Howdy, pilgrims! If you’re at all into gaming and love the wild west then you’ve probably been waiting for this one to come out on PC since forever. Or since last year, anyway. Well, your long wait is over, though results – and your enjoyment – are definitely going to vary. One year after making its grand entrance on PlayStation and Xbox consoles everywhere, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 has finally made it to PC, but the transition hasn’t been quite as smooth as one might expect. If you can get the game working, however, it’ll make for a rootin’ tootin’ good time.
The original Red Dead Redemption helped paved the way for a glut of western-themed interactive adventures, much like Call of Duty did for military shooters and Gran Turismo for authentic racing simulators…no, wait. That didn’t happen. Nearly a decade later, we see western games as frequently as lonesome tumbleweed… which made the built-in anticipation for its sequel all the more. Red Dead Redemption 2 was received fairly well on console as a result, with plenty of the usual breathless writing about how Games Are Finally Art and how This Is A Masterpiece and so on.
Personally, I thought it was alright. Kind of slow, very big on slow, dramatic pans with cutscenes and the like, but that was never a dealbreaker as far as I’m concerned. Not every game needs to be (or should be) an epic explosion blockbuster.
In the last days of the Old West, Arthur Morgan is running with a bad crowd. Specifically, he’s running with a gang belonging to Red Dead Redemption villain Dutch van der Linde, and things haven’t been going so well lately. After a heist goes horribly wrong, Morgan and his crew are penniless, wounded and on the run from the law. We follow the gang as they try to get back on their feet and make their way in a West that’s just about done with them.
This is a story-focused game, so special attention needs to be paid to that side of things. Protagonist Arthur Morgan is just rough enough to be endearing, especially since you have more of a chance to control how he behaves than in the previous game, while the rest of Dutch’s gang proves to have their own highs and lows that make them especially interesting characters. The plot tends to be fairly standard Western fare, but it’s executed with a ton of polish and Red Dead Redemption 2 stands out from the crowd as a result.
As for gameplay, well, the focus here is immersion. At its most base, Red Dead Redemption 2 is essentially GTAV in a Western setting with all the trappings that includes, but it’s the icing on top that makes the game what it is. First and perhaps foremost, we’ve got that most beloved of modern game mechanics: the hunger and thirst nag meter, popularized by titles like Minecraft. Yes, you can’t even escape it in Rockstar games. Arthur gets hungry and tired over time and his “cores” – read: nag meters – drain as a result, so you’ll need to find or purchase refreshments to restore them before the drain results in penalties to your regeneration rate. Even horses have their own cores to worry about, so you’ll have to pay attention to your nag nag meters before they nag your nag.
I’ve never been a particular fan of this mechanic, and I thinks it adds about as much tension to Red Dead Redemption 2 as it does to pretty much every game outside of Don’t Starve: not much at all. Let’s not even talk about the sci-fi implications of managing “cores” and how that feels a little weird in a Western game. Still, being able to hunt and gather food is cute, as is the loving detail put into shopping for food and other necessities like weapons. I particularly enjoyed going through each store’s catalog, including the lengthy text descriptions of each item.
Here you’ll find shows to check out, outfits to buy (including nag meter penalties if you don’t dress appropriately for the weather) and guns to customize to an unprecedented level for this style of game. If you want to live the Wild West life, I can’t think of too many games that offer more cowboy accouterments than this one.
Of course, immersion isn’t always the best decision from a gameplay standpoint. RDR2 runs into some issues on this front, particularly with its controls. Arthur isn’t just slow, he’s practically glacial and has a turn radius on par with a Humvee. Agile he absolutely is not, and simple activities in other games become drawn-out chores here, particularly when you’re trying to take cover during a gunfight. He’s also exceptionally finicky about noticing items that you might want to interact with, and you can expect frustration when, for instance, you kill an enemy near a tree and their gun drops nearby. Trust me, just consider that gun off limits and move on.
The finicky interaction radius and the horrific turn radius combine to turn looting into a special kind of Hell more often than not. I appreciate that you have to actually search bodies individually to not miss any loot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss just being able to vacuum up the goodies without fighting with the game for the privilege. Likewise, horseback riding is more an art than a science here, so you’ll quickly learn to stay away from anything even remotely solid lest you crash and go flying along with your mount.
Combat, meanwhile, feels a lot like the previous game, meaning it’s weighty, slow and generally satisfying. There’s something to be said for having to pull the trigger twice on most weapons – with the second trigger pull readying your next cartridge, by the way. I have few complaints with how RDR2 handles this critical aspect of western immersion.
All that said, we’re playing on PC now, so we’d expect a top class experience with regards to presentation and performance, right? Well…not so much. Red Dead Redemption 2’s debut on PC has been plagued by technical issues. They’re a giant pain in the butt, assuming you can even run the game at all! At the moment, you’re working through the Rockstar Games Launcher, which is itself possibly launched by the Epic Games Store launcher, and if there are issues with either of those the game’s simply not going to run. It’s a mess. I’m not the type to buy into the bandwagon outrage about the Epic Games Store, but in this case stacking launchers on launchers doesn’t seem to have helped much.
Let’s assume you do manage to get ingame, though. The question then becomes: how long will that last? Red Dead Redemption 2 looks dazzling on PC, but it’s very crash-prone, especially after you return to the game after checking the map – you know, that thing you’re doing all the time in an open world game. Even beyond THAT, you’ve got all manner of goofy technical problems like your mouse cursor persistently appearing in the middle of the game screen. Patches will almost certainly fix all this over time, but these issues are a pain at the moment.
Technical issues aside, while it’s certainly a slow and somewhat messy experiment, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Red Dead Redemption 2 is still a fascinating Western adventure that merits a look. The PC version might not be the best way to do that, however, and as I’m one to usually tout PC > Console that’s an awkward position to be in. If you can get the game to work, there’s a sizable chunk of content here that will take you hours to get through and the plot is strong enough to keep you going, despite the game’s technical and design quirks. It’s just hard to recommend this version of the game until everything’s all patched up like a pair of 19th century trousers.