I’ve reached the end of the road in RDR2. Some thoughts.
There’s something to be said about the end of a story, and the feeling of being on-rails until the end. Ever since Saint Denis, there was only one path for Arthur and the gang, and sure enough, it delivered. The game had delivered all it’s splendor, and it was a choice to either keep exploring (and side missions) or take the main story to completion.
Given I had the best horse, full stats, and the best guns, there wasn’t much left to improve RPG-wise with Arthur. The optional story bits had some interest, but they were starting to feel more like busywork that actual value. Don’t get me wrong, each side quest is a decent nugget of storytelling and/or actin, but when all the mechanics have been revealed, there’s only so much blood left in that stone.
The rest of the main quest takes a rather dark path, at least as compared to the rest of the game. The gang is clearly on edge being chased by the Pinkertons. They somehow manage to tick off the army too, while instigating an ever-escalating war between the native tribe. Cowboys and Indians are portrayed through stereotypes. The model of the latter is deemed unacceptable in today’s society. Rockstar does a so-so job of portraying the history of that culture being conquered by the american government. Many a time Arthur will pipe up that the situation is very complex, but the story never actually does that justice. It feels like window dressing. Sort of like the Women’s Suffrage quest where all you do is drive a cart. Or the one where you recover a black man’s wagon of doctor supplies. I had more interaction with a random stranger who I saved from a bear trap. Compared to other games, it’s more than enough. Compared to some of the storylines in RDR2… it feels less.
The near entirety of the 5th act is focused on external forces and Dutch’s want to manipulate them for monetary gain. There’s a descent into madness from the start of the game, but it really goes off the rails in the end – and quickly. The gang can see the signs and slowly leave camp. The wheels are coming off.
Chaos ensues, a few more robberies where Dutch leaves his gang to their fate, a final train robbery that just barely gets by and then the final show down. Arthur finally gets the Pinkerton boss, and they come after him to the camp and it’s a mad-dash chase to get away. After a confrontation with Dutch and another, he slowly fades away at the top of a cliff to see the sun set. It’s a fitting end to a bad guy trying to do good in the world.
The game then continues with John Marsten 8 years later, trying to set up a new life. I am not interested in that story. Clearly he finds a good place, then the Pinkertons pick him up for the events of the first RDR. There really aren’t enough loose ends for me to care to see the rest of the epilogue through.
RDR2 is one of the most complete and amazing games of the last 5 years. It is an amazing story telling engine, a great effort at simulation, and a believable world. It is massive without grind (more on this). Arthur Morgan is well written and acted, so that I felt an attachment to the character and the gang’s plight. The majority of other characters had nuance and fit in, with Mary being a high point, and Micah a low point. The world systems and how they keep going even when you’re at a different point… that’s amazing. Nearly every single NPC has their own life and schedule.
The downsides relate almost entirely to the gameplay mechanics. The controls are slow and confusing. Combat is a major part of the game, but it feels incredibly loose. The travel time between activities is double what it should be. I’m sure I spent 15-20% of my gameplay time just riding on my horse between places. The fact that some quests will include quick travel TO the location but not BACK, make that point all the more solid. It was one of the main reasons I stopped doing side quests – I didn’t want to spend 20 minutes travelling there and back. The engine feels like it’s 10 years old, with updated graphics.
I will have to compare to God of War here. That game had amazing controls, a superb engine, the world felt real, the story was engaging… it is hard to find any part that wasn’t great or near-great. It remains my gold standard for a console game.
That said, RDR2 is darn close and really a must play for anyone who has a console. I do hope they release it on PC, just to let a larger audience get a view as to what a massive achievement they have brought to the table.