In the eight years since Red Dead Redemption first launched, its fanbase has steadily grown, but never quite reached the same level of fanfare as Rockstar Games’ main money-maker, Grand Theft Auto. That all changes with Red Dead Redemption 2, a spectacularly stellar sequel that turns the franchise into a behemoth.

As we previously mentioned in our hands-on, the game transports you to 1899, telling the tale of your quick-shooting, smooth-talking protagonist Arthur Morgan and his role within the Van Der Linde Gang. Only problem is, as the lawmen start closing in, cracks begin to show. Thankfully, Rockstar takes its time to let these events play out, but it’s worth noting that if you want to invest in Arthur’s tale, expect a significant investment (around the 60-hour mark) that is best played in larger chunks.

Rockstar has delivered a surprisingly lengthy narrative, but one that is also very deliberate. Red Dead Redemption 2 expertly plays around with pace, especially in the opening act. That fact might turn off some: however this is not a game designed to rush you from one major setpiece to the next. It allows significant moments to breathe and pause for reflection, especially as the sprawling world opens up.

And what a world it is, filled with a wide breadth of areas to explore and things to do. Whether you’d prefer to play a few hands of poker, spend hours fishing, or go on the hunt for bounties, you’ll always be entertained by a playground that continues to live and breathe around you. Even side quests are highly engaging and start tying into the major beats, preventing them from feeling like minor distractions.

Yes, horse anatomy has earned itself a lot of press, but it’s just one example of the level of detail Rockstar Games has paid to its richly developed world, and we’re not even strictly talking visually. Food must be eaten to stay healthy, horses must be tended to, and characters won’t just hear of your adventures, but strike up conversations with you about them.

In a year filled with exceptional releases, Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t just aiming to be top dog, but snatch the throne for the entire generation. The thing is, it might just have succeeded.

5/5

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