1. Red Dead Redemption 2
Release date: October 26 (PS4, Xbox One)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a dissertation on art direction. It’s the vast cowboy simulator it set out to be, turning hunting, fishing, and good ol’ fashioned robbing into their own fully-realized systems, and it does so against a beautifully-rendered backdrop of the American West. It harkens back to RDR1 with legendary animals, rare weapons, and a never ending crossfire of challenges and collectibles without feeling excessive or intrusive. If you’re not spending hours upon hours trying to craft a Crocodile Dundee-inspired Gambler’s Hat that you can show off at the poker tables, then you’re more than likely falling for the role-playing aspect of living as an outlaw who enjoys bar fights and chugging beers under the stars.
Red Dead Redemption 2 could have been middling Wild West fodder that leans on its inventive NPC design and approach to realism, but it uses those intricacies to accentuate its end-times story. As much as its arcs are about Arthur Morgan and his struggles with loyalty and his own ideals, they're also about Dutch and the Van der Linde gang and the threads that keep them together. It fills in the greatest story Rockstar Games has ever written -- partially due to its gift for being a slow burn that can unload shotgun shells into your heart in a matter of seconds -- and like the Tombstones and Hell Or High Waters before it, it dissects human emotions in an effort to take you places. It’s not perfect by any means, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is a next-gen game that actually feels like a next-gen game, and with the team at hand, it’s one that revolts against open-world norms and artistic constraints to set the bar for years to come.