The last sunset on the wild west: Red Dead Redemption 2

Trevor Schwab

More stories from Trevor Schwab


The wild west, a setting that has been the backdrop to cinema classics and epics of literature for the past century. Tales of the frontier and its settlers, cowboys, and outlaws have captivated american audiences and those abroad for the truly unique stories it told. But just as the Ford Model T replaced the horse drawn carriage, or the barbed wire fence took the place of the weathered Vaquero, modern media has seemingly replaced the plains and saloons of the wild west with the city streets and bright lights of cities and action movies. Such is the course of modern media, the western had became saturated due to the amount of movies and media produced. It seemed as if the western was to be left in the past, but the story of Arthur Morgan and the Van Der Linde gang would see the wild west take one more ride into the sunset.

Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar games is the pinnacle of the american wild west’s features in entertainment. You follow the story of Arthur Morgan, a aging outlaw and veteran member of the Van Der Linde gang. The setting is a recreation of the western United States in 1899, the twilight of the wild west. As civilization increasingly creeps west, gangs like the Van Der Linde gang are being disbanded and destroyed by the US Army and the highly effective Pinkerton Detective Agency. The game begins after a failed bank heist leads to the death of a few gang members and forces them to escape into the mountains. The following hour or so will see Arthur attempt to aid the gang in its plight for survival in the harsh and snowy rocky mountain wilderness. This is when the player is introduced to the main character, Arthur Morgan, and even this early in the story the choices your have Arthur make have a profound effect on the world you find yourself in.

Oftentimes, an area where media fails in its storytelling attempts is in the viewers connection to the main character. Sure a character can have an interesting story, but can the story successfully make someone care about the character? The way Rockstar games succeeds so greatly in this aspect is its freedom of choice. For example, multiple times in the game you are given the option to interact with townspeople, whether it be a civil war veteran or the local drunkard, you have many choices on how to handle your situation. Does Arthur give money to a beggar, or does he take the money right out of his hand? Will Arthur spare a man that witnessed one of his crimes, or will he let him fall off of a cliff? Unlike a movie, wherein you watch someone do these acts, in this game you make the decisions for Arthur, thus Arthur’s choices and behaviors are an extension of your own, this forms a connection between Arthur and the player that makes you care about his well-being and his story, as it is also your own.

The other major immersion factor is the world in which the story takes place. Rockstars open world spans from the deserts of southeastern Texas to the crowded streets of Saint Denis, the game’s version of New Orleans. Along the way the rural towns of the american Midwest are teeming with life. A simple ride into town to get groceries can end in a town wide bar fight. A person minding their business may be challenged to a high noon duel, a snake oil salesman may make money off of the uniformed townspeople, and the next time you enter town people are looking for the man that scammed them. The allure of Red Dead Redemption 2 is simultaneously in its gigantic set pieces of the american frontier, along with its smaller moments, a geyser shooting off behind a herd of Buffalo or brushing and feeding your horse can be some of the most touching moments in the game.

The process of watching your former family fall apart is a heart wrenching one, but in the end Arthur’s story is determined by the choices the player makes, you have a front seat to the final days of the american frontier. Red Dead Redemption 2 may be the end to the medias obsession with the wild west, but this story is no nail in the proverbial coffin. As a Cowboy rides into the sunset after saving the day for the final time, so too will the genre of the american western be sent off, and there is not a better way to end it than the story of Red Dead Redemption 2.