One of the reasons that Red Dead Redemption 2 is considered to be one of the best games of the 21st century so far is that it includes a staggering amount of material. While there is a core narrative and structure to the gameplay, to some extent, there’s also a rich and detailed world to explore, complete with more activity and entertainment than we could have dreamed of finding in a single game a short time ago.
Within this single game, you’re free to explore basic lifestyle activities like getting your character a haircut, or having him take a bath to recuperate. You can go out and seek adventures that range from high-octane train robberies to the meticulous excavation of dinosaur bones in the ground. And on top of the countless activities like these that are built into the game, there are also fun, fascinating mods — such as one that enables you to play as a sheriff rather than your typical outlaw-ish character.
Among all of the side activities and mini-games in Red Dead Redemption 2 though, the one that’s generated the most attention is probably the in-game poker — which has earned raves. So, what is it that makes this particular mini-game work so well? A few elements rise to the surface.
Because real-money poker has been illegal in most of the United States for about a decade now, many assume that Americans don’t play as much poker as they used to. In reality though, this simply isn’t the case. Americans may not play for real money anymore, but they do still enjoy plenty of ways to play poker online with friends and other live opponents. There are apps and websites alike offering high-quality experiences and catering to huge populations of players. This basically means that there are countless RDR2 players who have some level of familiarity with poker — making it an incredibly accessible mini-game despite being somewhat more complex than the average game within a game.
The average mini-game tends to be a standalone experience — something you can enjoy for a bit, return to when you like, and otherwise leave alone. Things are similar with poker in RDR2, but there’s also variety built in to keep the poker experience fresh. Throughout the game, players can find five different places to play poker, each with different surroundings, different opponents, and different table stakes. The variety isn’t staggering, but it’s enough to elevate RDR2’s poker beyond the average, one-off mini-game.
This is not unique to RDR2, but it does help that the money you gamble with at the poker tables actually matters in the game. Players need to build and use wealth throughout this game for all kinds of different reasons, which adds a feeling of legitimate stakes to the poker games. Losing money at the tables will actually set you back, whereas winning may enable you to buy things in the game you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford just yet.
The Chance to Cheat
It may be a small detail, but players do have a lot of fun with the fact that it’s possible to cheat in RDR2’s poker games. Many if not most mini-games feel completely separated from the larger games around them. The poker in RDR2 doesn’t have that problem to begin with, but the chance to cheat is like a lingering reminder that you’re in the middle of a Wild West adventure, and not just playing any old poker arcade. It’s a very fun feature that keeps things a little edgier. (We should not as well that you can only cheat if you’re dressed in the “Elegant Suit,” which you earn through other poker achievements.)
The Game Fits the Setting
Finally, and maybe most importantly, poker just fits! As one review of poker within RDR2 put it, “an outlaw that doesn’t gamble is like a cowboy that doesn’t ride a horse.” We’re not sure if that’s an original saying or not, but it fits regardless, and it speaks to why poker feels so natural in RDR2. In another game like Far Cry 3, which famously had its own poker experiences, the mini-game is fun, but feels like side entertainment. In RDR2 it just feels like something you do in the course of exploring the world around you.
Add all of these factors together and it’s no wonder RDR2’s poker feels like the perfect mini-game experience. It’s one more reason this game is thought of as a near-perfect offering from Rockstar.