Legendary bandit faces moral crisis in ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’

Arthur Morgan and his posse of outlaws jump a moving train from horseback. Guns drawn, Arthur yells, “Your money or your lives!”

Robbing trains becomes a bit of a past time in Rockstar’s “Red Dead Redemption 2” a western-themed adventure game, set in 1899, just before the decline of the American frontier. “Red Dead Redemption 2” made more than $725 million on opening weekend. The only other game to beat this record was “Grand Theft Auto V,” another RockStar game.

RDR3It begins with a character named Arthur Morgan, a legendary bandit, who is loyal to the Van der Linde gang. The Van der Linde gang is run by Dutch Van der Linde and is full of other bandits who loosely try to follow a moral code to not kill innocents or rob those who are making legitimate money.

There are a few spoilers ahead, but I’m not going to try to focus on too much of the story. Also, I have not played any other Red Dead series either. I do know a nutshell’s worth of knowledge about the first “Red Dead Redemption” story. So any nostalgia or excitement to see reappearing characters are lost on me. But I do not think that takes away from my gameplay experience.

Arthur and the rest of the Van der Linde gang were pushed out of their old base, losing everything, including a handful of members. The game starts with the gang trying to find another place to set up base and survive while doing it.

While playing Arthur Morgan, the game presents a plethora of decisions to make. The player can choose to rob, greet, or antagonize most people in the game. I suspect there are hidden cues if you want to be successful at robbing people, because 99 percent of the people I try to rob just pull guns out on me. For the few people I have successfully robbed on the road, I aimed my weapon at them before they drew theirs, during Arthur’s dialogue, “Yer being robbed, son.”

There are also random events, when a non-player character (NPC) may be spouting off a few lines of dialogue out of the norm. For example, I was riding around on my newly tamed, stark-white Arabian horse. My horse’s name is Digiorno, and he receives many compliments from the local populace. A man asked me to race Digiorno in the opposite direction that I was headed. Since I was in a hurry to track down whatever was at the end of my treasure map, I declined. The man called Arthur a coward. A quick execution sent this disrespectful do-gooder into the afterlife while his own prized race-horse dragged his body from the stirrups down a hill.

One of my favorite things about the game is Arthur’s dialogue. While exploring the map, you can find “Collectors.” Collectors ask you to be on the lookout for all sorts of things, such as rare, collectable cigarette trading cards, dinosaur bones, and rock carvings. A paleontologist asks Arthur to collect bones in search of a specific dinosaur.

Arthur says, “Wait, they’re REAL?!”

Almost everything about Arthur’s dialogue depicts him as an uneducated outlaw, but he is not stupid. He is always out to make a buck, regardless of the legality of that dollar he is making. He is known throughout his gang for his sarcasm and witty insults.

I would say that Rockstar Games did a wonderful job of forging Arthur’s personality within the cut scenes of the game. But the Arthur in the cut scenes, versus the Arthur that roams the world, are two different people.

In an early story mission, Dutch Van der Linde, the leader of the gang, has Arthur rob a train. Arthur is expected to open fire and beat on anybody who does not fork over that sweet loot. At the end of the mission, the player is presented with a choice, to spare, or kill, the remaining occupants.

The Arthur that chooses to spare the occupants does not make much sense, considering he is, and acknowledges, that he is a cold-blooded killer. Yet Arthur justifies his actions through the Van der Linde gang on the premise of freedom and lawlessness. Arthur is against unnecessary killing, especially if it puts his friends in danger. Some might say that a lot of the killing required in missions is unnecessary.

The Arthur in the story is rough, cold, and ruthless. But in the open world, Arthur can choose to be friendly and helpful to complete strangers. For example, there is an encounter where Arthur is given the choice to suck the rattlesnake venom out of a dying man’s leg. This reaches toward the realm of disbelief when understanding Arthur’s character. I feel myself having to keep a bit of distance from the story version of Arthur, while I play my own version of him out in the open world.

The game has an Honor system, where your deeds may affect certain people or encounters later in the game. Murder, looting bodies, killing domesticated animals, and good ole fashioned thievery will usually receive negative honor. Talking to strangers, helping people, and giving to the poor net positive honor. I plan on playing through the game twice, one with the lowest honor score and one with the highest, to see if the story changes at all.

I have not finished the story missions. I’ve heard rumors of content being locked after certain chapters, and I want my first play-through to be slow and full of exploration.

The characters of the Van der Linde gang are fleshed out very well, with each having their own opinions about Arthur. Arthur also has his own opinions about everyone in the gang as well, which makes for interesting banter around camp.

My favorite part of the game is being able to roam the country freely. As far as I can tell, there is not much content gated behind the story so far. I’ve reached two out of the four corners of the map, and there is still so much more to explore. I’ve come across a massive crater, where a meteor had crashed into the earth. Upon finding this scene, Arthur documents it in his journal, and draws a pretty neat picture.

I recommend finding the Arabian horse early on. It’s quick, and quite pretty to boot. It can be found in all of its wild glory just west of Lake Isabella, usually within eyesight of the lake. This is wolf country, and the horse is spooked easily, so approach with caution.

I can’t wait to play this game more. Roaming the world as a legendary bandit has never been such a fun experience. I give “Red Dead Redemption 2” a 9/10.

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