Rockstar’s new cowboy simulator Red Dead Redemption 2 serves up a slow-as-blackstrap-molasses experience that encourages the player to soak in every inch of its lush and painstakingly designed Western expanse. It’s so slow and big that it’s tempting to use a fast travel ability that lets you skip most of the languid countryside rambles. My advice to you: don’t do it.
Fast travel is a common ability in most open world games, because sometimes you just want to get to the next objective marker; this is especially true when the game doesn’t have much in the way of interactivity to offer between points A and B. Games like Fallout implement fast travel with essentially unfettered access, while others try to meter its use. The Witcher 3, for example, only lets players fast travel when they’re at a signpost, which may be several minutes away on horseback. In every case, though, I’ve found that fast travel—a tool with good intentions that aims to respect the players’ time—streamlines a game to death.
Fast travel turns the beautifully-rendered worlds of The Witcher 3, or Horizon Zero Dawn, into a football match—brief stints of play in between long stretches of looking at absolutely nothing on your screen. Fast travel turns experiences into rote objective-hopping. In short, fast travel absolutely kills the fun of immersing yourself in a world and turns it into something else, something more mechanical and hollow.
Red Dead Redemption 2 implements all kinds of counter-intuitive design choices to make traversing its world slow and full of surprise around every corner. It’s clearly designed for you to take your time with, and the main story alone reportedly takes around 50 hours to complete. I’m dozens of hours in and have completed about a third of the story, and it was with some surprise, and a little disappointment, that I discovered the game lets me upgrade my camp with a fast travel mechanic even more unfettered than the game’s train and stagecoach travel system.
Despite still having some limitations—you can only use it at camp, and it’s a one-way system—the ability to warp out to a settlement in the middle of nowhere felt like a betrayal of the game’s defining ethos, even if I completely understand why fast travel might be a boon to someone who only has about 20 minutes a day to play.
That’s not me, though, and so I’m skipping fast travel in Red Dead Redemption 2. Here is an entertainment product that took nearly a decade, hundreds of employees, thousands more contributors, and hundreds of millions of dollars to make, and I just can’t bring myself to blow through all of that with a cheap, time-saving mechanic. Traversing the entire map on horseback takes under 20 minutes, anyway, and every outing is filled with surprise encounters or things to do along the way, even if that’s just coming across a nice fishing spot or some wildlife to hunt.
These traversal sequences are absolutely essential to the game’s sense of living in a vibrant world that reacts in surprising ways to the player’s choices. You will come across people and situations that will genuinely surprise you, and if you simply warp from mission to mission and play this game like it’s your job you’ll miss the best parts. The game even implements a well-designed cinematic camera mode to make these sequences more palatable if you’re feeling itchy, and releases you from the burden of controlling your character.
Of course, the fact that I immensely enjoy just walking around a virtual world not doing much in a traditional sense makes me a certain kind of person. Maybe you’re not like me. But I’ve always enjoyed the slow exploration of drinking in lush virtual environments, and Red Dead Redemption 2 does a lot of work to reward this play style. Trust me when I say that you’re only cheating yourself by fast traveling.
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