Red Dead Redemption II: Review

Knowing what we know from the first Red Dead Redemption, we always knew that bad things would happen along the way in this prequel.  From the very start of the game the Van der Linde gang lose two members, and as we know the gang more or less disbands between then and the first game, we know that there’s going to be rocky roads to traverse here.

For the rest of the game we see the gang move from camp to camp and failed robbery to failed robbery to try to make up for what they’d lost in the Blackwater heist, revealed through a newspaper to have been worth $150,000.

For the most part these missions are good, and there’s certainly highlights in the missions that bring things to a head in different locations.  Shooting out Strawberry and Valentine both felt like fun and intense missions, attacking the Grays in Rhodes did too, and then the heist in Saint Denis was particularly brilliant, riding as one together into the city then escaping across the rooftops when things went south.

Then comes a curveball I didn’t see coming, being shipped off to the island of Guarma and taking part in a revolution against the guards.  This little mini-campaign was excellent, and the shock of being shipwrecked somewhere entirely new was something else.

Luckily you come back to the South as it were and re-unite with your gang, and although things don’t quite look as though they’re headed in the right direction, they at least feel like they’re not getting worse.

Then, almost at random it felt, Arthur was dying of tuberculosis.

I’ve seen another article that praises Arthur’s tuberculosis as one of the biggest masterstrokes in gaming since the controller was invented, but for me it was one of the most poorly executed plot points I’ve seen in a Rockstar game.  The origin of the disease for Arthur comes from what is almost presented as a side-mission, collecting money for gang member Herr Strauss and helping collect from an illness-sufferer Thomas Downes.  Downes later succumbs to his illness (or Arthur’s beating) and his wife pops up sometimes as a random character forced into prostitution.

After the gang have their stint on Guarma, they return and continue about their business.  Then, while travelling through Saint Denis outside of missions, Arthur has an uncontrollable coughing fit, is taken to the doctor, and diagnosed.  One minute he’s riding around with impunity, the next he’s given a death sentence.  To my knowledge, there’s no coughing before this that seems to suggest he’s ill, there’s certainly no visible or player-impacting burden to suggest this, and of course no dialogue that obliquely mentions it.  For me this came as a total bolt from the blue, and one that didn’t feel fair.

For the rest of the game, this changes Arthur’s perspective – as he now views the world as a dying man trying to set things right, and he turns on Dutch as he realises that the situation for the gang is unrecoverable and that his legacy should be to protect the younger members of camp (such as the Marstons and Sadie Adler).  This worked for me, as I played my character as one that was honourable, but I’m not sure if it would have worked so well for those playing as a darker character.  Another problem with this perspective change was a gameplay one, with stamina and other abilities hampered by the TB.  This made it a little more difficult towards the end, which although different, wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.

In the end of Arthur’s story, the gang finally disperses after several people had already bailed.  It’s revealed that Micah was a traitor delivering the Pinkertons information, which seems obvious in hindsight but was a well-revealed shock and played into the character’s dislike of him.  Eventually Arthur is caught between Micah and Dutch and dies, either watching the sun rise as my honourable character did, or by being killed by Micah.  I think this mission was done well, showing Arthur getting John Marston out of the gang as best he could and then feeling his work was done.

The epilogue thereafter, taking place years later as you play as John Marston, was well-needed and for me the best part of the game.  It shows how Marston got to his new ranch that you see in Red Dead Redemption, wraps up the story with Micah’s death (which everyone wanted to see), and also shows how the story was set in motion for the first game.  It’s maybe light on action, but I felt it was a really good balance between showing real Western life and the true nature of Marston – and it was perhaps what we would have preferred from the similar epilogue for the first game.

As I said in the main review, the story is really good and there’s lots of missions in their that are very fun, but my overriding feeling is was that it was a missed opportunity to do something more moving and more exciting.  If or when there’s a Red Dead 3, I really hope it can show the gang in it’s prime, or perhaps Sadie Adler’s bounty hunting adventures, as they’d be the real fun that I’d hoped to see from this game.

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