I like western movies well enough but to date, fantasy has been my preferred genre for gaming. The only sci-fi MMOs I’ve played are EVE Online and a very brief stint in Star Trek Online. I would jump all over an opportunity to play a quality Steampunk game but barring that, fantasy is home. It’s not just the fantasy environment that’s a draw. Using magic is equally as compelling and usually a necessary component. I’m also not into playing single-player RPGs. Purchasing RDR was a stretch on many levels.
We’ve played console games before. We, is mostly my kids. I’ve only dabbled in them. Back then we didn’t have them hooked up to high definition television. Seeing RDR rendered in high def is jaw dropping when you consider it’s just a video game. The graphic style, tone and rendering immediately suck you into the Wild West. The ambiance is dead on. I haven’t had the chance to play as often as I would have liked. The bodies were queued up all weekend as my sister, nephews and friends came by to check out the new setup while we BBQ’d and relaxed outside in between turns.
Here are my very early impressions:
What I’ve enjoyed most
- Authenticity of the Rendered World – From the moment you materialize in the world as John Marston, you feel every inch of being a retired outlaw in the west. The sights – towns, open range, buildings, and characters, background music and ambient noise, layer to brilliant effect. Trotting through town on your steed or racing across the open range feels very much like being in a real western. Objects – people, animals and structures are where they should be and it feels natural. The world itself acts a living organism where life goes on around you with or without your participation. You don’t see obvious clumps of mobs waiting to be slaughtered or quest hubs with NPCs standing around screaming, “I’m a quest-giver!” Sometimes when I see bad things about to happen I intervene. Other times I watch events run their course before going about my business. My nephew on the other hand, likes to instigate activity and the fact that the game’s inhabitants react to his reputation is icing on the cupcake.
- Freedom of Progression – The first sequence of missions are very linear as they attempt to acquaint you with the basics and provide you with starter items. After that, you’re free to do as you will. You can stick with the main storyline, go off on a tangent doing whatever or combine the two. I’m doing a combination. I follow the main story for so long as I’m in the mood for directed progression (25% so far). When I’m not doing that I’m completing tasks for fun achievement or rewards like getting different outfits, doing odd jobs, gambling or breaking-in wild horses to get a different mount. I also enjoy roaming the wilds hunting and skinning to earn cash or interacting with random NPCs for quick side missions and rewards. For me, it plays a lot like EVE Online except the main story missions compelling and cinematic in nature. I go here, there – do this and that, whatever I’m in the mood for and find entertaining.
- Mission System – The sandbox-like progression options blend very nicely with the more linear storyline quests. I could do without some of the cut-scenes but they’re easily avoided. Rather than cluttering the game world with quest starter indicators, these symbols appear on your map. This allows you to decide whether or not you care and when. Implementing them in this fashion maintains the RP integrity of the world itself. Quest completion areas will display in-game but they are very unobtrusive. Nothing is floating over anyone’s head. *Smile* Some missions are short quick hits while others are fairly lengthy affairs with several mini objectives. It's your typical fare of fetch, gather, slay, etc. but it's the variety in the way that you can acquire missions, that's refreshing.
- NPCs & Characters – So far I’ve encountered a wide range of characters. Bonnie, the daughter of a local rancher who starts the beginning quests and on whose ranch you can find night jobs, makes a regular appearance as a quest starter and participant. The townsfolk are often in need of assistance and even when they’re not, the backdrop they provide to over arching buzz of the world is believable. I’m also enjoying the side missions you run across while traveling and hunting. I will admit that some of the folks seem too stupid to have survived past the schoolhouse, let alone still kicking and breathing adults. Yet their little predicaments are interesting diversions when you’re in the mood for them. Or if they annoy you too much, as in my nephew’s case, it only takes a bullet to end their suffering. *smile*
What I’ve enjoyed least
- Game needs functioning stables – The game goes to lengths teaching you how to be a proper horseman and herder but I can’t use these skills to full affect outside of missions. I get a REAL BLAST from chasing down wild horses, catching them and breaking them. However, I can’t stand that I can only retain the most recent horse! I should be able to stable them for a fee to support collecting a wide range of horses. Right now this is only possible with horses you’ve purchased because you can recall purchased horses with the deeds. Seriously, this is the west, I can break horses and I want to keep ALL of the ones I acquire.
- Player owned ranches – Helping Bonnie and crew herd cattle isn’t very exciting as one-off missions. I’ve done them so far for the rewards and to progress that story. The real pay-off would be putting these skills to use capturing and managing my own herd. I realize a lot of players won’t want that level of RP in RDR but I think a decent percentage would want to carry the game to the level of detail. It also adds a perpetual open-ended opportunity for game-play. I’d pay for DLC that would add that functionality. It would be like having crafting professions.
- THE CAMERA!!! – I hate hate hate how the camera works. I think it’s because I’ve grown up on PC-based MMOs where moving my body instantly moves the camera. In RDR, the auto-camera is delayed as though I’m watching what the avatar is doing versus it acting as the avatars POV. This “I’m in or watching a movie affect” while cool in cut scenes, I find annoying in actual game-play. What we find ourselves doing is constantly turning too far because the camera isn’t reacting or rather, appears not to be reacting, to the controller. It’s annoying as hell when shit is jumping off really fast. I could manually move the camera but that requires letting go of the button that controls my speed. I suppose we’ll get used to it over time but for now, it’s a pain in my butt.
- Badly Timed Hints & Tips – The documentation is next to nothing which is fine except that the game passes valuable information to you in the upper left corner of the screen WHILE you’re busy – sometimes busy getting your ass kicked. On a small screen, these ill-timed messages would at least be seen in time. On a large screen, like 40-inches, you CAN'T read them while focusing on the game activity. You don’t even see them in time. I notice something in my peripheral vision and by the time I realize it’s something I need to read it’s fading off. *Growl*