No, it’s the one where Dutch goaded the Native Americans into attacking the oil company.
Since release, I’ve heard the complaint that the camp donations/purchases system doesn’t seem to amount to anything, and eventually becomes meaningless, initially because you end up with enough money to buy the whole thing out indefinitely, and eventually because you lose the structured camp altogether. Several here, and Brad in the GB GOTY deliberations, rightly point out that that denial is the point, to which others have responded, “but I don’t like that. That’s not fun.”
What is different about this experience over something like Cart Life, or Papers Please, in which you are mechanically denied satisfaction or reward in order to convey a theme? Why is it unsatisfying in RDR2, but effective in other games which employ the same mechanic? I think it’s a matter of expectations. RDR2, like all previous Rockstar games, reads and feels like a power fantasy. It rewards powerful, selfish play, even when it thematically punishes it in the end. Tooltips tell you how to rob a train, or encourage you to donate your ill-gotten gains to the camp. The language of the game (tooltips, mechanics, rewards and punishments), doesn’t really tell you to be careful about your honor level, or watchful of your mentor.
It’s one thing to be betrayed by a character, or in the case of games which explicitly play with the meta of player vs. game, or creator vs. audience, for the game itself to change to comment on games or play. That said, I don’t think many felt that RDR2 set player expectations properly for it to indirectly punish you for engaging with mechanics it encouraged you to use.
Personally, I enjoyed (?) experiencing that punishment in service of the story. I feel that the smashed donation box may not have been the most effective way to drive that message home, though. I would have liked if the camp savings went to zero every day, and people approached me in camp asking where the money was going. I would have figured “Oh, Dutch is just taking it now.” As it is, I feel that it suggests more that I am in the endgame and can’t upgrade the camp anymore, more than it suggests what is actually happening; that is, my initial impression is that it’s strictly a mechanical change.
I just played this last night. Seeing that Arthur earned none of the take from that shitshow just put the final nail in the coffin, in showing that Dutch is out for him and his, and nobody else.
Hearing someone say they didn’t like that it all goes away because “it made them sad” like it was a bad thing and not this game actually delivering its tone mechanically (not that it does it perfectly obviously) was so incredible to me.
Exactly, in the beginning Arthur romanticizes the gang and since the game is “being Arthur” the mechanics in the beginning reflect that. If you were like me and cared about the gang’s well-being you engaged with those mechanics but as Arthur becomes disillusioned and shifts his focus to those who are redeemable rather than the camp at large the loop of the game changes, at least it did for me.
Even Arthur’s attitude toward John reflects this shift. In the beginning he hates John for abandoning the gang for awhile, the gang is what’s important and in the end John mattered more to Arthur than any gang.
I can understand if someone didn’t engage with that stuff ever and didn’t feel like that was fun (fun wasn’t the point IMO) but when the camp is part of the story it only makes sense how you’re able to engage with it is intentional to the themes and narrative.
I don’t think that the issue is one of player entitlement to the things they’ve been given. Both Nier games ask you to fully erase all your progress in order for the intended story to play out, and you didn’t see any real sour feelings about it from players or critics, because it sells the message about as well as it possibly could.
It’s that RDR2 sets up the foundational idea of a structure and then doesn’t follow through on how it implies that system would function.
I’d respect the game if it progressively broke down everything Arthur/the player worked to build. But, you don’t really “build” anything, and in the end, the game practically gives the player a blank check to buy whatever they want. Nothing really earned, nothing really lost.
I would argue at no point is building the objective, Dutch’s gang lost that goal in the events of Blackwater before the prologue that we only ever hear about.
How I interpreted things: The goal is always to survive, at first the mountain, then the O’Driscolls and Cornwall, then the Pinkertons and Dutch’s ego (Even survive a shipwreck on a tropical island).
Personally, I find Dutch to be a boring, static archetype from beginning to end, but that’s more a criticism of story decisions than structural ones.
I love to see games that tear down your assumptions and accomplishments, like the aforementioned Cart Life or Diary of a Spaceport Janitor. RDR2 is too attached to the Rooty Tooty Howdy-Doody Cowboy Simulator image to introduce real stakes or real consequences to the things Arthur and the player do.
A single one-off example of a missed opportunity: given what happens across the story, the “Wanted: Dead or Alive” zone from Blackwater should have steadily progressed across more of the game world as the story goes on. Yes, it would have been extremely inconvenient to deal with if you wanted to engage with those areas of the open world, but not doing so created a massive dissonance between the ramifications of story actions and the way the world responded to them.
[Possible Story Discussion] Red Dead Redemption 2 First Impressions
Completely agree. Not enough of the elements that encourage role-playing are incorporated into the game’s mild interrogation of the west. They exist separate and uncritical of themselves and of the themes of the narrative proper.
It feels like they ignored what they did with GTA v and missed the opportunity to switch characters to explore different aspects of American society as it only really feels like a retread of RDR1 in terms of themes.
I replayed a decent amount of GTA V and RDR1 this Fall and I’m sooooo glad they changed things up. Those games narratives aren’t aging well. GTA V’s three protagonists don’t serve the story and in many ways muddles it.
How did they change things up from RDR1 to 2? They even have the same switch of characters at the end.
Well, I beat RDR1 a few weeks ago and at least one way I think this game is different is that it’s far more assured in its criticism of the “Frontier”, primarily by framing Dutch, and his whole philosophy, as an extension of American Exceptionalism. This is a game whose main antagonist’s final plan is to literally pit a vulnerable indigenous tribe against the U.S. Army by manipulating the anger of the chief’s son, just so he can line his pockets without fear of reprisal and escape to the South Pacific. And that’s just one of the more explicit things.
Red Dead Redemption 1, by comparison, spends what felt like 80% of its runtime waffling back and forth on “Is the federal government worse? Was Dutch just a noble outlaw who got overwhelmed by the times (I loved the way RDR2 reframes his final monologue)? Isn’t it sad that the “””"""""“Wild West”"""""""" is dead?" I honestly find it pretty intolerable by comparison.
I agree with this but I would also just say that RDR2 breaks with the old overarching troupes Rockstar has used since GTA 3. The protagonist stumbling into and through absurd characters with rote goals that you are wrangled into assisting ALSO aside from maybe Vice City (I barely remember the story) you’re ultimately coerced by an authority in the world with influence, power and money to do their bidding in exchange for the thing you want. RDR2 is a constant fight or flight from those forces that in other games were the ones with agency over you in other Rockstar games.
RDR2 is about you acting purely out of loyalty, against your interests in many cases and ultimately towards ruin.
Also the epilogue of RDR1 is John reclaiming his life, RDR2’s epilogue is John working his ass off and building that life. The character switch isn’t the same, Jack doesn’t go get a mortgage in RDR1. He banishes the final ghost that haunted his family his entire life we find out… and then kills a few buffalo he somehow knew his dad had on his to-do list.
Edit: As kcin pointed out you can’t actually pay for camp stuff out of Arthur’s wallet, I corrected and clarified my overall point below.
I wanted to dig into this because I think it touches on why the narrative that Dutch is stealing money from the camp for himself doesn’t really justify the way the camp building mechanic is presented.
Within the structure of the game, the only thing you can use camp funds to do is to upgrade and restock ammo, medical supplies and your tent as well as Dutch’s, but you can always do any of these things using your own personal funds without ever donating to the camp. Given this interaction between funds and any real, tangible gameplay element, the whole narrative impact of this mechanic falls apart because you never have to actually contribute any money to the camp.
This fact doesn’t necessarily harm the message, because any story mission you do automatically sends money to the camp. So essentially the problem with this mechanic is that the game explicitly tells you to donate to the camp while only providing a narrative payoff that is already served by the linear story portion of the game.
You can enter the Ledger and make camp purchases using money in Arthur’s wallet?
I won’t hesitate to admit that my memory on the subject is spotty because I didn’t do it for the last few hours of my playthrough.
(I’m booting up an old save right now to confirm this is true)
Turns out I was mistaken about that, I must have just not been paying attention to how much money I had in my camp funds, so I apologize about that.
Given this info I’ll restate my larger point: The prompt to donate money to the camp is only meant to nudge you into the open world, although nothing you do there accomplishes anything that isn’t achieved through the main narrative.
You can donate more money to the camp if you WANT to, but the narrative about Dutch stealing from the camp is literally unchanged whether you do or don’t because you automatically donate a share of any funds from story missions anyway.
Essentially, the story would play exactly the same if this was a more linear style game like Uncharted with a few interstitial segments where you spend some time in camp. Everything from Dutch stealing money to the overall implications of the Strauss missions (which also play directly into the camp fund mechanic) can be observed the same way if you only ever play story missions.
Which all feeds into my beef with this game, which is that the open world stuff is entirely optional and any connection to the overarching narrative is merely superficial.
I enjoyed doing a lot of things that I personally chose to do, such as changing Arthur’s clothes frequently or tending to my horse (if this game did one thing for me it made me love that damn horse, I nearly teared up going back and seeing the horse I played most of the game with while I was checking on this) but the game was ultimately disappointing to me because a lot of the open world stuff just seemed like icing on the mostly bland cake that was the main story.
Now that I am in the endgame of RDR2 and am doing all of the side tasks I will want to do before my time with Arthur passes (I don’t like John or his voice actor), I’m taking a second look at the compendium. I have been spotting animals as I see them throughout the game, inspecting them to glean their species, and hunting them where necessary, but I spend very little time killing animals. I don’t need to, it’s hard to do ‘well’, my inventory is often full, and I don’t want to ride back into town to sell the furs. But, it turns out that “inspecting” animals isn’t enough to complete the compendium. There are three parts to 100% knowledge of an animal: Inspecting, Killing, and Skinning.
In Bill Bryson’s awesome nonfiction book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, he spends a lot of time discussing the now-ridiculous idiosyncrasies of the people at the forefront of Western science. One of the subjects he relishes in sharing with the reader is the strange relationship between early naturalists and nature. To put it bluntly, they were often cruel, wasteful, strange people, with no concept of preservation whatsoever. Indeed, many of them personally contributed to the extinction of the very species they researched. James Audubon, for whom the Audubon Society is named, often shot literally hundreds of birds in a single day. Another naturalist’s cat may have single-handedly put a species of bird into extinction around the lighthouse he inhabited. Two birders each spotted the last two remaining warblers, unbeknownst to one another, and both shot them for no particular reason, extinguishing the species.
So when I ride around on my horse, double-fisting my gilded sawed-offs, blasting every animal I see on-sight, hopping down, and, if I don’t recognize it, skinning the creature, leaving the carcass to rot, I feel silly, but I also know that this is actually what conservationists of this era did. I seriously, seriously doubt that this parallel is intentional; I presume it has more to do with how Rockstar thinks I want to interact with other living things in this world. But, by terrible coincidence, it turns out this is all pretty accurate.
Again I would say that this hits upon the same ground that was poorly mishandled in RDR1 in Mexico, where minority groups are used as a cuddle to get across of an antagonist flaws, they are used less as fully dimensional characters but a sympathetic pawns.