Red Dead Redemption II – Why I Love the Detail

Rockstar’s latest and greatest open world masterpiece came out just a few weeks ago, and like many people who picked it up straight away, I haven’t been able to stop playing it since. So seeing as I haven’t managed to play or do anything else lately, I guess it makes sense to write something about it!

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The game is pretty much everything I hoped it would be. It’s a huge, yet deep open world that contains an excellent main plot, great characters, tons to do without being grindy, and it looks, feels and practically smells fantastic. There’s so much going on that I don’t think I’ll be able to properly review it, even the professional games media’s coverage of the game ended up being more rambling chats about various aspects rather than structured reviews. So instead for now I’m going to focus on my favourite thing about the game; its details.

For me it’s the attention to detail that sets it apart from other games. There are plenty of games where I prefer the core gameplay mechanics, the story, or the presentation over this one, but I can safely say I have never played a game that is so big and well polished, and yet so intricately crafted down to pretty much every inch. It’s at the level where if you think something should work or happen a certain way, then the game will probably make it happen and won’t gloss over it. It can be somewhat jarring at first because as a life long gamer I’ve come to expect and accept certain quirks and limitations videogames have, especially the non-scripted open world variety.

The most straightforward thing to mention is animation. Absolutely everything is animated, from walking on different surfaces at different speeds, collision with various objects or people, every interaction such as looting, and picking up and carrying items. These all have specific animations that mesh perfectly with the world, making you feel like part of it, unlike most games where to pick something up your character will wave their hand and grab at the air, and the object will disappear. Here you will physically interact with the object, moving your arm to its actual location, pick it up and then put it in your bag or over your shoulder. Or the walking animations, something you’ll be watching a lot throughout the game. Here it has a real sense of connection with the world and varies realistically, instead of some games where you are basically gliding over the surface of the world while your character does one of two or three run cycles depending on which direction they are moving, Bethesda games are a major culprit of that. Such small and seemingly insignificant details, but along with everything else, they add weight and believability to the game and its world.

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Now for some reason, the level of detail, and especially the animation has become a controversial point about the game. You’ll find the main criticisms of the game be about these very details and about how they make the game tedious and boring. For me it’s a matter of preference, and a lot of the more intricate details are easily skipped over or ignored, but somehow the fact that they are even in the game actively annoys some people, as if the developers were ‘wasting their time’ or even ‘showing off’. That last point makes little sense to me, because you wouldn’t say a musician or artist being incredibly skilled in their craft is just showing off as a bad point. It’s supposed to be impressive, and I just feel sorry for people whose first response to something impressive is to get annoyed at the creator rather than enjoy the artistry. The biggest complaints are specifically on the optional side activity of hunting in the game. They say that it is too realistic to the point of not being fun, because you have to spend time tracking, stealthily approaching and taking down the animal with the right choice of weapon, and then skin it and stow it on your horse. These complaints make me feel that some people have a very narrow minded view on what games are for, as if they are something utilitarian that you get a defined value from. For me a large part of what I find fun in games is immersion, attested to by the fact that I have several hundred Skyrim mods, probably half of which have ‘immersive’ in the title. So when it comes to something like hunting, I want there to be an essence of what that activity is really like; the challenges, the things you need to think about. The game is by no means a simulator, but it has some realistic elements that actually differentiate the activities, rather than everything being solved by running in and shooting wildly. So these people who say hunting specifically is too detailed and tedious, what do they actually want it to be like? Either they want to do what I just mentioned, and run into the woods and quickly blast a rabbit with 6 shotgun slugs, or they want it to be easier and quicker to see the rewards of money and items at the end. In both of these cases, why bother with hunting at all? if it doesn’t feel like hunting, then there’s no point in having it in the game apart from being another thing to shoot at and see numbers go up. If those are the things you play games for then perhaps  Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t for you. For me with gaming if the actual process and continuing gameplay isn’t enjoyable to me, then I won’t play the game, rather than wishing I could rush through it quicker to get to an end.

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So for now I’ll just say, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a fantastic game with incredible detail that encourages you to slow down, appreciate the craftsmanship in it, get immersed and maybe try to roleplay. For something that isn’t an actual RPG, it certainly ticks a lot of the boxes for what I love about them most. If you have the patience, and appreciate games being well made, ambitious, and not making things overly easy for you, then this one is incredibly enjoyable, and an experience to savour.

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