opinion

Why Red Dead Redemption II Rises Above The Rest Of 2018’s Releases

by Javy Gwaltney on Jan 05, 2019 at 11:00 AM

This past year was jam-packed with exciting, amazing titles. From epic adventures to mesmerizing puzzlers, there was something fantastic for everyone. For me, one game rose above all of them. I’ve never made my love of the original Red Dead Redemption a secret, having spilled thousands of words about why John Marston’s journey is a high point for interactive storytelling. However, even with all my expectations set at maximum level, Red Dead Redemption II still blew me away.

There’s a lot I could say here about Red Dead Redemption II’s achievements. Its visuals are fantastic, the combat is gruesome and spectacular, the storytelling is, by turns, bleak, hopeful, and ridiculously ambitious. However, at the end of the day, Red Dead Redemption II is stunning because it makes the mere act of being in its universe a marvel.

I’ve never played a game that’s made inhabiting its world, as in simply walking around it, so engrossing. A simple stroll down the street might result in a bloody duel. Or, if I’m looking to get away from trouble, I can simply venture into the mountains for a weekend of hunting. Hunting pelts in the day and then brewing coffee at night as I stare out at the stars from the highest peaks. Most impressively, I never grew tired of traveling in the wilderness because the algorithms behind the scenes almost guaranteed that I would always run into an exciting event or discovery (like freeing prisoners from a wagon on the road or a chance to blow up some KKK members) every time I surged across the map on my steed.

I’ve wandered around towns, watching the citizens stick to their schedules. I’ve watched corpses decay in the wilderness, awed at just how much work has gone into the most minute details. Detractors often dismiss Rockstar’s games as “detail porn” more than experiences that are fun to play through, and I think there’s some validity to that notion if you go into Red Dead Redemption II with a concrete opinion about what it should be instead of aligning your expectations with the game’s pacing.

I love how unconcerned the game is with courting your favor. It doesn’t care if you get annoyed because you left your guns in your horse's saddle or that you want more fast travel options. It is stubbornly full-hog about making you appreciate its beautiful world without offering shortcuts.

Even accepting that stubbornness, Red Dead Redemption II isn’t perfect. The story has a little too much filler.  Some of its systems — particularly the challenge-based ones — can be grating if you’re a completionist.  However, to me, the best games are about transporting you to worlds that are hard to leave. With over 180 hours so far under my belt and no desire to stop in my sight, Red Dead Redemption II might be the best game I’ve ever played by that measure.

Red Dead Redemption II was by a large margin the best game I played this year. However, that’s pretty wild in itself given just how fantastic the other games on my list are. Here are the rest of my top 10 for 2018 if you're curious.

2. God Of War
As someone who never particularly cared for the God Of War trilogy, I loved Kratos’ return. The new God Of War is frankly a bit of alchemy to me, taking the simpleminded, bloody violence of the original games and transmuting them into a beautiful tale about fatherhood, redemption, and finding hope in the darkness. Also, recalling the axe never gets old.

3. Return Of The Obra Dinn
Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope took a long time developing this devious little puzzler. Easily one of the best puzzle games of this generation, Return Of The Obra Dinn is a true detective’s game, forcing you to solve the fates of the 60 members of the crew. There are no shortcuts. You have only a notebook and your wits to rely on. While periods without discovery or a lack of clues might be disheartening, some of my biggest highs this year were solving the mysteries on this cursed ship.

4. Monster Hunter World
I really need to get back to Monster Hunter World. It came in a flash early in 2018 and took over 70 hours of my time. I adored crafting armor and weapons as well as hunting down foes with my friends and partner. The exhilaration of the hunt has never been captured better. Work and other games eventually pulled me away but I’ll be certain to dive back in once the new expansion pack arrives.

Funny To A Point - Spider-Man Screen

5. Spider-Man
Spider-Man is a triumph on a number of levels. The biggest was proving that the open-world superhero game still had places to go after the Arkham trilogy blew everyone’s minds about what a superhero game should be. Despite knowing all the constants in Peter, Mary Jane, Miles, and Aunt May’s story, Insomniac crafted a surprisingly poignant story within those constraints. I think more than anything I’ll remember this game for its characters’ unrelenting follow through on their collective belief that everyone is worth saving, people can change, and that world is worth fighting for.

6. Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4
This one is on here for largely sentimental reasons. I was one of the first three people in the world outside of the Treyarch to get to play Blackout. Even then in its rough draft state, I could see that Blackout was going to be the game I always wanted PUBG to be: technically stable, exhilarating, and a load of fun with friends. Since its release, I’ve had a blast playing matches with groups of friends. Victory has eluded me thus far but I will win in 2019! I know it!

Hitman 2 Review Screens

7. Hitman 2
As a big series fan, I found a lot to like (and dislike) with the 2016 rendition of Hitman. The sequel addresses a lot of those grievances, with levels that were as interesting as they were big, the delightfully devious writing rearing its head more, and all the wacky and stylish ways you can off your target. There are still precious few gaming experiences that can match up to killing your target quietly and strolling away from the scene of the crime without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Diablo III: Eternal Collection

8. Diablo III Eternal Collection
All roads lead to Diablo III. I played through both the original PC release as well as the PS4 release. However, the Switch version was easily my biggest portable time sink, which was helpful since I traveled for work a lot this year. The immediacy of slaying huge crowds of demons and zombies and then watching their bodies go flying wacky-physics style is only matched by the surprising intricacy of its long-tail. I’m currently on my third Switch playthrough right now and will likely complete several more characters before I take a break. Sure Diablo III might have come out years ago but the constant support from Blizzard has made the game one of the most entertaining experiences I keep returning to. PSA: Monk + Exploding Palm build is amazing.

9. Overwatch
Okay. Yes. I have two games that weren’t released in 2018 technically on my list. However, it’s telling that they’re both from Blizzard, who are masters at turning their games into services and providing constant updates. Overwatch’s foundation is still the same it was in 2016, but the various nerfs and hero additions have drastically changed the game itself. I adore Overwatch. There is probably no game I’ve played more this year consistently day after day with my friends. Also, Ashe and B.O.B are the best.

10. Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 should be the gold standard for remakes from now on. Not only does it give the second game’s campaign a fantastic facelift and imbue it with the systems from Yakuza 6, it fills the edges with a ridiculous amount of “side content” including two standalone, engrossing campaigns. With the possible exception of 0, Kiwami 2 is the best of Yakuza and a fantastic experience.