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False things you've been believing about Red Dead Redemption 2

When a new Rockstar game is announced, the hype that title will receive is inevitable. And for good reason: the studio has a strong track record for delivering when it comes to meaty open-world games. These projects spend many, many years in development, cramming every nook and cranny of the game's world full of side missions to complete and items to find. And for that, Rockstar should be commended. The studio isn't just dumping these games out to make a quick buck. Rockstar wants them to be good.

If you're someone who has yet to play Red Dead Redemption 2 — the studio's latest title — you might have heard some things secondhand about what to expect should you choose to jump in. Some of those things might be completely true. And some of them might be flat-out wrong.

Below, we're going to set the record straight.

We've taken a good hard look at some of the commonly held misconceptions about Red Dead Redemption 2 and attempted to address them in detail. It's important to note that these are just our feelings about the game, and that these feelings aren't all universally held. You may have a friend willing to die on one of these hills, and that's understandable. But now that RDR2's release is far in the rear-view mirror, it's time to talk more about some of the things you might hear about Rockstar's hit cowboy title — and why those things are wrong.

Here are the false things you've been believing about Red Dead Redemption 2.

You should play the original Red Dead Redemption first

It makes sense. You see a number two in the title, and you automatically assume the work you're looking at is a sequel. That's what we've all been conditioned to think because — in almost any other circumstance — that is the case.

But Rockstar has never been a studio to play by the rules. So when a friend insists that you should play the original Red Dead Redemption before you jump into 2018's Red Dead Redemption 2, know this: the latter isn't a sequel at all. It's actually a prequel.

Red Dead Redemption puts much of its focus on John Marston, following him as he attempts to track down the remaining members of the Van der Linde gang. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place many years prior, while John is still a member of that gang. The prequel does well to flesh out the relationships between all of the gang's members, and it actually makes John's mission in Red Dead Redemption feel a little more personal.

Did Rockstar stumble a bit along the way? Sure. Red Dead Redemption 2 largely stars Arthur Morgan, who isn't mentioned at all in Red Dead Redemption. That's the downside to doing a prequel — it comes before something that is set in stone. But we'd argue that, overall, you'd be much better off playing Red Dead Redemption 2 before you play Red Dead Redemption.

You have a choice in this game

The Grand Theft Auto series is renowned for its expansive open worlds, as is Red Dead Redemption 2. The worlds in those games are so large, in fact, that you feel you can do just about anything in them. Red Dead 2 litters every small town with side missions and interesting things to see, and you can easily lose hundreds of hours of your life if you want to check every box.

You may even decide that you want to be the hero of the story. Someone who helps the good and does right by the law. That is folly.

As it turns out, what Red Dead Redemption 2 does well is offer you the illusion of choice. Rockstar doesn't hire writers to sit around and hope that you follow the breadcrumbs they've laid out. Eventually, you're going to have to progress in the game, and the persona you've imagined for your character will come into conflict with Red Dead Redemption 2's master plan. The Arthur Morgan you play in the game will eventually conform. This isn't Mass Effect, where the Paragon/Renegade system affects every conversation you have and how you're viewed by others. In Red Dead Redemption 2, you are an outlaw, and you will always be an outlaw.

Arthur Morgan is a good person

From the moment people started finishing Red Dead Redemption 2, there's been a debate about who exactly Arthur Morgan is. Those who played nice with the game's Honor system got a nice sendoff for Arthur, and that led many of those people to believe that Arthur Morgan was a great guy all along — he just hung out with the wrong crowd.

Sadly, they're just showing the same blind loyalty to Arthur as he did to Dutch for so long. Because Arthur Morgan is not a good person. Not in the least.

Depending on how you conclude the game, you could end up helping John Marston escape the outlaw life with his family, finally bucking Dutch and all of his insane ideas. It's one last heroic act for the game's lead, and it's understandable how it might endear you to that character. But to the bitter end, Arthur is still killing too many innocent people to count. People who are on the right side of the law. People who have very good reason to take Arthur into custody.

Arthur does what he does selfishly, because it allows him to go out on his terms. And even then, he either dies from tuberculosis or gets a bullet in the head. Both are karma cashing in, reminding Arthur that he can't outrun all of the terrible things he's done.

Arthur is the best character in the game

When Red Dead Redemption 2 was first announced, many wondered how the story would go on, given the events of the first game. We were shocked to learn, however, that RDR2 would be a prequel, and that it wouldn't star John Marston — who did still appear in the game — but instead, a brand new character named Arthur Morgan.

What seemed like a lifetime later, we finally got to play Red Dead 2. And the internet soon lit up as the gaming community talked about the game's plot and its characters. Rockstar had done it again, many said. A gorgeous open world. An intriguing cast. And how about Arthur Morgan — easily the best character in the game, right?

Wrong. For all of Arthur's strengths and faults as a character, he can't hold a candle to Sadie Adler.

There is something downright refreshing about Sadie in Red Dead Redemption 2. She's unlike all of the other women you encounter in the game, in that her story gets a full arc. You find her alone and scared, a housewife whose husband has just been murdered by the O'Driscoll gang. And over time, she comes into her own. She becomes empowered. She isn't content to stay at the camp and cook. She wants more than that, so she goes and gets it.

A third Red Dead Redemption starring Sadie Adler would be a dream. Let's hope Rockstar thinks so, too.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is highly realistic

Red Dead Redemption 2 can sometimes seem realistic to the point of being monotonous. Seriously, you can buy food for your horse? You can groom that horse and keep it clean? You have to bathe or else you look dirty? For crying out loud, Rockstar. The cowboy part people want to reenact is the part where you're a foul-mouthed gunslinger — not the part where you're buying medicine at the general store!

You could be forgiven for thinking Red Dead 2 keeps it real in pretty much every way possible. Fortunately, that is not the case.

You can eat in Red Dead Redemption 2, but you won't die if you skip out on food. You'll certainly look like a dirtball if you don't go anywhere near a bath, but being filthy won't impact you all that much. You can take a train ride from one state to another in thirty seconds, but those states aren't that big either — you could cross one on horseback in five minutes. And if you get shot, don't worry: just have a quick snack. That'll fix you right up.

Rockstar picks and chooses where realism makes an appearance in Red Dead Redemption 2 and where it doesn't. And when it comes down to it, the game strikes just as much of a balance between the two as any other title.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a good shooter

You take on the role a cowboy in Red Dead Redemption 2, and as you can imagine, that means your gun plays a very big part in everything you do. It's the way you solve problems in Red Dead 2's version of the Old West, a Swiss Army Knife for outlaw survival, so to speak. Is someone giving you a hard time? Nothing a few bullets can't solve. Need supplies for you and the rest of your gang? The very presence of a gun can make acquiring those goods much easier.

Here's the problem with all of that, though: Red Dead Redemption 2 isn't a very good shooting game.

When you step into the shoes of Arthur Morgan, you'll look forward to your very first shootout. This guy is supposed to be a sharpshooter, according to everyone around. He should be able to quiet a crowd of bad guys with ease. But you'll soon find that the shooting mechanics in Red Dead Redemption 2 are atrocious, bad to the point that you'll actually look forward to every other moment in the game.

Your enemies are masters at flanking you. They're squirrely, too. If you manage to shoot them, they'll tank a few bullets and keep right on firing. They're incredibly accurate — even from long distances. And the one saving grace that evens the odds for you, the Dead Eye ability, runs out far too frequently.

The shooting in this game is not fun. How that's the case in a cowboy game, we'll never know.

The gang is great at being outlaws

There's a premise that Red Dead Redemption 2 asks you to accept very early on, and it's one that seems somewhat core to the way you experience the game going forward. It's that you and all of your fellow gang members — as the Van der Linde gang — are seasoned outlaws. You steal and kill for a living. You exist on the wrong side of the law. And presumably, you're pretty good at it. You've survived this long doing it, so you must be skilled at robbing trains and holding up banks, right?

Well, no. That's not true at all. You might get the idea that you're taking control of Arthur Morgan and surrounding yourself with the best of the best in the criminal world. But none of these people are particularly adept at living that life. In fact, they're quite bad at it.

Throughout the course of Red Dead Redemption 2, you'll flub bank heist after train robbery after surefire scheme. Something will go wrong every single time, further putting you and the rest of the gang in danger. Some will die as a result of these failures. Others will choose to get out while they still can. Whatever the case may be, you'll learn during your time with the game that the people you work with should be doing just about anything else.

But instead, they're doing something they have no business doing.

The game told a great story

If you had the pleasure of speaking with someone shortly after they finished Red Dead Redemption 2's campaign, there's a good chance they gushed about it. After all, they had to invest a lot of time in the game. They were probably happy to see the payoff. And if they got the "good" Arthur ending, they might have even been touched by the way his tale came to an end.

But we're long past Red Dead Redemption 2's release date, and with time, we've been able to look back at the title with a more critical eye. We've been able to digest the way its narrative unfolded, and how key events made us feel during the multiple dozens of hours we played. And honestly, Red Dead Redemption 2 didn't tell a very good story at all.

There's a lot to be said against the way a story flows, and for the way it disrespects your time. Because of the sheer length of Red Dead Redemption 2, its major plot points have way too much space between them. When the narrative is good, it's good. But it's way too padded out, with you riding between locations, planning your next moves, and taking care of unimportant tasks for other gang members. 

Games like What Remains of Edith Finch can tell a moving story in one or two hours. Red Dead Redemption 2 felt like it needed 40 when it didn't, and let's face it: that is bad storytelling.

Red Dead Online is fun

Fans of past Rockstar titles love the way the studio brings its game worlds to life. There is so much to do in Grand Theft Auto 5, for example, that you could easily dump hundreds of hours into that title just running around goofing off. That's especially true for GTA Online, where you can team up with others and create your own story.

That's why players were excited to learn that Red Dead Redemption 2 would also have a multiplayer mode: Red Dead Online. Everyone looked forward to riding around on horseback inside Red Dead 2's massive open world, living the life of an outlaw, challenging other players to duels. The problem? Red Dead Online isn't any fun.

As it turns out, the wide open spaces of Red Dead Redemption 2 aren't as fertile a ground for multiplayer fun — at least, not in the way the city of Los Santos is in GTA 5. There is much less hustle and bustle in the Old West. You can't fly an airplane or commandeer a speedboat or cause quite as much havoc in a dusty turn-of-the-century town. All there is to do, really, is shoot your gun or ride your horse. Everything else you do is derived from one or both of those activities.

Red Dead Online is still in beta, so there's a chance the mode can still be salvaged. But it's definitely not the fun experience many had in mind when it was announced before Red Dead Redemption 2's release.

Red Dead Redemption 2 should've been Game of the Year

Let's get this out of the way first: Red Dead Redemption 2 is a technological marvel. The huge world Rockstar built is truly impressive, and impressively true to life. There is nary a moment you won't drop your jaw at the picturesque mountains off in the distance, or have your breath taken away by a beautiful sunrise. You won't believe the attention to detail found in the game's gun catalog, or in the way Arthur ladles stew into his bowl before taking off on a mission.

The game is downright gorgeous. But a gorgeous game does not a good game make, and Red Dead Redemption 2 did not deserve to be Game of the Year based on that alone.

Sony's Santa Monica Studio's God of War took the Game of the Year crown for many publications, and rightly so. That game was also stunning in its production, utilizing a single camera to follow Kratos and Atreus on their journey across multiple mythical realms. And the game told an outstanding story, giving us plenty of highs and lows in its 15-20-hour campaign.

There was no fluff to be had here; Sony Santa Monica left much of that optional for a second playthrough. God of War instead kept us constantly engaged, constantly wondering what was around the corner. Had God of War not released in 2018, Red Dead 2 might've taken the prize. But it did, and unfortunately, that means Rockstar's title wasn't the best game released that year.