Finally, Red Dead Redemption 2 is confirmed for PC. This Wild West adventure is Rockstar's most ambitious open world to date, telling the story of the Van der Linde gang: outlaws trying to make a life for themselves in a rapidly changing world. I finished the game last year on PS4, but I can't wait to experience it all over again with improved visuals. Until then, here are some reasons why you should be very excited about Red Dead's long-awaited PC debut.
It's basically a massive cowboy RPG
Red Dead 2 isn't just a bunch of Wild West-themed missions: it's a full-on cowboy simulator. Your character, Arthur Morgan, belongs to a travelling band of outlaws, and between missions you can help look after the camp—running errands for people, hunting for food, or donating a portion of your ill-gotten gains in exchange for rewards and upgrades. You also have stats that can be improved over time, letting you run faster and punch harder.
And then there's the honour system, which is similar to Mass Effect's paragon/renegade choices, but more subtle. Your behaviour during missions, and in the open world, can steer missions and story beats in different directions. If you're an asshole, there will be consequences—but potentially rewards too. This is a game about being fully immersed in the life of a cowboy drifter, even down to your beard growing wild and unruly if you don't bother shaving.
The world is genuinely mind-blowing
Red Dead Redemption 2's colossal slice of the Wild West is one of the best digital representations of the natural world I've ever seen in a game. It encompasses a huge range of terrain, from boggy, humid swamps and grassy plains to snow-battered mountains and arid deserts. And every location is not only gorgeous to look at, but absolutely drenched in atmosphere. I've spent hours just aimlessly wandering on horseback, exploring, taking in the scenery.
The countryside is breathtaking, but there are bustling settlements too which teem with life and activity. There are a number of small towns including a dreary, muddy little burg called Valentine that's straight out of Deadwood, and Strawberry, a sleepy, picturesque settlement nestled in the mountains. But there's an enormous city too, Saint Denis, which features rowdy saloons, factories belching black smoke into the sky, and clattering streetcars.
And it sounds amazing too
A big part of why Red Dead's world is so immersive is the sound design. There's a great score, but it's used sparingly. Often the only thing you can hear as you explore are the sounds of nature: rushing waterfalls, chittering insects, animal calls, the wind blowing in the trees. It's a remarkably absorbing, realistic soundscape, adding an extra layer of fidelity to the world. Seriously, plug in some good headphones, stand still, and just listen. It's like being there.
The soundtrack is fantastic too. Nobody uses music quite like Rockstar, and as well as a beautiful original score by Woody Jackson, which reacts dynamically to what you're doing in-game, Red Dead 2 also features original songs by artists as diverse as D'Angelo, Willie Nelson, and Josh Homme. Remember in the original Red Dead Redemption when Far Away by José González played as you rode into Mexico for the first time? Red Dead 2 has a musical moment to rival that.
It's every Wild West fantasy rolled into one
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a love letter to the Wild West: both the romantic, fictional version and, in some ways, the reality. It has elements of every kind of cowboy fiction, from Clint Eastwood westerns to more stark, realistic stuff like HBO's Deadwood—and even influences as relatively far afield as Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian. It's also steeped in the past, evoking the real-world history of a burgeoning United States transitioning into the industrial age.
You have all the horse chases, shootouts, train robberies, and pistol duels you might expect. But you also have the emotional, introspective elements of darker Wild West fiction too. It's surprisingly slow and melancholy for a blockbuster game, and the story is genuinely heartbreaking at times. Don't expect a raucous, rootin'-tootin' spaghetti western: it definitely has a few moments like that, but for the most part, this is a really quite sombre and grounded experience.
The freedom is exhilarating
When you think of the romantic idea of a Wild West outlaw, you think of freedom. That's a big part of the genre's appeal: a life on the edge, roaming wherever the wind takes you, free from obligation. Red Dead Redemption 2 twists this idea by setting the game at a time when, with civilisation creeping into the west and the rise of organisations like the Pinkertons, that lifestyle is increasingly difficult to maintain. But that feeling of freedom is still out there in the wilderness, away from the crowds and gaslights of civilisation.
There's a structure to Red Dead Redemption 2, similar to GTA V. You complete story missions, often in an order of your choosing, until it triggers the next big story beat. But the game also encourages you to wander off the beaten path, meeting strangers, hunting in the woods, fishing in rivers, searching for buried treasure, and all manner of compelling distractions. One of the most fun ways to play is just picking a direction, riding, and seeing what you bump into.
The world reacts to you in interesting ways
One of the most consistently entertaining things about Red Dead Redemption 2 is how alive and reactive the world feels. If you rob a store and rough up the shopkeeper, not only will they remember you the next time you roll into town, but they'll have a black eye or a bandaged head as well. If your honour is low because you've been committing crimes or generally acting like a jerk, people on the street will be wary of you, muttering under their breath as you pass by.
There are thousands of these tiny details; more than I could ever list. You can also tease a reaction out of literally any NPC by approaching them and starting a conversation. You can be polite and indulge in some small talk. Or you can antagonise them, which usually results in a fist fight, a gun being pulled, or them fleeing in terror—depending on what kind of person they are. If you go swanning into a saloon hurling insults at the gruff folk drinking there, it won't end well.
The characters have genuine depth
The Van der Linde gang is a collection of misfits, drifters, dreamers, and ne'er-do-wells seeking solace in each other and the freedom of the open road. The crew's charismatic leader is Dutch, who has big plans for the future but needs money to achieve them. Then there's Sadie Adler, a rancher who is rescued by the gang early in the game and quickly becomes one of its most spirited, likeable, and fearsome characters. And, of course, our hero Arthur, who acts as Dutch's right-hand man and enforcer.
The characters are all interesting in some way, particularly the gang members, all of whom have hidden depths and fascinating quirks. None more so than Arthur himself, who is probably one of the most intriguing, flawed, and hopelessly human lead characters I've ever spent time with in a videogame. It helps that the acting is superb across the board: especially Roger Clark, who brings a wonderful warmth and weariness to our troubled, conflicted protagonist. It's one of gaming's greatest ensemble casts.
You never know where the story's gonna go next
It took me around 80 hours to finish Red Dead Redemption 2 and I was amazed that, a few dips aside, the story kept me hooked all the way through. That's because the narrative is totally unpredictable, with many twists and turns, some of which completely alter the dynamic of the game. Just when you get comfortable, it throws a curveball at you, and the ending absolutely destroyed me emotionally. It's an epic in every sense of the word.
I also like how the story takes you on a guided tour of the map. The Van der Linde gang is constantly on the move, on the run from the law, which is a good excuse for them to set up camp in a variety of locations, introducing you to different parts of the map. This is also, by far, Rockstar's most mature story, but it still has a sense of humour too. A light-hearted mission involving a drunken night out in a saloon is particularly hilarious, but I'll leave it at that.
Playing online is a thrill
The story is just the beginning, because Red Dead Redemption 2 comes complete with a fully-featured online mode. There are a lot of ways to play Red Dead Online, including more traditional competitive games such as horse races, deathmatches, and even a small-scale take on battle royale. But the most interesting mode for me is Free Roam, which populates that sprawling open world with real players. When you're sharing that space with other people, suddenly the Wild West feels genuinely wild.
This makes the world around you feel brilliantly alive and unpredictable, whether it's a massive gunfight breaking out in a town or bumping into a couple of hunters in the mountains and just saying hello. In this mode you can enjoy many of the same activities as singleplayer, including hunting and fishing, but with the added thrill of running into real people. But there's also a selection of fun co-op missions if you prefer a more structured experience.