Last year the world saw the return of one of the gaming’s most critically acclaimed series, Red Dead Redemption 2. After surpassing everyone’s expectations of what an open world game could be, the sequel had some pretty huge cowboy boots to fill. This combined with Rockstar’s last outing Grand Theft Auto 5, made the hype train for Red Dead Redemption 2 an unstoppable sensation that made other AAA games seek cover from the game’s late October release. Well after eight years of anticipation, the game was unsurprisingly a commercial and critical success. But how has Rockstar revolutionized storytelling in the open world genre?
Red Dead Redemption 2 Elevates Storytelling In Gaming
Unlike most other AAA games, Red Dead Redemption 2 treats it’s players like they have attention spans longer than a 14-year-old excited on Mountain Dew and Doritos. Instead of the story opening up in the middle of a bombastic shoot-out, the game only shows the aftermath of a job that has gone very wrong. Fans of the previous game will recognize some of the characters on screen, but the game is more concerned with slowly building the narrative by showing the dire situation at hand. We’re given bits of dialogue that hint at how our band of outlaws ended up in their predicament but the game never makes a character an exposition dump. In a world where developers are afraid of their players are getting bored, this faith and confidence in their storytelling is very refreshing.
The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is undoubtedly gorgeous, but without the fantastic character development on display, the world would be lifeless. Now I’m going to attempt to remain spoiler free, but I highly advised you play this game beforehand to get a better understanding. Our main character, Arthur Morgan, starts as our stereotypical Rockstar main character. He’s a criminal with a conflicted morality that’s just trying to survive in a world of outlaws. At first glance, he seems uninteresting and generic compared to our previous protagonist, John Marston. However, the game eventually allows us to understand not only who Morgan is as a person, but how his sacrifices impacted all of the characters we love.
But who is Arthur Morgan at the start of the tale? Mr. Morgan, as we are introduced to him, is the right-hand man to the infamous Dutch van der Linde. Because gang life is the only lifestyle that’s Morgan has known, he’s extremely loyal to his family. The ingenious interactions that take place within the gang’s camps help to reinforce just how much these people mean to our protagonist. So in other games where someone would ask the player to fetch them an annoying random item such as a brush, in red dead, seeking out items for your family means more thanks to the excellent dialogue.
Slowly but surely we learn more and more about the colorful cast of characters within the game. Meanwhile, the game is somewhat tricking the player into caring more about Arthur because we realize how much of life is dedicated to making the people he loves safe. As the story progresses and the world eventually crashes around these characters, the player starts to feel like Arthur in the sense that any moments of peace are fleeting.
Another exciting aspect about Arthur is that he’s the first Rockstar character that takes responsibility for his actions. Towards the latter half of the game, Morgan accepts that he’s not the good person. Unlike other protagonists that would attempt to justify their means, Morgan is the rare exception that understands who and what he is. For example, in previous Grand Theft Auto games, despite most of those characters being likable (except maybe Trevor), each of these characters rarely have moments of introspection where they acknowledge their actions. This seems like a small aspect, but it adds depth to the role of Arthur Morgan once you reach a crucial specific moment within the story.
While there are so many characters that I could focus on, perhaps the most interesting would have to Dutch himself. This is one of the more charismatic figures in the game that you can’t help but be wrapped up in his shenanigans. Despite fans of the previous games already knowing the fate of Dutch and his gang, you can’t help but be engaged into the glory days of the gang. Honestly, the fact that the story remains enthralling despite players knowing the outcome stands as a testament to the incredible writing of the game.
Dutch’s fall is also compelling to follow as well. Dutch has a somewhat noble cause of reaming free from civilization. And the diversity of the camp shows how progressive the group was overall. Everyone in the group is treated equally, and you get the sense that there’s no real racial division despite the game’s 1899 setting. But like most things in life, their way of life and family is ultimately broken up due to ego and greed.
Besides the main plot of the gang, the game also manages to flesh out every single location within the world. The many side quest feature a myriad of social commentary on the western way of life. Even interacting with these side missions reveal more about Arthur beliefs and viewpoints. While I would love detail some of my favorite moments from these missions, I’ll let you find them yourself because all of them are entertaining and surprising.
As you can already tell, I adore this game and how it elevates the gaming artform. I’d recommend this game to anyone under the caveat that they treat this game like you would an RPG. For instance, every Persona game starts slow but strangles your attention away once the plot picks up. Red Dead Redemption 2 is my game of the generation so far, and I highly recommend it to anyone seeking an emotionally gripping story.