Basically this, for me. I spent a lot of time playing this game, just dicking around doing side content like the bounties and hunting and exploring and stuff, because all the main story missions were just Not Doing It for me at all. I liked the ones where you go fishing with Hosea or drinking with Lenny, but robbing a train? Robbing a bank? NONSENSICALLY interfering in a generic Hatfields/McCoys feud? I just couldn’t care. And then eventually I got bored of the side content and tried to mainline a few story missions, and then just put it down, knowing I’ll never turn it on again. And yes, it was exactly around chapter 4.
I mean, it’s actually surprisingly good writing in that Arthur is clearly disillusioned with his life and I can empathize with that because I, also, hate his scripted life, but unlike Arthur, I don’t HAVE to live it.
There straight up just need to be more missions that don’t end in shooty bang. Maybe it’s a weird way to put it but for me it’s only part of the game that makes me think they were like “well people expect this so it has to be there” as opposed to a choice they made for like, their vision - and I mean they as like the whole creative team not just the Housers. And for context, I adore this game.
I’m only like four or five hours in, but I can already feel this. I was disappointed to find that RDR2 continues the Rockstar tutorial tradition of giving you crucial system information in a small text box in the upper corner of your screen WHILE you are attempting to do something or watching a cutscene. Then you miss it and end up wandering around your damn camp for 10 minutes trying to figure out where you drop that deer.
I get that the obfuscation of how all the systems interlock makes for an interesting and less video gamey world, but it’s also really frustrating because it’s hard to tell what does and doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t help that I came to this fresh off Spider-Man, which is the exact opposite in terms of open world design. It’s extremely video gamey, with every system clearly defined. You do X to get Y and it has this specific affect on gameplay. It also never takes longer than like four minutes to get to the start of a new mission, and getting there never stops being fun. I guess I just want more lean open world games like Spider-Man…but I’m super interested in Arthur’s story, so I’ll keep chipping away at this.
I think the kind of ennui that Patrick describes re: RDR2’s systems is similar to why I bounced hard off open-world games in 2018. I’m sure that RDR2 would grab me with its production values and scale over time, but am I really willing (or, as a working adult, realistically able) to give the game 50-100+ hours to do that? I could barely make it through Spider-Man because I found its side/tertiary content so bland and unnecessary to the progression of the narrative. When I think about my favorite games of last year, I think about Obra Dinn, Smash Bros., Celeste and DUSK — all games that have lean, focused systems used in full, satisfying ways.
Personally, I found the systems in RDR2 to be the first in an “open world game” to embody just that sentiment of freedom and be truly organic. The disposable nature of some actions and “take it or leave it” options may have been detail for detail’s sake – but surely that is what a non-linear experience ultimately should reflect?
You don’t “have to” clean your gun or “have to” take a bath; but as a device to service world building – it sure beats climbing radio towers.
I found the biggest disconnect, was knuckling down to the story and common open world mission tropes; after losing myself in my own adventures for weeks, albeit to be once again fully engaged, once Arthur’s narrative really took hold, post the inevitable final arc reveal.
The attention to detail; even in the game’s ability to laugh at itself, with Arthur’s chastisement of repeat random encounter NPCs blew me away in a way that BOTW left me cold.
But as others have said, the experience is personal, which attests to the game’s scope.
I have no personal experience of this and can only speak to the proverbial discourse, but the way I often picture this game in my mind’s eye is of a gigantic playground with a cowboy slow-mover ride in the middle.
Like, yeah, you can play with all this stuff on the edges, but if you want to see the story, get on the cowboy ride and let it take you to the next thing.
My frustration came from the game trying to mask what were effectively meaningless activities with a facade of systemic importance. Doing things like hunting or fishing would be mildly enjoyable in and of themselves, but they’re given a sense of systemic weight through how the camp is contextualized.
The game tells you that it’s important to keep your camp stocked with food, supplies, and money, but it’s not. There’s a strong implication that choosing not to engage with these systems will carry some sort of consequence, but the only consequence is having characters badger you about doing them.
I’m not saying that RDR2 should be a campaign-based survival game, I’m just frustrated that it chooses to obfuscate the low impact of these activities by not being clear about how those systems work.
It’s especially frustrating when I spend a good dozen hours in the first acts trying to hunt for scraps of money under the impression that this is how the economy of the game works, only for the later story missions to dump money on you to such a ridiculous degree that you would never need more.
There’s an unwillingness to commit to a unified structure if it would mean undermining the main story missions that most of the design time was clearly spent on.
Certain parts of the narrative and the missions don’t quite make sense - the setpiece big heist missions give you, personally, more money than you’ll ever use. The narrative ends up being propelled by y’all being hunted, and Dutch asserting you just need more money. It feels like maybe if the game recognized or made more transparent what camp-wide money is going towards or coming up with reasons why the gang can’t just get up and go, things would fit together a bit more. Right now I don’t think camp money really does anything besides when you actively use it. It’s not like there’s maintenance costs for the player. But, probably, there should be to drive home why you need more money, or otherwise, the game should drop y’all needing money and just focus on the gang being hounded by Feds.
I think I fall about the same on this - and that it also applies to gun repair and horse stats and probably some other systems. The illusion of an external incentive kind of corrupts the intrinsic value available in the activity for me. I want to say that it activates the part of my brain that enjoys being rewarded for succeeding at optimisation tasks - but fails to provide the expected positive feeling because of how little difference it seems to make.
Early on, if Arthur goes too long without washing someone comes over and berates him about it, with the message that he’s forced to wash if he doesn’t do so on his own. It’s been weeks of in-game time and that hasn’t happened once (but I do often change his outfit when Arthur loses his hat, which might count as washing, since changing outfits clears the muddy status - in my game, Arthur has a dozen identical outfits stored in his saddlebag and never washes and, honestly, I’m sure I’ve read about that guy on r/relationships).
But I always have Arthur pat the horse, even though I don’t know if it “does anything”. Maybe this speaks more to my priorities as a player? Or that I care more about the wellbeing of the horse than I do Arthur? I always have Arthur eat the stew in the camp though - despite that I have no idea if it provides mechanical benefit. I assume it does, partly because of a metagaming assumption that hunger would be a thing that exists in the game because video game characters often have to deal with hunger, and also because food and drink clearly do provide mechanical benefit (healing, buffs).
I feel like there’s often no meaningful distinction between “no effect” and “no immediately observable effect” when it comes to these types of activities, except that for the types of players that particularly respond to mechanical reward taking an action that seems to do nothing - but which you later discover was worthwhile all along - creates far more incentive to continue doing the action. Whereas, presumably, a player that’s taking an action because of the intrinsic reward is probably unconcerned with a mechanical incentive or maybe even resists the mechanical incentive (it depends what it is?)
My approach to design in the very very amateur stuff I’ve worked on has typically been “incentivise what you want the player to care about”. Does a character’s health, or Strength, or Kindness, or appearance, matter? Create systems for those things.
A second school of thought which I’ve become more aware of is that it can actually be detrimental to over-systemise, or to strictly systemise the things you want the player to care about - that if the player is engaged with the content they don’t need a system to reward them. This is mostly coming from the tabletop space, but your character doesn’t stop being kind because you don’t have Good written on their sheet, or “kind” as a Tag or key Adjective assigned to them. Furthermore - just because they have Evil or “cruel” written on their sheet doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes do good or nice things, and you don’t need to get +1 Good every time you take a Good-categorised action in order for your character to want to do Good things.
Just like they don’t stop being tall or clever or well-read if there aren’t stats for those things. Mechanics can encourage optimisation - or inadvertently punish a lack of it, but the rules are typically far more rigid in a video game and you can’t just ask, “what here is useful or valuable to me?” to find out how you should be approaching your time with the game’s various features (which, honestly, I think a lot of games would benefit from just saying, “hey we think you’ll have the best experience if you play like X”; but if you’re looking for Y experience, maybe focus on Z", at the start).
What strikes me about a lot of RDR2’s systems is that in many ways they aren’t really systems in a traditional game sense as much as they are metrics. What condition is this gun in? I can find out. Are Arthur’s clothes dirty? I can find out (the UI for that metric is a realistic-seeming simulation of the outcome of the effect). That shares a lot more in common with non-mechanical character description in a TTRPG. If my Dungeon World character has “kind eyes” that doesn’t have any mechanical effect - but if I use a move where my character can “gaze intensely into another character’s eyes and…” it adds further texture and meaning to that scene because I can look a get a better understanding of the story that we’re collectively telling. Occasionally that texture might matter - maybe my character gets their cape stuck in a door - but it’s typically just texture.
Through that lens so much of RDR2’s systems and mechanics aren’t intended as “things to do and optimise” - it’s not, “and then Arthur took out his revolver and killed all the raiders effortlessly because he cleaned it up”; it’s, “and then Arthur took out his cleaned-up revolved and killed all the raiders effortlessly”. He was always going to kill the raiders - what the game cares about is your experience of him doing it.
This post got way off track since I developed half my opinion in writing it, so hopefully it’s not too incoherent.
I really wouldn’t want a Fallout-like extensive “Status” screen that details exactly what effects all these little actions have on your character and their social standing. I’d actually like it if this stuff existed for the sake of existing, to give a sense of time and place.
Having a AAA studio putting their resources toward frivolous activities that we don’t consider traditionally videogame-y (or have videogame-y rewards) is something I’d like to see more of. Again, my irritation came from the game giving mixed signals about how much systemic importance those activities have.
That’s the thing about the camp contribution system I think everyone misses. You’re donating to an idea that Dutch convinced everyone of, the idea of “Dutch’s Gang”. The whole point of the narrative is that this idea turns out to be a whole cloth made by Dutch FOR Dutch’s benefit. The community exists and their sense of duty to one another is very real but their reasons are being exploited.
The box starts in the open (next to Dutch’s tent) and as things start to spiral the box is in Dutch’s room in the house you end up in and finally the box disappears. The veneer slowly fades in all aspects of “the gang” and that’s the point I believe.
I believe it’s the point because of one very specific instance where you go on one of Dutch’s missions, it all goes very wrong but you eventually end up being saved by a family you saved earlier in the game only to end up in the muddy street of some town… and like in so many other instances it pops up "Camp share: (large amount of money) fades away Then your share pops up (Your share: $0.00).