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The best parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 you never knew

Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar Games offers players one of the largest, most immersive video game experiences of its console generation. With so many places to explore, animals to hunt or study, and non-player characters to encounter, there's no doubt that many players will find hours of entertainment just getting lost within the various frontiers of the American Old West, or at least, the hyper-concentrated version of it depicted in this stylized prequel to Rockstar's award-winning Western adventure from 2010.

As the infamous publisher boasts on the game's official website, "Detail, depth, and choice define every aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2." On top of the game's deliberate, realistic pacing, it's packed full of new lore, revised features, and the trademark array of Rockstar Easter eggs. Quite simply, there's a lot to take in. And with so much to see and do throughout the game's massive sandbox narrative, we thought we'd point out a few of the best parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 you never knew existed.

You can turn off the minimap

When it comes to Red Dead Redemption 2's user interface, one particular refinement contributes a great deal to the game's sense of immersion — but is also quite easy to overlook. Thanks to the good graces (and considerate design philosophies) of Rockstar's development teams, players can actually disable the game's minimap. This little innovation goes a long way, and is so quietly unexpected that industry luminaries themselves are struck with its brilliance. Grand Theft Auto fans, in particular, are no strangers to ever-present radars on the heads up display. And a cluttered HUD is generally something we've become accustomed to in modern gaming. RDR2 on the other hand encourages a cinematic experience, and the gameplay is arguably all the better for it.

Kotaku said Red Dead 2 "feels like a long, contemplative walk in the woods" and "unlike so many modern open-world games, Red Dead Redemption 2 does not want you to achieve dominance over it. It wants you to simply be in its world, and to feel like a part of it. It's a crucial distinction, and a big part of what makes it all so immersive and engrossing. The thrill of playing Red Dead 2, like with many other Rockstar games, comes not from how fun or empowering it feels on a moment to moment basis. It comes from the electric sense that you are poking and prodding at an indifferent, freely functioning world."

A satisfying array of unique sound effects

When players discuss the audio of a Rockstar game, they usually speak in terms of the soundtrack and vocal performances. The original Red Dead Redemption, for instance, was highly praised for its Ennio Morricone-inspired score composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. Eurogamer called it a "standout, mixing banjos, harmonicas and winsome whistles with the odd song to mesmerizing effect." The unsung heroes of those sound beds, however, are the dozens (make that hundreds or thousands) of sound effects created specifically for the game. Red Dead Redemption 2 has doubled down on the sonic fidelity and creativity of the original with an masterful catalogue of sound cues in the mix.

As IGN explains in their review, "Whether you're expecting the satisfying metallic crunch of a reload, the iconic twang of a Hollywood Western ricochet, or the subtle squeak of a hotel floorboard, it's all there. Bullets fired on mountaintops ring with cracking echoes, completely different to the sound of bullets fired indoors. There are a wide range of unique sounds that have been recorded to appear just once or twice across the whole of Red Dead Redemption 2, like the squeak of detonator wire being unspooled or the clink of bottles in the back of a moonshine wagon. They're all constant reminders that little seems to have been missed."

RDR2 offers a subtle RPG experience

Similar to games like Dark Souls and Destiny, Red Dead Redemption 2 has found a way to subtly hide an RPG experience beneath the surface of its action adventure game. Various mechanics have been implemented to achieve this metagame, from more robust weapon and loot systems, to a more elaborately decorated and populated world — one that can be explored and customized unlike any Rockstar action game to date. Rockstar North Studio Co-President Rob Nelson explains that "there are 1001 ways to make money, even outside missions, in an honorable way, and less respectable too, to let the player do what he wants. You can kill people to steal their money, but you can also threaten them and extract their currency less violently. To leave the choice to the player is very important for us … it is not good against evil, everything is nuanced. Of course, we play Arthur and he has his own character, but you are given the opportunity to shape his way of behaving a bit."

Gamespot also identifies the RPG potential hidden within Red Dead 2's customization mechanics: "Naturally, this aspect of the game and its world seems like it's going to feed nicely into role-playing. Those who want to craft an Arthur Morgan that is wild, dangerous, and feared may want to let his personal hygiene go down the toilet, while the folks that want the slick, clean, fresh-faced outlaw that is respected can spend time and effort maintaining him."

You can interact with every NPC

One of the most crucial components to Red Dead 2's underlying roleplaying experience, as well as its general sense of verisimilitude, is the fact that you can interact with every non-player character in the game (much like a full-blown RPG such as Fallout or Mass Effect). Whether you're caught up in the character drama of the Van der Linde gang or just scrapping with unnamed locals on the dusty streets, each NPC has their own level of interactivity. And it's up to you as the player to craft the kind of conversations your version of Arthur Morgan will have with the world around him.

News of this chatty feature trickled out in the month leading up to the game's release, with No Clip's Danny O'Dwyer taking to Twitter to share the good news: "You can talk to every NPC in the game. I spent most of my time with the game doing exactly that. Just chatting to them. The line between 'quest giver' and 'NPC' is blurred beyond distinction. It means adventures can spawn from emergent moments, or just random people. It's awesome." Furthermore, many NPCs have a reaction to you whether you engage in conversation or not. O'Dwyer recounts how he "shot a shopkeeper in the torso accidentally during a hold up and he GOT BACK UP holding his wound and ran for help." With such a dynamic system perpetually at work, Red Dead 2 threatens to emerge as the most realized world Rockstar has created to date.

You can set your horse to autopilot

Red Dead Redemption 2 presents one of the most prodigious sandboxes in video game history. The publishers themselves call it "the deepest and most expansive Rockstar world to date." But as much as we love riding the wild frontier and basking in its glories, one of the gripes critics have highlighted is the lack of a comprehensive (or apparent) fast travel system. Fortunately, there is a fast travel mechanic in RDR2, despite it being a rather furtive one. And an interesting exploit for this system (essentially an autopilot mode for your horse) will actually afford you some of the most beautiful panoramas the game has to offer.

You can unlock fast travel by progressing through Chapter 2 of the game's story mode, although this system is considerably limited — you'll be able to fast travel to locations from camp, but you'll have to take the long way home. Thankfully, you can let your horse take the lead on the ride back to camp by setting your destination and enabling your Cinematic Camera. As Gamespot's Phil Hornshaw points out, "Your horse is pretty smart, and once you've given it the right instructions, it can be trusted to do the traveling — you just need to pay attention to any events happening on the side of the road that you might want to check out, and to watch for any bandits who might try to get the drop on you." Conclusion: the long way home just got a lot cooler.

A star-studded cast of extras

As IGN said of the original Red Dead Redemption, "the characters are wonderful with top notch dialogue and voice acting — all good enough to make you feel a part of the world." And the prequel, true to Rockstar fashion, is no different. Even though Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang take center stage throughout the course of Red Dead 2's winding narrative, the world around them is just as alive. And part of that lively atmosphere stems from the game's robust cast of supporting characters and background extras, many of whom are performed by some of the best in the business.

The background ensemble of Red Dead Redemption 2 is packed full of industry luminaries, with names like Cam Clarke (Akira, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Charlie Adler (Tiny Toon Adventures), Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop), Stephanie Sheh (Naruto: Shippûden), Matthew Mercer (Overwatch, Critical Role), and GTA veteran Lazlow (also one of Red Dead Redemption 2's audio directors) topping the list of generic "Local Pedestrian Population" characters. Kotaku praises the epic cast in their review: "Arthur may be the story's protagonist, but [this] is an ensemble drama … There are villains and psychopaths, drunks and miscreants, and also dreamers, runaways, and lost souls just looking to survive. Each character has their own chances to shine, particularly for players who take the time to get to know them all. From the cook to the layabout to the loan shark, each has become real … in a way fictional characters rarely do."

The humanism of horse bonding

Horses are part of the DNA of the Western genre, so there was never any doubt that Red Dead Redemption 2 would continue the legacy of the original with solid horse-riding mechanics. There are 19 different breeds of horse in Red Dead 2, and each breed handles differently with its own set of defined characteristics. Horses can be captured and broken out in the wild, purchased from stables, or stolen. And the system for studying and befriending these noble beasts has received a significant overhaul. As the official RDR2 website explains, "Your horse is your constant companion … By keeping it groomed and well-fed, you will start to see improvements in stamina, performance, and handling, and it will become less skittish as the bond grows between you."

IGN's Luke Reilly praises this level of detail and its narrative rewards in his review: "Only the [horses] that trust Arthur can be relied upon to stay calm and not kick him off in the face of a predator or in a gun battle, and that trust is built by riding, brushing, and feeding it. I liked having to click in the thumbstick to reassure my horse when he was scared -– it makes him feel real and establishes a physical-to-digital bond between you two … I kept the same horse from early in the game all the way to the finale and was truly attached to that big guy."

The official soundtrack features Willie Nelson & other greats

Rockstar has built their reputation on the incredible music in their games nearly as much as their bombastic content. For instance, the three-volume Music of Grand Theft Auto 5 was released digitally in 2013, reaching a commendable 11th position on Billboard's Top Soundtracks charts during the week of Oct. 12. By this measure, Rockstar fans have been expecting the triumphant return of composer Woody Jackson, who scored the original Red Dead Redemption along with L.A. Noire and Grand Theft Auto 5. But we had no idea what kind of musical talent would grace the game's official soundtrack until now; and the presence of these illustrious artists will likely remain a pleasant surprise for players new to Red Dead 2's sonic landscape.

According to Rockstar, country music icon Willie Nelson and neo soul maverick D'Angelo have both contributed tracks to Red Dead 2's epic collection of songs, among others. Per the report, "several award-winning artists gave vocal performances in addition to D'Angelo and Willie Nelson. Nas, Rhiannon Giddens, and Josh Homme all recorded for the soundtrack." The game's vocal performances were all produced by Grammy Award winner Daniel Lanois, whose impressive career includes collaborations with legendary artists like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Let's face it: when it comes to crafting worlds, Rockstar spares no expense — and their sonic maestros know precisely what sounds (and, more specifically, voices) make their worlds so memorable.

The free companion app makes for happy mapping

One of the best parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 isn't technically part of Red Dead Redemption 2 — it's the free (but totally official) companion app for iOS and Android operating systems. The Red Dead Redemption 2 Companion connects directly to your PS4 or Xbox One to deliver a real-time interactive map with pan and zoom functions while you play. As you can imagine, this second screen experience helps with exploration and discovery throughout Red Dead 2's expansive open world. The Companion app also provides your in-game Journal, the game manual, a strategy guide, and more.

Polygon's Ben Kuchera praises the app's efforts, maintaining that "skeuomorphism works well with the setting of Red Dead Redemption 2. The game presents catalogs, complete with illustrations and color text, when you go into stores. Reading things isn't the best experience on most displays, even in 4K, but scrolling through the catalogs to enjoy the pictures and descriptions on your phone or a tablet is a joy. It feels as if you're holding an object from the game." Likewise, Kotaku's Luke Plunkett writes: "After a while though I found myself changing my habits; instead of always looking at the app as though it was an on-screen minimap, I started adapting and treating it more like an actual map."

The immersion of textless load screens

Red Dead Redemption 2 aims to fully immerse players in the waning days of the American Old West, and it captures this sense of realism with a wide smattering of mechanics and gameplay features geared towards establishing a particular kind of frontier vibe. Looting happens in real time, the protagonist takes copious hand-scrawled notes about his surroundings, and Rockstar's missions have evolved into immersive, event-based moments. These are just a few of the innovations RDR2 brings to the table. But one of the more satisfying, and easiest to overlook, is the distinct lack of text during the game's load screens.

Instead of the standard-issue on-screen copy that has all but replaced the once-hallowed print manuals of video games past, players are treated to a slideshow of characters and locations from Red Dead Redemption 2's protracted narrative. This lack of tutorial or hint text during load screens is a stoic step away from contemporary trends popularized over the last few decades by RPGs and shooters alike. Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton puts it into perspective: "Red Dead 2's wordless, evocative loading screens offer no such guidance" compared to a game like Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, another open-world blockbuster that feels "aggressively helpful." Ultimately, "Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a welcoming game, and it has a tendency to resist and even buck the player like a mustang in the wild." And that's a ride we're willing to take.