Just finished this game and want to say - this is the first Rockstar title (from those i played) that i ended up really loving intstead of "well, it's not a bad game". Of course, it's my personal tastes, but the game seems like a really massive step ahead for them in most of the aspects. I will not describe every single amazing thing that was done in this game - because at this point you all already know all of them, so i will just focus on things that left the most impression for me:
(Howdy, partner! Land ahead is the spoiler territory. If you ignore the title and this warning, it's your own damn fault!)
Gameplay and world. I will start with positives -
First thing that i instantly liked - were the forests. I am a huge forest lover, any green massive always takes my breath away, and i must say - this game easily enters the top 3 best forests i ever saw in video games. And since irl i am unable to explore nature, having the ability to go trough such an amazingly beautiful places in game feels me with joy. All sounds, lights, animals - everything about nature in this game is an amazing expirience. Exploration in this game were really rewarding. The only thing that made me sad - is realisation how small Guarma was, since jungle are my favorite biome and island were looking simple amazing from the shoreline, i was already imagining how i will explore all this giant massive of green, but... oh well.
Second thing that i enjoyed - is that all side missions were never a boring fillers of fetch quests, even things like bounty hunting had it's own stories to tell and fun events to live trough. Also seeing some consequences from side quests later in game, and even in the story were rather surprising, that's a sign of a very dedicated writing.
Shooting and fighting... well, let's just say it's one of the games where i wasn't bored at shooting enemies even at the very end. And this is a thing that's rare for me, especially for a game this long and with such a tiny range of available weapons. I even spent most of the time just using my pistols, and, through i cannot even say why - it was very, very entertaining, almost every gunfight were a hell of a show.
But there were also a negative sides -
Huge parts of the map were never used in any missions at all. The only reason to go there are exploration, but... sometimes there are just nothing to find there. Also the game has vast choice of cold-protecting clothes, but... they are somehow never useful trough entire game, except if you will want to explore rather small corner of the map with snow?
Camp is a fun concept, and random conversatings with gang members are awesome. But upgrading it does not feels rewaring at all. The amount of supplies that appear are tiny, you have to waste time picking them and even pay a lot to restock... it's easier and cheaper just to fast travel to town and get exactly what you need at lower price. Fast travel is actually the only super-cool upgrade, when the rest feel more or less useles, especially things like tents that improve mood... is it even having any effect at all? What's even worse - in chapter 6 all upgrades are gone anyway, despite it's being quite a long chapter. It feels like camp management were poorly designed or implemented in the last moment, without having a clear goal in mind, just to fill the checkbox.
Btw, the ability to come up to any random citizen and say nothing but "howdy partner" or "seems like hard work" seems rather pointless as well. I get that recording various dialogues with locals are waste of resourses, but why do it at all then? Saying very same thing to everyone around hardly brings any value to the game.
Why many missions in game giving player plenty of choices, the others are exact opposite of that. For example, when i chased thief in the city, i found out that he is basicly ignores everything - when i tried to shot him (in the leg, just to stop), shots went right trough, and when i catched up with him on the roof and tried to use my lasso, so i could give him up to the authorities or question myself... yep, it didn't worked either. I felt rather cheated. What's even worse - is that in mission about negotiations with Favors his man eventually opened fire at me, i shoot back and killed Favors the missions were failed... because i killed Favors? Seriously? At this point Arthur already knew his true nature and there were literally no reasons to leave the man alive, except to use him in a story later, and thus a really lame losing condition were born. Some of the other missions had simillar expirienced with being too artificially limited, and there were also... not very well designed ones. I found especially funny when i fell out from horse, my allies kept on moving ahead, and before i could get back up i lost because "you abandoned your gang". Maybe it was they who abandoned me lol? There was also a guy lost in the woods who asked me to escort him back to the town, but he moved at the speed of a snail and i failed mission at the very end by moving too much away from him. Town were already clearly visible, but the dude just turned around and started walking away, saying that something like "fine, leave me to the wolves". Then escort missions can fail if you will have a falling horse incident, and let's not forget that the very final mission of epilogue (shootout on the mountain) will be failed if... your horse dies >_<
Weapon storage system. Not only it was quite uncomfortable to scroll trough all your weapons (why could you not just pick loadout in the same way you can load entire suit on your horse?), but also for some damn reason game removed weapons from me at every single opportunity it had. Starting a new mission? Better call your horse because you have only your pistols. And if you not lucky enough, even one of those pistols will be swapped to a starting one. Mission not allowing to call horse? Well too bad for you! Why? What is the point of buying and upgrading weapons if game constantly takes them away from you? It was so irratating, and for no good reason.
Final thing was the tank controls. It were not THAT bad, but often i did stupid things in combat because of it, and had many accidents with horse stomping people because it were turning in circles or doing anything else i didn't want it to do. Also searching boxes, etc were especially painful due to slow animations and interaction windows that were not really easy to... interact with.
Now about the story:
That was a biggest surprise from me. Note that i haven't played first RdR game, as well as some others, but rest of stories made by this studie felt goofy and entierly forgettable to me. Actually, GTA4 were one of the few games i failed to finish just because of how much of a boring drag it's story were.
But i can safely say that RdR2 easily deserves a place among the best when it comes to storytelling. It is funny, it is dramatic, it is entertaining, and, most importantly - it has good direction and delivers it's messages properly, in a very wholesome expirience. Even side quests were made with much love and passion, every time trying to bring some new expirience just when you thought that you already seen all this game has to offer. A story like that is a huge step ahead for RS, it felt like it was written by a different people than the ones who were doing the writing before. I hardly ever saw someone who would improve their writing so much and so fast, shey should be really proud of that.
But i also felt like there were 3 huge missed opportunities i wanted to discuss.
First - was the family conflic and kidnapping the child. To be honest, i still don't understand the logic of that...Braithwaite clearly were more or less intelligent. They somehow knew about gang's actions and true identiy, but what they are doing about it? Sneaking into their camp, kindapping a kid and selling it.... for real? Not attacking from the ambush (since there are a ton of them, and only a bunch of bandits), not reporting them to the law, but... taking away the child, not even to harm to hold hostage, but just to... sell? It does not make sense to me.
Trough this entire mission i had one theory: What if none of the families were actually aware about gang's true identity and intentions, but some shadowy figure (for example, certain Pinkerton agent, but it also could be someone else, for example someone who hated both families) shared some information with Grays, pushing them to setup the ambush, as well as made his agents (disguised as Braithwaite) kidnap a kid, to force the gang into open conflict with them?
I thought that it's going to be exactly like that until the very end of the mission, because everyone in Braithwaite were denying stealing a kid. And in the very end, when old lady admitted selling him to some random dude... it just didn't made any sense to me again. Her entire family were destroyed, she were planning to end her life as well, there was simply not a single reason for her to tell them the truth, giving a chance to resque the kid.
And now imagine if it was like i suggested above... gang raids and burns down the manor, destroying everyone inside (and maybe taking casualties in the process), only to find out that they had no idea about any kid and never did any kidnapping? When they will realize that they were played by a thrid side, used as a tools to destroy the Braithwaite, and Dutch in his righteous rage were played like a fiddle, because he haven't thought for at least a second that there is no reason to kidnap a kid from gang of outlaws, so he didn't even tried to track the kidnappers, for example?
That would show how impulsive thinking gets advantage over rationality in Dutch, and well as give Pinkertons some meaningful role in the story (Because honestly they were displayed as a clowns, who would enter the camp of the gang without any backup, threat them, and then... give time to pack up and run away? Where is the logic in all that?).
Second thing were blowing the bridge. What i very much expected - is that after bridge will be blown, a train will appear and it's speed will be so high that it will be unable to stop, collapsing at the bottom of the canyon. Arthur rushing to help the passengers, only to see that majority of them are dead or crippled, and there were a lot of families with children onboard. And all of this for what, just to create a distraction for Dutch's plan? This could be one of those moments where Arthur keeps realizing how much collateral damage are they making that Dutch does not care about.
Instead, we are having empty train to fall down from that bridge during the robbery, but... it does not make sense? San Deni were the last stop. The train's driver went past it at full speed... But where was he heading? The road ahead were cut by the destroyed bridge, and machinist should be aware about it since government sent additional supplies because of the bridge's destruction. Yet still train headed towards that bridge? Why?
Thrid thing were fist fight with Mikah. If would be quite poetic if Arthur, while not being able to win the fight still would cough blood on Mikah's face, infecting him with tb. Then his speech about "i won anyway" would have additional meaning, allowing the game to have a very different ending in the epilogue: after John storms trough all the Mika's troops, he ambushed by the man himself and about to be executed, but severe seisure makes Mikah drop the gun and fall to the ground. Realzing that he is dying, John would have the choice - to finish him off, or walk away, saying something like "You ain't worth the bullet, Arthur already killed you", leaving him to slow and painful death in the snow, and listening to Mikah scream in desperation things like "come back, coward, and finish the job!".
Instead, we have something that i can't quite explain: if Micah camps Arthur near the cave, "knowing" that he will be back for the money, how does he chase him on the mountain? Are him and Dutch somehow capable of being in both places at once, so no matter where you go you run into them? This kinda makes the last choice 100% irrelevant, because it seems like you are chosing between greed and helping a friend, but instead John survives in any case, and you fight Mikah in any case. What's the point of the choice then? Just to have a different arena of final combat? They could at least make a different ending sequence depending on that choice, where Arthur never meets Mikah and dies when saving John from the Pinkerton forces.
What's even worse, it seems like all that your reputation affects is that Mikah either finishes you or walks away? And that's all? Not talking about me expecting it to have some more meaninful impact on the ending, but what could be the reason for Mikah to just withdraw if he were clearly a sadist who also wanted to kill Arthur for a long time? It makes no sense to me.
And then there were Dutch, who's actions i can hardly explain. First, he simply walks away from Mikah (without even taking the money, if it's the cave ending). But ok, let's say he were shocked by Arthur's death and lost faith in Mikah. But then the two somehow getting reunited again, and having all this money just... stashed in a box for no good reason? What happened with their escape plan? There were enough money for a full gang, so how could just a two people not find that enough for their needs? And then, when Dutch shoots Mikah (despite having him as an ally, so they must have made peace or something), he just... walks away again, leaving the money behind? What's with him, constantly walking away?
And now, the epilogue.
That part of the game were a bit disappointing to me, mostly because it made John a protagonist. Now please keep in mind that i could not play first game and haven't read anything about it's story before today to avoid possible spoilers (i wasn't sure how two games are connected), so when i played the game i had no idea that John is a protagonist from the first game. For me he was just another gang member, and, to be honest... he had that "default protagonist" blank personality without any strong defining traits, that made me not really care about him or his obnoxious and rather stupid wife - even irish guy played a very small part of the story left better impressions than John.
But my main problem was that there were Charles and Sadie among the survivors as well, and both of them were extremley likeable characters about whom i cared a lot more than about Marston family. I would be really happy to play as any of them, especially Sadie because she is an incredible likeable lady, who once already proved as being capable to lead and protect the gang, and could as well play the same role as John did in gathering the survivors again, but in a more interesting way than just setting up a farm. I supose i were pretty happy to find out that both of them are still important part of the story, but still sad that i could not play as any of them.
Of course, when i read the short summary of RdR plot today i understood why we played as John and why he was such a nessesary part of the story, but i still wish they would gave him more importance in the rdr2 story, so he would seem less like secondary character and there would be a reason to care about him for those who haven't played first game. Also the epilogue itself were pretty nice, especially the part about making the ranch. But i still wish they would at least made a "Sadie in South America" dlc)
Yet there is something in the plot of first game i still not fully understand, so maybe someone here who actually played it would help me with explaining it? If i understood it correctly, after the events of the epilogue Mikah body is found by the Pinkertons, and it is allowing them to trace down John. Then they kidnapping his family (are bureau even ok with their agents acting like that?), and forcing John to track down and kill Dutch. Then the agent releasing the family and letting them live in peace for a bit, only to change his mind sometime later and attack the ranch, and John for some reason decides to suicide instead of taking a fight? Is all of that correct? Because if it is, i am not sure that i understand the motivation of either John or the agent here. Maybe short story summary on wiki is missing some important details that would explain it?