Why Red Dead Redemption 2 Is An Authentic Western | Breaking Geek

Welcome to Breaking Geek, a column that just won’t go away, where uber-geek Nick Doll offers commentary, reactions, and theories regarding the most interesting news of the week (or whatever he feels like), using his expansive knowledge of all things geek! Today’s topic: Why Red Dead Redemption 2 Is A True Western!

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a groundbreaking game, but not for the most obvious reasons.

Yes, Rockstar delivers another nearly perfect, well-polished game with a bigger open world to explore than ever before. The story is long — I just completed it Saturday myself – and rewarding with great dialogue and overall narrative, drawing you into a game spiral that keeps you up long past your bedtime (this was the first game to do this to me in over a decade).

All this was to be expected. As were all the tenants of a Western film; train robberies, bank robberies, stagecoach robberies, collecting bounties, lots of transportation on horseback and even story-lines involving Native Americans being forced off their land. Red Dead Redemption 2 has saloons, duels, poker, and baths aided by women working the saloon.

But, Red Dead Redemption 2 taps into something far deeper as to what makes a Western a Western, a very ballsy feat that is a huge risk, but in the end, was incredibly rewarding and unlike anything I have ever played before.

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Going forward, there be SPOILERS, so really ONLY READ this if you are 90% – 100% through the story on your progress screen. That means you have actually earned the “Completed Red Dead Redemption” achievements and have – SPOILERS – played through at least Epilogue 1 if not part of Epilogue 2 as well.

Visions of Nature

Westerns tend to be slower, contemplative stories that don’t drag, but clop about at their own pace like Arthur Morgan on his horse.

I will get into what truly makes this game a Western when we discuss the Epilogues a bit later, but let’s start here.

Yes, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game where you will kill more gang members, Pinkertons, or bounty hunters in a single shoot-out that the total number of deaths you will see in a true Western film. And yes, you could try to speed-walk the game, quickly working through missions to raise to the thrilling clash between Dutch and Arthur. But overall, the game is not designed to be played this way to get the full experience.

Instead of always taking a wagon or train, you get rewarded by taking long horse rides from town to town, state to state, by gaining health, stamina, and a stronger bond with your horse. I say this is how Red Dead should be played, taking long rides on horseback for a majority of the game, discovering new people to talk to then help or rob, camps, fishing and hunting opportunities, and side missions.

None of this is new to open world gaming, but it’s all built to slow you down, so you can stop and smell the horse shit as often as possible.

From a storytelling standpoint, the load screens and Arthur’s dreams/visions are really what drive this Western element home in a way that has never been done in this medium. Load screens while you sleep, or after you are “DEAD” are peaceful shots of the sky, something that is slower and deliberate rather than something flashy to keep your attention.

Likewise, Arthur Morgan’s dreams that break up the Chapters are a thing of beauty and something that can only come out of a Western; first seeing wolves, then a doe, than a mighty buck in his dreams as a representation of his own standing in the wild, wild, west.

These are a few of ways the main game tries to provide the gamer with a true Western experience, but what is really fascinating about the game comes in the Epilogues, years after Arthur Morgan has died at the hands of Micah.

Epilogues 

Okay, all the Western factors we discussed so far were not the main purpose of this article, as though they are all fun ways to get a game to fully embrace the feel of a Western film, they are nothing compared to how the Epilogue slows things way, way, down, creating one of the most original gameplay elements I have ever seen.

The Epilogue sees you play as James Marsden, and the entire purpose is to stay on the right side of the law and hide your past as a gunslinger so you can make a living wage the honest way. This involves working as a ranch hand.

Yes, using the buttons laid before you, John shovels up horse shit in the stables, milks cows, and builds and builds and builds a fence as you work through this particular segment of the game. It is slow, but I found it rewarding and incredibly inventive for a video game. Is it as exciting as robbing banks and frequent shoot-outs? No, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in Red Dead Redemption 2. This slow and deliberate chapter is what really blew me away about the game, long after I completed the main story. 

You teach your son to ride a horse, eventually get a loan from the bank to buy some run down property and build your own ranch complete with a home and a barn, and then take your son fishing. Yes, there is action thrown in – how else can you keep up with the bank’s extreme loan requirements other than bounty hunting? You must defend your ranch and friends from a murderous mob in the state, as well as carry out one last mission to avenger Arthur, but you also take your girlfriend out on the town, for a portrait, a movie, and a proposal on the lake. All of which is fully interactive and not a cut-scene.

By telling a story more akin to Unforgiven in the last portion of the game, Red Dead Redemption 2 taps into the feeling of a Western in a way most films even miss. You’re trying to keep your head down and build a life, not rob and kill as you did when you were in Dutch’s gang. And it’s a work of art.

I understand why this is the Epilogue, and not the main game. I can see many gamers getting frustrated by the slowdown, having to literally build a fence instead of shooting everyone. So, by keeping it after the main game, people who truly want to experience a video game Western in its truest form will stick with it, while those wanting more action can call it a day. Restart the story if they must, as I will be doing after completing the story 100%.


Am I giving Red Dead Redemption 2 too much credit? Did you hate being a ranch hand? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Nick Doll

Cinephile. Streaming addict. Kevin Feige may be my God, but I love Mission: Impossible(!), 007, DC, Indiana Jones, and so much more. Writer. Certainly most comfortable writing. Comic enthusiast. Really, just a Hell of a Geek!

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