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Warning! This article contains major spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2. You’ve been warned. It took me 17 days to finish Red Dead Redemption 2. I unlocked the first story-related trophy, for completing Chapter 1, on October 26th 2018, and the trophy for completing the Epilogue on November 11th 2018. I don’t know how many hours it actually took me, since neither the Playstation 4 nor the game itself keeps track of playtime, but I estimate it took me somewhere between 50 and 60 hours. At the moment of writing this very sentence, 17 days have passed since I beat the game. And I have concluded this game was not fully worth my time and money in the end. Now before I dive into all my thoughts and experiences I had playing the game, I want to apologize in advance if I skip from one subject to another anywhere in this article. Nevertheless, I will do my best to make this read as coherent as I possibly can.

RDR2 is… slow

So, let’s start at the beginning. Red Dead Redemption 2 kicks off with a cutscene of the Van der Linde-gang slowly making their way through the snow-ridden mountains, some time after their failed bank job in Blackwater. From the very first moment the game hands you the control of protagonist Arthur Morgan, one thing becomes clear; this game is slow in terms of gameplay. You slowly trot through the snow on your horse. You move even slower on foot. Now I’m not sure if Rockstar already made the game’s slow pace clear in trailers and other promotional material leading up to the release, but for me it was a bit of an unwelcome surprise. I don’t mind playing slow-paced games from time to time. In fact, I’ve played several story-driven walking simulators/puzzle games over the past few years. As long as the environment is pretty enough and the story interesting enough, I’m game. And more importantly, I know I’m playing this certain type of game from the start. Games I’m referencing to here are for instance The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and What Remains of Edith Finch. But in an open world action/adventure game like Red Dead Redemption 2, I prefer faster gameplay than what the game offered me.

Slowly walking down a cliff

So from very early on, I noticed the slow pace started to annoy me. The third main story mission of the game, ‘Old Friends’, has you find a group of O’Driscolls, a rival gang, and steal their plans regarding a train heist. After a short ride on horseback, with some cool conversation between the gang members, you end up on top of a hill from where you need to scope out the camp. Shortly after, you have to follow gang leader Dutch van der Linde down the hill. Arthur and Dutch exchange some words, but fall silent halfway down. So I was very slowly making my way down the hill through the snow, without another word being said. This was just under an hour into the game, and the first time I thought ‘come on guys, pick up the pace’. During the first week of playing the game, this thought dominated my mind. As much as I was amazed by the world Rockstar has created during the first dozen hours, I just couldn’t adjust to the game’s slow pace. Every time I launched the game, I played for two hours at most before stopping again, simply because the game couldn’t keep my attention any longer. Besides that, I didn’t feel like the game offered me a significant enough sense of progression for what I had done during my play session, in relation to the time I had invested doing what I did. I could move onto the next story mission, sure, but in terms of Arthur Morgan’s personal progression? Rarely anything noteworthy. My Core levels increased from time to time, giving me slightly more Health, Stamina or Dead Eye. But each upgrade felt too small to me to experience it as a significant form or character progression.

What to do with $2000?

Of course, the money was nice.. if there had been anything consistently meaningful to spend it on. I bought a new horse just once, the black-coated Arabian one from the Saint Denis stable. Cost me $900, but I had been walking around with over $2000 for literally hours. I never bought a new weapon, as they were all given to me for free through story missions. I bought ammo relatively frequently, though it cost me nothing compared to the kind of money the game handed me. I went on two clothing shopping sprees, buying loads of clothes to mix and match. I spend over $700 on the second spree, not worrying about my cash balance in the slightest. And rightly so, as I walked away from the store with $1500 left, which I never spent on anything, really.

My most expensive purchase

Obviously, I could’ve easily spent loads of cash on the gang upgrades, but I never did. At least not all of them. I bought all the lodging upgrades, I upgraded the provisions and ammo wagons twice, and I bought the horse station. The other upgrades didn’t interest me, as I didn’t feel any of them would add anything of significance in terms of my experience whilst playing the game.. I also dumped cash into the camp ledger plenty of times, but other than positive Honor points (which were easy to accumulate anyway), there didn’t seem to be any real reason to do so. Oh, and a funny story regarding depositing money in the camp ledger. During the main story mission ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’, Arthur is captured by the rival O’Driscoll gang. After escaping and returning to camp exhausted and wounded, several weeks pass as Arthur is being nursed back to health. The very first thing that happened when I gained control of Arthur again, was Ms. Grimshaw telling me it had been a while since I donated money to the ledger. Um, hello? I was literally unable to do anything for weeks, and on top of that I’m pretty sure I’ve donated a hundred times more money than all of you combined. So pipe down, okay? I didn’t donate once more after that. So there I was, running around the Wild West with somewhere between $1500 and $2500 in my pocket for the majority of the game. I’m not sure what the bounties on our heads were after Blackwater, but I’m fairly sure I could’ve paid them off if I’d been offered the option. Or at least my own bounty.

No ‘family-feeling’

Another thing I stared to notice roughly midway through the game; my gang members didn’t feel like gang members in the sense that I think Rockstar tried to achieve. From what I heard/read in reviews before I played the game, they were supposed to feel like your friends. Your brothers and sisters in arms. Your family. Not to me. The various men and women around camp felt like little more than mission givers who happened to live in the same camp, and occasionally rode out with you. Despite the fact I initiated conversation quite often with various people in camp in the early hours, they never felt like people particularly close to me or anything, and after a number of hours I just stopped talking to most of them. I would check in on John and Abigail from time to time, as I knew them from the first Red Dead Redemption, and very occasionally Dutch. Uncle and Reverend Swanson would sometimes claim my attention themselves. But all the others? I rarely spoke to them anymore. Maybe the one time when I happened to walk past them in camp and saw the control popup to talk to them. But since these ‘conversations’ in my experience rarely offered anything of interest (it was mostly people telling me they were doing just fine in 20 different ways), I just stopped talking to most of them.

You guys have fun, I’m going to bed

Even the nightly gang parties, of which I experienced three (one at Horseshoe Overlook, one at Clemens Cove, one at Shady Belle), didn’t feel like anything substantial to me. During the first one, I tried to have fun, since I heard good things about them in reviews. But I didn’t get any further than sitting around campfires, singing along to songs and having seemingly useless idle chatter. I strolled around camp for a few minutes during the party at Horseshoe Overlook before going to sleep. At the other two, I just went straight for my bed, knowing there wasn’t anything useful to do until next morning.

The story

Now, I hope you’re not yet sick of me talking down Red Dead Redemption 2, because I have one more subject to go: the story. First of all, let me state that I really enjoyed the majority of the story. In fact, it’s the only reason I even finished the game. Still, the story is, in my opinion, not consistently strong throughout the whole game. For starters, just about the entirety of Chapter 5, which takes place on Guarma. As far as I’m concerned, Rockstar could’ve let this whole chapter out of the game. I can understand they needed something to fill the gap between leaving Saint Denis and returning to find the rest of the gang, but I didn’t like what they decided to go with all that much. I felt like Rockstar wanted me to care about the whole freedom fight going on -for some reason-, but the chapter is way too short to accomplish that. There’s new characters being introduced left, right and center, and before there’s been any chance to properly flesh them out, you’ve already said your goodbyes and are on your way back. Besides that, the progression of the Guarma substory didn’t make much sense to me either. The freedom fighters had apparently been fighting against governor Fussar for quite a while already, but now some of the gang members end up on the island and decide the battle in what, a few days’ time? Okay. Sure.

Welcome to the new world

An alternative to the Guarma chapter that occurred to me literally whilst writing the paragraph above: why not play as Sadie for a while? As we learn at the start of Chapter 6 (which kicks off with a horseback rise with some amazing music by the way, kudos to Rockstar for that one), it was Sadie Adler who kept the gang together after the failed heist in Saint Denis. It would’ve been very interesting to see what happened to the Van der Linde-gang after Saint Denis, having lost their leader and being chased by just about every lawman in the West. How did they regroup? How did they survive? How did they stay away from the law? Apart from it being interesting to see how Sadie managed to keep the gang together like she did, it would have been cool to play as her for a few hours as well. Sadie is already established as a very badass woman at this point, and as far as I’m concerned it would’ve been completely fine to control her for a while. Up next: the Epilogue. Now, this wasn’t all terrible, but the majority was in my opinion. I get that it serves as a bridge between the stories of Red Dead Redemption 1 and 2. I get that Rockstar wanted to show us what happened to John, Abigail and Jack after you helped them escape. At least, I decided to help John escape at the end of Chapter 6 instead on going back for the money. With the latter seeming like the least sensible choice to possibly make. Arthur is dying, there’s a plethora of lawmen running around hunting you, and Rockstar has spent the last few hours establishing Arthur’s mindset as only being interested in ensuring John, Abigail and Jack’s escape and survival. So why on earth would you go back for the money?

The fruits of John’s hard work

Anyway, here’s the thing, Rockstar. I just spent dozens of hours riding around the Wild West, shot more men than I care to remember, and now you’re literally having me clean shit and milk cows? Like… really? I guess Rockstar wanted to show John’s struggle to adapt to a normal life (though 7 years seems plenty of time to adjust to me), and the tension it creates between him and Abigail, it’s just a too sudden change of gameplay for my liking. It gets slightly better in Part 2 of the Epilogue, as Sadie Adler comes back into view, and you do a number of bounty hunting missions with her. John needs cash after all, having just bought a plot of land and a house for his family, hoping Abigail and Jack will come back to him. I will admit this was actually fairly enjoyable, seeing how John built the ranch he and his family lived on up until the events of the first game. But all in all, the Epilogue could’ve been much shorter. At the very least it could’ve skipped the whole ranch section from Part 1.

No ‘happy ending’

Now for perhaps my biggest annoyance regarding the story, as childish as it will most likely sound: It didn’t end like I wanted to. Before I elaborate, there’s three things I should point out about myself when it comes to games. One: I’m a good guy. I just cannot be a bad guy, not even in games. I always end up feeling bad and/or guilty, even knowing it’s just a bunch of polygons on a screen. Second: I’m a sucker for romance in games, especially happily ever after ones. Some of my favorite games ever, such as the Dragon Age and Witcher series, contain various romance options, which I really enjoyed as I played through them. Third: I’m a sucker for happy endings. I want my protagonists to prevail and live happily ever after. Cliché, I know, but still. Based on the above you might be able to guess what I mean by ‘’it didn’t end like I want to’’, but let me explain anyway. In two words: Mary Linton. Mary Linton is Arthur Morgan’s romantic interest in Red Dead Redemption 2. They were engaged when they were younger, but Arthur’s affiliation with the Van der Linde-gang and the disapproval towards him of Mary’s family caused the relationship to fall through.

Former lovers reunited

Early in the game, whilst the camp is set up at Horseshoe Overlook, Mary contacts Arthur for the first time in years, asking him to help her out with her younger brother, who has joined a cult of fanatics. Later on in the game, in Saint Denis, she asks for Arthur’s help once more, this time regarding her father. I accepted, and after I had done the mission, she suggested to go to the theater as friends. Sure, why not. A decently interesting theater show later, Arthur walks Mary back to the trolley. She then laments how her life has turned out, asking Arthur if it’s too late for the two of them to be together. In fact, she quite literally suggests to elope together. I honestly cannot stress enough how much I wanted to accept her offer there and then. I literally sat in front of my screen thinking ‘dude, screw the gang, just run away with her!’. After all, I didn’t care about the gang all that much, and things weren’t working out that well at the time anyway. Unfortunately for me though, Arthur didn’t fully share my sentiment. Whilst he does reciprocate her wish to run away together, he states he has people to take care of, and doesn’t have enough money for them to run away. All I could think was ‘f*ck the gang, and you literally have over $2000 in your pocket!’. But alas, Arthur and Mary ultimately part ways. From that cutscene onwards, I continued to play the game in constant hope that Arthur would end up with Mary. I didn’t want to be an outlaw. I didn’t want to rob people. Sure, I robbed people whenever the game forced me to do so for mission purposes, but other than that I did the opposite. Every time I was given the chance to be the good guy, I did. I wanted Arthur to run away with Mary and live a life as a good man. So you can imagine how I felt when Arthur receives a letter from Mary, in which she definitely closes the door. Mary acknowledges Arthur is unlikely to ever truly change, and his lifestyle won’t ever suit her. She apologizes for how their relationship has turned out. The engagement ring Arthur gave to her in their youth is enclosed with the letter. Still, I hoped that somehow things would work out between Arthur and Mary. Until the end of Chapter 6, when Arthur dies of tuberculosis. After having ensured John safely returns to his family and having fought with Micah on top of a rock, Arthur passes. But it gets even sadder. Because during the credits, Rockstar shows a number of short cutscenes to completely finish the story. One of these cutscenes shows Mary, visiting Arthur’s grave. Arthur Morgan, with whom I just played for roughly 50 hours, who I am emotionally invested in at this point, does not get his happy ending. He dies on top of a rock, sick and alone, maybe wondering what could’ve been as he watches the sunrise. Mary visits the grave of her former beloved in tears, possibly also wondering what could’ve been. Cool. Thanks, Rockstar.

Rest in peace, Arthur Morgan

Now I fully understand this is something very personal and arguably very small to be annoyed with. And I’ll admit that having Arthur just elope out of nowhere would not have made sense in any way, shape or form. But I would’ve loved to see an ending to Arthur Morgan’s part of the story where he doesn’t die. An ending where he finally decides to build a new life with Mary after the gang falls apart, or where he goes anywhere else if the player decided not to reignite the romance with Mary. Maybe Arthur could’ve gone off with Sadie Adler and become bounty hunters with her? Not only do Arthur and Sadie seem to get along really well throughout the story, I’m also very confident Sadie was the second romantic interest that Rockstar confirmed having worked on, but ultimately scrapped from the game. However, my game-romance-loving side was not left completely unsatisfied by Rockstar. In the Epilogue, John wishes to officiate his marriage to Abigail. So, after the two of them go into Blackwater to have a portrait made, John rows her to the middle of a lake and proposes to her. Interesting detail: the engagement ring he gives her is the same one Mary gives back to Arthur, as Arthur gives John his satchel at the end of Chapter 6. Abigail happily accepts, and one of the short cutscenes during the credits shows their wedding. A small consolation.

Credit where credit is due

Now that I’ve spent 3000 words criticizing many aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s time for some praise as well. Credits where credit is due, after all. For starters, let it be abundantly clear how impressed I am by the world Rockstar has created. Even though I have done little exploration compared to many other players, all the various gameplay and AI systems are creating one of the most lively gaming worlds I’ve seen. What stood out most to me regarding the game’s world, were the random encounters with the most varying NPCs. I’ve heard captured outlaws beg for my help, swearing they were innocent as they laid hogtied on the horses of the lawmen that galloped past me. I’ve saved strangers who were being attacked by wolves. I gave lost damsels in distress a ride back home. Okay, one small point of critique here; I gave the exact same woman with the exact same story a ride to the exact same place, twice. On two different moments in the game, in two different parts in the story, I found a woman who kindly asked for a ride back home to Emerald Ranch. As we rode, she told how her horse Biscuit had died on her, how she had raised the horse herself ever since it was a foal, and how it had been more useful to her than her drunk husband.

Rockstar has crafted a beautiful Wild West

One encounter that really stuck with me, happened in the woods near Rhodes. I was on my way to camp, when a woman by the side of the road called out to me. She needed some sort of help, so being the good Samaritan I always am when playing games, I slowed down and climbed off my horse. The moment I approached her, she drew her revolver as her fellow robbers emerged from the trees. She then calmly told me how they were going to take my horse, and anything of value I carried with me. So I did what any player would’ve done; I equipped my repeater, activated Dead Eye and took out four robbers in one go with headshots. Then I took out the remaining two. As I was looting the robbers’ bodes however, I was suddenly notified about a Witness to Murder. I then spotted a lone man on a horse just down the road, who turned around and bolted. I initially didn’t understand why the game considered my kills murder, since I thought they were self-defense. Until I realized this NPC had likely only heard me shoot these people, then saw me loot them. He didn’t see them attempt to rob me, thus he thought I murdered them in cold blood. So, I raced after him, and managed to hogtie him quite easily. The next step was to take him somewhere quiet, and threaten him to forget about what he saw. But as I was about to go on my way, two other men came trotting by. And I was suddenly dealing with two additional Witnesses, to Kidnapping this time. They both bolted as well, and knowing I couldn’t hogtie them both in time, I figured I had to kill them. But I never managed to, for the moment I turned my horse around to chase after them, I galloped straight against the first tree in sight. In the end, I cut the hogtied man loose just further down the road, and paid off my bounties. Didn’t have many other uses for my money anyway. Another area in which I must applaud Rockstar is the writing. The overall writing of the story is very well done in my opinion, save for the specific parts I criticized earlier. What really stood out to me however, was the dialogue. Mission-specific dialogue to be precise, because as I stated earlier, most camp dialogue felt empty and useless to me. But the conversations with the various gang members whilst riding with them was generally very enjoyable to listen to. It was necessary, because I wasn’t doing much else than holding the X-button to match their pace, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out. I found Dutch, Sadie and John to be especially interesting to listen to, the latter likely because I knew him so well from the first Red Dead Redemption.

Game that feels like a movie

Now to wrap things up, there’s one more thought I want to share. When a buddy of mine asked me how the game was, I told him ‘it was like playing a movie, in the best possible way’. And I still feel that way. Because of how Rockstar told the story of Red Dead Redemption 2. How gameplay and cutscenes went so smoothly into each other. How relatively little I had actually done outside the main story, because I somehow didn’t find that appealing whatsoever. How great the voice-acting had been. It felt like I had played a movie, rather than a game. And I mean that as both a compliment and a point of critique. A compliment because I feel like Rockstar has reached a whole new level of storytelling within a game. But a point of critique because I don’t want to be playing a movie, I want to play a game.

The Van der Linde-gang

Ever since I beat Red Dead Redemption 2, I’ve been debating with myself whether I liked the game or not. For a good while, I wanted to like the game. Because it’s a Rockstar game. Because it’s the biggest release of 2018, and possibly of the past few years. Because every gamer on the internet said how much they loved it. How much they loved exploring the lively world Rockstar had created. I didn’t. At least not enough. Nowhere near as much as I had expected. And I can’t shake the feeling that maybe Red Dead Redemption 2 wasn’t completely my type of game. I want games to hold my hand to a certain extent while playing. Explain to me where I have to go, what I have to do and where I can do a certain activity through quest markers and descriptions. And Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t always do that. Sure, missions and mission areas are always marked on the map, but I felt like the game wants you to explore the world on your own without a predefined goal. Just go out there and see what you can find. Because I’ve read plenty online from others who ran into unique strangers or locations, telling all sorts of crazy stories. I never did. Because I never felt compelled to, and because the world did not feel inviting enough to me to just go explore ‘for no reason’. I elaborated a number of things I liked about the game above, but many more I didn’t. And while I respect Rockstar for what they have created, and applaud the steps they have taken for open world games, I cannot say that I truly enjoyed Red Dead Redemption 2 as a game. In the end, Red Dead Redemption 2 was not fully worth my time and money.
About author
Flevo

Flevo

Co-founder and lead writer of We Bleed Pixels. Loves fantasy, RPGs and talking about games. Hates horror, multiplayer and not talking about games.

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