The Arthur Of Our Own Story: Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

***spoilers for Red Dead Redemption 2***

I was riding to a town called Valentine at a slow trot enjoying how beautiful the scenery was in the area when I came upon a man on the side of the road sweetly talking to his horse. It seemed the horse had thrown a shoe and the man had his leg up trying to repair it to get back riding. I opted to greet the man to see if he needed any help.

I said "howdy mister". This spooked the horse and he kicked the man in the head, killing him and it ran away.

That is Red Dead Redemption 2. It is an unapologetic land that welcomes all newcomers before trying to spit them out, no matter how sweet you try to talk to your horse.

After a deliberately slow paced opening which see the Van Der Linde gang running from a job gone bad and into the snow covered hills for shelter, you begin playing as Arthur Morgan, a man that has spent his entire adult life with Dutch learning the ways of the outlaw. Seems this Dutch is different from the man we hunted down in the original game in 2008. Sure Dutch is not a good man, but he is also not a monster. He does not kill unless his family is threatened and will go out of his way to help those that can not help themselves. You begin to notice over the first few hours of the game that you will begin to see the unraveling of the good man you have followed to become the man John will be forced to hunt down 12 years later.

You spend the majority of the game getting to know the characters in your gang and going on missions for them, and with them, while Dutch tries to come up with a plan to get enough money for you to make an escape somewhere...anywhere. When you move past the opening and get to your first camp you are introduced to the giant open sandbox that once again proves Rockstar is the master of living breathing virtual worlds. From the cold mountain peaks to small western towns and even to a bustling metropolis on the rise, the map is a wonder to travel. 

If you want to know about the best relationship in the game it is with your horse. Unless you are one of these masochists I have seen on YouTube going through throngs of horses because you want to run them off a mountain. Fuck that and fuck you. My horse is named Reggie (from Reggie Ledoux in True Detective, obvs) and she was a good girl. Yes I named a girl horse a guy's name, I don't care. She has a Mohawk and a braided tail. I took care of Reggie. I brushed her, fed her and I killed for her. When she died at the end of the game I felt like murdering a lot of people...and I did. I know that is a little much and some of that was for humor, but I miss Reggie.

Controls are like any Rockstar game. Did you hate the way GTA V controlled? Then know ahead of time that you will be screaming at the exact same things. If you didn't have a problem with it for the most part (like me) then you are good to go. You know what you are getting. You will run into houses, trees, poles, more trees, people, horses, and again, more trees. While this is annoying, some it does make for some fun moments when you are exploring the world and not in the middle of a mission or chase.

Shooting feels a lot like GTA V also and it works well for the most part. Using it in conjunction with your deadeye makes you feel like a right gunslinger when things get all Tombstone. There is no lack of weapons either. Rockstar knows how to equip you for a murder spree with a variety of pistols, carbine rifles, bolt action rifles, shotguns, sonic electronic ball breakers. You got knives, sharp get the picture.

The music ranges from single guitar twangs to sweeping western overtures depending on whether you are slowly exploring or involved in a shootout. There are songs by artists that range from expected to surprising like Willie Nelson and D'Angelo. Is it hard to hear D'Angelo and not think of his Untitled (How Does It Feel) video? Yes. Yes is the answer.

The one actual gripe I have with the game is the long, overdrawn epilogue. Sure playing as John is fun, but it goes on for so long that it feels like it lessens Arthur's story some. I know why it is there. It sets up the time between the end of this and the 2008 original, but Arthur was such a compelling character that this was not necessary. At the very least cut down how long it is. Instead of 7 hours how about give us the final mission where we hunt down Micah and set up the first game. 2 hours. Boom. Done. This is not sour grapes. There were enjoyable parts of the epilogue, but it seems like Rockstar may have put it there as an "out" in case people did not like Arthur and could finish their experience as John. Turns out Arthur is a superior character to John. Believe in your characters.

The last third of the game where Arthur is whittling away from tuberculosis is some of the most heartbreaking times you will experience in games. Especially if you play him with a good honor system. You spend your time trying to do the right thing in situations where there is no right to be found. As Arthur toils toward the unavoidable all you can do is atone for the life you led and make a positive impact in any way before your end.

This game is a love letter, not just to gamers but to a certain generation of people that grew up watching westerns. It is Rio Bravo, it is The Man with No Name Trilogy, it is Unforgiven. More importantly, in my mind, it is Lonesome Dove. I remember reading Lonesome Dove when I was young and amazed at the way it conveyed the vastness of the west and brought a collection of characters together from every walk of life interweaving their stories, but in the end it was about one man, Woodrow Call. This is Lonesome Dove and Arthur Morgan is its one man.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is big and intimidating. Sometimes I would sit atop Reggie and look out at the vastness in front of me and soak it in. Admire the beauty that was around me...then shoot up a camp full of guys because they may have a can of peaches and ammo.

I still miss Reggie.

9.5 Rooster Cogburns out of 10


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