I've finally finished this game, and I am going to state one cold fact: Red Dead Redemption
was a better game.
This game flashes between brilliance and drudgery. People talk about how great the story is or whatever, but I found the previous game more impactful on my emotions.
More importantly, however, is the fact that the actual game parts of the game can get irritating. Annoyances in the game's control scheme and its systems pop up time after time, mission after mission.
The game's controls are frustrating at times. Several times, I'd be running to mount my horse, but an NPC was too close when I pressed Y, so Arthur tackled him instead, and I got a bounty on my head. One time, I was standing next to my horse and someone else's horse, and Arthur naturally got onto the other horse, despite the fact that I was standing closer to my own horse. Also naturally, even though I dismounted immediately, I got a bounty for stealing a horse.
Most importantly, "look at someone to talk to them or buy something" and "aim gun" are on the same button. This is the main cause of frustration. Once, I saved a woman from a gang that was going to do something untoward with her. I wanted to talk to her, but I accidentally pointed my gun at her and she ran away screaming. Absolutely great.
You can only hold two long guns and one handgun at a time, and the rest are stored on your horse. If you get a gun you don't want, you have to scroll through it every time regardless, and repeaters, rifles, shotguns, and bows are all on the same line.
You can set a loadout at a gun shop that will make it so you end up with those guns every time you get off your horse. Unfortunately, the game never tells you this. If you don't set a loadout, you will not have any long guns when you get off your horse. This is ridiculous in missions, because they will frequently disallow you to get back to your horse, or make it a chore to get back to your horse.
Also, the game likes to decide exactly which guns you're going to use at any given moment. Nevermind that I have the best repeater in the game, the game just gives me the default one and says "tough shit".
I also find the sniping sections to be poor. Seeing through the scopes can be too hard, and the game again forces one of your weapons out for a sniper rifle that isn't of any use once the mission invariably sets you off to fight on the ground.
It didn't happen to me, but I've read about a glitch that can happen in the epilogue where you lose all your guns. If this happens, load a save before the mission Motherhood, where the Willie Nelson song plays
The absolute biggest problem with the early game is the bounty system coupled with the complete lack of available funds.
If someone shoots at you, and you shoot back, you get a bounty. If someone runs in front of your horse (which happens frequently), you get a bounty. Sometimes missions will even saddle you with a bounty automatically.
The only way to get rid of a bounty is to pay it off at a train station. Going to jail forces you to pay off the bounty anyway. Dying does nothing, but you drop some money for good measure.
The side mission with Black Belle gave me a $100 bounty in that state that I couldn't afford to pay off. The only silver lining is that each state tracks bounties separately, and I didn't have to go back there for a long time, and by then I had enough money.
Your horse is your most valuable possession, but it never teleports to you. One mission, Arthur and a friend from camp get absolutely wasted, and Arthur ends up miles and miles from town. His horse is still in town, so I had to run all the way to town. I wasn't impressed.
Hunting in this game is frustrating, but not because of the act of hunting itself. The problem is that only legendary or perfect pelts are of any use in crafting. To use these, you have to sell each pelt to the trapper. The trapper will store each pelt for an eternity until you use it. The problem is that there are only five trappers in the game, and none are very convenient to get to. Naturally, pelts rot and decay over time, so you can't just say "when I get to it". There are no trappers in the entirety of New Austin, either. Hunting up in the snowy mountains or in the deserts, then, requires a long jaunt down to the trapper.
What's more is that your horse can only carry a limited number of pelts. Small animals, like raccoons and beavers, can hang on the side of your saddles. Medium-sized animals, like wolves and deer, can be skinned and several pelts can be laid on top of eachother. You can also just pop the whole animal corpse onto the back of your horse. Large animals have to be skinned, and only one large animal skin can be carried at a time.
Perfect pelts can only be obtained by killing a three-star animal with the correct means, or else you'll get a damaged pelt. Oh, also, it can fall off of your horse if you crash into something, which will damage it as well. This ends up being way more tedious than fun, and I am not going to get even a quarter of the craftable clothing.
There is only one of each legendary pelt, and it is, luckily, automatically added to the trapper's inventory if you lose it. You just don't get the $50 you'd get from selling it. Hunting the legendary animals is about the only hunting that I did, but I had a good time with it.
In this game, Arthur's hair and beard grow as time goes by, and, like in real life, you can't add hair back onto your head or face. You can use a tonic to speed the growth, but every change is going to last a while. (luckily, they let you see the change before you do it)
There are also points in the story where Arthur's hair and beard will grow on its own due to a short timeskip. This means that if you found a style you like that isn't the max, you have to trek all the way to a barber to get back to where you were five minutes ago. Barbers aren't in every town; so far I've only encountered two. Arthur can shave his own beard, but the hair on his head can't be touched by mortal man. The system is more annoying than impressive.
The campaign starts incredibly slowly. Contrary to what you expect from a cowboy game, the first several hours take place in the mountains, in a blizzard.
Through the first half-dozen missions, you trudge through knee-deep snow, but I guess they wanted to keep you moving slowly to build up the characters. Once you get down south to the wooded area, the game opens up, and your movement improves. Except in camp, where you will always be walking in molasses.
One thing that bothered me in a lot of missions is that someone would tell you to loot the corpses or buildings, but then less than a minute later, he'd be yelling at me for taking too long. Looting is very important, because you'll need to eat any food you find to keep your stats up.
Your stat cores weaken over time, which makes you take more damage or run out of stamina faster. Eating, sleeping, or even smoking can increase these cores. Your horses run on the same system. It's kind of neat, and I've found enough food that it hasn't been a problem so far.
A problem with the overall mission structure is how rigid it is. You're never really given any meaningful freedom.
In one mission, a girl from camp named Tilly was being accosted by someone, and you're supposed to get him away from her. He threatens you, and says "what are you going to do about it?", so I shot him right between the eyes, as my cowboy instincts told me to do. Mission failed for "alerting the law". Because he comes back later, no matter how many times I tried to kill him quietly or away from town, I failed the mission. It's silly.
At the 35 hour mark, I got really tired of all the politics sprinkled throughout the game. It came to a head at a mission where you have to drive a cart full of suffragettes around to protest. I simply did not want to do it. I came back to the game a week later, and still didn't want to do it. I suffered through it, though, because every time I thought of this game, I wanted to continue until I remembered the suffragettes. I just want to be a cowboy and do cowboy things, not drive a slow-ass carriage around to hear political debates that were resolved well before I was born. There is absolutely no deviation allowed. You can't take the cart off of the main drag, or you will fail the mission. You cannot draw a gun, leave the cart, or throw punches at all. Those buttons simply don't work during this mission. All of your agency as a player is gone. At least they can't disable my TV's mute button.
I already strongly disliked the last two carriage missions, because the vehicle is completely anti-fun to drive. Then in the epilogue, there are more carriage missions than in the entire "main" story. I really hate that thing.
Sometimes, a character mid-mission will ask you how you want to approach it. For example, Hosea and I were attempting to rob a house and steal their stagecoach. He asked if I wanted to attempt it stealthily at night, or to do it during the day, while he distracted them. I chose the daytime option, and was satisfied with how it went. Other times, it will be a more simple "send Bill to kill guy/go yourself".
Your fellow gang members are among the most important facets of the game. While I would have liked more optional bonding missions, most of the gang is well-realised and fleshed-out. Javier, however, gets little chance to shine, and ends up just kind of existing for most of the game. Even gang members who aren't around as long, like Kieran
, have a big moment to remember them by.
One character I am particularly torn on is Sadie Adler. From chapter 3 through to near the end of chapter 6, she is insane. For those chapters, in every single mission she appears in, she goes on a rampage at the worst possible time, and in one case, gets the balloonist killed. I liked him a lot in the short time we spent together, and I was really sad to see him go, but more angry that Sadie couldn't keep herself from going on a killing spree for one hour
. Then, toward the end of chapter 6, she mellows out a bit. She's still really gung-ho and enjoys killing way too much, but she seems to know where to keep it confined to. You could call this character development, but it's not gradual, and it just kind of happens. You could say it's because Colm O'Driscoll died, but she has another one of her psychotic episodes immediately after, and turns what should have been a peaceful walkout into a shootout.
I really don't know how to feel, but I do know that I still don't like her voice.
The fact that this game is a prequel means that a lot of moments that should be "OH SHIT" moments are just "whatever" moments. I already know these characters will survive through the game, so I don't really feel much about it.
The original songs with vocals are really memorable parts of the game. There are a few, but they aren't overused in the slightest. Every time one starts, it feels like a point in the story where it makes sense. It's never just like you're on your way to rob a train and a song starts; it's always a moment that has a unique feeling to it. If I look back on this game in a few years, the most memorable parts will be May I? Stand Unshaken, Cruel Cruel World, and building the ranch house
. Well, that and watching Lenny having sex with Lenny, and the mangoes
The optional stranger missions are generally great, and you never know what you're going to get into next. You'll meet a pair of twins quarreling over a girl, a French painter (my favourite), a woman managing a pair of "medical miracles" as the game puts it, a photographer who wants to capture the wildlife in photographs before it's overhunted, and far more. These missions are nice tonal breaks from the main story, putting Arthur in sometimes ridiculous situations. Honestly, if the game was nothing but roaming the open world, encountering these strangers, and just robbing with your gang for the sake of robbing, I'd love it to death. These missions and the casual/side mission interactions with your gang members are where the writing really shines.
There are some neat details in the open world. One time, a guy limped up to me and said he'd been bitten by a snake. I did the nice thing and sucked the venom out of his leg for him, and continued on my way. Several hours later, back in the town of Valentine, I encountered him again, telling his friend about how I saved his life. He let me buy anything in the gun shop from his tab, and I got a $100 rifle I'd been hemming and hawing about. (glad I didn't buy it myself then)
The game tries too hard to be realistic, which will definitely be a turnoff for some. Hopefully, enough people will complain about some of these issues that they'll be fixed in a patch.
I enjoyed the game, overall, but there were a lot of moments where I really wished they'd done things differently. It's a game of highs and lows. The highs keep me engaged and anxious to see what's around the corner. The lows make me tilt my head back and groan, forcing myself to push through it, even causing me to stop playing for a while at one point.