Red Dead Redemption 2 review: This Wild West masterpiece could be the best Xbox game ever

Red Dead Redemption 2 represents a generational leap for the game industry.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 is a cinematic action-adventure game set in the Wild West. The title takes place in 1899, a time which brought stability to the United States, but also resulted in a drastic shift for many individuals who lived close to the untamed frontier. Beforehand, the federal government chose not to heavily intervene in these territories, going all the way to California. However, the need for consolidation and some form of control — especially when states like Montana and Utah were admitted into the Union — triggered an end to the uncontrolled lawlessness that prevailed during those times. What many people considered "true freedom" was coming to an end.

These are the times depicted in Red Dead Redemption 2, which, by the way, is frankly sensational.

Life on the run

Government agents were dispatched to round up existing gangs and even hunt down notorious criminals. Private companies recruited sizable militias which prevented trains and stagecoaches from being robbed. Instead of thriving, life on the road became all about survival on a day-to-day basis. Gangs had to hide and rely on numerous smaller jobs which hopefully flew under the radar of local law enforcement. You couldn't amass millions. Gangs were always living on the edge.

Gangs had to hide and rely on numerous smaller jobs.

Instead of glorifying the Wild West, Red Dead Redemption 2 presents the struggle of one of the last gangs in the United States. The game weaves a believable tale which focuses on the heists and behind-the-scenes challenges of life in the wild west, on the fringes of the law. The main cast of almost two dozen characters presents their own unique takes on the hardships they face. For example, the needs of John Marston's wife and son may be vastly different than those of the loan shark Leopold Strauss. However, fate has brought everyone together. Rockstar ties the Red Dead Redemption 2's narrative together with a confidence rarely seen in the medium.

Focus on survival

Arthur Morgan, the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption 2, is one such outlaw who questions his actions. He is a product of the times and is governed by basic principles like family and loyalty. Morgan may be rough around the edges but is committed to the gang members who raised him. Despite the fact that he seems weary of life on the run, he stands by Dutch van der Linde, the leader of the gang, returning alongside John Marston from the original Red Dead Redemption.

Uprooting themselves again and again, and barely scraping by, begins to test their patience. How Morgan handles these trying times forms the crux of the story. Red Dead Redemption 2 focuses on themes like liberty, and unchecked power.

Arthur Morgan is governed by basic principles like family and loyalty.

Unlike the original Red Dead Redemption, this game places an emphasis on day-to-day survival. In order to perform at his best, Morgan must sleep, eat, change attire, maintain weapons, and work with various other supporting systems, such as fishing and cooking. Aside from personal upkeep, our protagonist has to provide for other members of the gang. For example, every outlaw is required to contribute to a community pool which can be used to buy supplies like food or medicine, and upgrade facilities like the kitchen. The more you contribute, the more goodwill you earn.

Honor system

Just like the Mass Effect series, Red Dead Redemption 2 features a "Renegade" or "Paragon"-like system. Here's it's called "Honor." Helping out individuals in distress will move your bar towards the right, murdering and pillaging will push it towards the other direction. This seems to impact the way other characters view you in the game. Being a nuisance will result in locals calling the sheriff even if you're minding your own business. According to Rockstar Games, Honor also affects music in certain situations, how the story unfolds, Morgan's dreams, and his journal entries. Morality systems in Red Dead Redemption 2 are far more pervasive than in other, similar titles.

The original Red Dead Redemption also featured an Honor system, but it was rather basic. Helping individuals in distress was looked upon favorably, but robbing or aiding thieves would drag you down, often putting you at odds with the story the game wanted to portray. Morgan is a full-fledged outlaw, so you don't have to worry about playing the game without ever committing a crime. Mayhem and murder are part of the experience. How you help people — whichever side of the law they may be on — is what matters in Red Dead Redemption 2.

Visuals and performance

Visually, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolute marvel. The title features photorealistic visuals running at native 4K resolution on the Xbox One X. The frame rate is locked at thirty frames per second, and almost always hits that target. However, it intermittently dips whenever you enter some buildings, presumably as it loads in NPCs and other interactive objects.

Red Dead Redemption 2 pushes the boundaries of graphics and interactivity.

The use of high-resolution textures makes objects and characters look phenomenal, which is particularly important due to the inclusion of up-close-and-personal first-person mode. Unlike some of the pre-release footage, Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn't suffer from any "jaggy" edges on Xbox One X. However, the game does seem to lower the resolution of certain effects like object shadows from time to time. This may be a result of selective dynamic scaling to preserve performance.

Overall, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an extremely polished experience. Aside from the occasional stutter, the only other issue detected on Xbox One X was a pair of canned goods floating in the air during a cutscene. It's evident that Rockstar Games spent countless time fixing bugs because even after dozens of hours, they're hard to find. Additionally, if you ever get your wagon stuck behind a rock, you don't have to reload the game. Just hold down the right bumper and your wagon will reverse.

The vast majority of the game almost resembles the sort of pre-rendered imagery you might sooner expect from a Hollywood digital effects team. For an open world title, that's quite a feat, because generally, only narrow, linear adventure games tend to achieve this level of photorealism. Red Dead Redemption 2 not only pushes the boundaries in terms of graphics but also interactivity in open world games.

Side activities

Red Dead Redemption 2's world feels alive. Instead of simply clipping through the brushwood, Morgan shows discomfort as he uses his arms to push back wayward shrubbery. Additionally, when you're exploring the world, you can interact with every character — greet them or rob them — and be on your way. Lastly, animals react realistically when they hear you, fleeing as you approach on horseback. The variety of animations and realism in each creature's expression makes it feel less procedural and scripted, and far more dynamic and immersive. Every creature, every bit of wind-brushed foliage behaves with purpose, which is rare for open world games.

Many memorable quests involve discovering secrets off the beaten path.

Red Dead Redemption 2 features a plethora of side activities like dominoes, poker, hunting, fishing, bounty hunting, treasure hunting, debt collection, paleontology, bank robberies, and much more. The plot is interwoven with these activities.

Additionally, you will also be working on improving your own gang's facilities. Investing in the base camp is quite possibly the most important gameplay mechanic. Not only does it unlock features like fast travel, but it also lifts the morale of the entire gang. You can "upgrade" attributes like food, medicine, and ammunition quality. These upgrades aren't too expensive, and instead of paying off bounties towards the beginning, you should save up and unlock them all.

The game wants to give you an understanding of what life was like in the Wild West and then escalates the desperation of the gang from there. As the law closes in, everyone wants to escape to a place where no one can find them. However, this leads to a dramatic confrontation which changes everyone's lives forever.

Many memorable quests involve discovering secrets off the beaten path. For example, close to the town of Valentine, you can find a dismembered corpse hanging from a bridge, with strong hints that this was the work of a serial-killer psychopath rather than your typical gang runner. You'll be able to work through uncovering other crime scenes, investigating the surrounding areas, if you opt to track down the killer. The depth of these sorts of side objectives, which many players might not even find, is a testament to Rockstar's attention to detail.

Technical advancements

Aside from the visuals, the most significant leap Red Dead Redemption 2 offers is the animation quality. The game features a significantly slower pace than the original Red Dead Redemption, as shooting and exploring are more methodical. According to the developer, there are over 300,000 individual animations in the experience. The title is meant to be savored. Rushing through will cause you to miss copious secrets and surprisingly deep side objectives scattered throughout the American Heartland. As a result of this, traversing the world can be a wonderfully relaxing experience. However, be prepared for random world events — like rival gangs or bounty hunters coming after you — always be on your toes.

Methodical gunplay

Just like the relatively slow-paced gameplay, shooting requires precision in place of a volley of bullets. Instead of simply striking a foe's torso multiple times, you should try to land headshots. Auto-aim returns making it easy for players to align shots, but you'll benefit more greatly from precision. The auto-aim comes in handy when there are numerous enemies about, or if a shootout is taking place in a dimly-lit environment, however, finding cover and taking time to deliver a critical hit is essential in Red Dead Redemption 2. The "Dead Eye" system from the original game has been upgraded to assist here. After you've mastered the ability, you can see weak points on animals and humans. Targeting these body parts will result in more reliable kills, to prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed.

Shooting requires precision in place of a volley of bullets.

Every aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2 can be customized. For example, you can choose the color of your horse's mane, the design of the saddle, and even the engraving on your weapons. The options are incredibly detailed and even allow you to select the plating of different parts. Shopkeepers give you access to these options, and the ability to purchase ammunition. However, if you're desperate, you can always craft bullets at camps. Weapons become unreliable after a while, so be sure to stock up on gun oil and clean the barrels whenever you get the chance.

Dress for the occasion

Changing clothes is another important mechanic is Red Dead Redemption 2. Not only is it used to evade the law, but it also offers protection from the elements. If you commit a crime, the sheriff and his deputies will investigate the area and look for someone matching your description. If you keep an additional set of clothes on your horse's saddle, you can quickly change into them and leave the area before anyone spots you.

The game does a great job of emphasizing the ideological and socioeconomic divide.

The climate varies depending on where you are in Red Dead Redemption 2. If you're close to the mountains, you'll have to wear a thick coat or else your health will suffer. In swampy regions, you should just go about in a shirt. Dynamic weather affects riding conditions. For example, certain steep areas become incredibly slippery when it rains, requiring you to find alternative routes.

Environmental variety plays an important role in Red Dead Redemption 2. You'll get to traverse biomes all the way from grassy plains to urban areas.

Red Dead Redemption 2's music is seamlessly integrated into its gameplay as well as its environments, too. The title offers scintillating tracks which alternate depending on the region and action taking place. For example, during gunfights, more bold and fast-paced scores play in the background, adding cinematic drama to the visual feast. The voice acting is stellar as well.

The game is structured in such a way that you feel at home when you're exploring the open world, and entirely out of place when you're interacting with individuals in cities. Red Dead Redemption 2 does a great job of emphasizing the divide in ideology and socioeconomic status that plague the country. It also doesn't shy away from tackling issues like racism and corruption, featuring story situations that will leave a lasting impact.

Red Dead Redemption 2 final thoughts

Red Dead Redemption 2 represents a generational leap for the gaming industry. It not only gives players meaningful quests that surpass even those found in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but it also touches on social issues that plague America even to this day.

One of the best games ever made. Period.

It almost feels beyond the standard definition of a "game," bordering on raw simulation. It's about life, and the array of events that just happen to occur within it, and the consequences therein.

Despite some minor issues like stuttering in interiors, awkward camera angles in smaller houses, or the relatively slow start to the open world story campaign — Red Dead Redemption 2 simply overrides its small perceptible flaws with what is nothing short of a truly spectacular experience. Simply put, it is one of the best games ever made, setting a new standard for open world titles going forward.


  • Expansive, rich open world.
  • Grounded, impactful story.
  • Photorealistic visual triumph.
  • Vast customization options.


  • Slow pacing at the beginning of the story.
  • Occasional performance issues.
  • Awkward camera angles in small interiors.

Red Dead Redemption 2 should launch on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on October 26, 2018. Pricing starts at $59.99.

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This review was conducted on an Xbox One X, using a copy provided by the publisher.

Asher Madan

Asher Madan handles gaming news for Windows Central. Before joining Windows Central in 2017, Asher worked for a number of different gaming outlets. He has a background in medical science and is passionate about all forms of entertainment, cooking, and antiquing.