health, because they want you to care about the character. Ultimately, the story is more powerful as a result.

It's OK to not like this type of game, it's not OK to claim that it's bad design, because the truth is, you're just not into immersive games.

Rare Dead Redemption 2

There has been a wealth of controversy over how hard Rockstar has been pushing its staff, with reports of mandatory overtime, unsympathetic bosses, and other aggressive practices. "Crunch culture," as its known, appears to be rife in the AAA industry, apparently getting progressively worse for staff in-line with the quality of games. Clearly, there's a huge demand for games as detailed as Red Dead Redemption 2, but the human cost, the sheer amount of financial risk involved, may be too great for many publishers to stomach. And that's while ignoring whether or not they should even try, from a moral standpoint.

Ultimately, the dynamism found in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the culmination of an insane amount of work and skill that is clearly in huge demand, given the sales success of the game so far. But is it feasible to expect the industry to move in that direction now? I'd say it's unlikely. It's also probable that Red Dead Redemption 2 is in such high demand simply because of how rare it is to get a game on this level.

When my first horse was killed in Red Dead Redemption 2, I felt more moved by that than I have been for the elaborate plots of many recent "AAA" games. I fed that horse and groomed that horse, named that horse (Andromeda... ahem). The interactive features, that some dismiss, helped me bond with this virtual nag in a way that simply doesn't happen that often in games.

Immersion on this level rarely happens, and when it does, it's something that should be celebrated, because open world games crammed with instantaneous superhero gratification are a dime a dozen.

You can grab Red Dead Redemption 2 for $60 for Xbox One and PS4.

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Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

44 Comments
  • Getting this for my birthday next month, can't wait to jump in! A horse called Andromeda lol
  • This article makes me want to buy this game! I'm totally into this stuff!
  • Are people really complaining that the game is too real?
  • Maybe on twitter. Twitter seems to inject annoying people onto your feed whether you ask for it or not. Lol
  • I saw a pretty long, detailed post on Reddit complaining about it too. I felt surprised and shocked because it is what they are complaining about that pulled me in. I shouldn't say this yet, but this game is competing as my favorite game ever. I think it's pretty incredible.
  • Those people should go back to playing simple games on their phone or iPad. Leave the real games for the adults.
  • The only complaint I have is Dutch sounds like Lotso Hugs Bear from Toy Story 3.
  • Thanks for saying this. I noticed about 20 hours in, that i hadn't fast traveled once, and i was only just starting chapter 3. I like getting ****** before a mission because i didnt take it seriously and respect what might come. Going into it without deadeye ready or without resting and just scraping by with a bronze on a relatively simple mission sucks. But it forces me to engage the game and respect it. Before missions I'll sleep, or eat, or set out to town to gather supplies just to aim for that gold medal. Usually get silver and bronze since I don't bother to spoil the mission before going into it, but it's awesome being able to engage a game like this. Going to hunt the legendary bison was an experience. I went off for in game days and had to camp a couple times on my way to the location. I had to pack the right clothes. And right by the bison j find I treasure map and one of best horses in the game. To come back into town on a new horse, leading my old one, with my bison hide on the back of the horse, tired and dirty, felt accomplishing. having to bathe so NPCs and camp members treat me well feels real. The trouble Arthur good through with everything he has to do, makes me feel for him. Haven't loved a character like this since Geralt from Witcher 3.
  • Yea, I feel you. I actually choose to not fast travel for all of the reason you just mentioned. I haven't played a real mission in days and not because I want to savor on purpose, but because it's amazing gameplay to just be alive and experience the world. But please, indulge me about this horse! I must know!
  • I played just some hours of the game. I just finished some missions after chapter 2. And I can say this game is not from this world. I really love it! Love how realist it is.
    It's amazing. It's not like a generic open world game like spider man. You really feel the character.
    I think people need to learn how to play without the pressure to end it. Appreciating each moment.
  • It's also not a mindless button masher like God of War thankfully.
  • Did you even played god of war?
  • lol He doesn't own a PS4. I would say ignore that guy he is a know MS fanboy.
    Odds are none of these played either spider-man or GoW, but just fanboys trying to troll.. :)
  • Lol you are back. It felt like E3 again for a while. Says the guy who doesn't own an Xbox and comments on xbox related articles on a Microsoft related website. Don't be mad cause you aren't able to play RDR2 at native 4K. And don't be mad because this game scores higher on metacritic than God of Button Masher. I've played it and it's way over hyped and has no replay value.
  • Lol, well if he didnt, I did. And I completely agree. I bought a Ps4 Pro for GoW and Spiderman, and they each saw about 12 hours of game play and haven't been touched since. In GoW, there's way too many cut scenes, every big fight feels like a fight from Snyder's Man of Steel, and while the story is well written - the game play just makes it boring. I'd rather read it in a book. Spiderman is good mindless fun but doesn't do anything to suck the player in, in my opinion.
  • I Agree.. Spider-Man was fun, but I actually preferred Shadow of Tomb Raider, with the exception of TLOU, I had ZERO interest in PS4 exclusives, and when you look at the top selling games on their console... big shocker...it's the multiplats
  • Yup only one multiplat in Sony's top 10 list. It's very similar to Xbox.
  • I don't think you've played Spider-Man.
  • Completely agree about Spiderman, I really wanted to like it because I love Spiderman. But it's bland and uninteresting once you get tired of swinging between buildings and button smashing fights
  • "When my first horse was killed in Red Dead Redemption 2, I felt more moved by that than I have been for the elaborate plots of many recent "AAA" games. I fed that horse and groomed that horse, named that horse (Andromeda... ahem). The interactive features, that some dismiss, helped me bond with this virtual nag in a way that simply doesn't happen that often in games." Okay, count me in! I've always wanted to feed my horse in Kingdom Come Deliverance (KCD)! I was just talking to someone a few weeks ago about wanting a more dynamic animal system in KCD. As soon as I finish KCD, on to Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR)! I'm about 100 hours in to KCD and haven't progressed the story much, too busy living the life of Henry of Skalitz. Sounds RDR offers so much more that it will probably be 2025 before I finish RDR. Thanks for the article.
  • The only people I've seen say anything bad about Red Dead 2 is just Sony fanboys online. It's obvious as to why. Because not only does that mean Sony exclusives this year won't win best game. But also Red Dead 2 is easily a step above all other Console games in visuals on the X. Literally reading any forum you can trace the people saying bad things back through their posts as Sony fanboys who praise Exclusives ALL the time.
  • That's actually not true. I say bad things all the time about this game, because it was made by R*, who has had a bad history with regards to its employees.
    Having been a 9.5yr employee who was 'laid off' right before the end of Red Dead Redemption, and seeing 30+ of my friends "laid off" just after release, in a time when it was extremely difficult to find jobs, changed my opinion about that company. They made record profits back then, but still couldn't keep people employed. Classless.
    I'll never support it because of my experience there. I was on a FB thread recently of current and past employees, all stating how we supported our friends who are currently employed there, but absolutely HATE the company itself.
  • I'm not really sure what that has to do with certain people downplaying a specific game being GOTG. Literally none of what you said about hating R* has anything to do with downplaying a game? The people on forums who downplay it, always try and put a Sony exclusive up in lights instead. Literally no forum I have encountered has ever referred to hating R* because of its employment practices. Otherwise they wouldn't have bought it on the first place. I'm not disregarding what your saying as true. Just that gamers in general couldn't care less about that stuff. Or just simply don't know. 95% of the technolgy/clothes etc that people buy will have had questionable employment practices involved somewhere in the chain from making to purchase. Does that make it right? No. But it's impossible for people to know all that stuff about everything they purchase.
  • Ok, the visuals thing is just flat out false, I'm playing it on the X and it is what it is, an open world game, the visuals show that quite clearly, specifically in the foliage. The gameplay is incredible, but this game definitely shouldn't be winning any awards for visuals.
  • It's absolutely unbelievably visually. From the environment deformation to the weather systems. The textures, the ambience, the animation. I only finished God Of War on the Pro 2 months ago. And also been playing the graphically impressive Horizon 4 recently. But Red Dead is on a whole different level in its attention to detail. I cant believe how beautiful this game world is that's been created by R*. It's beyond anything I expected this gen to be able to do. It's an open world game yet is more immersive than any linear story driven game I've ever come across. One of the best games for atmosphere I've played in over 20 years. Utterly gobsmacking.
  • Ah, Richard, you're finally back talking gaming after disappearing for 7 months as you were hyping Sea of thieves.
    So how are you? Are you pirate legend?
  • Been great. Been playing to death God Of War, Sea Of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4. Haven't looked at websites almost at all in that timeframe. How have you been?
  • Geez what a troll you've become now.
  • God damn they better hurry up and release this on PC!
  • From what I've seen I think a lot of it has to do with PS4 owners getting mad because they think GoW or Spiderman will now not get game of the year. I think it's a once in a generation game that is doing nearly everything right and if you don't like this game you don't like gaming.
  • Basically my view. That's not to say GOW isn't incredible. It is. Just that Red Dead is sheer god. Excuse the pun.
  • Good article, and yes I agree with it. Having so much details and realism is something that Rockstar does. If you're not happy, then this isn't a game for you. But I got to say it's hilarious that MS/XB fanboys over here are trying to make this a silly console war battle here, in a topic about RDR2.
    The very fact that we talk about GoW, Spider-man or I might add Detroit become human, along with RDR2 as potential great story driven highly rated games this year speaks highly about what a PS4 owner played. No one is talking about Sea of Thieves or State of Decay 2 as highly rated story oriented games. Instead of fighting a stupid fanboy war, why don't you ask MS to make you quality story driven games instead of countless versions of controllers or services that lets you rent old games?
  • Is sea of Thieves doing well? yes, it's content constantly being released in it? without nickel and diming you? yes. I can't a single open world racer... or even RACER, that can contend in ANY WAY to Forza 4. The level of engagement in that game is absurd, even if you don't do multiplayer AT ALL. No one compares Gran Turismo to Forza anymore... it's not fair. Polyphony has pretty much let the franchise go stale and wallow in obscurity.
  • The only thing I will really give PS4 from my tastes is fighting games, but luckily I have a PC, so I have to zero reason to bother buying one to play any fighters that don't land on Xbox, that said I'm perfectly content with Tekken 7, Soul Calibur 6, Dragon Ball fighter Z, still play Killer Instinct and Injustice 2, and I eagerly await DOA 6
  • "but luckily I have a PC"
    With that argument there is ZERO reason to ever own a XB1.
    Here you're talking mostly of about 3rd party games. And if you want to talk of Killer Instinct, then there are fighting games on PS4 and not on XB1. The original point is that some MS fanboys want to downplay highly rated games like Spider-man, GoW or Detroit just because MS didn't provide as many high rated exclusives for their console. Instead of fighting a silly console war, they should ask MS to invest more in making games...
  • Reasons to buy Xbox over PC with access to same library of games: 1. cheaper initial payment with respect to quality and accessibility to content. 2. consistent experience, guaranteed controller support. 3. optimization, I don't need to spend 5-10 minutes optimizing the game before I can play it, nor experience random quirks and bugs that maybe specific to my PC. 4. More consistent online reliability, closed platform also deters hacking in some cases. 5. Dont need to upgrade for entire length of generation guaranteed.
  • The reasons why people prefer console to PC have been the case for 50 years now. Gaming on PCs and Consoles started at the same time, and much of this was before "exclusives". If any thing, the fact I own a gaming PC yet PREFER to game on xbox on really consoles in general speak to its benefit. Since MS has chosen to treat Xbox and PC as one platform... Xbox sales have still flourished, not suffered... So the "no reason to buy xbox if thar no xclusives" seems to be a weak point
  • People prefer console over PC for 50 years?
    Do you have actual numbers to support that claim? The claim that there are more ppl playing on console than PC over the world. Just look at steam's active monthly users. It's way more than the estimated total number of XB1 sold. LOL
    If you prefer console gaming that's you. You cannot speak for majority of gamers. You cannot talk of Xbox sales because MS refuse to communicate the numbers.
    XB1 is not even the most popular console. It's the least popular when we see recent NPD sales numbers and these numbers are from the US. The country where XB is the most popular. In most other countries of the world it's not very popular as it's getting badly outsold by the competition. You said it yourself, XB is becoming like a PC. So for people who already own a PC, they don't need to buy a XB1.
    That's like me. Why would I buy a XB1 when I have a PS4/PC? I can already play most XB1 games without ever owning one.
    It's simple logic.
  • First you say "luckily I have a PC" as an argument to not buy a PS4. But the argument is more valid to not buy a XB1. Now you're saying "Reasons to by a XB1 over a PC". You are making so many mistakes.
    1) It's not the same library of games because the PC has far more games than the XB1. Most XB1 games are on PC.
    2) "cheaper initial payment" is a strange argument when you add "quality and accessibility to content". We got to talk overall investment and only considering "initial statement" is a weird argument.
    3) PC has more choice. M&KB or controller.
    4) You "don't need" to spend 5-10 minutes to optimize a game. Looks like you never play on PC. If you don't want to you can play straight away. You are only given more options to customize. Having more option is better.
    5) Closed system means almost no modding compared to PC gaming. Hacking?? Are you really playing on PC? Can you tell me on which game were you hacked?
    6) And there are NO generations with PC. Again it's just a choice. If you want to upgrade you can choose to do it. Bottom line is that you want to bring that "I have a PC" argument when it comes to saying not to buy a PS4 but you want to ignore that when it comes to XB1. Seeing some of your comments I wonder if you play regularly on PC and that you're not posting here just to "defend" MS's product.
  • 1) at the same level of quality for the SAME GAME, Xbox is a cheaper buy. $200 (or 179 Ive seen), will not get you a PC that can run game to the same quality as an Xbox One S, certainly not a X at $500. 2) It is a cheaper payment over time. In the avg console life, I can consistently go longer without having to upgrade as opposed to PC. 3) The PC has more choice is debatable. The vast majority of games in PC are made for mouse and Keyboard... if I dont like M&K, the list is games supporting a gamepad are less. M&K support however is now available on xbox. If I want to use a steering wheel? cool, arcade fightstick (which I use), no problem, Hell MS even released an accessibility controller that gives you EVEN more options, esp for the disabled, and that's before getting into things like autopilot. 4) Perhaps "need" is a strong word. That said, it's very rare that without the assistance of tools like Geforce experience (which you too create an Nvidia account for), or AMDs Radeon tool, That I can download a game on pc, and it runs optimally. The Geforce has to regularly UPDATE THE DRIVERS OF THE GPU, so that it runs most newly released games properly. Consoles don't have they problem because they are uniform, They are optimized out of the box because everyone is running the same hardware. 5.) Game hacking on PC is a regular thing... but if you want a clear example, PUBG on PC is NOTORIOUS for it. This is why it hasn't been as accepted as an Esports games like fortnite. Also, PC games regularly launch with anti cheat software and hypervisor tool developed by third party companies, sometimes these negatively affect the games they packaged with, example? SFV, where after the 2nd season, capcom disabled this... Speaking of SFV,the PC version regularly suffered from System crashing at early release. which brings me to 6 6) Issues with games running. Want another example? Mega Man X collection on steam. Its been reported to have serious issues that make it ether stutter, or virtually UNPLAYABLE...this is a collection of 16 and 32 bit games from 10-20 years ago... but it has these issues in today's PCs?
  • 1) You do know there are deals on PC parts too? You do know that online is free and that games are generally cheaper? Also, I would suggest you to look on the net to see PC builds at 200-250 bucks. 2) That's not really true. I mean it all depends on if you need to upgrade or not. You don't need to upgrade your GPU or CPU everytime there is a new version. And even when you upgrade you don't need to buy an entire PC, just update the one component that needs upgrade... It's really not that difficult to understand. 3) How is it debatable? XB1 only offers XB1 controller and some 3rd party ones. On PC you can use all types of controllers including XB1, xb360, PS4 or steam... What are you talking about games made for mouse and keyboard. If a game is on console and PC, it'll play exactly the same if you want to use a XB1 controller on your PC. Yes there are games are mostly supports mouse and kb but these are rts or point and click games that wouldn't be on a console anyway. And if they were on console than they would play the same as on PC + controller. Steering wheel, fightstick and even the accessibility controller are ALL playable on PC! duh
    Not just that but you get a whole more options and that's not even talking of VR...
    How is it even debatable? PC has everything XB1 has plus more. More choice. We can't argue facts. 4) And XB1 doesn't have updates? Plus I'm not really sure what you're talking about. I don't update my GPU whenever I play new games. 5) My question was "Can you tell me on which game were YOU hacked?". ofc you didn't mention any. See there are cheaters and hackers on consoles too. There may be more on PC because 1) there are more people on PC and 2) being an open system it's easier to do it, but it's not widespread as you claim. Can we now end this console v PC thing? It has nothing to do with my original post, where I was bashing stupid hypocrite fanboys fighting a silly console war...
  • I SoT doing well? I don't know. Where are the active users playing the game? Why are MS silence about that? I would guess it's not that great if MS aren't proudly commenting about the numbers. I'm not into racing games but yes, MS has the yearly Forza, just like Sony having the yearly Baseball game. Plus PS4 has the odd racing games and also has VR racing. Something the XB1 doesn't have. In terms of sheer number of exclusives it's no real contest, sorry...
  • Yea if you want superhero crap and mindless gameplay so you can drool on the couch and never have a thought... Then play something else. Intelligence and incredible craft isn't for you. You need simple and basic. You need call of duty with the other tools.
  • These are the same people who complain about EVERY GAME THERE IS that there isn't a "quick" way to "level up" and BEAT IT BEFORE EVERYONE ELSE.
    They are not playing games to experience the GAME, they are playing games to BEAT THE GAME FIRST (and beat everyone else to the end so they can be smug about it and brag about "how fast" they completed it. Then whine about it being "too short" and/or "too easy".)
    Ignore them.
    Enjoy the game for what it is, an excellent simulation and adventure.