Red Dead Redemption II: Second Impressions

It’s been seventy-seven days since Red Dead Redemption II was released, and one would likely gather that seventy-seven days would provide more than enough time in which to finish the game. Alas, in the case of my overly-saturated schedule between Halloween and New Year’s Day, one would be heartily wrong. That said, I am officially halfway done with the game, so that’s got to count for something. Maybe. With RDRII, it’s a little hard to tell.

With this midway update, allow me to return to something I said in my first impressions post, paraphrased as RDRII is not a fun game, but it’s a fascinating one. Does this still hold true? More so than ever! In fact, at this point, the game is so much less fun to play, it’s almost hard for me to wrap my head around just how enthrallingly mad its story is. I remain curious about Arthur Morgan, but controlling him is so terrible it pretty much belies the fact that he’s supposed to be a rootin’-tootin’ gunslinger, though…it does support his gang’s theory that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. So here’s where we are with the story. 

SPOILERS AHEAD

The Van der Linde gang is on the run. No longer does anyone seem too worried about small-time rogues such as the O’Driscoll gang, or old rivalries between old families. At this point, the gang is on the wrong side of the Pinkerton Detective Agency (a private security firm hired by the U. S. government), and big-money players, such as Saint Denis’s crime boss, Angelo Bronte, and wealthy magnate Leviticus Cornwall. Escaping from their camp in Horseshoe Overlook after it was discovered by the Pinkertons, the gang sets up shop first in a forested spot called Clemens Point, and then in an abandoned plantation mansion called Shady Belle. Arthur’s life becomes reluctantly cosmopolitan upon entering the fancy digs of Saint Denis, a city bristling with New Orleans-style charm.  Dutch Van der Linde remains Arthur’s guiding light, forcing him to beg, borrow, steal, and kill, all in the name of the gang. Though Arthur recognizes the folly in Dutch’s singular vision to “get money and save everyone,” it’s still a case of the blind leading the blind. Which results in an almost unbelievable trip into what I can only call an Uncharted situation. No, seriously. A major shootout between the gang and the Pinkertons in Saint Denis – causing the death of several gang members along with the arrest of John Marston – leads Dutch, Arthur, and a few other escaping folks onto a boat that’s supposed to sail them off to the shores of Cuba. Only the thing wrecks in a terrible storm and the crew ends up stranded on the island of Guarma, a spot that is currently boiling over in a war between sugar plantation owners and their enslaved workers. Stranded, the remnants of the Van der Linde gang become involved in the rebellion, and, with the help of the workers, manage to both take down the nefarious Alberto Fussar, head honcho of sugar, and make their way back to the United States. There, the gang regroups, is again found by the Pinkertons and must escape, again.

And I still have half the game to go?  The whole shoot-escape-settle-and-repeat routine is getting a little tedious.

Okay. A LOT tedious.

Here’s the thing. Thanks to Red Dead Redemption, we already know the outcome of the Van der Linde gang. Whether or not Dutch saves his gang in 1899, it doesn’t make much difference, because he still ends up destitute and dead in circa 1912. And now, I’ve only just played through a scene where it’s revealed that Arthur has contracted tuberculosis. So it appears his fate is sealed, too.

After everything the gang has experienced, I can’t help but question: why is this game centered around Arthur Morgan?

I’ve wholly avoided reading anything about this game, and I’ve no clue what to expect in the game’s second half, so I know I’m speculating into the wind. But I really do wonder why this game wasn’t centered on Dutch Van der Linde, John Marston, or heck, even Bill Williamson, who survived to meet up with Marston in Red Dead Redemption. At this point, nearly every secondary gang member is dead, and it’s only likely that the remaining ones will end up that way too, including Arthur. Am I fooling myself into thinking that I “know” too much given the events of the original game? As curious as I was about Arthur in the beginning, now he seems simply like a cog in the Van der Linde machine. A random outlaw dude with fancy gunplay abilities (that I can’t seem to make work right, ever) who just happens to be part of a gang that ends up as little more than a memory of the Old West. At least if I were paying as Marston or Dutch, I might feel a little more connected to what’s going on.  Marston has the direct connection to the future, while Dutch plays immediately into present events. Frankly, Arthur is just…there.

It all feels a little disheartening. What of that “fun gang interaction” stuff that Rockstar touted in its pre-release videos? Playing poker with your buddies, having heart-to-heart talks with friends, fishing, hunting, supplying your camps? Well, now everyone’s dead, nobody has time to talk because they’re all too busy shooting everyone and running for their lives. And what camp is left anyway? You just washed up from an island and have a lovely case of TB. Bully! Just bully!

I haven’t done a lick of fishing or hunting, as if I cared. I can buy meat in towns, and I find neither fishing nor hunting enjoyable, in games. I have played a few rounds of poker and blackjack, though. They’re alright, but I’m better at losing than winning. It will come as no surprise that I enjoy most dressing and coiffing Arthur. He may be dying, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t look nice. I have taking a liking to his scruffiness.

While I’ve no plans to give up on RDRII, I’m also in no big hurry to get to its ending, predictable or not.  The controls still stink, and they are the one big obstacle to me wanting to spend oodles of time with the game. (Did I mention that Arthur’s terrible controls caused my horse’s untimely demise? Yep. RIP Rosencranz.) I’m feeling like the key to making it through will be to set aside what I already know and focus on the events at hand. Dutch won’t deviate from his calmly maniacal path, and the gang now has to rescue Marston from jail. It’s also time to set up camp in a new spot, someplace north it seems, where the map is still empty. Maybe some fresh scenery will renew my feelings, as well as Arthur’s health. Maybe the second half the game will fully surprise me and make me rethink my entire outlook so far. Maybe I should just stop with the questions and pick up the controller. After all, Arthur ain’t dead yet.


All images, including lede, © Rockstar Games (2018). They were captured by the author on the PS4 during gameplay.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Fitzy says:

    Agreed. I’m struggling with the game myself. I took a month break and came back to it in chapter 3, as I was getting bored of it. The break did me good and I came back to enjoying aspects of it but still being annoyed by so much of the game.

    The game is fantastic to me except the gameplay. Which when playing a game, is a big thing. I think the story and Arthur is one of Rockstar’s best narratives, if not their best. The gameplay is so rigid though! Especially in missions. When horse riding you can’t stray a bit away from the gang, you’re basically magnetised to your team. I’ve been penalised in missions for trying something different to the missions demands. And there is just a lot of rinse and repeat missions.

    Long ride to objective with NPC chatting about the mission, get to location and stealthily move around the area, listen to NPC ask you to stealth kill guy on left and he’ll get right, wait for enemies to have long bouts of dialogue before moving away from my current objective, whoops something goes wrong and a gun fight ensues and after that we ride away while being chased.

    That’s fine now and then but it happens a lot. Not only that but you have to follow exactly what the objective and radar say otherwise your NPC teammate won’t stop complaining at you and if you continue to stray, you get a mission failed screen. Rockstar said that you can play Arthur however you want to play him. What they really meant was, ‘Play Arthur however you like, as long as that’s what we want you to play him like.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Haha, stealth in the game is soooooo terrible! Even when no one makes a peep, somehow Arthur ends up getting discovered, and I have to spend the next 15 minutes dealing with awful gun-aiming mechanics. It’s the worst!

      There’s definitely no aspect of “play however you like” in the missions. And they’re generally unenjoyable anyway, so there’s not really any incentive to go back and try again to do better. Most of the time I’m just glad they’re over so I can go back to having at least a little fun with treasure hunting and poker.

      I’ve been getting too bogged down in the game’s details to enjoy it, so I think I’ll have to go back to the game with different intentions. I keep hearing that the game’s story is nothing but stellar, and I’m keen on seeing how it plays out despite everything else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fitzy says:

        Yeah I understand getting bogged down with the details. Same happened to me. I’m enjoying it more after a hiatus but still not enough to recommend the game to people.

        I’m continuing for the story, dialogue and visuals at this point. It’s a shame because I really liked RDR1. I just wish the gameplay had evolved the same way the visuals and storytelling have. But oh well, I’m still getting something out of it.

        Liked by 1 person

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