My fellow fanatics, we’ve had some time to enjoy filling ourselves. Filling ourselves on turkey and good company with friends and family. Filling ourselves on some well-deserved vacation time. Or, more likely filling ourselves on Rockstar Games’ massive wild west blockbuster, Red Dead Redemption 2.
But I couldn’t help but see a continuous point of discussion come up regarding the game: is it too realistic?
Naturally, a game this large with this many players means there will be a lot of opinions and thoughts on such a subject. So I roped together several of our own deep-thinkers from TGF’s staff and started up a round table discussion about various parts of the game. All to try to give clarity and context to this topic. Enjoy.
Realism has been a goal for various games and sims going to back to gaming’s inception. Flight sims, sports sims, etc., but usually there is some level of suspension of disbelief, some abridging or truncating of what you have to manage in order to maintain the verisimilitude of the core experience. When you shoot a bunch of people in GTA and get caught, you don’t serve out your life sentence in jail in real time before getting shivved to death by skinheads or whatever right? So, in order to set the bar for what is just the right level. How much realism do you think is too much?
Joel Ramirez: When realism in a game takes the player away from actual gameplay that’s when it goes too far. Survival games like Ark, 7 Days to Die, are just some of the types of games that use the realism of hunger, temperature, and hydration as meters that affect the player. When I began playing Red Dead Redemption 2 I feared that what I had heard about the realism would cause me to not like the game. Would there be too much micromanaging in relation to taking care of Arthur or his horse? After playing for over 20 hours all of those worries are gone. This game is great at giving you “meters” to worry about but not enough to take away from the enjoyment of the adventure.
Trevor Paul: There are a few examples of realism that I would consider too much. The survival mode in Fallout 4 is a perfect example of this. They take away fast travel, you can starve to death and die of thirst, you have to sleep etc. I could go on, but I didn’t feel that the realism was too much in RDR2 at all. You can surrender yourself to law and it jumps to you getting out of jail, you can fast travel, and you don’t really have to sleep at all. It takes video game realism to another level in Rockstars terms but this is just more immersive to me. Sure, some things feel like a chore. For example, my horse died out in the middle of nowhere and I had to carry my saddle so dang far back to town to get onto a new one, but I found a ton to do on the way, so it wasn’t all bad.
Josh Beard: I honestly don’t have any problems with any of the realism mechanics Rockstar introduced in to try to create that “more immersive” experience in Red Dead Redemption 2. I usually hate things like this in video games. Mostly because they usually just aren’t implemented the right way. Take weapon degradation for instance. I think Dead Island is an incredibly fun game from top to bottom, save for ONE thing— the weapon degradation. It gets annoying watching weapons you upgrade break down and turn to garbage because they degrade way too quickly.
Tyler Chancey: So we’re in agreement that there is a limit to how much we are willing to handle. Personally, my tolerance for this sort of stuff has changed throughout the years. Once upon a time, I did enjoy the more in-depth stuff that survival games like The Long Dark or Ark had provided. That highly specific man vs. wild experience. However, with what precious little time I have to play my video games, I have to admit a lot of the novelty of such in-depth systems has begun to grate on me. Even something as pretty simple as taming a horse in Breath of the Wild seems too much of a hassle to me. Sneak up on it, ride it for a while until it stops bucking, then track down a ranch and then get a saddle for it? Yeah no. Gimme a horse and just let me ride. Even the earlier Witcher games I remember mellowed out on this. The first game made it clear you had to drink potions and prepare your poisons before you fought a monster, and if you guessed wrong with what you were fighting (oh no, elemental oil doesn’t work on Drowners), just load a checkpoint and try again. Then The Witcher 3 rolls around and that level of tedium was dropped.
So, with those levels of tolerance in mind, let’s actually talk a bit about Red Dead Redemption 2. We obviously cannot deny the level of polish and detail that Rockstar has put into this experience. The 100 work weeks, the five-year development cycle, it all clearly shows. So let’s talk briefly about those little moments that have made the game so impressive from an immersive realistic sim perspective. What made this game stand out from others so much?
JB: Ok, fine! I’ll be the first to say it— I like growing my beard out.
I always tell me that I’m a walking oxymoron because, even though my last name is Beard, I can’t grow a freaking beard. So I think it’s a really cool wrinkle in Red Dead’s realism mechanics that hair grows over time and can get pretty much as long as you want it to get. Want some nice, long, quaffed outlaw hair? Just play the game for a while and you’ll get there. You can even pompadour it up with some wax. Are you a bald-faced ne’re-do-well in real life who needs to live a bearded life vicariously through Arthur Morgan’s manly facial scruff? Well then watch in wonder as that hipster beard grows to lengths the town of Valentine has never seen before.
JR: Very few games have made me interested in familiarizing myself with every person’s story. I want to know how I can affect their lives. I want to solve their problems. I enjoy the slow-paced hunting and fishing processes you have to go through for legendary animals. I love being nosey and looking through every drawer or cabinet in a stranger’s house. I love just camping in the wilderness and surveying the land with my binoculars. I have spent so much time in this game doing nothing.
TC: So what you’re saying is what utterly blew your mind was basically people gazing? Joel…I think you need to get out of the house more.
JR: Ugh. I work outside all week, the last thing I want to do is be outside. There’s people outside.
TP: I’m going with the horses. I wasn’t expecting to get attached to them like I did but I do. I name them cool names, I obsess over building up my bond with them and customizing the saddle and how they look. I’m glad they took the extra steps there to make each horse I own feel unique. It’s my horse and that’s pretty cool in my opinion.
TC: Aside from the stuff I did enjoy from the original RDR, getting drunk and stirring the pot in town. I can say I did like the character customization. I know GTA V had something almost as in-depth as it but I always enjoy giving myself that little extra bit of personal flair. The gun customization also really helps it stand out.
Ben Runnings: It really is the small details of the world that make RDR2 work so well for me. Early on, I was going after one of the many bounties, a woman accused of killing her husband. I made my way to her location on the map, got off my horse and started a slow, crouched approach. The mini-map showed that I was literally on top of her location—I could hear her talking to a man but could not see her. The hill I was on, created a small alcove underneath me where they were camping. I needed to take her back alive, so I took out the lasso and started making my way down the hill. However, the incline was too steep, and I rolled like a ragdoll downhill right in front of them, ruining the surprise. This caused her to panic and kill the man before I could get up to do anything. It’s such a small event but one that really could have gone down in many different ways.
I could have run up to them, gun drawn. Or fired a warning shot, or waited around to see what they’d do on their own. The number of options is staggering but I know the AI would have naturally adapted to what was going on because I’ve spent many hours just testing and poking the system. It doesn’t get things right all the time, such as when I got accused of kidnapping for hogtying someone who pickpocketed me, but it’s a fantastic illusion they’ve created.
TC: So the NPC AI really stood out for you?
BR: It’s obviously still all an illusion but it’s much more interesting to mess with, especially anyone involved with a quest, be that main quest or just a person that starts talking to you on the side of the road.
TC: Whatever helps it feel more natural right?
BR: But it’s also me falling down the hill like an idiot because of the physics. (laughs)
Alright, now this is where I am going to get a little contentious. All of this in-depth detail and chicanery is nice, but RDR2 is also a sandbox, and it also winds up breaking certain unspoken rules when it comes to open world design.
You lose your hat, you’re gonna have to remember EXACTLY where it is in order to get it.
You want to call your horse? It won’t just teleport to where you are but actually run to you from where it was in real-time, assuming it even hears you calling for it.
So I have to ask…. were there moments where it felt like the game went a little too far from what you were used to in those initial opening hours, and how long did it take you to get used to it, if at all?
BR: Actually I think the way RDR2 bucks conventions is what has made me like it so much in the first place. The only example I have of being super inconvenienced is whenever I have a large pelt or another object that I have to take back to camp (or wherever) via a several minute trek through the countryside. Nothing else has bothered me much, but it did take a few hours after the opening, and perhaps into Chapter 3, for the full breath of the game to ‘click’ for me. Also, there are moments much later into the game where the story forces your progress for a while and the freedom of before isn’t quite there anymore. I’ve found that to be more annoying than anything else.
JB: I’ll say this when it comes to them taking realism too far— if my horse runs into one more freaking rock, falls down, and throws me off while I’m trying to escape bounty hunters one more time, I might crush my controller with my bare hands. The number of times I’ve come across knee-high obstructions only for my horse to unintuitively slam right into it and die, is a number so mind-bogglingly high that my TI-86 actually just came up with an error message while I was trying to calculate it. I really wish they would have made horse riding a little bit more forgivable in that aspect. There should be a little bit of wiggle room and forgiveness when riding your horse.
I CAN’T HAVE ANOTHER HORSE DIE ON ME GUYS! I JUST CAN’T!
BR: I play the game almost like I’m roleplaying as someone in this world, so if I don’t think the horse can handle something, I don’t even go towards. I’ll get off and poke around instead of risking it.
JB: Not me man. Horse-back Cliff diving. That’s where it’s at.
TP: It’s got to be the looting animations for me. After these huge shootouts, I do take the time to go through and loot everything, but those animations take far too long and can drive me a bit crazy from title to time.
TC: One word: Bathing.
It’s weird cause Deadly Premonition did something similar, but that game is so low fidelity with its PS2 level visuals all you really get is a muddy suit and flies buzzing around you. In RDR2, it feels like it’s there for people to remark on how filthy you are. Like, I don’t know what the sanitary standards were for the early 20th century but I think occasionally smelling of nature, blood, guts and beer isn’t exactly gonna turn any heads.
On the one hand it’s just there for immersion’s sake, more a means of feeling like you’re living the life of Arthur Morgan as he sits a tub full of suds and scrubadubdubs, but it feels one step removed from having to coordinate his bowel movements, remembering to eat high fiber or risk getting dysentery.
THAT IS NOT A RECOMMENDATION ROCKSTAR!
So it seems that a lot of the elements that some players see as too much, most of us here have learned to accept as part of the overall vision of the experience. Those little extra touches that aids with immersion to allow you to just wallow in the experience. But there is one burning question that I do wish to know. We have different schedules and different times to play games. Maybe a handful of hours a week if we’re lucky. So with all of the discussion of immersion and realism and changing certain gameplay to maintain this “sim-like” experience….
Does it bother you knowing that hunting can take potentially three times longer than it does in some other experience because of all the different things you have to keep in mind or doesn’t it? Is it annoying that the game has the classic Modern Rockstar Games awkward walking where you kind of stumble or fall over just about anything?
In other words, do you still believe the game respects your time playing it?
JR: As someone who juggles many games at once and doesn’t get too much time to play, especially throughout the week, I feel like it does respect my time. All of that is there if you want it. I could sit and hunt a legendary animal one night and feel like I enjoyed my time with the game. The Rockstar jank is something I’m used to. It has its annoyances at times but not enough to kill the enjoyment.
I feel like the game and I have mutual respect for each other, I could be riding towards a mission and have a strangers side mission pop up and totally ignore it because it will probably come up again in some other way.
BR: I have no problem with how long hunting, in particular, can take. First of all, it’s almost entirely optional and secondly, I’ve willingly spent hours hunting for no reason other than I felt like it.
As for other aspects of the game, I don’t think there’s really that much extra you have to stay on top of in RDR2. Remember to equip the guns you want before you leave your horse and to not draw your gun in the middle of town, and you won’t have many issues. The movement is more of an issue when you have to constantly press a button to run/gallop. I’ve always hated that in previous Rockstar games, but I’ve adjusted to it in the 40+ hours I’ve spent in this one.
And I haven’t fallen for no reason, is that a common Rockstar thing? I’m not a big GTA fan so I can’t discern everything that is unique to this game versus a mainstay.
Does RDR2 respect your time? Yes, but you have to go into it differently. It’s not about checking off all the boxes like an Ubisoft open world game, it simply gives you the world and asks you to exist within it. If you want completed tasks to flash all over the screen and make cool sounds as an XP bar fills, this isn’t the game for you. If getting to the top of the next hill, exploring a lonely forest shack, or hunting a 3 star wolf for 30 minutes just to get a single pelt sound like fun to you, it 100% is.
TC: I will admit there is a certain charm to RDR2 trying to strip away as much video game artifice from their experience as possible. It helps you drink in your surroundings and helps to put you in the fantasy of being a wild west cowboy.
That said, speaking only for myself, this is the kind of game that I feel demands more of your time than other games I keep going back to. Dead Cells or Spider-Man I can just hop into and play in small ten to fifteen minute bursts, but ten or fifteen minutes in RDR2 makes me feel like I spent a lot of time barely accomplishing anything.
It’s not a problem with RDR2, just where I am with my current gaming habits.
And that was our discussion on Red Dead Redemption 2. Do you agree? Disagree? Feel free to let us know your thoughts.