Every morning when I wake up in Red Dead Redemption 2, I do the same thing I do in real life: pour myself a cup of coffee. I roll out of bed, maybe have a shave if I’m looking particularly grizzled, and then wander over to the campfire where a percolator full of coffee is waiting. I pull a metal cup out of my satchel, fill it up, and take that all-important first swig to start the day.
In most mainstream games, this would likely trigger a short cutscene where you watch Red Dead’s main character — a charming outlaw named Arthur Morgan — enjoy his morning caffeine rush. But here, it’s a more interactive experience. Early morning is a busy time at the 19th century Wild West camp, with all of the 20 or so members of the gang getting up to start their day. You walk around, sipping hot coffee, while people say good morning to you and talk about upcoming jobs.
This is a fairly minor feature, admittedly, that doesn’t impact the way Red Dead Redemption 2 plays in any tangible way. But it’s the smaller details that set this open-world Western apart. In a lot of ways, RDR2 doesn’t actually stray too far from the formula laid down by developer Rockstar with games like Grand Theft Auto V and the original Red Dead Redemption. It still takes place in a vast, sprawling world, and it still tasks you with committing a lot of crimes in that world in order to progress. There are lots of shootouts and chase sequences, and you’ll kill a lot of police officers.
But the near-obsessive attention to detail, along with a new gameplay structure that centers around a family-like group of outlaws, makes Red Dead Redemption 2 the most convincing open-world game I’ve ever played. Except for a few rare instances, everything you’re doing in the game feels right, as if you were actually a bank robber trying to get by in the Old West. Those small details make the simulation that much more compelling. You might be struck by the way mud builds up on Arthur’s boots on a rainy day or how his beard grows as time progresses.
Sometimes, all you need is a simple cup of coffee to create the illusion that this is a real, living place.
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in 1899, 12 years before the events of the original game. (If you didn’t play it, don’t worry; you’ll be able to understand the story just fine.) Arthur is part of a tight-knit group that follows a charismatic leader named Dutch Van Der Linde. Dutch’s main goal in life, it seems, is to stay as far away from civilization as possible and to live life as a free man.
But at the turn of the 19th century, with cities and towns expanding across America, that’s not an easy thing to do. The group is constantly on the move, avoiding the law while searching for the one big score that will set them up with enough cash to finally get far, far away from the rest of the world. The game isn’t exactly subtle about its premise; there are multiple times in the game when Arthur or Dutch will explicitly decry the decline of the Wild West and the rise of modern civilization.