Red Dead Redemption 2 critical roundup: 'Going back to other open-world games won’t be easy'

Red Dead Redemption 2 has finally been assessed at length, after years of anticipation, precious few minutes of trailers, and - most recently - weeks of resurgent labor concerns. Critics have had a lot to say about Rockstar's new open-world western in this first round of analysis, and I went around the web to pick out some of the most informative snippets from their many thoughts. Starting with our own, because we think it's pretty good and also we really want you to read it.

Red Dead Redemption 2's world may never stop surprising you - GamesRadar+ (5/5) 

"As of right now, the cowboy classic represents the current pinnacle of video game design. This is an all-time great: a masterpiece that deserves to be mentioned alongside Ocarina of Time, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Skyrim, and most recently, The Witcher 3.

RDR2 is a ready-made anecdote generator. Sit a dozen people down with the game and I’ll bet you Clint Eastwood’s last Fistful of Dollars every last one would see scenarios totally individual to their playthrough. Rockstar’s extraordinary open-world is as wide as it is deep. This is an adventure so stuffed full of amazing emergent moments, when the end credits roll after a full week of captivating, criminal play, there are enough incredible memories to fill ten lesser games."

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an explorer's delight - Game Informer (10/10) 

"Going back to other open-world games after playing Red Dead Redemption II won’t be easy; this is unequivocally the most well-crafted and fully realized open world in video games. The attention to detail Rockstar poured into creating this bloody interpretation of a historical period is remarkable. The wide expanses of wilderness feel alive thanks to an unrivaled dynamic weather system, ambient sound effects, and the most ambitious ecology of flora and fauna ever seen in games. You can spend hundreds of hours exploring the varied and gorgeous terrain, and Rockstar packs the game with side objectives to keep you busy. Hunting legendary animals, collecting plants for the crafting system, and exploring for dinosaur bones will keep you occupied on the frontier. Some of the best moments occur when you stumble onto a remote property and meet the colorful (and sometimes revolting) humans who call it home."

Red Dead Redemption 2 parallels its creation and demands dedication - Kotaku (Unscored) 

"It is defiantly slow-paced, exuberantly unfun, and wholly unconcerned with catering to the needs or wants of its players. It is also captivating, poignant, and at times shockingly entertaining. It moves with the clumsy heaviness of a 19th century locomotive, but like that locomotive becomes unstoppable once it builds up a head of steam. Whether intentionally or not, its tale of failure and doom reflects the tribulations of its own creation, as a charismatic and self-deluded leader tries ever more desperately to convince his underlings to follow him off a cliff. Paradise awaits, he promises. Just push a little bit further; sacrifice a little bit more; hang in there a little bit longer."

Red Dead Redemption 2's landscapes are a naturalist's dream - Eurogamer (Unscored

The craft that's gone into Red Dead Redemption 2's world - painstaking, expensive and arguably at too great a human cost - is evident in every frame. And it's enriched by an artistry and technical excellence that's just as evident. If the original Red Dead Redemption leaned heavily on celluloid depictions of the west, then its follow-up is much more painterly in tone. The landscapes of 19th-century artist Albert Bierstadt are one noted influence, those thick oils impressively mirrored in Red Dead Redemption 2's own textures; in the dawn or dusk of certain days, there's a richness to the light that would make Turner blush, veering, at times, towards a certain impressionism in the diffuse light.

Red Dead Redemption 2's missions can drag, but for good reason - GameSpot (9/10) 

"Even if you're trying your hardest to be good, you'll inevitably slaughter entire towns in mandatory story missions - stealth and non-lethal takedowns aren't always an option, and the snappy auto-lock aim makes shootouts a far easier option anyway. The dissonance is frustrating to play through in the moment, but it's incredibly important to Arthur's arc as well as your understanding of the gang as a whole. To say any more would venture into spoiler territory.

That extends to the structure of story missions, which start to get predictable around halfway through the game. It's not that they're boring - the opposite is true, actually, and you see a lot of action from beat to beat. But after a while, a pattern emerges, and it's easy to figure out how any given heist or raid is going to unfold. This too becomes frustrating, partially because you often have no way of significantly affecting the outcome despite any decision-making power you thought you might have had. But your weariness is also Arthur's, and that's crucial. The mid-game drags in service of the narrative, which only becomes apparent much later. There's also enough variety between missions and free-roam exploration to prevent it from dragging to the point of being a chore to play."

Red Dead Redemption 2's story falters but is ultimately worthwhile - Polygon (Unscored) 

"Scale hinders specificity, and a story about the tragedy of the American South demands specificity. It’s hard to even gauge if Red Dead Redemption 2 achieves its own goals, because by the end, it appears to be a bit of everything: a violent shooter, a cracking heist flick, a meditation on mortality, a high school American history class.

On the other hand, even with the tonal messiness, the game routinely centers itself around a valuable philosophy: The golden myths of the Wild West era, the stories of dime-store Westerns, are just that - myths. And that allows for it to be something for everybody, even when that something isn’t always for me. At its best, the story breaks away from the Western genre and plays like a cross between a heist movie, a domestic drama and a political thriller. At its worst, it’s a buddy action comedy. Mercifully, it manages to be more of the former than the latter."

Make sure you read our Red Dead Redemption 2 tips before you saddle up and set out.

Connor Sheridan

I got a BA in journalism from Central Michigan University - though the best education I received there was from CM Life, its student-run newspaper. Long before that, I started pursuing my degree in video games by bugging my older brother to let me play Zelda on the Super Nintendo. I've previously been a news intern for GameSpot, a news writer for CVG, and now I'm a staff writer here at GamesRadar.