At the start of this whole quarantine business, my wife was eagerly anticipating the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I, too, eagerly waited for Doom Eternal. March 20, 2020, turned out to be the most perfectly hilarious crossover game release date. I had one problem: My PC specs are too low at present to play the newest iteration of space-demon mayhem, and we had deliberately planned this set up so we wouldn’t fight for different games on the same console. So I instead downloaded Red Dead Redemption 2.
After 191 hours, I had finished the main story of the game and achieved a total of 87.8% completion. (There is a ton of stuff in this game.) Having finished the prequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, I decided to revisit John Marston’s fantasy Wild West to see how the older story felt with all of this new information in mind. This isn’t so much a review as a comparison between the two games though both are well worth your money and time. Spoilers follow for both games, so proceed with caution.
First off, the second game is by far the richer and more mature of the two—from a story telling perspective; they are each rated M for Mature for good reason. There’s a narrative continuity that permeates the entire game that seems to be a little lacking upon revisiting RDR. It’s not that the first game didn’t have a story, but after the immersive narrative of the second, it does feel more like vignettes linked by a main character and overarching yet simple plot. Even though we know from the first game the overall direction of RDR2, the story is expansive enough to keep players engaged despite the fatalism of it all.
This, however, does bring up a few issues, mainly the complete absence of any mention of two huge characters from earlier in the timeline in the first game. RDR sees John Marston, at the behest of federal agents, tracking down former gang mate Bill Williamson. From the sound of it, Bill was a mean son-of-a-bitch and one of the worst of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang. Bill will escape to Mexico, which introduces us to another former gang mate of Marston’s, Javier Escuella. From the way John speaks to Javier, it sounds like he was a large part of why John left the gang. You would think he had been Dutch’s right hand man.
Except he wasn’t. Javier seems fairly sympathetic in RDR2, only departing from Arthur Morgan’s way of thinking toward the end of RDR2. (More on Arthur in a moment.) Javier will say things in random moments of dialogue about “sticking with Dutch,” who becomes more and more obviously unhinged toward the end of the second game. He and John have a difference of opinion there—just as a statement of fact; they don’t even directly address each other about it in-game—but the malicious intent implied by the first game is lacking. Bill, too, just seems like another one of the gang following Dutch without any inkling of what’s really happening in his sociopathic head. It’s addressed that a lot of the gang doesn’t have the highest opinion of John, but Dutch seems to be the main culprit for the malicious behavior alluded to in the first game. Most of the animosity I would have expected from Bill and Javier after their treatment in RDR comes from a completely new character, Micah Bell.
Now Micah is a terrible person; the game takes no time driving us in that direction. We first meet him needlessly tormenting a woman found in a house a rival gang had taken over. Arthur and Dutch both admonish him, but his stupidity winds up knocking a lamp off a table and burning the house down, which we later discover belonged to the woman and her now deceased husband. Later, the game has us break him out of jail in the town of Strawberry. That would be all fine and good except Micah decides to lead us on a rampage through the town, shooting the place up and alerting every lawman, deputy, vigilant citizen, and innocent bystander in the whole place. The reason: He wanted his guns back from a former associate who happened to live there.
By the end of the game, we—as John Marston—get to shoot Micah, and, boy, had I been wanting to the entire game! I specify that we do this as John Marston because, as some of my readers may know, the main character of RDR2 is a man named Arthur Morgan, not John. The John-and-Micah scene happens in the epilogue of the game, after Arthur has left this mortal plane, having succumbed to his worsening tuberculosis. Before his death, he made it a point to get John, Abigail, and their son, Jack, out of the gang and to safety. Despite their differences early on, Arthur comes to care for John and wants to help him and his family go straight if he can. After the events of RDR2, Micah and Arthur are never heard of again.
In all fairness, the first game predates the second by eight years. Arthur and Micah didn’t exist back in 2010. That being said, Rockstar could have taken a little more care to ensure the games matched up narratively a bit better. There are a couple other small differences to discuss, but those delve into the realm of nit picking. This ends the big, narrative differences I wanted to discuss.
RDR2 takes a slightly strange moral high horse (pun mildly intended; you’ll see what I mean). Both games use an Honor system that changes based on whether you perform good or bad deeds in the game. My main problem is that there is a lack in consistency between the two games when their moral codes come into question. In RDR, you can loot any body you find with a net zero change in Honor. In RDR2, you will lose Honor for looting a dead person if they had been considered an innocent bystander before their death, even if you didn’t kill them. The first game takes a solid stance: The dead no longer need their worldly possessions, so we are not to be judged harshly by taking them. Maybe this is a subtle jab at the differences between 19th- and 20th-century thinking?
And now for the pun: You could skin a dead horse in the first game. A little sad? PETA enraging? Sure. But when your trusty steed has kicked the bucket—usually through no fault of your own, of course—why not ensure the parts go to good use? I mean, glue is a useful thing! (Not that you make glue in the game; you can sell the hide and the meat at a trading post. Maybe they make the glue?) You can lose Honor if you shoot your own horse…. It can happen. A wolf runs up to attack, you’re aiming down at the ground tracking the wolf and BAM! Oops… In RDR2, however, you lose honor for every horse, even if their owner is trying to murder the crap out of you. I’m sorry, but that horse is guilty by association. I shouldn’t be seen as a nefarious criminal if I accidentally take out his horse! (I mean, it’s a game about being a nefarious criminal, but a nefarious criminal with a heart of gold! And tuberculosis.)
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