Red Dead Redemption II – A Masterpiece At Second Glance

So, yeah, late to the party again, but I do have an excuse: I am not into the Western-genre at all. Which is why RockStar’s acclaimed Red Dead Remption (2010) and its prequel Red Dead Redemption II (2018) were never on the top of my list of games to play. Of course, over the years, I read many good things, story- and characterwise, especially about RDR2.

So, with some time on my hands and the game being on sale, I gave it a chance. And, of course, there WILL be SPOILERS. Though these games are so old now, I have nothing new to add, only more praise.

Red Dead Redemption 2 begins on a cold, cold mountain.

The Story

While – SPOILER – Red Dead Redemption dealt with former outlaw-turned rancher and family man John Marston having to hunt down the surviving members of his old gang, this is the story of said gang before it fell apart. I have not played RDR, so I came into this story unbiased.

The gang is being hunted by the law, and while their charismatic leader Dutch van der Linde makes new plans, Arthur and Hosea, his old guard, as he calls them, begin to doubt his leadership. Arthur Morgan being the main character of the game has some things to say about that. “I was once a prize pony and now I am a work horse”, he describes himself to one of the younger guys, Sean.

Arthur is a pretty good shot, but I would expect that after 20 years with the gang.

In fact, Arthur is Dutch’s go-to-man for all the heavy lifting. The gang needs someone to guard their back? Crack-shot Arthur will pick off any lawman or rival gang member getting too close. One of the young guys needs to prove himself? Arthur will be right along to hold his hand. Yep. Arthur does all the gang’s dirty work. But he also gets himself roped into hopeless crusades all too happily.

Arthur, in the back, is prepared to follow Dutch , front, to the very end.

Meanwhile, newcomer Micah spreads poison in Dutch’s ear. The man is quite the opposite of Arthur, who, though flawed as he definitely is, does have some principles at least, loyalty to the gang and Dutch above all.

Unfortunately, none of Dutch’s big plans really pans out. They need money, a lot of it, to escape the law in a big country that is somehow getting smaller and smaller for the likes of them. But wherever they go, they leave behind scorched earth, for one reason or another. While Arthur continues trying to do the right thing, despite having nothing to lose, Dutch falls prey to Micah’s foul machinations. Micah drives a wedge in between the gang’s leader and his old pals with quite the skill and determination. And as they all become more desperate, the more they break apart.

Hunted from hiding place to hiding place, they find themselves at bay at last. Which culminates in one of the most dramatic endings in gaming history. Probably. I know I cried.

Everyone contributes to the camp ressources, but, probably, noone more than Arthur.

But, truth be told, I was not invested in the – really awesome – story from the beginning. In the beginning, the game was more like a horse simulator to me, because I was focused on finding the prettieest, best horses instead of on the missions. The reason was mainly Arthur’s heavy cowboy drawl. I could not stand it – at all, like – and skipped pretty much every cutscene. Keep in mind, Sadie Adler’s voice is even more annoying, which is why I almost quit playing to the end through the second half of the epilogue. I am glad I pulled through.

I only got invested during the last third of the game, more or less, and vowed I would replay it again once I had finished it. The fact that – SPOILER – I was down with a bacterial infection that had me coughing non-stop while Arthur started succumbing to tuberculosis at the same time was kind of helping. I got you, boy!

The Main Characters

Arthur Morgan is the main character of the game, though not a hero. He is loyal supporter and mentor at the same time, having been with the gang for over twenty years. As Dutch’s madness continues, he has to make his own choices. Having nothing to lose due to his terminal illness, he is free to make the right ones. He is a very complex character, self-loathing at best, and at the same time a decent guy. Most of the time. He does not particularly enjoy the dirty work, but he knows no other way.

So, yeah, I took a page out of Dutch’s styling book. I really like this burgundy outfit! Goes great with my Strawberry Red Ardennes horse!

Dutch van der Linde is a silver-tongued con man relying on other people’s strengths. Which is why he happily lets Micah dictate his actions when the world he once knew how to manipulate no longer makes sense. He is quite effective at masking his own helplessness, even though he will lead the gang to its doom doing just that.

John Marston, the main character of Red Dead Redemption, is yet to find himself. He is all over the place, torn between loyalty to Dutch and loyalty towards his family. It is Arthur who helps him get his priorities straight, and the one who will save him in the end.

The Supporting Characters

The gang is made up of a lot of colorful characters. A few stand out more than others. First among those is Charles Smith. He is one of the newer members of the gang, along with Sean and Micah. Being of mixed-race heritage he knows a thing or two about avoiding conflict. But he also knows when to act on the right impulse. He is a great influence on Arthur, which I grew to appreciate very much. Hosea, another, elderly con man, is also one of the few men keeping their wits about them throughout the gang’s struggle.

Meet the characters: cook Pearson and widow Sadie Adler.

And, of course, there is Micah. He is a snake, which becomes apparent very early on. Nevertheless he does have Dutch’s ear and manages to keep it to the very, bitter end.

The Horses

Yep, I cannot not mention the horses. Each gang member has their own unique steed, with Micah’s being the most striking, but Arthur has yet to find a replacement for his own trusted horse that he lost previously. There are a few classes: Standard, Work, Heavy, Race and War. You can buy horses or find them in the wild, either stealing them from NPCs or taming them yourself. Arthur can keep four horses in total. I had quite a few and here are my favorites:

My current favorite is Two-Face.
  • Shire: Yep, I kept the big black brute that Hosea wanted me to sell at the Valentine Stable and named him Brutus. He is not that useful, but beautiful. Unfortunately, draft horse are being fat-shamed by the stable owners… I once rode a Belgian Draft in real life and cannot confirm they are chubby at all.
  • Ardennes: This warhorse is a gem. With great stamina and courage it will carry you through any battle. My favorite until I lost him quite unfortunately.
  • American Paint: These beautiful, blue-eyed horses are pretty good racers and have courage. The one I am currently riding is a white mare with a black splash across the back. I named her Two-Face.
  • Arabian: Arabians are awesome horses with great stamina, intelligence and courage. There is a chestnut red one you can tame in the wild, but she is crazy and will bump into obstacles all the time. I replaced her with a black steed, who was one of my favorites. I once had the honor to race a grey Arabian stallion, meaning he was in the meadow and I raced along the outside of the fence as fast as I could at ten years old. He would let me get almost to the end of the fence then easily caught up to beat me. It was a fun game and he knew exactly what he was doing. They are really playful and very intelligent.
  • Turkoman: the Turkoman are war and race horses, the best in my book. I have always been fascinated with them, they look absolutely stunning in real life, too. During my first playthrough I stuck with the Gold Turkoman and he was amazing! I am going for the black Turkoman during my second playthrough.
  • Buell: Okay, the story of Buell, the beautiful Cremello, is awesome, so of course I kept him to the very end. A mistake, as he is not as good as other horses – here’s looking at my Turkoman – but still a great horse.
This Arabian mare caught in the wild is an awesome racer, but crazy when you try to handle her.

In my second playthough I have vowed to only ride black or white horses. I currently own the raven black Shire, Brutus, a black American Standardbeed, Andame, and my girl Two-Face.

The World

This is the USA at the turn of the century. States and regions have different names names, some cities, too, but then you will also chance upon travellers from Boston or Chicago, so I do not really understand why that renaming was necessary.

Nevertheless, you will descend from the Rocky Mountains, or Grizzlies in game, to the Heartland and South to Lemoyne, even as far as almost to Cuba.

The locations are all absolutely stunning. And even though this is a mission I had to do alongside Micah, the view was worth it.

Deserts, mountains, lush meadows, fields, marshes and swamps, small towns and the city of St. Denis await. Also, there are rival gang and other factions you need to look out for. Some will make themselves known only later, in the epilogue.

The Soundtrack

As mentioned in the beginning, I am not a great fan of the Western-genre. But the soundtrack is awesome. The orchestral parts as well as the songs. Especially “May I Stand Unshaken” will hit hard. Very hard.

The Verdict

It was not love at first sight, but during my second playthougrh I came to really appreciate this game. So, if you, like me, have hesitated so far, give it a shot! It is worth it.
Until then, keep on playing!