I think everyone on the planet has written about Red Dead Redemption 2 at some point and for good reason, it’s a huge experience with many aspects worth discussion. One of the most contentious points, however, is the pace of the game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is slow in many ways, from the animation to the story itself. What’s especially slow and clunky to some is the travelling – there’s no reliable fast travel. Sure you can ride a stagecoach or train somewhere and there’s even fast travel from your camp, but none of them are very reliable. You can’t just conveniently pull up the map and instantly teleport somewhere. The choice to do this will absolutely infuriate some, however I think this pulls the whole thing together. This is one of the most important design decisions that was made for the player’s experience.
This comes from someone who always uses fast travel in open world games, as most of the time wandering place to place becomes a chore. I typically want to get right on with the next mission or see the next place, so I’d rather not walk through the same empty forest for the 100th time. In Red Dead 2 though Rockstar make it an engaging trip every time we set out on the trail. They do this by making each journey unexpected and different, through numerous random encounters that show up as you’re riding. These encounters are some of my favourite moments of the game, and it feels like they’re done personally – specifically for you – every time you find one. You might be riding along, then suddenly stumble upon a man stuck in a bear trap screaming for help; the game gives you a choice, leave him to die or save him? This choice helps you build your character and roleplay. More complex encounters give you more difficult choices and help you even more in deciding who you want your Arthur to be. These encounters also add a sense of place to the world and make it seem more real and populated.
The slower travel in Red Dead Redemption 2 is also necessary to facilitate the pace of the story. The narrative is dealt out slowly, there’s no doubt about that. There are pages and pages of excellent dialogue that the player has to experience. So much of that dialogue is fit in to those moments where you are riding your horse; this happens particularly when you start in your base camp and have to ride to a mission. The ride may take 5-6 minutes but cleverly these minutes are filled with conversation and exposition. When you play it you’ll see this happen constantly, there’s rarely a time when you’re riding with someone else where dialogue is not happening.
Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t punish you for the fact that it has a slow traversal mechanic either, and the world is sequenced in a way that it won’t affect players’ enjoyment too strongly. Each chapter is set in a distinct location on the map and does not stray from that general area. Every time you start a new segment, all the story missions and side quests will be centered around the area that you are now in, so most of the time players don’t have to go across the entire map to get to the next place they want to go to. Generally, it’s never that far away. So even if you can’t stand how slow your horse is going, the game doesn’t make it too painful for you.
Most importantly though, the slow travel in the game lets you appreciate the world that has been created, instead of just skipping by it with fast travel. Riding your horse forces you to look at the beautiful natural environments; it makes you slow down and smell the roses. Red Dead Redemption 2 wants you to be immersed, to truly feel like part of the world and the long trips you take on your horse through beautiful forests, deserts, and swamps help make that happen. The travel in Red Dead Redemption 2 grounds you in a way very few games can do.