My top ten favorite games of the year, presented in ascending order each day leading into the holidays. Look for my full Top Ten list with categories and awards on December 24!

#10 Dead Cells
#9 Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
#8 Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee!
#7 Frostpunk
#6 Jurassic World Evolution
#5 Into the Breach
#4 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
#3 Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

#2 Red Dead Redemption II

Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PS4, XBO

If I had to choose one single game from the last console generation as my absolute favorite, there’s an excellent chance I would settle on Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar Game’s sequel is bigger and deeper than anyone could have imagined.

I’m normally not a big fan of prequels, yet Red Dead Redemption left an intriguing backstory: the fall of the Dutch Van Der Linde gang. Red Dead Redemption II is set ten years earlier, with John Marston one of a whole group of people who live outside the towns and outside the law, unified by unflinching loyalty and camaraderie, even as their world view, and leadership, come crashing down around them.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the Van Der Linde gang. The main story runs everyone through an emotional journey filled with terrifying depravity, exciting dangers, and delightfully quiet moments of celebration and joy. New protagonist Arthur Morgan is a likably sturdy compass, a pragmatic warrior-poet amid the unfolding chaos and eccentric characters around him.

Red Dead 2 isn’t just an open world playground nor a Western-themed GTA. It’s far more introspective and realistic, at least as realistic as a game that lets you pay your way out of mass murder can be. Everything is painstakingly detailed and boldly time-consuming, from brushing and feeding your horse to cooking meat over a campfire to browsing through old-timey catalogs to purchase provisions, clothes, and ammunition. More than anything Red Dead 2 is a true Western simulator while still keeping all the fun gameplay bits that Rockstar is known for.

You’re given the freedom to rob trains, search for buried treasure, track down bounties, clean out a poker table, hunt and track dozens of wild animals, take a bath, fish with friends, and enjoy the countless emergent events and stories that pop up while you travel. And there will be travel – Red Dead 2‘s map is ridiculously huge, and even fits in almost the entirety of the original Red Dead’s map on top of it.

Red Dead 2 easily features some of the best writing, voice acting, and production values of any game this year. Some of my favorite moments in the game didn’t involve a single gun shot, such as the surreal, Guy Ritchie-esque drunken revelry with Lenny in Valentine, or the several camp celebrations where the group comes together to sing, dance, and share stories. It truly makes you feel like you are  part of a living, breathing world that’s a joy to spend time in, no matter what you’re doing.

Rockstar is a unique company that only releases one or two games each generation, and those games often make a very big splash. Despite the anticipation, Red Dead Redemption 2 went well beyond my expectations for my dream Western game.