This has been a dismally slow Read of England, between a history book more dense than I’d expected, and the fact that I have been utterly absorbed in the world of Red Dead Redemption since mid-March, and when I say utterly I do mean it. I’ve listened to no podcasts, no audiobooks, and I have played almost nothing else. And..I’ve read two books. Although I expect to be finished with To Rule the Waves by this evening, I thought I’d share some photos from in-game.
RDR2 is an open-world game set in 1899, in a time of transition; the west is being broken and civilized, but there are more than a few stubborn diehards to keep the dream of a free life alive. The player belongs to a close-knit community of such rebels, who begin the game hiding in the mountains from some debacle. Before long the winter is over and the story really begins, with the caravan of men, women, and at least one child making their way into a comfortable camp in the woods southwest of the great plains. Although the immediate surroundings are very reminiscent of old west landscapes, there’s much more to the game’s world than that — and from the very beginning, almost all of it is open. In my first week of playing the game I had traveled far and wide, exploring roads that let me into swamplands, rugged dark forests, mountain communities where the only road is a trail barely wide enough to ride a horse down, and still more.
The game’s weather system, and the constantly changing lighting effects, allow for still more experiences: the bayou is a very different place at night, or when there’s a thunderstorm rolling through. The game’s cargo system allows players to store clothing on their horse, so if needed they can don a heavy overcoat when headed into mountain country, or strip down to just a shirt while moving through the bayou. The landscape changes with the weather; snow falls, puddles develop in wagon-wheel ruts. I have not yet stopped goggling at the clear imprint made by a rolling wagon, or footprints, or a bloody trail left in the snow by a stricken animal.
While the weather goes a long way to making the world of RDR2 feel alive, its inhabitants do most of that work themselves. The landscape is full, and I mean full, of animal life, creatures great and small. The variety of birds is staggering, as is the number of small mammals — and then there are the big ones, like deer, boars, elk, bears, cougars, etc. Hunting is a big part of the game, as one legal way of generating money the player badly needs at the beginning; it also provides food in abundance, and clothing later on. As the player moves through the landscape, he meets other travelers — some friendly, some not. Others are out fishing, panning for gold, hunting, etc — and many present opportunities to the player. These often present the player with a simple choice, to help or to ignore, but opportunities often have unexpected consequences. A woman pleading for help may be in distress….or she may be a lure to lead you into an alley to be ambushed.
The player is not the only resident of these lands capable of getting up to mischief: there are other gangs who operate in different areas of the map who will ambush unsuspecting travelers, and if they are resisted — as I did, with dynamite and a sawed-off — they develop a special hatred toward the player and will deliberately target them. It didn’t take me long to start traveling with my sawed-off at the ready, and with a wary eye casing the road ahead, looking for spots where I might get ambushed. I often went off-road to avoid areas with a hill or large rocks beside the road, and when I needed to travel across a high-risk area like a covered bridge, I did so at full gallop ready to rain shot on anyone. Other travelers are likewise cautious, and if you follow too closely they will draw on you.
And then there’s the story, as the player witnesses slow disintegration of a nomadic community, brought on by both the forces that oppose them (a very dedicated Pinkerton agent), the self-destructive lifestyle a few of the members live, and the fact that their leader is astonishingly bad at judgment calls. I’m approaching the end of the story, the final chapter, and suspect I may be a little bummed when I get there. Even afterwards, however, I think this will be a game that becomes a persistent part of my leisure, a world I enjoy spending time in — like Lost Heaven (Mafia) or Vice City. It is by far the most visually stunning and content-rich game I’ve ever tried.