Red Dead Redemption II may very well have been the best game that came out last year, but it is important to recognize that no game is perfect, and even the best pieces of art will end up inherently flawed. For as much as we loved Arthur Morgan- for as much as we laughed and cried our way to the finale- not all of it was particularly impressive. In many respects, the prequel is an overall worse experience than its predecessor. Which is fine, the first game was always a tough act to follow, but that does mean we need to address the many elephants in the room: Red Dead Redemption II is sometimes bad.
Now, important to note, this is bad in a relative sense. Even the worst aspects of Red Dead Redemption II aren’t enough to bog it down too much, but that’s not really the point here, is it? Red Dead Redemption II is a game that comes so close to perfection that every one of its flaws come out all the clearer. It’s a curse attributed to the best of games. Ocarina of Time is still a masterpiece, but you can’t deny that its combat isn’t as refined as it could be. Red Dead Redemption II is in the same camp, but we all love the game so much that we choose to ignore said flaws. Not anymore, though. Today, you come face to face with reality.
25 Basic Actions Are Too Slow
In their pursuit for hyper-realism, Rockstar forgot the golden rule of video games: make sure every aspect is engaging. It’s perfectly fine for a game not to be traditionally “fun,” not art is enjoyable on that level after all, but a game should always be engaging. Unfortunately, methodically looting corpses and taking cans of beans is anything but.
What’s initially an interesting reminder that life itself requires quite a bit of patience ends up losing its luster relatively fast. The novelty just isn’t worth the trouble of Arthur’s consistently slow movements over the course of a sixty hour game. Rockstar basically found the uncanny valley of controlling a character.
24 You Don’t Make Enough Money In The First Half
Making money prior to Chapter 4 is quite the challenge. Every cent counts as Arthur won’t be coming into cash anytime soon. He’s a poor man trying to build himself back up alongside Dutch’s Gang, and the gang itself isn’t doing too hot either. With so many resources to spend your few dollars on, it’s easy to end up with a dirt poor Arthur for quite a long time. You likely won’t be getting any fancy guns in the first half of the game, let alone actually customizing the few weapons you do get your hands on.
23 You Make Too Much Money In The Second Half
On the flip side, the game after Chapter 4 has a much different problem. Instead of not giving you enough money, Arthur earns too much money way too fast. Sooner or later, you’ll reach a sweet spot where Arthur is making enough to be comfortable without swimming in cash only for the scales to tip. Major missions award Arthur with hundreds of dollars that he can spend on pretty much anything. It’s not unusual to finish Chapter 5 with pretty much everything purchasable purchased.
At the end of Chapter 5, Arthur, Dutch, and the rest of Dutch’s boys will find themselves shipwrecked on Guarma, a tropical paradise in the middle of a political insurrection. For a game about cowboys and the end of the Wild West, this is a very strange change of pace. While the setting itself is beautiful in its own right, it’s hard to take the story seriously when the plot so haphazardly crossed streams to a mini-arc that is both thematically devoid of content and all around dull when it comes to gameplay. Rockstar games aren’t known for lacking fluff, but Guarma is a step in the wrong direction even for them.
21 Molly’s “Betrayal”
The reveal that Molly betrayed Dutch is a dark moment for the story. Someone had ratted out the group at the end of Chapter 4, but no one could pinpoint who it was. When Molly waltzes in, drunk out of her mind and berating Dutch, it’s a sign that the story is taking a turn; that Dutch is taking a turn.
A nice twist? Yes. Logical? Not really.
Then it’s revealed that Molly lied and her betrayal, which was arguably the most important story beat in Chapter 5 save Arthur’s diagnosis, is put under suspect. We know she lied, and we know she did so to spite Dutch, but we don’t know why these two are linked together. There’s no justification for Molly lying to Dutch other than “she was upset,” and that’s frankly not good enough for such an important moment.
20 Micah’s Character Arc (Or Lack Thereof)
Micah might very well be the worst antagonist Rockstar has concocted in recent memory. Not because he’s a necessarily bad villain, he gets the job done well enough, but because he has so much screen presence yet so little development. For a character who appears just as much as Dutch, Micah is painfully flat.
He does not grow, he does not change. From the moment you meet him, it’s clear that Micah is going to go on to be the story’s villain. The reveal that Molly betrayed the gang isn’t interesting because of what Molly did, it’s interesting because Micah did not betray the gang. That’s how telegraphed Micah’s villainy is. He’s a character devoid of depth.
19 Javier Is Barely A Character
In the first game, John spoke fondly of Javier on more than one occasion, but his limited screen time meant that Javier was ultimately the least developed member of Dutch’s gang. It was clear that he and John had a unique past and a once meaningful bond. Although there wasn’t enough time to develop their relationship, that’s what sequels are for.
No room for Javier when Micah needs more time to be blatantly evil!
Unfortunately, while Javier does kickstart the story with the bang, he doesn’t keep up the momentum. By Chapter 2, he’s relegated to a side character who basically does nothing in the main story. Even in Guarma, he’s the only major character to get significantly less focus than the major players.
18 Bill Williamson Appears Too Often
Inexplicably, where Javier is exiled to the gallows of supporting characters with no development, Bill Williamson gets to take part in pretty much every single major mission despite the fact he was already the most developed antagonist in the first game with the most screen time. It’s as if Rockstar doesn’t want to experiment with character dynamics. To his credit, Bill is actually interesting in his own right to warrant some more focus, but not to the extent the main story pushes him. He’s simply far too present for his own good.
17 Arthur Does Too Much For John
Making a prequel to the first game was always going to be tricky. John’s story was relatively open and shut. What happened before didn’t matter since the point of John’s arc was the man he became, never who he was. As a result, it was only natural we get a new protagonist through Arthur. At the same time, that itself brought some issues.
John Marston, the ingrate.
Arthur and John have a very meaningful relationship, to the point that Arthur spends the entire last act of the main game risking his life for John. Arthur gives everything to give John a good life and… John never mentions him in the first game. Insisting on a prequel created a massive plot error where audiences are forced to accept that John simply never mentioned or thought about Arthur again.
16 Sadie And Charles Do Too Much For John
Just as Arthur does too much for John to justify him at least mentioning him in the first game, Sadie and Charles help John build his literal livelihood. Charles helps build his house while Sadie helps John make money. John’s entire life is dedicated not only to Arthur, but to Charles and Sadie as well. When that in mind, it’s all the more glaring Rockstar chose to write in two characters who fundamentally altered the course of John Marston’s life. It makes for a nice set of dynamics in the sequel, but consequently makes John come off inconsiderate in his own game.
15 Fake Out Missions
In most Rockstar games, players trigger a mission by speaking with a character and said character ends up playing a large role in said mission. This was how things worked for John Marston’s exodus, but things have changed. More often than not, Arthur will find himself immediately sidetracked when speaking to a mission giver.
If nothing else, characters like Lenny and Sadie are safe from this fate.
Want to do a quest with Molly? Too bad, Dutch has some news for you. Mary-Beth has something to say? Would you look at that, Micah’s back at camp! These fake out missions happen from as early as Chapter 1 to the end of Chapter 6. Mercifully, the Epilogue spares us the back and forth, albeit not entirely.
14 Missions Boil Down Into Shootouts
In the same way the fakeouts become repetitive, so do the actual missions. More often than not, any given mission will end up with Arthur needing to gun down an entire town. In the first game, massive shootouts were reserves for the story’s most important moments. In the sequel, they happen pretty much every other missions, if that.
Arthur shoots more people in a single mission than John does in a single arc. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense! The Valentine bank heist mission has a stealth segment that, no matter what you do, ends in a law enforcement shootout. Where’s the logic? Where’s the variety?
13 The Camp Amounts To Nothing
It feels as though Rockstar really wanted to push the camp mechanic, but was too self aware in regards to what the average consumer would want. When it comes to the casual gamer, they’re not going to want to spend hours upgrading and financing their camp, they just want instant gratification.
Few things are as frustrating as a half baked mechanic.
As a result, what should have been an important mechanic ends up totally worthless. You can reliably ignore the camp mechanic all game and lose nothing. In fact, you’re better off doing so since camp funding goes away entirely by Chapter 5. It exits only to be broken down. John doesn’t even get his own version in the Epilogue.
12 Gun Cleaning
You know what everyone wants in their video game? A cleaning mechanic. You’ve used your favorite gun too much? Well, not it’s horrible, dirty, and barely shoots properly because you haven’t cleaned it recently! You better lube up some Gun Oil or go to a gunsmith to get that bad boy polished. A degrading weapon system isn’t bad inherently, but it just doesn’t make sense for a game where there’s a literal mechanic devoted to the main character slowly building up accuracy by using the same gun repeatedly. It’s counterintuitive at best and tedious at worst.
11 Hunting Can Be Exhausting
Hunting is fun. At first. There’s a certain thrill to tracking your prey, studying them, and then picking the right weapon to grab a perfect pelt. But that luster wears off, and fast. Once you’ve done it once, you’ve done it one hundred times. Hunting never changes. Hunting is never dynamic. Even for legendary animals which you personally have to track, it’s the same game. It is repetition wrapped in a shaul of luck and tedium. At least it’s viscerally realistic?
10 The Story Is Simply Too Long
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. While Arthur’s story is very much a poignant and meaningful one, it is too long for its own good. You could axe all of Chapter 3 and realistically lose nothing. You could cut the entire Bronte arc in Chapter 4 and come out with a narrative that’s far tighter.
Don’t even get us started on Guarma, a piece of filler so shameless that it forces in Dutch’s breaking point just to stay relevant. This is a game with around three and a half chapters of real content plus an epilogue mixed up with far too much filler. For as short as the first game was, it was at least paced appropriately.
9 The Epilogue Robs You Of Everything You’ve Earned
Of all the problems in the game, this is perhaps the one that is the least offensive. It can be argued that a game taking away all your hard work is bad game design, but it is a way of forcing a player to feel loss. In losing Arthur Morgan at the end of Chapter 6, players are forced to come to terms with the concept of mortality.
Arguably one of Rockstar's most inspired moves yet.
In the Epilogue, Arthur is gone. John is not Arthur. John does not have Arthur’s weapons, Arthur’s money, or Arthur’s legacy. While he does inherit his clothes and some guns later, he is very much his own man. Players are forced to start over as that is just the circle of life. Questionable game design, but not without purpose.
8 John’s Riches
The Epilogue ends with John finding nearly $20,000 worth of gold. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said because it says it all. In a story about the mortality of man, the end of an era, and what it means to be “good,” it all ends with John Marston, and outlaw desperately trying not to be an outlaw, deciding to be an outlaw and getting rewarded for it. It’s a tone deaf finale that comes out of nowhere and it exists only to give players a taste of the high life at the eleventh hour. In other word: shameless.
7 Edgar Ross Doesn’t Immediately Target John
The credits to the Epilogue end with Edgar Ross finding John Marston talking to Jack at Beecher’s Hope, a clear signal that the events of the sequel will immediately tie into the first game. Except they don’t, not can they: Red Dead Redemption II ends around three years before the start of the first game.
Who doesn't sit on important information for three years?
Why wouldn’t Edgar Ross immediately target John to take down Dutch’s gang? He sits on this information for three years, doing presumably nothing. It can be argued that Ross was simply waiting for the right time to use said info, but do remember that Dutch’s gang was responsible for the demise of Ross’ mentor, Milton. It’s a cute tie in, but it comes with quite a few problems.
Challenges in the first game were tough, but they weren’t impossible. Nobody wanted to fight a bear off with just a knife, but it was a badge of honor and certainly enjoyable enough to endure. Challenges in the sequel are far more hit or miss, mainly due to their abundance and a weak reliance on luck. Gambling challenges in particular basically boil down to RNG, forces players to waste hours of their time of hundreds of their dollars just to clear off the later challenges. It’s a bizarre decision that truly makes you question how Rockstar let something like this slip through the cracks.
5 “Legend Of The East”
Upon completing every challenge, Arthur earns the “Legend of the East” title and outfit to mirror John’s “Legend of the West” title and outfit from the first game. Here’s the problem, though: Arthur cannot be a legend. A large part of Arthur’s character arc is the fact that he is going to pass on only minimally affecting the world around him through John.
Continuity simply doesn't matter anymore.
This issue isn’t solved by saving the Legend of the East outfit for John, either, since a large point of the first game’s story is the fact that John, a regular man in his own right, was able to become the Legend of the West. Him already being the Legend of the East completely dismantles that narrative.
4 John Can Go To Armadillo Too Early
The fact you can go to Armadillo in the Epilogue is a nice little treat for fans of the original, but it doesn’t actually make much sense, does it? A big plot point of the first game’s first arc was that John was a fish out of water. He had never been to New Austin before and had to be escorted everywhere. That doesn’t exactly work when the prequel lets him visit pretty much every single major area from said arc willy nilly. Admittedly, this is one of those instances where you’re meant to disconnect the gameplay from the story, but it’s still hard to disassociate in such a narrative driven game.
3 Making Money Off Gambling Is Virtually Impossible
Remember in the first game when the fastest way to make money was to gamble (read: memorize the patterns to five finger fillet?) Well, gambling doesn’t pay this time around. Not only do most games have pitifully low entry caps, the amount of money you’ll be making compared to the time spent gambling just isn’t worth the effort. You’re better off slowly looting corpses or just, you know, playing the story mode that drowns you with money. It would have been far more rewarding to earn money the old fashioned way.
2 Some Missions Force A Wanted Level On You
There’s nothing like finishing a long mission only to discover that you can’t go back into Valentine because the mission forced a Wanted level on you. On paper, this makes sense. The game wants to show off all the different mechanics and Wanted levels do play a genuinely role in how players interact with the world.
Why should you be allowed to have fun in Strawberry?
On the other hand, this happens way too often. Once is fine. Once isgood, even! More than that, though? You’re just wasting the player’s time and in-game money. There’s no reason to induce a Wanted level over and over again. We got the point the first time around. It’s bad enough Blackwater is locked to a Wanted state for most of the game.
1 Red Dead Online
Look, you knew this was going to be on this list and that alone speaks volumes to the nightmare that is Red Dead Online. The horrible economy, the microtransactions, and the actually interesting content locked into a multiplayer side feature all make RDO one of the most underwhelming experiences of the generation.
At the same time, you still play it. We still play it. When it comes down to it, for all of Red Dead Redemption II’s problems, it’s still a quality title. We can complain about every mistake it makes, and it does make quite a few, but it’s still a solid game overall. We’re not saying RDO is good, it’s not, but it is more Red Dead in a generation that desperately needs more cowboys.