I love Red Dead Redemption 2 so damn much. But I find I have an incredibly hard time replaying it.
It's not that Rockstar Games' critically-acclaimed Western tragedy isn't a great game - of course it is. The Van der Linde gang's desperate, heartbreaking last stand against an America they no longer fit into is epic stuff that raises the bar for storytelling in video games. Arthur Morgan is one of gaming's greatest protagonists, and is joined by a supporting cast of stunningly realised characters in a drop-dead gorgeous world.
Take a look at our favourite Red Dead Redemption 2 wins and fails below!
It's precisely because of this that my various playthrough attempts over the past few years have stalled and crashed around Chapter Two.
I remember when I picked up Red Dead Redemption 2. A friend gave me one piece of advice that he wished somebody had shared with him: he said - and he was very emphatic about this - that I should really take my time in Chapter Two. He urged me to savour every last moment of this part of the game specifically before moving on.
I didn't listen, of course. Rockstar crafted such a gripping narrative that I had to see it through to the very end. Now? Well, with the benefit of hindsight I see what he meant. I recently went back to Red Dead Redemption 2, and I'm completely and utterly burdened by the knowledge of what's to come. I know Micah will betray everyone and lead Dutch down a dark path. I know poor Lenny will be gunned down dead. I know Arthur will die trying to be a better man (assuming you don't play the game as a complete asshole).
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption, of course, so most of us knew going into the game even for the very first time that there wasn't going to be a happy ending for Arthur Morgan. I knew this from the start, just like I knew the vast majority of Arthur's friends would either be killed or driven away. But it wasn't until I finished the game for the first time and really got to know the characters and their world that I decided it'd be a long time before I could those outlaws - and myself - through that experience again.
I undoubtedly sound more than a little pathetic for having formed such emotional attachments to these characters to the extent that I don't want to see them die or leave again. But the fact is that Red Dead Redemption 2 being an open-world game makes it so much easier for me to simply not press forward with the story.
Why would I head to Strawberry to break Micah out of jail when I know who he really is and what he's capable of? Why would I send Arthur to go collect a debt from the man who will ultimately infect him with Tuberculosis and lead to his death? Why would I set in motion a chain of events that sees this band of merry outlaws I've come to love slowly picked off one by one?
Why would I do any of this, when I could simply ride around America with a happy, healthy Arthur Morgan who can rob trains, hunt, explore a beautiful world, get drunk in Valentine and occasionally check back in with the camp at Horseshoe Overlook? I have an Arthur - and a Van der Linde gang - that are safe, happy, and optimistic about the future. I can keep them that way for as long as I want, and still find dozens of hours of side missions and other adventures.
To be clear, I'm not saying that Red Dead Redemption 2 experiences a drop in quality after Chapter Two. There are so many incredible moments later on in the game. The assault on Braithwaite Manor. Soaring through the skies in a hot air balloon with Sadie. Escaping Guarma. There's so much to love about every inch of the story.
It's just that I have such an appreciation for this scrappy band of outlaws and runaways that I honestly can't bring myself to be the one to push the plot forward and ruin it for them. Not when I can keep them frozen in this one perfect moment in time, filled with laughter and hope. That, I think, is a testament to the wonderful writing and sublime performances in Red Dead Redemption 2.
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