I’m Kinglink and this week, we’re going to do a mission teardown of Red Dead Redemption 2.
I’m going to take a quick moment here. This video is going to be critical of Red Dead Redemption 2, however, I really am going to be specifically critical of pieces of Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve spent maybe 80 hours in just single-player mode, and that’s a lot of time. In general, this game is fun at times, but … a masterpiece, it ain’t.
Besides, Red Dead Redemption 2 is not just Grand Theft Auto: Wild West, and I think in some important ways it’s not a true sequel to the original game. Red Dead Redemption 2 is more of a wild west simulator than a typical sandbox game and I’ll be viewing the title with that assumption.
What I mean by a wild west simulator is that Red Dead Redemption 2 tries to be realistic in many things. You can still take far too much damage, auto-aim, and more, but there’s also a lack of fast travel, the game wants the player to have consequences to the “screwing around”, and the game wants you to feel like you’re in a western movie. For the most part, it succeeds at all this.
Admittedly this was not what some fans wanted, and I would even say many fans, which caused some backlash. However, if you are interested in Red Dead Redemption 2, let’s talk about how the missions here flow because I think that’s core to my views on Red Dead Redemption 2.
I don’t have a firm methodology about which missions I’ll choose to play for these videos. Do I play the best mission like Titanfall 2, the first mission, or just cherry-pick one? The fact is I chose this week’s missions because it felt like it exhibited what I wanted to talk about, but much of this is available in every single mission which becomes one of the issues.
Let’s set this week’s story up. You’re sneaking back into an area where the player is wanted Dead or Alive, preferably dead if the lawmen have anything to say about it. Your gang left a huge pile of cash in Blackwater, but more importantly a friend, Sean.
Before the mission even starts, Arthur Morgan, the main character, has to reach the mission either by fighting his way through a guarded bridge, or fording the river and sneaking to see his teammates. This doesn’t appear to change the mission but it is an interesting way to start the process.
In this case, the guards by the bridge turned aways as I rode over it, so I got lucky. Previous times this wasn’t as easy, and, let’s just say it was a much bloodier fight.
So each mission has typical things, which will become important. The most obvious feature of the main story missions will be the cutscene, and so this mission starts with this cutscene.
The cutscenes and story of Red Dead Redemption 2 are pretty strong. The graphics are great, and there are a lot of characters you will care about. Javier here hasn’t made a strong impression by this point in the story, Charles, a character you might see later, is one of my favorite characters, he’s born to an African American father and Native American mother, you can feel his struggle at times, but it is Trelawny who shines in this mission and does much of the talking here. He has this way of charming everyone in the room.
And eventually, the cutscene ends, the players are supposed to follow a boat. This is also a typical piece of Red Dead, after the opening cutscene almost every mission has you jump on your horse and ride somewhere else. In this case, we are following the boat, but you ARE following the boat, this isn’t a further cutscene, but rather you have to hold the A button to ride and steer.
You also can turn on the cinematic camera as I will and this is one of these things about Red Dead Redemption 2. With great graphics and cutscenes as well as a focus on the simulation, it often feels like Red Dead Redemption 2 cares far more about the cinematic qualities of the game and story, rather than the actions or gameplay that you’ll be doing.
Riding a horse is fine, but you’ll be riding manually most of the time instead of just having an extended cutscene. Personally, I really wish they went with cutscenes because it’s a bit of a dull experience to ride everywhere but you have to hold the button and steer otherwise you don’t move forward, and like I said, almost every mission tends to have these riding sections and almost none of them are short rides. And replaying a mission makes that riding especially boring.
At least this one has a lot of dialogue and the player is following and spotting the boat, but it’s both uninteractive and amounts to guiding the horse because it’ll go off if you don’t hold the right direction.
The good news is this is a relatively short trip, and from there, your team jumps off the horses and you and Javier cross the river to silently take out guards that Trelawny will distract. This is actually a good part of the mission, it’s unique to the mission that you won’t see elsewhere. There are a few stealth missions but not exactly like this, and it’s still a good section even if this one is a bit simple.
From there, there’s a feeling you can continue the stealth but I haven’t figured out how. Instead, we’re getting to the other thing that’s in almost every mission. The gunfight.
I want to pause here as the gunfight plays on, and mention this is a gang of bounty hunters that is taking your friend Sean to the lawmen to get a bounty, maybe 50 bucks. The game even refers to how many people there are, and I counted at least 25 men that you’ll mow down. How are there so many people? Just remember that.
Anyway, you’ll gun your way through this whole crowd and it’s a huge group. The gunplay is pretty good as Red Dead Redemption 2 starts, though it doesn’t change much over the course of the game. However, a single gunfight at any point is pretty good.
And so you’ll spend the next few minutes killing people and then all that’s left is to shoot down Sean (or untie him) and the mission is over with an outro cutscene. Kind of simple right?
I mean every mission can’t just be a cutscene, riding, special action, and gunfight, right?
Well, let’s take a look at a mission that happens two missions later.
In this one, our friend Micah has been jailed in Strawberry, and we’re going to go break him out, and admittedly this is a bit different.
You see you have to do the riding before you start the mission as you have to travel all the way to Strawberry, which is a town you likely haven’t seen before and it is a long ride. So ok, a long ride before the mission starts.
But sure enough, stop by the jail and what do you have? Well, there is this optional cutscene to start the mission if you go in through the front door, and you have a glitch with the door that doesn’t open. You can see them mime that it does. They’re actually a few bugs like this. It’s a little shocking for how much this game cost to make, and the fact it’s been out a year on PC, and yet… why? This is the main story cutscene that’s broken, did anyone notice this?
Anyway, Micah is in jail and it’s up to Arthur again to get him out, we run into him on the side of the jail and again there’s a kind of cool part of the mission. You use a machine to pull the bars off the gate. The game refers to dynamite, but I don’t think you would have access to it at this point.
But once you break Micah out, you guys can sneak out of town right? Well, that would be the smart move, but Red Dead Redemption 2’s story rarely plays it smart, and Micah… let’s just say he’s not so tactically minded. He takes a gun from you and shoots his cellmate, setting off… You guessed it, another shoot out.
This one is a roaming shootout that takes you throughout the entire town killing as you move. It’s again a pretty good shootout due to the good shooting system. The fact you go through the entire town is kind of extreme but ok. Eventually, you get to the horses, shoot a few more people on horseback, and both of you are free.
Oh, and you shoot 33 people, in a town that might not even have 33 houses. But ok. Quantity over quality I guess.
So again maybe I’m cherry-picking this mission, I wanted to prove this conclusively. Maybe there are not as many shoot outs as I’m saying. I thought 90 percent of missions were shootouts, but that’s not scientific.
I actually compiled every mission in the main story that Arthur goes through. I tried to remove any mission that wasn’t required, and I found that there are 69 missions. Nice.
Each mission has objectives to get gold, so I took the missions that have either headshots required, or accuracy with a gun counted as “shooting missions”. I also found 10 missions that did include shooting, which didn’t have those objectives listed, and counted those anyway because it’s my rules.
The results? Out of 69 missions, 50 included shooting. That’s 72 percent. Not 90 but almost 3/4th of missions will have this formula. You have an opening cutscene, ride a little bit, have something interesting happen and then a big shootout. And we’re talking 20-30 enemies quite often.
Listen, as good as the gunplay is in Red Dead, and it is good, that’s too much. I’ve already heard the counter-argument. You’re an outlaw, and yeah, but outlaws didn’t stay alive by shooting everyone they could. In fact, the amount of blood spilled in some of these missions would make these guys public enemy number one no matter where they went, and I mean after a couple of hours of this.
Beyond that though, a lot of these concepts are done over and over. When saving Micah I shot up a town, I also shot up another four towns, including the same town twice. Later on, you do a bank robbery, which happens two or three times. Train Robberies are a huge thing in Westerns, even Back to the Future 3 had one. You rob four trains, just in the story.
And yes each of these missions is different, but doing the same action slightly different isn’t enough for a different experience. Robbing a bank could be a cool side mission but instead doing it two or three times in the story, gets old even if they are different.
And while you are an outlaw, there’s so much more that could have been done. Lying, cheating, stealing, and more. But all Red Dead Redemption 2 wants to do is get you into yet another shoot out. There’s even a mission where you steal some sheep and herd them to a town. Pretty cool. And then have another town shoot out because that’s the only thing the developers thought was fun or interesting.
What’s really strange is there are the stranger side missions which are very interesting, and there’s other content in the game that works really well. And I had a blast with this game, but only when I wasn’t following the story.
There are also missions like this one on the screen where you go drinking with Lenny and it’s a fun and interesting moment where you bond with a character. This mission has no gunfighting or real combat. Why couldn’t they do more missions like this?
Just to be clear, you can take almost any mission in Red Dead Redemption 2, and lift it, put it in any other game, and it would be the highlight of the entire experience. The mission design here is good, but it becomes a cookie-cutter that gets repeated so often, it loses all of its luster. The big finale at the end of the game is a boring let down because… it is … a shoot out, and it’s just like every other shootout. At that point, I was sick of the shooting mechanic and had been for hours.
Part of the issue is the number of people you kill, there are points where you have a quick draw against one, two, or even four opponents and it’s a fun exciting moment, but then when you layer in missions where you kill twenty or thirty people, the shooting becomes boring, and that’s assuming you don’t die and have to start a section over.
I’d even consider forgiving the amount of shooting if many of these sections were only five or six people. But instead, we’re often talking double digits because that’s the only way the gunfights were interesting or challenging, I guess?
But what really doesn’t help Red Dead Redemption 2 is the story itself. Admittedly the graphics and cutscenes are good, but the story here is so repetitive. The game starts with the gang on the run and the leader of the group Dutch wanting to pull more jobs for his gang.
Quick side note. This is a prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption. In that game, you play as John Marston, a character here, as well as chasing down Dutch, Bill Williamson, and living with Uncle. I’m only pointing that out because we know major characters are not going to die and oftentimes they are put into dangerous situations that it’s impossible to care about. This is the same flaw as a person telling a flashback where they’re about to be killed. It doesn’t create suspense, stop doing it.
But the other problem with Red Dead Redemption’s story is that for the first two acts of the three-act structure. I’m trying to avoid spoilers on length here, which is also why the stuff in the background isn’t showing many cutscenes. But for the first two-thirds of the game, the entire story is one note. You go somewhere, you pull some jobs, you go to a second location, and do the same stuff, and on.
What’s worse is Grand Theft Auto V has a similar story, but it’s done better. It also sticks with the “one more job” mantra, but instead, there are reasons Michael, Franklin, and Trevor have to pull one more job over and over. It’s not Shakespeare, but at least there are reasons it worked even if it wasn’t great.
But Grand Theft Auto V also has missions that had other gameplay than just shooting everyone up. I believe people complained and that’s why Rockstar swung so hard in the other direction but it made Red Dead Redemption 2’s story a chore to get through because it was all the same thing.
I would have loved to have two or three missions where Arthur was setting up a bigger score, and there could be a single huge heist mission like in GTA V, those were the best missions for a reason. And that big mission could have a big sexy shootout. But instead, everything here is combat.
And before I get to the conclusion I do want to mention the bounty system sucks. Just screwing around or shooting up a town outside of mission means you’ll have to pay off the bounty. The random fun that people like having in Grand Theft Auto games is now heavily penalized, and what’s worse is there’s no way to reduce the bounty without paying it off.
Also, that mission with Micah got me an 80 dollar bounty… So basically I have to pay money after beating that mission, so even just beating a mission as requested, creates more issues.
Like I said not everything is horrible. The third act of the story in Red Dead Redemption 2 is great, and I actually think the game ends with its strongest storytelling. I also think that’s why so many reviewers praised Red Dead Redemption 2, but having to sit through sixty hours or so of very weak gameplay and storytelling to get to the superior final act doesn’t make it a good game.
I’m a little sick of reviews of games ignoring major faults of games while giving Nines and Tens just because a game has a huge budget.
And I think I could even solve many of these story problems with a little work. With the gang on the run in the first act, that could have been delayed ten or fifteen hours. You could cut a fourth or a half of the first two-thirds of the game, and instead, show Dutch’s gang at the height in Blackwater. Maybe even show that they are running things without severe violence and were more controlled. Basically just a ruthless gang, but before the fall leading to the first mission. That time period is never shown, and you wouldn’t even have to show the infamous Boat mission that is mentioned, you could still shroud that in mystery, but showing an earlier point for the gang would lead to a stronger story.
Again I’m trying to avoid spoilers here. I could really tear this game down, I’m hoping people who have played the game understand what I’m talking about there.
Also, I want to say, these complaints are really specific to the mission structure. Red Dead Redemption 2’s free-roaming is amazing. There’s a huge wealth of content and tons of great gameplay. Hunting and tracking animals are really interesting, and it’s not required for the main mission.
Several stranger missions feel so good that I’m even more disappointed at the main story for being so cookie cutter. You can run into interesting random events. You could probably play Red Dead Redemption 2 for a hundred hours without playing a single mission, or at least after unlocking everything.
I will admit I hold Red Dead Redemption 2 to a higher standard. This is the company that should be at the forefront of Open World games. It’s the company that spared no expense on this title. We’ve all heard about the horse testicles. There’s so much work that went into this game.
That’s why I really struggle because it feels like there was so much passion poured into almost every part of Red Dead Redemption 2, by people who just wanted to make the most amazing game, and they really cared. It’s just a shame that almost none of that passion got poured into the story and main missions, because… it holds the entire game back, and the fact you will have to play through many of those missions to unlock more of the game is disappointing.
Do I hate Red Dead Redemption 2? No, I don’t even dislike the game, I still recommend it. But I also can’t ignore the huge problems and the fact that so many publications and people praise this game for its perfection. A perfection it doesn’t have.
The good news is I’m now done with the story, so I can just ride the range and find other stuff to do, which will be parts of the game that I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy far more than the story.
Of course, there’s Online though… the less said about that microtransaction hell, the better.
I hope I’ve explained some of the issues and thoughts I’ve had on Red Dead Redemption 2. I did consider making this into a comparison between GTA and Red Dead, but honestly, I think the issues here are clear on their own. Still, I hope you enjoyed this.
If you did, consider sticking around and joining my posse, and by that I mean click subscribe and ring that bell, or let me know what you think down in the comments? Did you enjoy Red Dead Redemption 2, or was there another reason you skipped it? Now that I finally finished this journey, I kind of want to talk about it more.
I’ll be popping up two videos here, my quest teardown for Disco Elysium, which is a fantastic game, and my comparison with Hades and Dead Cells that people seem to like a lot.
Until then I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.