IIn 2018, the Red Dead Redemption 2 outlaws took the world by storm. Prequel to 2010 Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games‘s latest cowboy adventure plunges the players into a fictional version of the southern United States in 1899. Through the eyes of Arthur Morgan, the game shows the twilight years of the Wild West, running with the Van der Linde gang dealing with government agents, other gangs, and internal strife.

An Outcast’s Dying West

Adopted at an early age, Arthur grew up in the gang, absorbing the culture and ideas of leader Dutch Van der Linde and Hosea Matthews. The gang is united under ideals of self-sufficiency and rejection of the way of living the new century is bringing. Its members act as a family of disenfranchised people. Everyone was allowed in the group, from rebellious women like Sadie Adler to ex-slave Lenny Summers.

Similar to the 2020’s Nomadland, the characters roam the United States, moving from place to place in a melancholic picture of the country. However, Chloé Zao’s movie shows a post-recession 21st century America and the citizens it abandoned, while Red Dead Redemption 2 is a bittersweet story of relics, of outlaws unwilling to accept that the Wild West is ending, of drifters who try to keep moving so as to resist change. Viewing the West from the point of view of its outcasts, the game offers a clear view of what living in the last days of the 19th century would have been like.

Idealized worlds and gritty reality

If Red Dead Redemption 2 were a movie it would be a Revisionist Western. Like Clint Eastwood‘s 1992 Unforgiven, it deconstructs the black and white morality of the classical western, muddying the waters between good and evil.

The game offers a realistic outlook into the period. It deconstructs the American Dream and lays it bare for players to see both its promises and lies. As a result, ideals like wandering through untamed lands or building your own fortune stand equally opposed by the dark elements of the time, such as the rampant racism in the southern states or the oppression of Native Americans. With this in mind though, the game encourages players to think and form their own opinions. It never tells what’s good or bad, but makes the players empathize with the characters.

In addition, there are moments where humor weaves its way in. For example, KKK groups are ridiculed in a fashion similar to 2012’s Django Unchained, while Arthur’s meeting with the Suffragettes results in funny banter and affectionate jokes.

The Red Dead Redemption 2 Outlaws world

Rockstar Games has undertaken a tremendous effort in crafting one of the most detailed gaming experiences currently available. From cleaning guns to fishing, Red Dead Redemption 2 goes out of its way to offer the best simulation of the West’s lifestyle. For example, towns simulate how inhabitants live their life, with programmed activities spanning the whole day. Furthermore, players often encounter situations that would not feel out of place in classic movies like 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars.

At the same time, the game can become obsessive in its quest for realism. It creates repetitive patterns and clunky actions. The freedom this sandbox provides clashes with the rigid story missions. The main quests often sacrifice the outlaw simulation to explore the plot and try to move it forward.

Red Dead Redemption 2 © Rockstar Games

No one can change the past

During his life in the Van der Linde gang, Arthur Morgan has done a lot of terrible things. He’s not above beating or killing people and he’s quick to resort to violence. Yet he has a joking nature and is sarcastic with the people he cares about.

Through the game, Arthur eventually starts doubting Dutch’s plans. When he’s told that deep down, he’s a good man, the outlaw questions what a good man really is. Moreover, in the last parts of the story, Arthur deals with the remorse of his past crimes. He doesn’t want his legacy to be that of a violent criminal. His redemption is in essence about coming to terms with his past, accepting the mistakes he made and keeping moving forward. But not for him, yet for others who could avoid a fate similar to his own.

The future of the West

Red Dead Redemption 2 was overwhelmingly loved by players, even more than its predecessor, with whom it still shares the setting as well as a lot of characters. Unfortunately for western fans, Rockstar Games have currently got with their hands full with the production of Grand Theft Auto VI. In the meantime, players are living the 1890s world in Red Dead Online, the multiplayer part of the game.