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Red Dead Reflections

By Tim Eisen on February 13, 2019 | Columns | Comments

Red Dead Reflections

As is the way of the wild west, each gunslinger eventually takes one last ride into a sunset they call the used to be. My time with Red Dead Redemption 2 has nearly come to an end. I see the conclusion but have yet to pursue it. This struck me as a good time to do a reflections piece on some of the areas that I’d like to see improved upon.


If you've read my other Red Dead work, thank you. Having done so you are aware that I enjoyed the hell out of this game. It's in my top ten if not my top five all-time electronic entertainment adventures. Given a lot of that had to do with the timing, seasonally related circumstances and my love for cowboy boots. Alas, even the David could have been hung more flatteringly and so it is that I must constructively critique this playable piece of art.

Red Dead felt more unscripted that its GTA sisters but Rockstar still has a long way to go before they hit  Skyrim levels of “I did some stuff and more stuff happened so I did a thing with that stuff then 5 hours went by then some more before I was fired and my dog abandoned me so now I write for an MMORPG website” as a random example. That said, it was the emergent parts of the game that first drew me in. The glory of that beautiful open game world and its little animal AI inhabitants.

If their immersiveness is any indication then I’d love to see Rockstar go all in on that form of gameplay and further away from the overly scripted format that made them the envy of all the other publishers! When you frame it like that it doesn’t sound too appealing for them does it? It may be wishful thinking but this keyboard cowpoke can't help but wonder if the nature in RD isn't a preview of what they are working toward? We had seen all of their other tricks before but this time the world was where the majority of their innovation decided to show itself.

I’m not suggesting they abandon their narrative-driven stories. Not at all, that'll be as silly as riding buck naked through a thistle patch! Rather I’d like to see them adjust the sliding scale of their content. Red Dead felt 80 percent narrative drive and 20 percent emergent. I'd rather see them move to 60/40 at the least but I won’t hold my breath.

Keep in mind this is a selfish bit of wordsmithing. It’s what this gamer prefers in contrast to the masses which appear to prefer the clarity and comfort of living out the story laid before them rather than writing their own. Don’t tell the developers but the way I played Red Dead was by spending most of my time in the 20% and forced myself to plow through the story after it that 20 had gotten repetitive. 

That repetition was an issue. I could only save so many hogtied women from abduction before I grew numb to their cries for help. I mean, if you get abducted THAT much you either deserve it or it's you and your husbands favorite role-play scenario in which case I must apologize as I’d removed his soul from his body on several occasions! Either way, I quickly moved from helping to not caring, to a variety of other interactions both designed to push their AI as well as sooth some of the darker parts of my personality.

This is the area of the game that I feel offers the most room for improvement. That elevation can be achieved by adding more events, changing up the events they have even slightly, and creating more reactions from the ai. When I find myself asking for more, its an indication what they did is working, it just needs to be turned up a few notches!

The character writing was about as subtle as a Presidential tweet. Each of them had a trait that REALLY stood out...because the other characters kept repeatedly pointing it out to us! It may be personal preference but I tend to prefer subtlety and implication in my fiction. It's nice to leave a bit of something for the viewer to figure out so we feel smart for a moment.

The story itself was ok if not a bit overly written at times. I enjoyed a few of the surprises and gushes over some of the scenes that called back to the Westerns of yore. It had a broadly appealing Marvel Universe quality to it. You know what I mean, don’t you? Marvel, the Applebee's of the movie world? No? Yes? Calm down partner, it’s not an insult! Everyone likes SOMETHING at Applebee's, that’s my point.

They don’t do anything exceptionally but they do everything pretty well, some things pretty darn well! Its generican cuisine for the masses with moments of brilliance. I like the Marvel movies and I like this story because I went in for good and I got pretty darn good and it helps that I never expected The Dark Knight. You can only have The Dark Knight every so many years after all. Once we do we overindulge until it too becomes the norm. That might be a metaphor for open world games. We may be in a golden era of open world bliss, but I still have a powerful appetite for more!

(Um...I think you rode off into the wrong sunset on that tangent, um, partner...)

Hey, my sidekicks back! Thanks for being the reigns to guide my stallion. The animations In red dead got exhaustive. I loved the slow pace and the mechanics that forced the player to slow their roll like it was the Golden Age and reality weren't teetering on becoming an Orwellian hellscape but those animations wore on me. They are great the first few times but eventually, I just wanted to slay a Grizz, snatch the cape and carry it without the awkward movement and drawn out cinematics.

As a hunter, I appreciated the attention to detail, but the speed was too slow and the transition often jarring. Perhaps a simple toggle is in order? Sorry, Dev’s, I know you don’t want to encourage people to skip your fine work but... maybe after skinning your 50th bear, the character gets faster at the process?

Speaking of, those controls! Perhaps the bane of Rockstar games since they stopped being top down, the controls feel awkward, it's hard to target (objects not aim) and both overly loose and overly rigid depending on the scenario. If they do address character movement in future games, I hope they leave in the physics which result in so many legitimate laughing out loud moments. I don't fault them at all.

I love a bit of physical comedy and have always enjoyed aspects of games that aren't quite right but good at being bad (I liked launch day Skyrim after all). I can't tell you how many times my character went to perform a mundane movement and ended up falling off his horse and smashing his face or stumbling into a passerby. It was glorious each and every time!

It’s time to strap on my tool belt and fire off some quick shots! The skill system was basic. It served its purpose but I’d like to see it expanded into more of an RPG system based on use and spec. Red Dead had some really nice moments to explore content. In this case, I’ll take memorable quality over quantity and the dev did just that! That leaves me to wonder what else they could have done!

As with many other aspects, I'd like to see a bit more explore worked into the formula. Speaking of RPG elements I’d REALLY like to see dialogue come with reply options, options that have consequences, consequences that have meaning and result in the AI of the game seeing you differently. There is some of the above but not enough to quench a man’s thirst after a dusty ride through San Antone to escape the long arm of the law! I can’t knock it too hard for that, this is Rockstar, not Obsidian Entertainment. I knew what was on the menu before I hitched up my horse!

Second to last but most importantly, I love flowing water in games. I can’t quite explain it other than saying as a little Timmy when the great Moose migration began it was a sign the mighty glaciers soon would recede. Their meltwater made thousands of streams in which I sent my little-crafted boats to an ice grave while trying to get one to sail into tomorrow. So perhaps there is something there...

Later, as a mature Timothy, I spent countless hours in Skyrim tossing things into the river system to watch them float away! (Another metaphor?) I did the same in Red Dead but found little I could toss...beyond corpses. I also enjoyed my time in a canoe, paddle boat, steam-powered riverboat and even on the large steamers and I hope to see water systems in all games be expanded on in the future, Red Dead Next and Morrowind New especially.

Last and least, multiplayer, I...I’m old and slow. I rarely subject myself to such abuses! PVP for me needs a tab target system and a keyboard. I’m going to assume I’d like more group PVE content but that isn't based on any tether of reality or played experience, then again that's how people make facts in the social net era, isn't it? Gotta get that dopamine off those hate clicks! Heck, that mentality changed the world a couple years ago. Still is. I guess that means it's our reality now. That’s awfully dreadful. I'm running back to my Red Dead Safe Space and heading up into the mountains to do a bit of trapping, BONUS they will keep me from melting.

The real question is, when does the next Rockstar big world game come out and what era does it take place in? Anything other than the now and I'm in! Until next time, see you in the used to be! Til then I’ll be on the interweb listening to Marty Robbins and Roy Rogers.

Tim Eisen / I roleplay a wordsmith that writes about the technological and social evolution within the game industry