As you may have guessed, we love single-player games. We share our love every day through the work that we do, but the pace of this industry means that we rarely get the opportunity to stop and look back.
Last week, we celebrated the best that single-player gaming has to offer as part of Single-Player Appreciation Week. And as an epilogue to our celebratory week, we discuss the epilogue of one of our favourite games of yesteryear.
“By 1899, the age of outlaws and gunslingers was at an end.”
The text that introduces Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption 2 is historically accurate: by the end of the 19th century, America had settled, and outlaws were reaching their end. Bill Doolin was shot and killed in August 1896. Pearl Hart was arrested in May 1899. Tom Horn was hanged in November 1903. America was prospering, and it had no room for gunslingers.
The main narrative of Red Dead Redemption 2 attempts to demonstrate the changing times through the Van der Linde gang. Once a prolific band of outlaws, the gang is facing significant trouble finding its place within the evolving world. But perhaps the best representation of the dying West takes place not in the main story but in the game’s epilogue and endgame—and not through story or cutscenes, but gameplay.
Warning: Heavy spoilers within.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a very big game. Throughout the game’s main chapters—namely two through four—protagonist Arthur Morgan has the opportunity to partake in several activities separate from the main narrative. Whether hunting with Charles, robbing with Lenny, or rustling with Uncle, Arthur always has something that he can do around camp—not to mention the tasks required to keep the camp alive, such as fetching water and feeding the horses. Each of these tasks supplement the events of the game’s main narrative to make the player feel like a gunslinger in the Old West—despite the knowledge that such behaviour will not last for much longer in the evolving world.
By the time the player reaches the end of the epilogue, John Marston lives on his ranch with his wife Abigail, their son Jack, and the elderly Uncle. Should the player explore John’s ranch, they will find that they can clean manure, milk a cow, feed the horses and chickens, and collect eggs—and that’s about all.
Gone are the hunting and robbery missions. The player has had their time experiencing the final years of the Old West; now, they have tasks to attend to.
The atmosphere around John’s home also feels significantly changed. Conversations about the gang’s criminal history, recent heist attempts, or potential opportunities are no more, replaced by brief dialogue about Abigail’s cooking and Jack’s work around the ranch (or lack thereof). The player’s home is no longer a moving camp of 20 or more outlaws trying to outrun the government in a bid to survive; it is now the story of a man and his wife living on a farm while trying to raise their son, animals, and an old man.
Even the game’s side content—of which several tasks are carried from Arthur’s story in the main game—represent the changing world. While some protection and bounty hunting tasks are still available (and, of course, the player can continue to behave in the open world in whatever manner they choose), the majority of additional side content in the postgame task the player with exploring the open world to find collectibles—cigarette cards, dinosaur bones, dreamcatchers.
Red Dead Redemption 2 features a poignant retelling of the death of the Old West and the disappearance of gunslingers and outlaws. Yet, despite the hours of narrative informing the player that their behaviour is no longer being accepted in the evolving world, the game’s best depiction of this change occurs through gameplay, long after the narrative is complete.
Even after the 60-hour main game is over, Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to tell its story.