Before I continue with the article, I want to state that I believe that Grand Theft Auto V is one of the greatest games ever made, as well as one of gaming’s most applaudable achievements. GTA V is the crown jewel when it comes to gaming, and since it’s released, it was the final push that shoved the boulder off the mountain. The theoretical mountain is the entertainment industry, and the boulder is the idea that video games are a viable and reliable portion of digital and entertainment media. While yes, video games were the most profitable form of media even before Rockstar’s monumental release, those who did not appreciate video games in the way that some of us do weren’t sold just yet. With GTA V’s release behind us, it is known that the game is the single most profitable piece of media in history. The way the game has lengthened its shelf life by developer support, even after Red Dead Redemption II’s release, should be a play written into the proverbial playbooks of every developer in the industry. The game’s meteoric rise into pop culture is no gimmick, it is no fluke, it truly is one of the most important releases in the media form’s history.

With that said, I believe that Rockstar’s most recent “Quadruple A” release, Red Dead Redemption II, should be what they are most proud of.

Rockstar started out as underdogs making fan favorite games and have become one of the most reliable developers in gaming. Given that almost every single release they’ve ever had is unanimously lauded as the generation it is released on’s best game, or at the very least near the top. Their games get more and more costly to make, and they seem to just get better.

Now, while GTA V is their (and the world’s) most profitable release, RDR II’s impact on gaming culture, not its profitability, is far greater that its car-stealing, heist-pulling, comedic parody of the world cousin’s.

Don’t worry, my reasoning is sound.

All in all, you may scream at the top of your lungs that RDR II is boring and too long. But what Rockstar accomplished with the game should be written into the history books. They essentially made a game twice as long as their biggest game, with a map that gobbles up its predecessor’s, and still found a way to improve the storytelling tremendously. That’s not to say that I did not love Michael De Santa’s retiree looking for a resurgence beat, Franklin Clinton’s too smart for his situation but too broke to fix it characterization, and Trevor Phillip’s batshit fuck all attitude and willingness to eat/maim whoever he wants shtick; because I did, very much so. But these characters and the world they live in are supposed to be an over exaggerated, far enough away to be funny but close enough to hit home, parody of the world/society we live in, with no real rules or guidelines to live by. Red Dead Redemption II takes a more methodical and toned down glance at how humans in the time period, whether that be the outlaws you associate with or the good townsfolk you might see, interacted with one another and how they grew to be better or worse over time. The world changes, not just because of you, but because the people living in it have thought out lives, beyond your interactions with them. The attention to detail that Rockstar put into the game is uncanny, but that isn’t the point of this article.

Did it revolutionize how open-world games operate? No, of course not. Was it the best game of its release year? Maybe. That’s debatable. What it did do was set an example for how other giant games should be approached. Of course, other games have felt lived in, but never like this. The game is so damn long, but (in my opinion) is paced perfectly, with natural and life-like growth within the main character, Arthur Morgan, as well as the side characters littered throughout the giant world. I mean, the word redemption is slapped in the title, and redemption cannot happen without personal growth. Arthur Morgan, the game’s roughneck antihero, not unlike John Marston from the first entry, essentially redeems himself. Whereas he’s completely on board with whatever the gang is doing in the beginning, he slowly starts to self actualize and eventually breaks from his criminal mold and becomes a genuinely good person (if you played the game correctly). This same thing happened to me, playing as Arthur. I started the game ready to rob anyone blind, throw hogtied people on train tracks, and set entire buildings on fire. . . And it was fun. But then I started to change. If we robbed someone who borrowed money from us, I would only take what they owed. I’d only break into people’s houses to take their cigarette cards or items my fellow gang members requested. Then, I eventually stopped robbing all together, even if I was low on cash. I helped everyone I possibly could, whether that be me buying wood for a man to build a house, or teach a woman how to hunt to survive, I did it all. I grew as a virtual person, naturally, like Arthur Morgan did. The world also grew, not in size, but in a tangible way. With how the buildings and railroads were slowly being completed, and how laws were being enforced in a more modern matter.

I think that growth also bleeds into how Rockstar looks at their own games. Their game library has grown more mature and emotional throughout the years. As we got older, our gaming habits went from sandboxes to sandboxes with great stories. Those stories became more and more in depth and now we have it; the perfect balance between storytelling and sandbox fuckery, wrapped up in our dreams of being outlaw, bounty hunter cowboys with every realistic aspect that comes with it.

There is no lack of detail in this game. You can tell how much effort and love went into making this game the technical and storytelling masterpiece that it is. There are certainly things about the game that frustrate all of us, but what the game does right (which is almost everything), it does it right like no other game has done before.

So, if you decided to skip until the end of this article, I’ll sum it up for you. Rockstar has the holy grail of cash cows in Grand Theft Auto V, without question, but what they have in Red Dead Redemption II is something far greater and far more important. RDR II is unlike any game that has ever been released. I mean sure, there are other huge open world games with plenty of detail, but never to this extent. Natural hair growth, map geography, wildlife/hunting/fishing, particle effects and movement (dirt, mud, snow), and weapon degradation are just a few details on a list of maybe hundreds of thousands that make this game a technical marvel in gaming achievements. Then the story. A story about growth, about survival, about redemption. Quite possibly one of the most impactful stories in gaming, RDR II is full of beautiful personal moments and heart wrenching, depression-filled losses. The game makes you feel something for ALL of its characters, all while driving you forward to make your situation better in your virtual life. The story and the game are filled with moments of growth from all fronts. From Arthur, to the world, and even yourself. The game is excellent at evoking emotion from you and giving you a path to direct those emotions properly. The “Redemption” in the game’s title is dependent on you, to pick and choose where the game’s growth comes from. Will Arthur become a better person? Will you? I hope so. I hope you stuck with the game until the end and grew a little. But if you didn’t, I hope you at least enjoyed your time with it. That’s what is special about this game. Being able to interpret it however you want, deciding whether you want Arthur to become who he was meant to be or someone he was forced to be. Choices matter, and this game isn’t even an RPG. That’s what should make this game Rockstar’s most appreciated, impactful, game-changing achievement.

Disagree? Tell me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As always, you can purchase Red Dead Redemption II and Grand Theft Auto V on PS4, Xbox One, and PC now (and you should).

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