“The Rockstar Games Launcher has exited unexpectedly”. For the first two days of Red Dead Redemption 2’s launch on PC this was the message that greeted me every time I tried to launch the game, which didn’t leave a good first impression on Rockstar’s latest online platform. Despite trying out nearly every troubleshooting trick I could find on the boards of Reddit and waiting for the team at Rockstar to patch the issues, it was only after MSI released their latest Beta BIOS update for AMD’s B350 chipset motherboards that I was finally able to step into the boots of Arthur Morgan and enjoy the last days of the Wild West once more.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has been one of the roughest PC launches I’ve ever experienced, but what was more concerning to me was how varied the issues were between each player. While I was stuck at the launcher, others were contending with crashing at the intro screen, and many more were experiencing frequent FPS stuttering, bugs, and other gameplay hindrances if they actually managed to get into the game upon release. After three days of constant patches and hotfixes to address the wide assortment of issues, Red Dead Redemption 2 is finally in a playable state on PC, but it sorely lacks the polish and stability of the console release that made the journey so immersive and captivating in the first place.
Equipped with a Ryzen 7 3800X 8-core processor, a Vega 56 GPU (8GB), and 16GB of GGDR4 memory at 3200Mhz, I was able to crank Red Dead Redemption 2 to an equal custom profile of Ultra-High settings on the Vulkan API and achieve over an average of 60FPS at 1080p in its strenuous, but nicely varied, benchmark. Red Dead 2 was already a demanding game on console, but this PC port has even the most powerful systems on today’s market struggling to unleash the game’s full potential at 4K above 60FPS. With so many areas of detail to tweak and tighten, midrange GPUs, like mine, should even be able to play at 1440p at comfortable framerates as long as players take the time to experiment with their settings. However, I will say that Rockstar’s recommended and minimum specs are not great guidelines for players jumping into the experience and I would not recommend using anything less than a GPU equivalent in power to a GTX 1060 and a processor equivalent to a Ryzen 5 1600 to run the game properly.
The new graphical improvements to Red Dead Redemption 2 are simply breathtaking in detail. Seeing the global illumination of the moonlight hitting the snow as Dutch and Arthur struggle to find shelter in the opening chapter already brought Red Dead 2 into a whole new level of realism for me. It’s not just the lighting that breathes more life into this already graphically impressive game though, but the addition of a wider draw distance, sharper shadows, a denser assortment of foliage and trees, as well as the best looking water in any video game to date that each contribute and come together to make this port so visually stunning to gaze upon, even at 1080p. I was very impressed with the graphics when I first played Red Dead Redemption 2 on my base PlayStation 4 last year, but comparing these two releases side-by-side feels unfair when the level of detail between them is made immediately apparent at even medium settings.
The new photo mode is also a fantastic addition to Red Dead 2 and gives players plenty of options to both capture and edit their photography exactly how they want it. While I’m a sucker for beautiful landscape shots of the mountains and nighttime skies, other players have begun to express their creativity by taking grittier shots of Arthur in combat or patiently waiting to get a perfect shot of one of the many detailed animals of the ecosystem. Screenshots like these really showcase all of the rich detail Rockstar has put into Red Dead Redemption 2 that until now, I have mostly ignored on console as I rode on from one mission to the next.
Where all that beauty begins to lose its lustre is in the number of hard crashes and bugs I’ve experienced that have ejected me out of this immersive western. Over the course of the three chapters I’ve played so far, I’ve had to restart the game over seven times now, each time losing progress in a mission and souring my enjoyment. Compared to my first playthrough on PlayStation 4, I only ever experienced one hard crash and a handful of bugs that were more hilarious than annoying. In my PC playthrough, however, I’ve experienced framerate stuttering when locking onto characters while riding horseback, a frequent glitch where the mouse cursor will appear if you move the mouse too far to the right, and even the rare occurrence of being permanently stuck to a flight of stairs I was descending. Red Dead 2 simply lacks the stability I’ve become accustomed to on console, especially in Red Dead Online, which currently suffers from multiple error codes and frequent disconnection issues.
While I’m still heavily enjoying reliving the last days of the Dutch Van Der Linde gang and roleplaying a more merciless Arthur Morgan, I can’t recommend players jump into the PC port of Red Dead Redemption 2 just yet. With so many issues being reported by players on both Intel and AMD based systems at launch, I feel it’s safer at the moment for players to wait until the game is further patched to ensure your hardware is properly supported. Hopefully, by the time the game releases on Steam, most of these kinks will have been ironed out and PC players can experience Red Dead Redemption 2’s fantastic story in all of its stunning visual glory unimpeded.