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Some spoilers for story elements in Red Dead Redemption 2

Butch:

Well, played a little. Would’ve played more but Junior completed the streak of everyone in my house being sick. It was impressive. I’m tired of barf.

But did play! Did the train chase and fished with Dutch.

Gotta admit, of all the things we want out of games, I didn’t think this one would deliver on sea shanties. What a lovely surprise!

I kinda loved this mission. It, in terms of gameplay, wasn’t all that interesting. Chase. Fish. But man, they made it interesting. So much going on. I can’t really tell where to start in terms of bloggage.

I’ll make you start!

So here’s a question: All along, I have liked Arthur somewhat more than you have liked Arthur. You have said outright that you don’t like Arthur. That said, I came out of this mission liking Arthur (and Dutch and Hosea) a whole lot more than I did going in. At the end, when they can just barely see happiness over the horizon, or at least peace, and you know, just KNOW that they aren’t gonna get it and this is a tragedy, that was sad. I’m rooting for them now, more than I was. But are you? You’re the one that’s been down on them all along. Did this change your mind at least a little?

I want to start there because I want to say positive things about the mission. I didn’t want to be negative first, but I also have a negative, not about the mission, but about the game.

A big part of this mission was to introduce you to Rhodes. There was one problem: I had been to Rhodes a couple times already, and knew it just fine. The whole time I was being shown around I was seething about open world games in general. If the game wanted this to be the time I was introduced to Rhodes, why on EARTH did they let me go there and see and do everything there long, long ago? Why? I’ll bet, at some point, we’ll get a tour of St. Denis, and they’ll be all “Here’s where you get tricky bounties” and you’ll be all “Yeah….seen it.”

It’s so annoying because this game works as a linear narrative. If you cut out all the side nonsense and the ability to magpie, the linear narrative is very, very good. The game knows it! It WANTS to be linear! You hardly ever have more than a couple things you can do. Right now, I have one yellow objective. When you must do something after another thing, that’s linear. I have no idea why the game didn’t just trust itself, tell a relatively linear narrative and be happy doing it. We SHOULD be seeing Rhodes for the first time now. It makes more sense.

I dunno. The older I get, the bigger open world games get, the more I think open world games are an impediment to good game story telling. I think that all started with Skyrim, the “give the player freedom” bullshit. I certainly think, though, this game clinches something I’ve thought for a while now: The magpie is the enemy of narrative.

But I don’t want to dwell on this overarching flaw, because the last mission was so good.

Feminina:

The fishing was a good interlude. I kind of enjoyed it. It was peaceful, you got banter and history and character development, you got to improve your health with fish…it was well done. I thought it was interesting that this was an optional mission, of which there are precious few in this game: you had the choice after all the excitement in town, of saying “no, I’m not in the mood,” or “sure, let’s go fishing.”

Which is kind of nice…people who were really not in the mood to spend some long contemplative minutes fishing and listening to guys reminisce could have skipped it. While those who are more into completeness could take it and while away some time.

Narratively, it was a good glimpse back into these characters’ past, more than a glimpse of their possible future–a visit to the way they were when they were younger and the world was more wide open and the opportunities seemed more boundless. When there was more hope for happiness than there is now…however much Dutch clings to his optimism. You can see the relationship that they must have had then, and how they must have felt like such a close-knit little group of charming rogues.

Because they were rather charming, weren’t they? Funny, and good-humored, teasing each other, almost light-hearted. In answer to your question, I still don’t particularly LIKE them, but I can see the appeal.

Good point, too, about the disconnect of “welcome to this town you already know really well!”

It’s a difficult line they’re trying to walk here, with a carefully crafted linear narrative that is a lot more structured and focused than in many open games (you mentioned Skyrim, which was indeed a marvel of “there IS a main storyline, but neither we, you, nor anyone else is going to care about it”) AND all the freedom of an open world where you can wander anywhere whenever you want.

Butch:

Yes! I was going to ask how you felt about that, it being optional. I do wonder if it changed anything if you didn’t do it. I did notice that, before the mission, there was a chance in the ledger to “buy a boat” for camp, for, like, 400 bucks. Now we have a boat! So that’s a thing. And I noticed that you got some white hat honor for saying yes. What’s that about? It’s nice to indulge old dudes?

Dutch clings to his optimism, though did you notice that Dutch, in his stories, admitted that for a large chunk of his younger life he was wrong about some key things? He didn’t know his own mother was buried in Blackwater. He had this version of how his own family was that was a) romanticized and b) wrong. Whole thing really got me wondering about Dutch. We talked a ways back about how Arthur’s lot in life was chosen more or less for him. He was the son of an outlaw, couldn’t read, etc. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Dutch. His mother doesn’t sound all that bad, and he mentioned when talking on Rhodes that his father died at Gettysburg (sorry, sorry. He said “A field in Pennsylvania,” which totally isn’t Gettysburg at all because it’s all Lemoyne and President MacAllister and the Grizzly mountains. Not even Pennsylvania. it’s Pencil Vaneia, and it’s in the West right next to Cornifalia). He’s not, we assume, the child of an outlaw. He’s the child of at least a somewhat respectable woman and a veteran, not an outlaw. Well, so he says. We have to take things with a grain of salt, right?

It’s always a difficult line, freedom and narrative, and they’re not doing a very good job of walking it at all. Some open world games (Horizon comes to mind) are very good at herding you through. You couldn’t really get to the Carja lands until the game wanted you to get to the Carja lands. This game, you can get to St. Denis (which, again, the narrative hasn’t taken me anywhere near) just because you didn’t jump off a train. This game has no herding whatsoever. You really CAN go anywhere. In some ways, it encourages you to, what with the treasure maps that took me all over creation and the maps with the legendary animals.

That kind of encouragement might be ok in a game like Skyrim which, as you say, could give a fuck about the main story line, but here it’s not good design.

Feminina:

It’s true, Dutch did seem to have some confusion about his own background. Which could have been possibly willful (maybe he never tried all that hard to learn anything that might disprove his image of his own past), possibly self-deluding (believing in his own hype)…possibly a bit of both. He’s a bit of a con man, but he can be effective, and he’s willing to take in weird loners from diverse backgrounds. And he does share the wealth–he wants the gang to get its cut, but Arthur and the guys he does jobs with get their cut as well.

Mr. O’ had a thought about the weird place names, which was that if they used real states, they would have to accept the fact that it takes weeks of travel by horse-drawn wagon to get from the wide open plains of Wyoming to the swamps of Louisiana (to pick some possible states that are definitely not the states the game is thinking of).

They want us to be able to jaunt back and forth between all these different environments, to hang out in the Wild West AND the post-war South, and squishing the country down into a mini-America with a lot of tiny states with different names is slightly more era-appropriate than teleportation.

This argument is plausible to me, but it still jars.

Butch:

He is effective, and, to add to the “Hey, these guys are likeable” vibe of this mission, it starts with us, in a twisted way, “doing the right thing.” We started by helping the law chase down bad guys. It was an interesting intro to a mission that was really about them being “normal.” Just as the self deluded hype, and crazy optimism is on display in the fishing bit, so, too, is it on display in the chase. There’s Dutch, conning dudes, having us be “good guys” in the most delusional way possible.

Hmm.

True about the geography, but games play with that problem all the time. Aloy scooted from Denver to Arizona to Yellowstone in no time. You could run from Concord to Copley Square in five minutes in Fallout 4. I guess I can see the point if you’re using state lines as a gameplay device, though, what with bounties. I’ll give Mr. O that.

Still, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why they seem to need to have President “MacAllister” instead of McKinley and stuff like that.

Feminina:

It was funny, us helping the law catch those guys. I mean, it’s basically bounty-hunting, which we’ve done before, but this time out of the goodness of our hearts (and our desire to free a random friend and maybe get an in with the law enforcement in town).

That develops interestingly…see what you think.

Butch:

Hmm.

So you have played ahead of me some then, yes?

I’m also curious as to how this “Dutch has ASKED (emphasis mine) you not to use weapons in town” thing’s gonna go. There does seem to be a shaded part of the map that seems like a weapons exclusion zone. It’s similar to the Indian reservation that I found when I was magpieing all over the place.

Feminina:

I did find that phrasing interesting. “Dutch asked…” Does that mean we CAN’T, or just that Dutch will be disappointed in us? I don’t know, I haven’t tried testing it.

But I have played ahead some. I just got to 40%.

Butch:

Hooray! Progress! No game breaking bugs!

I’m….33 or so. But I’ve killed a legendary wolf and caught some fish. Ooo! And studied a heron.

I kinda like that he sketches the things he studies. I tell you, he’s an ok dude. Or would be, had he been luckier.

It sure didn’t say “can’t.” But that seems like the kind of choice that the game generally doesn’t give us.

Feminina:

I suspect that if we started shooting people in Rhodes we’d get a big FAIL screen and a reload. But as I said, I haven’t actively tested it. I did one mission in Rhodes that turned into a bloodbath and nothing seemed to come of it at all, but that was the mission (the bloodbath was part of it, not optional). So maybe Dutch just means “don’t use weapons or cause trouble on your own time, but if it’s quest-related, all bets are off.”

I was also kind of disguised during that mission, so that probably had something to do with it.

Butch:

I shall anticipate a bloodbath.

T SHIRT that would likely get you in trouble!

I’ll talk more on this after I get there, but it seems that for all of Dutch’s yearning for a nice, happy, pretty place to call home, he’s the one that keeps screwing it up. This place they are now is nice! Pretty lake, pretty sunsets, etc., and he’s going to fuck it up, isn’t he?

They HAVE what they want. It’s their demands for more that keep messing them up.

Feminina:

Well, their demands for more and their demands for permanence.

I mean, you’re right, they have what they want right now: in this moment they’re grateful to be safe and alive and they have enough food and stuff. But if they want to KEEP it, if they want to stay safe and keep having food, they do need to keep bringing in money, and a life of crime just kind of lends itself to always looking for a big score, doesn’t it? Taking risks, living on the edge, potentially screwing everything up all the time.

It’s not a steady job the way, say, I have a steady job, where I just come to the same building every day and do more or less the same work, and receive in exchange a salary sufficient (in combination with that of my terribly wronged spouse) to meet my needs and the needs of my household.

You’re always chasing the next job, and you always NEED the big job, and sooner or later, yeah, odds are it’s all going to come apart.

While, perhaps, the TRUE criminals, the bankers and businessmen and robbers of labor and property (to refer back to Arthur’s contention that the gang robs folk who rob other folk), are the ones who triumph in the end. The outlaws get locked up, and the legal robbers get rich.

The American Dream, baby. How the West was Won!

But what else can they do? The outlaw’s life is not one that easily turns into “let’s just settle here, make a homestead, and raise apples” or whatever.

Butch:

True….but they could just raise apples.

And, when you think on it, they’re not that broke. Arthur is going to fancy saloons for catfish and nice baths. Dutch is tricked out in fancy clothes and holsters. Shit, they have the money to LEND to the poor schmucks who have farms, which means they are doing better than said schmucks.

Maybe they just have to learn to settle for what society gives them.

But free Americans never do that, do they?

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