The West come alive: the details of “Red Dead Redemption 2”

Mon Nov 26, 2018

The landmark Western adventure game “Red Dead Redemption 2” by American video game developer Rockstar Games was released in late October 2018, and it has immediately captured the undivided attention of many gamers with its unprecedentedly rich open world. In creating the game, Rockstar sought to deliver a video game world experience unlike any other ever made, and perhaps the best way this goal was accomplished was through the downright amazing level of detail packed into this virtual representation of the American West.

While I am nowhere near far enough into the story of “Red Dead Redemption 2” to make a substantive review of the game, I can at least note some of the details I have seen in the game and how they contribute to the game being one of the most immersive video game experiences I have ever had the joy of playing. What follows from here is a broad overview of how “Red Dead Redemption 2” brought the American West back to life.

Beginning with the playable protagonist, Arthur Morgan’s character model demonstrates various lifelike features that, simply put, very few video games before now would ever have bothered to include. Morgan’s hair (including facial hair) grow over time, and the player has options to trim or style it depending on how long it gets. Morgan’s clothing can also be customized to a remarkable degree - entire outfits can be customized down to the boots and spurs, including whether pants are tucked into boots or not and whether or not sleeves are rolled up. As the player spends time out in the harsh American frontier, Morgan’s appearance can get more and more soiled by the various elements - dirt, mud, sand, the blood of your victims, etc. If Morgan does not regularly bathe (whether by actually purchasing a bath in any town or diving into the nearest lake), other passersby will actually comment on his appearance and lack of cleanliness.

The end result of these varying levels of customization and cleanliness is that no two players will have an identical-looking version of the playable character. A quick skim of any forum or image-sharing site related to the game shows a wide array of different versions of Morgan, from prim and proper city attire-clad gentlemen with well-trimmed handlebar mustaches to rugged mountain men clad in bearskins and beards large enough to hide a weapon inside.

Beyond the appearance of Morgan, the actual world of “Red Dead Redemption 2” also demonstrates an impressive level of detail. Every nonplayable character (NPC) in the game is coded with their own daily schedules and personalities. Following a given NPC around town will show them go about a set work schedule, complete with regular breaks and interactions with others. However, be careful not to follow someone too closely in the game because they will eventually grow uneasy by Morgan’s looming presence and even attempt to flee or shoot back should you prove yourself a bit too eager of a stalker.

Shopkeepers in the various settlements of the game will eventually learn to recognize Morgan and even comment on how often he comes to their store. If the player decides to embrace their inner outlaw and rob the store, the shopkeeper will also remember this upon subsequent visits by giving Morgan a less-than-warm reception. Rockstar Games even went as far as to have shopkeepers keep any wounds inflicted upon them by the player. Knock a shopkeeper out with your gun during a robbery, and next time you come back, he’ll have his head wrapped in bandages. Shoot him and leave him to die, and he’ll have some rather nasty-looking bullet wounds next time you’re back.

The wilderness and other environments of the game also show that this rendition of the American West is more than just pre-rendered backdrops. It’s a living, breathing environment on just about every scale. Over the course of the game, portions of the wilderness will be settled, with forests being cut down to make room for railroads, houses eventually being built in empty fields, and towns gradually expanding over time. Take a journey to the snowy mountain region in the northwest portion of the game and notice how you can see the condensation from the breath of humans and horses. Footprints can also be left in snow, and these will eventually refill with snow over time as it accumulates again.

I can go on and on. This short list just barely begins to scratch the surface of how detailed the world of “Red Dead Redemption 2” is. Rockstar Games has accomplished something very notable with this game, and their attempt to bring the American West back to life has brought us an unprecedented video game experience that continues to amaze me with its immersion. And all of this is without even thinking about the game’s intricate storytelling and complex characters, with whom I have also grown very attached.



Image courtesy of Rockstar Games



Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 11