Red Dead Redemption II Review – The Dual Nature of Man

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

Psalm 34:14
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I recently completed Rockstar Studio’s 2018 best-selling game Red Dead Redemption II, and I’m still reeling from my experience playing through it. I’m not a big Western fan, whether it be in films, books, or video games, but I can’t help and admit that I was totally engrossed in the world that was created, which was a faithful recreation of what many remember fondly of films or series that are all set in the Wild West.

In this prequel to 2010’s masterpiece Red Dead Redemption, you play as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw of the notorious Van der Linde gang at the turn of the twentieth century. As Arthur, you are free to roam and explore the land at your leisure, with activities ranging from hunting, acting as a bounty hunter, or helping out random strangers on your travels, as well as many other activities. 

Being an outlaw in a world that is becoming less and less wild by the day is a terrifying prospect for the Van der Linde gang, but despite rival gangs and government agents threatening their very existence, they continue to press on under the charismatic leadership of their leader Dutch. 

Arthur presents himself as very much a thug and Dutch’s enforcer, but a closer look while playing as him reveals someone who is far more intelligent and caring than he tends to let on. 

Red Dead Redemption II gives you an Honor meter which measures your actions throughout the game. Performing positive actions raises your honor towards the right, whilst negative actions will draw it towards the left. Its impact seems subtle at first, ranging from subtle interactions with Arthur from the rest of the cast or comments on his choices that affect others.

It soon runs so much deeper than that.

I don’t want to discuss too many spoilers in this review of a game with such a heavy story, but needless to say, it’s one that that covers a multitude of themes and ideas over the course of the plot, from mortality, blind loyalty, what is ultimately right or wrong, and of course redemption.

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The landscapes of the game are breathtaking, even more so than most high-cost films from Hollywood. As you travel throughout the land, your environment changes around you, ranging from lush green fields with blooming flowers, dry yellow prairie lands, humid marshes and swamps, and so many others.

Arthur can be played as kind of slow and clunky, but that’s really to your advantage as you venture into small towns and cities and are trying to keep a low profile. Rushing through the streets quickly can lead you into slamming into an innocent bystander, which can lead to a fight and trouble if it’s not stopped quickly enough or left behind. Bounties placed on you for crimes or accidents can make it harder (but not impossible) to roam in the towns and interact with vendors such as grocers, gunsmiths, and hotel managers. However, provided you have the means, you can pay off your bounties and walk away with a clean slate again.

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Combat in this game is fast-spaced and requires a keen eye to make sure you can walk away from the battle and move on to the next scene or activity. It takes a bit of getting used to, but if you carefully watch your reserves (such as your health, stamina, and Dead Eye to attack multiple targets at once), you will be amazed at how quickly you can turn the tides of a battle.

The meat of this game for me, however, was its story. The more I spent time seeing the world through Arthur’s eyes, the more I loved his development, starting from a man who was dedicated to the gang whom he saw as his family, to someone who was struggling to bring everyone together, much less himself. 

We shoot fellers as need shooting, save fellers as need saving, and feed ’em as need feeding.

The mantra of the Van der Linde gang

The Van der Linde gang pride themselves as being a group of freethinkers and as Robin Hood-esque thieves, robbing from the rich to feed the poor and less fortunate. Arthur finds himself observing the slow disintegration of the gang, as they are chased from one area to another; he finds that Dutch (someone who he sees as his adopted father and is deeply loyal to) slowly become more unhinged and bloodthirsty. Arthur contemplates his thoughts and worries in his journal as things grow from bad to worse, and the situation becomes more unstable.

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The Van der Linde gang

Arthur, who prides himself in his loyalty to Dutch and the gang (and claims that that was the one thing he believed in), finds himself questioning his beliefs and his loyalty. The race to make a decision becomes more urgent as Arthur undergoes a life-changing discovery that will change everything for him, forever.

I played Arthur as having High Honor, making him to be as polite and helpful as possible despite being part of a notorious gang. Depending on how you play him, you can really paint the tone of Arthur’s journey, from dark and melancholy, to somber and hopeful.

There is no easy road for Arthur Morgan in his story, and the line between good and evil can be very fine at times as you have to make choices that waver between both sides. However, something struck me the longer I played as this character. Despite his past and his reputation for being Dutch’s lieutenant, if Arthur makes pivotal decisions that help others instead of himself, they will thank him for his help, telling him that he is a ‘good man.’ Arthur is quick to brush these compliments away, saying he is no such thing, and if you were to take a look at his journals, you would find a man who doesn’t believe he’s deserving of any repentance despite his kind acts.

There were so many of those moments that it became difficult not to notice these comments, and what kept surprising me was how Arthur was quick to brush off every single one of them…up until a conversation with a nurturing nun (the Mother Superior Calderón) that you have the opportunity to help time and time again.

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Although Arthur by his admission doesn’t believe in anything, he listens to what she says with respect and a keen desire to learn from her. It’s by talking with her that he finally discovers his resolve of what he needs to do towards the latter portion of the game, and it’s only in front of her presence does Arthur show his most vulnerable side in the entire game.

Despite Arthur not believing that he himself is a good man, he realizes that that doesn’t mean that he can’t perform good deeds, and that in fact is showing love towards others, something that the nun notices makes him happy.

You know, a long time ago, I was like you. I did terrible things, awful things, and I could not stop doing terrible things because I did not believe that goodness existed. And then, one day, I saw that love did exist, and ever since then, doing bad things became…well, not impossible, but ridiculous!

The Mother Superior Calderón to Arthur, during one of their interactions

“Take a gamble that love exists, and do a loving act,” she suggests to him.

In a game that can be quite violent in its nature and grim in its storytelling, it was so refreshing to find an encouraging message that I could walk away with and meditate over. While doing good works to show love towards others seems simple on paper, the reality is that I know that that is an aspect that I could do so much better with in my own life.

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Perhaps you see yourself as a good person, as someone who works hard to provide for your loved ones and have obtained a lot of respect from others for doing so. We know that the Bible teaches and shows us that human beings have a sinful nature that is selfish and destructive…however, we are also able to recognize and perform acts of good. With God’s guidance, we are also able to bless others as well as Him.

Some of us seek to do good so that we may be recognized for our good works and lauded with praise for them. Others of us are more humble, helping others more for the sake of helping them rather than to help us feel better about ourselves.

In the end, I was more than impressed with this game than I had ever thought I would be. It showed me what it meant to be a good person, and even if it was in a way that was unorthodox, it was still a message that resonated me even now.

Even if you’re not a big fan of the Western genre like I am, if you’re looking to try a game with a rich story with incredible landscapes and complex characters, then I highly recommend Red Dead Redemption II for you. I hope you will enjoy it just as much as I did.

Red Dead Redemption 2 can be purchased by clicking the image above.

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