It’s hard to believe that Red Dead Redemption 2 has been out for a couple weeks now. To think we were all desperately awaiting its launch only some time ago. It’s even crazier to think that Rockstar only spoonfed us small details about how the game would play in the two or so months before its launch. But now we’ve got the game and everyone is slowly learning all there is to know about its story and myriad gameplay systems. Some have even been fortunate enough to beat the roughly 50-hour game.
In our time spent playing Red Dead 2, we’ve grown to love so much about it. This adventure across the sprawling frontier of the Old West is packed with all sorts of thrilling and emotional moments, as well as an attention to detail across its systems and locations not often seen anywhere else.
Our love for Rockstar’s latest effort only continues to grow with every hour we spend in its world. In this feature, you’ll find 20 things that we at GameSpot adore about Red Dead 2. Contained are brief musings on all the tidbits we enjoyed, such as the game’s night sky, spending time at the Van der Linde camp, or just the way Arthur twirls his revolver back into his holster.
If you haven’t already read our Red Dead 2 review, be sure to read it! GameSpot’s Kallie Plagge wrote: “While Red Dead Redemption was mostly focused on John Marston’s story, Red Dead 2 is about the entire Van der Linde gang–as a community, as an idea, and as the death rattle of the Wild West. It is about Arthur, too, but as the lens through which you view the gang, his very personal, very messy story supports a larger tale. Some frustrating systems and a predictable mission structure end up serving that story well, though it does take patience to get through them and understand why. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an excellent prequel, but it’s also an emotional, thought-provoking story in its own right, and it’s a world that is hard to leave when it’s done.”
Though, if you’re more in the market for guides, we’ve got you covered. Be sure to check out our guides roundup containing features highlighting all the tips you should know before playing and things the game doesn’t tell you. And if you want to have some extra fun, read our feature detailing the game’s cheat codes.
Anyway, what do you love most about Red Dead 2? Don’t hesitate to write your dissertations in the comments below!
Staring at the Night Sky
One of my favorite activities in any good-looking video game is to spend time admiring the sky, and in this regard, Red Dead 2 does not disappoint. In particular, the nighttime skies are breathtaking. As a kid, I wanted to be an astronomer, but having always lived in areas where light pollution is unavoidable, it was difficult to fully appreciate what the sky really looks like at night.
Plenty of other games offer a nice night sky to take in–even something like Skyrim, which was never an especially good-looking game, has gotten me to strain my character’s neck to look up at the stars. But Red Dead 2 (which I’m lucky enough to be playing on Xbox One X) is a visually stunning game, and there are few, if any, sights in it that I love to sit and admire more than the skies at night.
Whenever nighttime rolls around, rather than let Arthur catch some Zs or do some thievin’, I try to find an elevated or isolated area where I can take it all in. Whether it’s trying to spot constellations or simply taking in the gorgeous nebulae, it’s one of the most peaceful, serene, and enjoyable ways to take a break from the the regular outlaw life. At least, until a bear or wolf catches you off-guard and mauls you to death. But hey, there are worse ways to die than under that beautiful night sky. — Chris Pereira, Engagement Editor
You Can’t Take Anything For Granted
I’m sure you’ve heard many variations of why so-and-so loves Red Dead 2’s open world, and for good reason. It’s unquestionably gorgeous, varied, and bustling with life in ways that lend credence to the sense of time and place. But enjoying the wilderness and taking advantage of more civilized distractions requires you to take care of Arthur, which is sometimes easier said than done given all that he goes through. He has to regularly eat or sleep, and if he wants to be in the good graces of those around him, he must also bathe and dress to fit in, not to mention visit the barber once in a while.
Though we are privileged to be able to see all that is Red Dead 2’s amazing open world, there’s a level of responsibility that comes with every choice. That give-and-take relationship makes each step along the way feel like the small piece of a grand adventure where nothing can be taken for granted. — Peter Brown, Managing Editor
How Hostile Nature Is
A thing I love to do in Red Dead 2 is watch nature take place around me, either hidden away in a bush or from afar with binoculars–just watching to see what the animals of the world do when Arthur isn’t shooting arrows or bullets at their vitals.I was looking around inside a shack near a frozen lagoon to the north of the map and heard roaring and commotion outside, which was pretty stark against the relative silence of the frigid northern area.
On the ice there was a huge grizzly bear guarding a freshly killed white-tailed deer, with three wolves circling the carcass and the hairy behemoth above it. Keeping my distance I watched as one brave (stupid) wolf lunged forward before being crushed in between the bear’s jaws and tossed aside. The rest of the wolves were actually visibly perturbed by seeing what was likely the alpha of the pack get completely crunched by a blood-covered beast the size of a stagecoach.Each turned their tail and ran and I was left viewing this magnificent creature savor the meal it so viciously defended. It was really one of the most memorable scenes I’ve had in the game so far–at least until I put a bolt action round through its eye because I needed its pelt, that is. — Dave Jewitt, Video Producer
The Amazing Soundtrack
A lot of noise (sorry) has been made about Woody Jackson’s score for Red Dead 2. It dynamically lifts and accentuates the game’s poignant moments, amps up during combat, and is a comforting partner while you’re roaming the plains.
There’s no shortage of catchy ditties (“I got a girl in Valentine, who likes to drink that fancy wine” is a real earworm), and sitting around a campfire as Arthur and the rest of the Van der Linde gang sing along is always a memorable, yet completely missable, activity that brings you ever closer to the members of the ragtag troupe. I encourage you to go check it out every time you hear someone drunkenly belt out a few bars.
Josh Homme’s crooning Cruel, Cruel World is a perfect ending song to the long, emotional journey, and just as Far Away by Jose Gonzalez will forever be associated with crossing the border into Mexico in the first game, so will D’Angelo’s Unshaken be intrinsically linked to key moments in Red Dead 2. — Lucy James, Video Producer
Arthur’s Diary: Musings Of A Desperado
Arthur Morgan’s struggles are constant. If lawmen, bounty hunters, and other bandits weren’t enough, the world has become a mudslide beneath his feet. As an outlaw, he’s desperately trying to find footing in an age trying to bury him and his kind. His life is a tempest of clashing ideologies, foolhardy ambition, and questionable schemes. Arthur Morgan is a man in turmoil. So much so that, at times, it can be hard to get a sense for who he is and who he wants to be.
However, for each noteworthy moment of his life (of which there are many) there’s an entry in his diary, and this is easily my favourite part of Red Dead 2. The memoirs scribbled into the leatherbound notebook provide the raw, honest truth of his experience. It chronicles everything from train heists and bank robberies to fleeting encounters with odd folk and ventures into unfamiliar parts of the world.
In charming prose and surprisingly good sketches, Arthur lays himself bare on page. He spends so much of the game caught in the crossfire of other people’s words and bullets that his perspective is often lost. The diary is a place where his voice is the loudest, and it’s a heartfelt one, sometimes speaking of happiness and hope, other times of doubt and frustration. Games regularly stumble with humanizing their heroes and making them relatable, especially when those heroes are doing morally questionable things. But Arthur’s diary gave me an honest, personal insight into the mind of a very complicated man. — Tamoor Hussain, Editor
You Can Let The Horse Drive
There are a lot of things I like about Red Dead 2, but there are plenty I also find frustrating. The game’s overall pace can be grating, with a lot of activities and systems feeling more like working a fairly irritating job than escaping into the Old West. That’s why the system that lets you turn on horse autopilot is my favorite thing in the game. Set your destination on your map, get your horse up to speed on the trail, and activate the cinematic camera, and you can just set the controller down and relax.
The ability to leave the driving to the horse made Red Dead 2 so much better for me, fixing what was honestly among the most tedious parts of the game. Horse autopilot, as I like to call it, is an essential feature. It changes something about Red Dead 2 that at first felt like it was completely disrespectful to players’ time–guiding your horse down endless trails with nothing much but scenery to look at–into a chance to relax between gunfights and hunting sessions. — Phil Hornshaw, Editor
Everything That Happens At Camp
It’s possible to wander around the world of Red Dead 2 and rarely drop by the Van der Linde gang’s camp, but those stops between missions to drop off supplies and money are always my favorite. It started with a party that kicked off after one of the story missions, but every visit back to camp holds some hidden gems if you just listen and look around. The interactions between other members of the gang can be telling looks into their characters–or just tidbits of ongoing animosity between them. Still, those small character moments are often when Red Dead 2 is at its best, giving you a sense that the gang is a realistic group of people who rely on each other, clash with each other, and have history with each other.
Getting a glimpse of John Marston’s troubles with Abigail, Hosea’s creeping worries that maybe Dutch really doesn’t have a plan, Charles’ struggles with his identity–they all make the world a lot more realistic than painstaking animations of brushing your horse or skinning animals ever could. — Phil Hornshaw, Editor
Horses Nuzzle Each Other!
You spend a lot of time on horseback in Red Dead 2, as well as feeding, brushing, and generally caring for your steed. Rockstar has done a pretty good job of making the animals feel realistic and natural–they get scared of gunfire and predators and require calming under stress. They’ll rear up and toss you when they don’t like what nonsense you’re getting up to, and an agitated horse will definitely kick you halfway across the West if you get too close at the wrong time.
Like a lot of things in Red Dead 2, though, the best thing about horses is how they act when nobody’s messing with them. The game is full of elements that make horses seem more realistic, and we’re not just talking about how they poop sometimes or how their balls shrink in response to weather. Specifically, horses are nice to each other. It’s moments like watching two horses nuzzle each other that makes it all the more heart-wrenching when yours falls down a ravine because you’re an idiot of a rider and you have to put it out of its misery. — Phil Hornshaw, Editor
A House Robbery That Takes Some Turns
There are a lot of secretly great missions in Red Dead 2, but one that stuck with me in particular had some ridiculous emotional swings. It starts in Rhodes, where you can meet a homeless old man named Compson who has fallen on some seriously hard times. He asks you to go to his repossessed house, break in, and steal some important items out of it before the bank gets to them.
What follows is a Gone Home-style meandering through the detritus of the old man’s life. You find a variety of notes, letters, pictures, and even drawings by little children, that allow you to track the man’s life from relative wealth and prominence, to destitution. Part of what makes the story work is that, unlike most notes found in games like this one, Red Dead 2 provides voice-over narration for each one that add a lot of character. The mission starts as a sad story about Compson’s decline as his wife dies and child disowns him, until you find the hidden room beneath the house and the ledger that reveals his former trade: tracking down escaped slaves. It’s Arthur’s eventual, disgusted confrontation with Compson that elevates the whole thing, though, as you realize that Compson has gotten what he deserves, but he’ll never understand why that’s the case.
For a mission that’s largely walking through a house and finding objects, this one is definitely one of Red Dead 2’s heavier moments and features a great bit of writing. — Phil Hornshaw, Editor
An Awkward Bath
It’s little things in Red Dead 2 that make it stand out. You can change clothes, shave, and add pomade to your hair at your tent, for instance. And if you head into town, you can get yourself a bath, just like a real cowboy. It’s lucky that Red Dead 2 isn’t so realistic that you can smell Arthur Morgan, because the experience would probably not be present.
At one point, I wandered into a building in one of Red Dead 2’s towns, where a man offered me the opportunity to bathe. Why not, I figured, since I was flush with cash and not doing anything in particular at that moment, in true Wild West fashion. And when the game prompted me again to ask if I wanted a “Deluxe Bath,” I again thought, why not?
What results from that decision is a scene in which a woman physically bathes Arthur and the pair make small talk. The scene isn’t a sexual encounter, but it comes off as one in which both parties are feeling pretty awkward the entire time. At one point, Arthur remarks, “Some parts of me might never have been this clean.” The woman bathing him laughs and replies, “I’m not really sure what to do with that!”
The bath really doesn’t escalate into anything more than a bath, but it was good for a laugh and a moment that made me feel almost as uncomfortable as Arthur for initiating it. Those little moments make RDR2 a lot of fun to explore–and it was enough to send me googling to find out what hygiene in the Old West was actually like (spoiler: not great). — Phil Hornshaw, Editor
The Start Of A New Day
There are many special touches throughout the story that show off Arthur’s personality. However, some of the most impressionable moments that gave me pause happened when starting up the game. Upon loading the save file, you’ll find Arthur waiting around in the last place you left off, usually passing the time in his own sort of way. In some cases, you’ll see him leaning against a lamppost outside a saloon, sleeping against a rock, or resting atop his horse as he admires the scene around him. You’ll never know where things will pick up with him when loading up the game.
What makes these scenes so noteworthy is how they often frame Arthur against the backdrop of the environment. Not only does this give him and the setting a proper sense of scale, but it also presents a feeling of isolation, which is in keeping with his outlaw lifestyle. The game often presents these moments as lonely periods of reflection, wistfully taking in the scenery before getting back to when you assume control. These little moments, however brief they are, offer a surprising amount of humanity to the character and his place in the world, which is a nice reminder to have when starting up your next session in his boots. — Alessandro Fillari, Editor
Jack Marston Is A Precious Angel
There’s a lot to take in around camp in Red Dead 2, but one of my absolute favorite ways to spend time is watching, eavesdropping on, and interacting with Jack Marston. At around four years old, Jack is by far the youngest member of the Van der Linde gang and as such is the main beacon of hope, purity, and innocence in everyone’s lives. In an early mission, you take Jack fishing as a favor to his mother, Abigail, and he gets bored and instead makes a necklace out of flowers for her. He’s the perfect child, really. Even just helping him on and off your horse is adorable. He also looks really dapper in 1899 clothing and sometimes stands with his arms behind his back like he’s thinking really hard about the world, but he’s probably thinking about the storybook he accidentally left at the gang’s previous camp.
In short, I would kill or die for Jack Marston. — Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
You Can Pet Dogs
What is the point of putting dogs in games if you can’t pet them? The dogs in Red Dead 2 are just doing their best with their short lives and we owe it to them to give pats at every opportunity. In addition to petting dogs, you can also praise them (or scold them, but you can ignore that prompt). You can’t pet cats, which is unfortunate and suggests some kind of animal hierarchy, but it’s nice to give love to dogs in addition to your trusty steed. Sometimes the dog will even follow you around a bit.
Also, without spoiling anything, be sure to study dogs the way you would wild game. Some of them have very good descriptions. — Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
Getting Drunk With Lenny
Early on in Red Dead 2, there’s a story mission that comes out of nowhere. It seems more like the kind of side mission you’d do toward the end of a game when you’re just messing around, but nope–this one’s required. In it, you go out with Lenny, one of the best members of the Van der Linde gang, for a drink. One drink quickly turns into many, many drinks, and pretty soon you’re both hammered and having a fantastic old-timey night.
Eventually, you lose Lenny somewhere in the saloon, at which point you have to stumble around looking for him. The normal prompts you’d see elsewhere in the game–greet, antagonize, calling someone’s name–are scrambled, resulting in Arthur shouting things like “Lemmy” or in you picking the option to “gret” someone. It’s truly one of the funniest missions I’ve done in a long time. — Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
You Can Just Stumble Upon A Serial Killer’s Murder Scenes
This is kind of a weird one, sure, but I really geeked out over it. I was riding in the bayou, minding my own business, when I spotted an eerily lit tree just off the main road. I did what anyone alone at night would do: I got off my horse to investigate. I then discovered a headless torso hanging from the branches, intestines spilling out onto the ground. Around the back of the tree, I found the head and part of a map (which was in its mouth, something Arthur wasn’t too pleased about). And then I realized what I had found: a serial killer.
Well, a clue to finding the serial killer, anyway. Now, Red Dead 2 is set in 1899, shortly after Jack the Ripper in London and H.H. Holmes in Chicago, so I appreciated the realism. I was also completely not expecting anything like it, and to find a crime scene like this totally at random in an enormous open world was exciting. It’s a weird, obtuse mission to solve, and it’s the perfect combination of gruesome, creepy, and a little bit cheesy. Basically, I like solving murders. — Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
Arthur Doesn’t Know All the Words to Songs
Arthur and the Van der Linde gang are big fans of music. You can often hear them singing together while sitting by a campfire, rowing a boat, or riding drunk on horseback. It’s a pleasant quality of the gang that never stops being endearing–especially speaking from the perspective of someone who loves impromptu singalongs among friends. What adds to this is how Rockstar has curated a selection of songs for the game that are either contemporary to the time or even much older. The attention to detail helps cement a sense of authenticity to the world and its inhabitants’ exposure to popular music.
However, this believability in music is elevated in how the game’s characters sing these songs. One thing you’ll notice during the big celebration in camp during Chapter 2 is the fact that Arthur doesn’t know all the words to the songs sung by the campfire. I loved this little detail, as it expressed a sincerity to Arthur, showing that while he may not know all the words, he at least cares to join alongside his friends and share in that moment. It’s fun hearing the great joy Arthur feels singing certain lyrics. It’s delivered so infectiously as to bring a smile to your face–in that same way you feel when you sing along to a song you love with your friends.
Red Dead 2 does a splendid job of showcasing the eternal unifying power that music can supply in these intimate moments shared amongst its characters. You don’t need to know the words to participate. You need only surrender and come together as family for those short yet sweet few minutes. — Matt Espineli, Editor
You Can Twirl Your Pistol Back Into Your Holster
If you’ve watched enough Western films, you’ll likely be a fan of all the tense yet elegant quickdraw duels that often take place. But the best is what follows after the bullets stop flying, when the lone gunfighter on-screen twirls their revolver back into the holster of their gun belt. As if their near effortless accuracy wasn’t already enough to cement their dominance in a gunfight, they gotta go on and add that stylish flourish at the end. It’s almost cocky, but gosh, don’t I just love it.
That’s why it brings me such joy to see this maneuver made available to you in Red Dead 2. Sure, you can just holster your gun with the simple press of L1/LB, but if you press it twice, you’ll twirl it right back into your gun holster just like the best of ’em. I love Western films with nearly every fiber of my being, so to be able to twirl your gun at the end of every gunfight is a dream come true. If Rockstar decides to release DLC, my one wish would be for them to add different twirling animations. Heck, what if they end up adding more in Red Dead Online? Don’t even get me started. — Matt Espineli, Editor
One aspect that makes Western films so captivating to viewers is how they capture a simpler, more personable time in American history where towns were small and folks were just trying to eke out a living in the wild countryside. There was a self-determined freedom there that is ever-so-distant from the aloofness of modern civilization–one that appeals to countless generations of American audiences. As a modern viewer, I found these settings charming despite their romanticized depictions often acting as a means to express an idealized vision of American identity and politics. To see a chaotic world where hospitality remains paramount often gives warmth to the dramatic proceedings taking place between gunfighters, outlaws, and those caught in the crossfire.
Red Dead 2 offers you access to this geniality with the ability to greet NPCs. While the system isn’t overly complex, I can’t help but love taking the time to just walk up to someone in town and greet them. A simple “howdy” allows me to participate in the cheeriness of that hospitality, to express a kindness to folks who probably have it just as tough as Arthur–if not harder. After all, living out in the West wasn’t easy no matter what version of it you look at. Not everyone responds in kind, but to be able at least give them the time of day is an aspect of Red Dead 2 that makes its world all the more believable and enchanting. — Matt Espineli, Editor
Highway Robbers Can Appear at Random and Pull You Over
After spending enough time riding across the world on horseback, you’re inevitably going to have to deal with some of society’s more lawless inhabitants. Imagine my surprise being pulled over by some highway robbers for the first time. It occurs seemingly at random, and you’re given a couple options towards how to react. You can either shoot first and ask questions later, or even comply with their demands only to turn the tables at an instant with some precise quickdraw. Whatever you choose to do, one thing is clear: These moments are awesome.
The story offers you plenty of opportunities to feel like a stoic and graceful gunslinger, but it’s in these confrontations that spring out organically in the world that you get to enact those moments with your own tilt on Arthur’s morality. There’s nothing pushing you any which way; just your own instincts and your own philosophy in that moment. Of course, they’re wonderful for reenacting some of your favorite Western film moments too, but let’s not get into that–unless you want another 600 words on all the quickdraw holdup scenes I’m hopelessly trying to act out (to varying degrees of success). — Matt Espineli, Editor
The Bar Brawls: Let’s Dance, Raccoon Man
My love for Red Dead 2 was solidified after a bar fight. Not the Valentine bar fight everyone runs into with Tommy, but coincidentally, it would be my second fight in that bar. I figured I’d revisit that rowdy watering hole to soak in the atmosphere on my own time. I’m instantly drawn to what appears to be the town drunk rambling loudly, wearing a raccoon-skinned hat. I listen to Raccoon Man’s rant about how only real men defecate indoors, and how he once “killed a pack wolves with [his] bare hands.” His only audience is an unimpressed bartender, so I walk closer to the drunk, showing that I am in fact interested. Raccoon Man gets one look at me and decks me across the face. What follows is an intense two-minute bar fight that leaves me barely alive, but victorious. Bloody faced with the entire bar watching, I walk over Raccoon Man’s unconscious body, pick up his staple hat, and wear it as I walk out the bar.
Roughly 10 real-time hours later, I go back to Valentine and find myself visiting the bar again. Sure enough, Raccoon Man is there, tucked away in the far back corner of the bar at a table, mumbling to himself. I approach him, curious if he was too blacked out to remember me. He does not react to me, and I’m bummed… until I notice he’s bald. The idea pops instantly. I sprint out of the bar, grab his raccoon hat from my horse, bust back through the swinging doors wearing the man’s prized headwear with one ultimate question on my mind: “Will he notice me now?” The second I step into his eyesight, from across bar packed with people, he stands up, and beelines towards me. We fight once more, gloriously, till sundown. And once again, he stays down. — Rob Handlery, Senior Video Producer