Red Dead Redemption 2 is a long ass game. The game is so long that the epilogue feels like a separate campaign. In fact, by the time I completed the game I wanted to download the original Red Dead Redemption to continue the story. RDR2’s ending is not about redemption, revenge, or longing for a time that probably never existed. It’s about the choices we make and how often we are ignorant of the weight our choices have on our lives. Just look at how the first game ends – With John Marston being gunned down on the same ranch you built in part 2 of the epilogue. As much as you try to fight it, the lives of the those you control are locked in place. Decisions that seem natural to them, eventually reach their destination. What I didn’t expect was how I would feel about it.
Arthur Morgan’s Tragic End
When Arthur finds out he has tuberculosis, I knew it was over. Despite all the warning signs that Arthur’s story would end badly I wanted to believe otherwise. But you are not in control, you are along for the ride. There’s no saving Arthur from his fate. There’s no hidden cure or cheat code. He’s going to die, and the only thing you can do is hope to make the right choices before he dies. It’s the slow death that sticks with you. It starts with his eyes, they become red and strained. Arthur, who was full of color becomes pale, and at a certain point in the game, I’m notified that I reached my minimal weight. Arthur is slowing down, and I can’t save him. I can’t do the logical thing that comes naturally to someone who’s been playing video games for years. Take control.
Rockstar is the only game to make me emotional. The clunky controls, the mediocre combat mechanics, it fades away in the final moments. Outside of John Marston, I’ve never really cared that much about one character. I wanted Arthur to win, I wanted revenge against Micah and Dutch, and I wanted him to die at peace on some farm. But he wasn’t going to die on a farm. Instead, Arthur died alone on a mountain. Betrayed by the man who he looked to as a father. That shit hurt. I was with Arthur through it all, and I wanted him to make that turn. It’s the Menace 2 Society moment, just when you think the character is going to make a turn, he is taken from us.
When Arthur’s story ends, John’s begins, and I for one did not anticipate the epilogue taking as long as it did. You are essentially setting up the beginning moments of the original Red Dead Redemption. From finding Uncle to building your ranch, you are made to focus and care about John in the same way you cared about Arthur. And when you finish the game and watch the credits, you see agents who will eventually use John for their own purpose, find their way to the ranch.
Arthur died as a result of the choices that he made. Decisions that were not forced upon him, but one he willing made. Even if he knew better, he followed through because it was the natural and logical decision. Arthur wanted more for John. A better life. What he couldn’t have expected was John following in the same footsteps. That his natural inclination would lead to the same result as the man, who gave him a second chance. John and Arthur, both stuck to a wheel of fate that they never knew they could walk away from. Watching the credits, you see those who survived have moved on, able to transition to a “normal” life. And you’re left wondering if Arthur, Dutch, and John ever had a chance.
The endgame, even with a powerful ending, continued to be hampered by the game’s mechanics. I never felt fully in control of a situation, never the badass cowboy that I knew I could be. It made me wonder what type of experience could be created if Rockstar made RDR2 a linear experience with better combat. In terms of story, the ends justify the means, and the slow start eventually reaches a payoff worthy of the hours sunk in. As a traditional video game, it misses the mark. By the time I reached the end of chapter 4, I’m focused solely on finishing the game. I no longer have the desire to complete side quests because it takes too much time. I’ve spoken about the fast travel situation enough, it’s just too crucial of a mechanic to have hidden away and limited. Is RDR2 the masterpiece the media has claimed it to be? No. Is it one of the best open worlds created to date? Yes. However, I am one of those people that would trade size for a world for more engaging activities. So what is Red Dead Redemption 2? It’s Rockstar’s continued iteration on world-building and storytelling. It’s the best Rockstar game ever made. And while the story, characters, and open world the best yet, the core mechanics feel stuck in the past.