Red Dead Redemption 2 — Reflection on a Masterpiece

Disclaimer: This article will have HARD spoilers except for the initial review.

The spoiler-free review of the game: It’s AMAZING and if you are even slightly interested, go ahead and purchase the game. It’s worth it.

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You will not regret it.

Now that the review is over, let me move to the main article. Before you do, I hope that you played the game. This game deserves a non-spoiled playthrough.

I knew two things before RDR2 made it to PC.

One, I loved GTA series and GTA5 was one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Two, I’ve been waiting for a cowboy game for a long time. Call of Juarez series didn’t cut it for me and the next game before those was probably Outlaw from the 90s!

Oh, actually, it’s three things. I knew three things.

Three, I didn’t have a console.

Therefore, I had to get Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC. And I did, almost instantly. I started it on my semi-sleepy, jetlag-aftershock week, it looked good. Before I knew it, I had no choice: I had to go through it! Finally, I’ve completed the main campaign. What a journey. What. A. Journey.

Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in a west where outlaws are being hunted. Sort of like the Pirates of Caribbean 3, where the golden age of pirates came to an end, come to think of it. I initially assumed that the plot took place after RDR1 and there would be a lot of references to it. Only after completing the game did I learn that RDR2 was actually a prologue to the first game. First game’s protagonist is an NPC in RDR2, and you’ll get to interact with him a lot.

You play Arthur Morgan, an outlaw that basically knew no other life. His mother died early and his father was an outlaw who got killed when he was only 11. He was picked by Dutch van der Linde shortly after, who ran the van der Linde gang. While who Arthur is will be partially defined by you, it’s clear that he is deep down “a good person.” Make no mistake though. He’ll lie, he’ll cheat, he’ll steal, he’ll murder. As he’d say through the game, he’s not a good man. It’s just that there is more to him than meets the eyes.

Like GTA5, you’ll get to bond with your protagonist and this time you are playing one character and one character only. That said, you are surrounded by a lot of other people! In fact, it was a big concern in my mind when I started the game. Especially since I thought the game was taking place after the first, I thought I’d miss references and would have to get to know too many of them and end up knowing none of them. The result? I ended up knowing all of them and having feelings regarding every single one.

I can not express how great a job Rockstar did here. Red Dead has the best storytelling I’ve ever seen. By far. Hands down. No competition. To do it justice, I’ll break it down and talk about each part.

The writing overall is phenomenal. The plot moves constantly if you go through the main quests. If you choose to do the side quests, they feel natural, especially if you do them at the time you are given them. I think what’s great in the plot is that you actually see a lot of things coming. However, you also see how Arthur can’t just get out — or won’t, in some cases, out of habit, pride or honour. So when Dutch claims that the next big thing is “the one,” your feelings as the player knowing it’s bull actually overlaps with what Arthur feels. You know that Arthur knows. He’s not dumb. But what can he do? He’s a wanted man and he feels obliged to Dutch and the rest of the gang: They are family. When Micah speaks snidely or disrespectfully or does something dumb, you get angry as a player, just as Arthur does. You can’t just shoot him because he’s mean though, can you? So every time something happens in the worse direction, it makes you think how you have to go with it now, but maybe the last time, you could’ve made a choice and maybe next time, you will. But you don’t. So you build up feelings and thoughts throughout the game along with Arthur. It gets worse, it gets ominous and in the end, you know you are riding to your death and you now have no choice. And worse yet, you know that you wasted every time that you actually had a chance to change something. Not this time. I don’t think I’ve ever bonded to any character in a game the way I bonded with Arthur.

Of course, this success happens thanks to the characters we meet. From the sheriff of a town to a random stranger we save, and of course, to every member of our gang, RDR2 is a very populated game. However, this is not a quantity over quality choice — each character feels alive, feels real. You hear their concerns, their thoughts, emotions. Every time you go to camp, you learn some details about them. There are no superficial characters in the game. Sure there are some straightforward ones, several actually. But there are straightforward people in real life too — many of them, in fact. That’s another success in my book: They didn’t try to make every character very conflicted, very dramatic, very special. They just made them real.

And we could’ve never felt this without the well written, natural dialogues, crowned with amazing voice acting. I don’t see why RDR2 acting shouldn’t be compared to any movie — other than the fact that it’s way better than majority of cowboy movies you’ll find. The game does a good job of rotating your interaction with different characters through the missions. You end up talking to each of them, without too much exposure outside the core group and you end up appreciating each character and their own quirks.

Last but not least, the narrative is directed perfectly. The moments where they show Arthur’s face and his reactions to convey you his feelings are obviously very conscious choices. The story pace is great and the times when you just feel free are amazing. The drinking, the singing on the boat… You can’t get rid of the dire feelings, especially later in the game, yet you feel light-hearted at times. The relations in the gang also feel so real. They argue, they fight, they hate each other momentarily but overall, they are family. Well, mostly.

The amount of characters and interaction between them will also mean that everyone will find something and someone to relate to or fill a gap with. Maybe the feeling of family is something you long for. Maybe the freedom of not being chained by the rules of society. Maybe the romantic love between Arthur and Mary. Maybe the comradery of the gang. Maybe Arthur’s risky life and courage. Maybe his feeling of his life slipping away. Maybe something entirely else.

Result of all this combined? As I said, it really makes you feel. You can’t play through this game paying attention to dialogues and the story and not feel anything. You’d have to be a robot. You’ll enjoy the bits of freedom you have between the endless run, you’ll come to hate Micah, resent Dutch, feel trapped like Arthur. And not because the game TELLS you to. You will because you are human and because of that — everyone will have their own version of feelings and thoughts.

This simply means one thing: That RDR2 is an amazing piece of art. It makes you think, it makes you feel. It takes you beyond its face value.

All of this — and I haven’t even talked about the gameplay, which is also quite fun. I won’t get into it, it would require a whole article itself!

I think I’ve made my point here. I will never forget that last ride. I will never forget the pain of the horse being shot. The hatred and resentment and the feeling of betrayal. The feeling of a life spent. I will never forget Arthur Morgan.

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Written by

Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD

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