(and why I’m glad I did)
After obsessively picking through each of the trailers for Red Dead Redemption 2 as they trickled out over the past year or so, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how things were going to unfold for Arthur, Dutch, and the rest of their band of not-so-merry misfits. I still do, for the most part, but after getting to see the first four hours of the game, I’m glad to say that I was dead wrong on some of the “how’s” of our antiheroes getting from A to B.
WARNING: MINIMAL STORY SPOILERS FOR THE OPENING OF RDR2 BELOW, PLUS SOME HEFTY SPECULATION.
Red Dead 2’s first three trailers centered primarily on narrative elements rather than touting new mechanics. One mostly showcased the world, another focused on introducing our new protagonist Arthur Morgan and gave a few hints as to the gang’s predicament, and the third centered largely on the broader scope of Red Dead 2’s story. Based on those three trailers, and what we already know about certain members of the gang from the original Red Dead Redemption, we got what I think is a pretty good idea of how the narrative will progress through the adventure, ultimately leading into the opening of the first (okay, fine, second) game.
I’m not saying that I think RDR2 will end with John Marston boarding his train in Blackwater, but we ultimately already know where he and characters like Dutch, Bill, Javier, Abigail, and Jack will end up. Red Dead 2’s story offers us the opportunity to see those moments – when, as John says to Javier in the original, “you and Dutch went crazy and suddenly family didn’t mean so much.”
All of those moments that I swore were from ‘the end of the game’ were all seen in those first four hours.”
Based on the trailers, I believed we’d begin the game hiding out in the Valentine area of the New Hanover territory (which I was sort of right about, I guess – Valentine is the first area you explore once the world opens up), and then once Johnny Law showed back up, journey southwards through the bayous surrounding St. Denis. Insert some conflict within the gang, a splintering of internal factions and questioning of loyalties, plus a healthy dash of moral quandaries for Arthur (like what appears to be a moment where he may or may not rescue John), and that would carry us into the third act – crossing the mountains back towards Blackwater and into “final confrontation” territory. There were many shots throughout the trailer where we saw the gang trudging grimly through the snow, or looking worriedly at one another while Dutch went on about the importance of staying together, and especially under his leadership.
They seemed like desperate pleas of a desperate man, and I could have sworn that Rockstar had committed one of the (well… my) cardinal sins of trailers and loaded them up with juicy bits from late in the story to get people invested in the drama. Thankfully, I was dead wrong – almost all of those moments that I swore were from “the end of the game” were all seen in those first four hours. Hell, we saw most of them in the first ten minutes.
The opening moments of Red Dead 2 focus on a long, arduous journey up a mountainside through a blizzard. We learn (as we’ve heard in earlier previews) that the gang was on the lamb after a job went south in the West Elizabeth town of Blackwater, one that fans of the previous Red Dead will probably get a good chuckle out of. Having to leave the territory on such short notice, the gang is understandably low on supplies and provisions – so it’s a small miracle when they happen upon the abandoned mining village of Colter up in the Grizzly Mountains. Making a temporary camp in these ramshackle cabins, here is where we see those worried looks and gaunt faces as Dutch calls for unity among the party. “Stay strong,” he says, “Stay. With. Me.”
In this context, even though I recognized the delivery from the trailer, it was no longer a desperate plea but a reassuring oath, a pledge to see the people he cares for to safety, rather than a ruined man clinging to his last strands of power. The missions that followed reinforced this, with Dutch’s guiding hand influencing everything, regardless of whether he was there with you or not. It was a surprising sense of a character’s presence that I rarely feel in games, and it was made doubly apparent by how involved I felt, even during the dialogue that took place during gameplay.
While I usually feel disconnected when I’m having exposition and tutorials flung my way as I explore a world, the lengths that the Rockstar team have gone to in order to make every part of the experience feel unified all seem to have paid off. Conversations between Dutch and Micah (another member of our gang) as we searched a farmhouse for supplies never felt forced or heavy-handed, and the simple act of being able to frantically search through almost every individual drawer and cabinet only deepened my level of investment in our need to sort out a survival plan.
It was impressive, to me, that when we began our journey down out of the mountains into the heartlands around Valentine to begin our open-world portion of the demo, there wasn’t one character who I’d spent time with that I wasn’t invested in or interested in learning more about – or at least seeing how their relationship with Arthur develops. What’s even better is that after seeing this extended demo, while I may think I know what to expect, I definitely can’t say for sure.
For more of the latest on Red Dead Redemption 2, read through our other thoughts on the opening hours of the game, as well as the 79 crazy details we noticed while exploring Rockstar’s most elaborate world yet.
JR is an editor at IGN who’s really intrigued by how Red Dead 2’s world is pretty indifferent to us as players. He’ll probably talk more about that – or berating hapless NPCs – on Twitter.