Red Dead Redemption 2 is a 2018 action-adventure game developed and published by Rockstar Games. The game is the third entry in the Red Dead series and is a prequel to the 2010 game Red Dead Redemption. The story is set in 1899 in a fictionalized representation of the Western, Midwestern, and Southern United States and follows outlaw Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang. Arthur must deal with the decline of the Wild West whilst attempting to survive against government forces, rival gangs, and other adversaries. The story also follows fellow gang member John Marston, the protagonist of Red Dead Redemption.
The game is presented through both first and third-person perspectives, and the player may freely roam in its interactive open world. Gameplay elements include shootouts, heists, hunting, horseback riding, interacting with non-player characters, and maintaining the character's honor rating through moral choices and deeds. A bounty system similar to the "wanted" system from the Grand Theft Auto franchise governs the response of law enforcement and bounty hunters to crimes committed by the player. Red Dead Redemption 2 was released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in October 2018, and for Microsoft Windows and Stadia in November 2019. Red Dead Online, the online multiplayer mode of the game, was released as a beta version in November 2018 before a full release in May 2019.
The game's development began soon after Red Dead Redemption's release and was shared between all of Rockstar's studios worldwide. The development team drew influence from real locations as opposed to film or art, focused on creating an accurate reflection of the time with the game's characters and world. The game was Rockstar's first built specifically for eighth generation consoles, having tested their technical capabilities while porting Grand Theft Auto V to the platforms. The game's soundtrack features an original score composed by Woody Jackson and several vocal tracks produced by Daniel Lanois.
Widely anticipated and marketed before release, Red Dead Redemption 2 broke several records and had the second-biggest launch in the history of entertainment, generating US$725 million in sales from its opening weekend and exceeding the lifetime sales of Red Dead Redemption in two weeks. It received widespread critical acclaim, with praise directed at its story, characters, open world, graphics, and considerable level of detail; minor criticism was directed at its control scheme and emphasis on realism over player freedom. Considered as an example of video games as an art form, it won year-end accolades including Game of the Year awards from several gaming publications. It is among the best-selling video games of all time with over 31 million copies shipped.
The player may choose to respond positively or negatively to non-playable characters throughout the game world, which affects their reputation within the game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a Western-themed action-adventure game. Played from a first or third-person perspective, the game is set in an open-world environment featuring a fictionalized version of the Western, Midwestern, and Southern United States in 1899, during the latter half of the Wild West era and the turn of the twentieth century. The game features both single-player and online multiplayer components, the latter released under Red Dead Online. For most of the game, the player controls outlaw Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang, as he completes numerous missions—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story; from the game's epilogue, the player controls John Marston. Outside of missions, the player may freely roam its interactive world. The player may engage in combat with enemies using melee attacks, firearms, throwables, or explosives. Combat has been refined from the game's predecessor, and notable new mechanics consist of dual-wielding and the ability to use a bow. Unlike the previous game, the player is granted the ability to swim.
Red Dead Redemption 2's unexploited land makes up the largest portion of the game world and features diverse landscapes with occasional travelers, bandits, and wildlife. There are urban settlements in the game, ranging from farmhouses to towns and cities. Horses are the main forms of transportation, of which there are various breeds, each with different attributes. The player must either train or tame a wild horse to use it, except for stolen horses; however, they must saddle a horse to acquire ownership over it. Increased use of a horse will begin a bonding process, which can be increased by cleaning and feeding it, and the player will acquire advantages as they ride their horse. Stagecoaches and trains can also be used to travel. The player can hijack an incoming train or stagecoach by threatening the driver or passengers and then rob its contents or the passengers.
The player may also witness or take part in random events encountered from exploring the game world. These include ambushes, crimes committed by other people, pleas for assistance, ride-by shootings, public executions, and animal attacks. For example, as the player explores the Wild West, they can find specific people in distress. If the player decides to help them, they will be thankful and may reward the player if they cross them again. The player may also take part in side-activities, which include small tasks with companions and strangers, dueling, bounty hunting, searching for treasure or other collectibles around the map such as rock carvings, and playing poker, blackjack, dominoes, and Five Finger Filet. Hunting animals also plays a major role in the game, providing food, income, and materials for crafting items. When hunting, the player needs to take into account several factors, including the choice of weapon and shot placement, which affect the quality of the meat and pelt and subsequently the price traders are willing to pay. The player can either skin the animal immediately or carry the carcass, which will rot over time and decrease its value and attract predators.
The game focuses heavily on player choice for the story and missions. Certain moments in the story will give the player the option to accept or decline additional missions and lightly shape the plot around their choices. The player can communicate with any non-player character (NPC) in dynamic ways new to the series. The player can choose different dialogue trees with NPCs, such as having a friendly chat or insulting them. If the player chooses to kill an NPC, they can loot their corpse. Red Dead Redemption 2 brings back the Honor system from its predecessor by measuring how the player's actions are perceived in terms of morality. Morally positive choices and deeds like helping strangers, abiding the law, and sparing opponents in a duel will add up to the player's Honor. However, negative deeds such as theft and harming innocents will subtract from the player's Honor. The story is influenced by Honor, as the dialogue and outcomes for the player often differ based on their Honor level. Hitting milestones for the player's Honor level will grant unique benefits, such as rewarding the player with special outfits and large discounts in stores. A low Honor level is also beneficial, as the player will receive a greater number of items from looted corpses.
Red Dead Redemption 2's Dead Eye targeting system allows the player to slow down time and mark targets. Once the targeting sequence ends, the player fires to every marked location in a very short space of time.
Maintaining Arthur and John is important, as they can undergo conditions that affect their health and stamina attributes. In addition to a health and stamina bar, the player also has cores, which affect the rate at which their health and stamina regenerate. For example, wearing warmer clothes will mean they avoid freezing in a cold environment, but wearing them in a hot environment will result in perspiration. Freezing or overheating will rapidly drain cores. The player can also gain or lose weight depending on how much he eats; an underweight character will have less health but at an increase of stamina, while an overweight character will be able to better absorb damage but will have less stamina. The player can eat and sleep to replenish their cores. The player can bathe to remain clean, and can visit a barber to change hairstyles; hair also grows realistically over time. The game features weapon degradation, with weapons requiring cleaning to maintain their performance. When the player uses a certain type of gun for a long period of time, they become more experienced with it, which improves weapon handling, reduces recoil, and increases the rate of reloading.
Gunfights are an essential mechanic in the game. The player can take cover, free aim, and target a person or animal. Individual body parts can also be targeted to take targets down without killing them. When the player shoots an enemy, the game's AI reactions and movements depend on where they were hit. Weapons consist of pistols, revolvers, repeaters, rifles, shotguns, bows, explosives, lassos, mounted Gatling guns, and melee weapons such as knives and tomahawks. Red Dead Redemption 2 brings back the trademark mechanic in the franchise: Dead Eye, a targeting system that allows the player to slow down time and mark targets. Once the targeting sequence ends, the player fires to every marked location in a very short space of time. The Dead Eye system upgrades as the player progresses in the game and grants the player more abilities, such as being able to spot the fatal points of their enemies.
The bounty system also returns from Red Dead Redemption, a crime-governing mechanic inspired by Grand Theft Auto's wanted system. When a player commits a crime, witnesses run to the nearest police station to get the law to intervene, and the player needs to stop the witness to avoid repercussions. Once the law is alerted, law enforcers appear and will start investigating. When the player is caught, the Wanted meter appears with a bounty sent on their head. The bounty grows higher as the player commits more crimes, and more lawmen will be sent to hunt them. If the player has committed serious crimes and then manages to escape the law, bounty hunters will be hired to track them down in the wilderness. After committing enough crime, the U.S. Marshals will be sent to the player's location. To escape law enforcement, the player must evade a red circular zone in the map and the wanted meter will slowly deplete. They can alternatively hide from the pursuers or kill them. Whether the player escapes or gets captured, the bounty will remain on their head, lawmen and civilians will be more vigilant, and regions where the crimes have been committed will be on lockdown. When caught by lawmen, the player has the opportunity to surrender if they are unarmed and on foot, though bounty hunters will not accept surrender if the player is known to slip out of apprehension attempts. The player can only remove their bounty by paying it off at a post office.
The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 spans five fictitious U.S. states. The states of New Hanover, Ambarino and Lemoyne are new to the series, and are located to the immediate north and east of Red Dead Redemption's world, whilst the states of New Austin and West Elizabeth return from Red Dead Redemption. The states are centered on the San Luis and Lannahechee Rivers and the shores of Flat Iron Lake. Ambarino is a mountain wilderness, with the largest settlement being a Native American reservation; New Hanover is a wide valley that has become a hub of industry and is home to the cattle town of Valentine; and Lemoyne is composed of bayous and plantations resembling Louisiana, and is home to the Southern town of Rhodes and the former French colony of Saint Denis, analogous to New Orleans.
West Elizabeth consists of wide plains, dense forests, and the modern town of Blackwater. This region has been expanded from the original Red Dead Redemption to include a vast northern portion containing the small town of Strawberry. New Austin is an arid desert region centered on the frontier towns of Armadillo and Tumbleweed, also featured in the original game. Parts of New Austin and West Elizabeth have been redesigned to reflect the earlier time; for example, Blackwater is still under development, while Armadillo has become a ghost town because of a cholera outbreak.
The player takes on the role of Arthur Morgan (Roger Clark), a lieutenant and veteran member of the Van der Linde gang. The gang is led by Dutch van der Linde (Benjamin Byron Davis), a charismatic man who extols personal freedom and decries the encroaching march of modern civilization. The gang also includes Dutch's best friend and co-leader Hosea Matthews (Curzon Dobell), Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston (Rob Wiethoff), his partner Abigail Roberts (Cali Elizabeth Moore) and son Jack Marston (Marissa Buccianti and Ted Sutherland), the lazy Uncle (John O'Creagh and James McBride), gunslingers Bill Williamson (Steve J. Palmer), Javier Escuella (Gabriel Sloyer), and Micah Bell (Peter Blomquist), Native American hunter Charles Smith (Noshir Dalal), and housewife-turned-bounty hunter Sadie Adler (Alex McKenna).
The gang members' criminal acts bring them into conflict with various opposing forces including the wealthy oil magnate Leviticus Cornwall (John Rue), whose assets become a gang target. In response, he recruits a team of agents from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, led by Andrew Milton (John Hickok) and his subordinate Edgar Ross (Jim Bentley), to hunt down the gang. The gang also encounters the Saint Denis-based Italian crime lord Angelo Bronte (Jim Pirri), the controversial Guarman ruler Alberto Fussar (Alfredo Narciso), and Dutch's nemesis Colm O'Driscoll (Andrew Berg), leader of the rival O'Driscoll gang. Along its travels, the gang becomes entangled with the Gray and Braithwaite families, two warring families who are rumored to be hoarding Civil War gold; the gang's affiliation with the families primarily take place through Leigh Gray (Tim McGeever), the sheriff of Rhodes, and Catherine Braithwaite (Ellen Harvey), the matriarch of the Braithwaite family. Later in the game, Arthur helps Rains Fall (Graham Greene) and his son Eagle Flies (Jeremiah Bitsui), both members of the Native American Wapiti tribe whose land is being targeted by the Army.
After a botched ferry heist in 1899, the Van der Linde gang are forced to leave their substantial money stash and flee Blackwater. Realizing the progress of civilization is ending the time of outlaws, they decide to gain enough money to escape the law and retire. They rob a train owned by Cornwall, who hires Pinkertons to apprehend them. The gang perform jobs to earn money, as Dutch continually promises the next heist will be their last. Following a shootout with the Pinkertons in Valentine, the gang relocate to Lemoyne, where they work simultaneously for the Grays and Braithwaites in an attempt to turn them against each other. However, the families double-cross them: the Grays kill a gang member during an ambush, while the Braithwaites kidnap and sell Jack and to Bronte. The gang retaliate and destroy both families before retrieving Jack from Bronte, who offers them leads on work, but eventually double-crosses them. Dutch kidnaps and feeds him to an alligator as revenge, which disturbs Arthur.
The gang rob a bank in Saint Denis, but the Pinkertons intervene, killing Hosea and arresting John. Dutch, Arthur, Bill, Javier, and Micah escape the city via a ship heading to Cuba. A torrential storm sinks the ship, and the men wash ashore on the island of Guarma, where they become embroiled in a war between tyrannical sugar plantation owner Fussar and the enslaved local population. After helping the revolutionaries kill Fussar, the group secure transport back to the United States and reunite with the rest of the gang.
Dutch obsesses over one last heist and doubts Arthur's loyalty after he disobeys him by liberating John earlier than planned, naming Micah his top lieutenant in Arthur's place. Arthur becomes concerned that Dutch is no longer the man he knew, as he is becoming insular, abandons their ideals, and murders Cornwall. He is faced with his mortality when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Arthur reflects on his actions and how to protect the gang following his death, telling John to run away with Abigail and Jack and openly defying Dutch by aiding the local Native American people. When the Pinkertons assault the camp, Dutch becomes paranoid that a gang member is working as an informant. Several gang members become disenchanted and leave, while Dutch and Micah arrange one final heist of an Army payroll train.
Arthur's faith in Dutch is shattered when he abandons Arthur to the Army, leaves John for dead, and refuses to rescue Abigail when she is taken. Arthur and Sadie rescue Abigail from Milton, who names Micah as the Pinkertons' informer before Abigail kills him. Arthur returns to camp and openly accuses Micah of betrayal. Dutch, Bill, Javier, and Micah turn on Arthur and a newly returned John, but the standoff is broken when Pinkertons attack. The player can choose to have Arthur aid John's escape by delaying the Pinkertons or return to the camp to recover the gang's money. Micah ambushes Arthur, and Dutch intervenes in their fight. Arthur convinces Dutch to abandon Micah and leave. If the player has high honor, Arthur succumbs to his injuries and disease and dies while watching the sunrise; if the player has low honor, Micah executes him.
Eight years later, in 1907, John and his family are trying to lead honest lives. They find work at a ranch where John fights back against outlaws threatening his employer. Believing John is unwilling to give up his old ways, Abigail leaves with Jack. John takes a loan from the bank to purchase a ranch. He works with Uncle, Sadie, and Charles to build a new home, and proposes to Abigail on her return. Afterwards, learning Micah is still alive and formed his own gang, John, Sadie, and Charles assault his camp and find a recently arrived Dutch, who shoots Micah after a tense standoff and leaves in silence, allowing John to kill him and claim the gang's Blackwater stash to pay his debt. John then marries Abigail and they start a new life on their ranch alongside Jack and Uncle, as Sadie and Charles leave for other pursuits.
The final scene shows Edgar Ross observing John's ranch, foreshadowing the events of Red Dead Redemption.
Preliminary work on Red Dead Redemption 2 began during the development of the original game, Red Dead Redemption (2010), though the main production did not take place until after the game's release in May 2010. Rockstar San Diego, the studio behind the original game, had a rough outline of the game by mid-2011, and by late 2012, rough scripts of the game had been completed. When Rockstar Games realized that a group of distinct studios would not necessarily work, it co-opted all of its studios into one large team to facilitate development between 1,600 people; a total of around 2,000 people worked on the game.
While the main theme of the original game was to protect family at all costs, Red Dead Redemption 2 tells the story of the breakdown of a family in the form of the Van der Linde gang. The team was interested in exploring the story of why the gang fell apart, as frequently mentioned in the first game. Rockstar's Vice President of Creativity Dan Houser was inspired by film and literature when writing the game, though he avoided contemporary works to avoid being accused of stealing ideas. The team was not specifically inspired by film or art but rather real locations. The team was focused on creating an accurate reflection of the time, with people and locations. The citizens in the game feature a contrast between rich and poor, while the locales contrast between the civilization and the wilderness.
Red Dead Redemption 2's recording sessions began in 2013. Rockstar wanted a diverse cast of characters within the Van der Linde gang. The writers put particular focus on the individual stories behind each character, exploring their life before the gang and their reasons for remaining with the group. Several characters were cut from the game during development as their personalities failed to add to the narrative. The actors sometimes improvised some additional lines, but mostly remained faithful to the script. The team decided that the player would control one character in Red Dead Redemption 2, as opposed to the three protagonists in Rockstar's previous title Grand Theft Auto V (2013), in order to follow the character more personally and understand how the events impact him. They felt that a single character felt more appropriate for the narrative structure of a Western.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the first game from Rockstar built specifically for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Rockstar had tested these consoles' technical capabilities when porting Grand Theft Auto V, initially released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, to them. Once the team had defined what limitations were sustainable, they found the areas that required the most focus. One of Rockstar's goals with Red Dead Redemption 2's gameplay was to make the player feel as though they are living in a world, instead of playing missions and watching cutscenes. A method used to achieve this was through the gang's moving camp, where the player can interact with other characters. The team ensured that the characters maintained the same personality and mood from cutscene to gameplay to make the world feel more alive and realistic.
Woody Jackson, who worked with Rockstar on the original game and Grand Theft Auto V, returned to compose Red Dead Redemption 2's original score. Red Dead Redemption 2 has three different types of score: narrative, which is heard during the missions in the game's story; interactive, when the player is roaming the open world or in multiplayer; and environmental, which includes campfire singing songs or a character playing music in the world. The game's music regularly reacts according to the player's decisions in the world. Jackson purchased several instruments from the Wrecking Crew that were featured on classic cowboy films. In total, over 110 musicians worked on the music for the game. Daniel Lanois produced the original vocal tracks for the game, collaborating with artists such as D'Angelo, Willie Nelson, Rhiannon Giddens, and Josh Homme. Director of music and audio Ivan Pavlovich also engaged saxophone player Colin Stetson, experimental band Senyawa, and musician Arca to work on the score.
Rockstar Games first teased Red Dead Redemption 2 on October 16–17, 2016, before the official announcement on October 18, 2016. Originally due for release in the second half of 2017, the game was delayed twice: first to Q1/Q2 2018, and later to October 26, 2018. According to Rockstar, the game required extra development time for "polish". To spur pre-order sales, Rockstar collaborated with several retail outlets to provide special edition versions of the game. A companion app, released alongside the game for Android and iOS devices, acts as a second screen wherein the player can view in-game items such as catalogs, journals, and a real-time mini-map. The game was released for Microsoft Windows on November 5, 2019, and was a launch title for Stadia when the service launched on November 19, 2019. The Windows version has visual and technical improvements over the console versions and features new bounties, weapons and hideouts.
Metacritic: (PS4) 97/100
Game Informer: 10/10
GamesRadar+: 5/5 stars
Giant Bomb: 5/5 stars
USgamer: 4.5/5 stars