Red Dead Redemption 2 is undoubtedly a fantastic game. Rockstar Games’ open-world cowboy simulator released last October to massive critical and commercial success. As the days have worn by, criticism of the game spread behind the astoundingly popular game. “Arthur controls like he’s walking through molasses,” is a chief complaint. I’m not here to suggest they should make Arthur move like your character in Vanquish or to say the game is too long. In fact, I appreciated the game’s length, but not its freewheeling binge-inducing structure. An episodic Red Dead Redemption 2 would have been even better.
I’ll lay down some ground rules here, before diving into the how and why of restructuring RDR2 into distinct episodes. Firstly, the game’s overall plot, pacing, and open-world nature must be in-tact. Secondly, every chapter must end with the player character in the main open world. Thirdly, no content can be cut from the game but minor things can be added to aid the episodic shift. Fourthly, this post is going to spoil Red Dead Redemption 2‘s overall plot, so beware if you haven’t finished the game.
The case for an episodic Red Dead Redemption 2 | Why it would be better
Technically, the game can be played following the episodic guidelines given below. And the game would be playable from start to finish once each episode was released. I maintain that an episodic release would have been better for two major reasons: pacing, and character development.
Red Dead Redemption 2 wants players to live and breath in its world. Rockstar builds systems like hunting and fishing without putting much of an incentive to do these tasks. Over 200 animals exist in RDR2, but outside of a few story missions, they can be completely ignored. Players can mainline Red Dead Redemption 2 and ignore much of the side content. By pushing the game’s story to an episodic approach, Rockstar can entice players into the open world and its various systems. Any time an episode is completed, players are free to travel around the world before being thrust into the next story mission. This deliberately slows the game down and doesn’t make players feel like they’re ignoring the story.
As it stands, for myself at least, I felt weird anytime a story mission was just waiting days and days for me to finally go start it. Of course, this can still occur within an episodic RDR2, but giving players the knowledge that the game’s world will be waiting at the end of an episode’s story missions could push them along to finish the story content. Players wouldn’t have to worry about being thrust into a new area of the world, and certain chapter-specific missions could be followed up in due time.
The characters of Red Dead Redemption 2 are intriguing, but can very quickly begin to ring hollow. Even the van der Linde gang, for all the time you can spend with them, can feel frustratingly empty to be around. Putting more emphasis on being in the open world, and less emphasis on the game’s story—by having dedicated open world time—can highlight the characters in the world. Players will seek out new stories instead of being strung along by the main narrative. By having real-world downtime between story beats, players can inhabit the world of RDR2 and get to know its characters through more organic means.
Following my third rule, I propose a minor addition to the game: being able to postpone and start story missions in a more organic manner. Missions like ‘A Short Walk in a Pretty Town’ start when Arthur simply walks up to the other gang members. What if it could be something where the next time he visits camp one of the gang members asks the player to join them the next day for the mission? Arthur could accept or decline the offer, making the mission and characters feel more connected to the world.
An episodic Red Dead Redemption 2 could also use this to its advantage. When a new story episode is about to drop have van der Linde gang members start saying new things. As simple as Dutch noting that his next plan is almost ready, or Bill mentioning a new job in the works. Then when the new content releases, tie it into organically starting missions. Arthur could travel to camp, and be asked to join the mission set for the next day. Sleeping in camp could be the way players set up and start the mission. It will tie Arthur closer to the gang, instead of him having telepathic super abilities to know where to meet his fellow gang members.
The case for an episodic Red Dead Redemption 2 | How it would be done
Thankfully, Rockstar has already set up a blueprint for splitting RDR2 into distinct episodes. The main game is split into six chapters, alongside two epilogue chapters. Following my second rule, the chapters don’t work exactly as they are now. Here’s a blueprint of each episode:
Episode 1: The Grizzlies and Horseshoe Overlook
The game opens as it does, with the van der Linde gang being chased into the Grizzlies during a snowstorm. Players get their bearings, attack the train, and then head East to Horseshoe Overlook. The game opens up as players arrive at Horseshoe Overlook, and chapter 2 proceeds as expected. The chapter runs its course up through herding sheep with John Marston. Instead of immediately being set upon by Cornwall and the Pinkertons the mission would end and players would be loose in the open world. The chapter would end with Pinkertons scouting the area around Horseshoe Overlook, but Cornwall’s introduction wouldn’t occur with Arthur and Dutch in the Valentine saloon.
Episode 2: On the run from Horseshoe Overlook and Rhodes
The second episode of Red Dead Redemption 2 begins with Arthur in the open world, exploring around Valentine and making money for the camp. Once the episode releases, the next time Arthur is in camp somebody tells him that Dutch is in Valentine at the bar, waiting for him. The next story mission begins, and Arthur then meets with Leopold and Dutch at the bar. Cornwall and the Pinkertons appear, and the van der Linde gang shoots up Valentine before running to Clemens Point. Chapter 3 continues as normal with the tale of the Braithwaites and Grays running its course. The episode ends before ‘A Short Walk in a Pretty Town’, aka the mission where everything goes to shit in Rhodes. Again, players are open to explore the world at the end of the episode’s story content, performing side tasks, stories, and earning money for the gang.
Episode 3: Shady Belle and Saint Denis
The episode begins as Bill tells Arthur about some sort of “security” job for the Grays. Bill and Arthur meet with Micah and Sean in Rhodes, before being ambushed. The last three missions of the van der Linde’s Clemens Point camp play out as they do usually. Jack is kidnapped, the gang attacks the Braithwaites, and move to Shady Belle. Arthur travels to Saint Denis with Dutch and chapter 4 proceeds until the Saint Denis bank robbery mission “Banking, The Old American Art.” This mission forms the break between episodes three and four. Again, sticking with to the second rule, Arthur is free to travel around the main world map completing activities.
Episode 4: The New World and Beaver Hollow
Dutch hatches his bank robbery and “Banking, The Old American Art” begins the episode. The plan goes awry, and chapter 5 begins as Arthur and company are washed ashore on Guarma. The episode runs through Arthur’s return to Shady Belle, finding the gang at Lakay, being ambushed by the Pinkertons, and taking over Beaver Hollow from the Murfree Brood. The episode ends with Leviticus Cornwall’s death at the hands of Dutch van der Linde.
Episode 5: Red Dead Redemption and epilogues
The final episode focuses heavily on Eagle Flies, his father Rains Fall and the Wapiti Native Americans. Dutch finally sees Colm O’Driscoll hang, and the gang begins to splinter further. Red Dead Redemption 2 runs its course. The epilogues starring John Marston remain closely tied to the finale of Arthur’s story to keep them a secret.
The case for an episodic Red Dead Redemption 2 | I will fight you on this
For anybody decrying this idea, I offer you this piece of information: less than half of the people who have played Red Ded Redemption 2 on PS4 have completed the third chapter of the game. Four months on from the game’s release and less than half of its owners have gotten halfway through the story. Now, what if that story was broken up and spread out over the past few months, enticing people to come back in? I bet the number would be higher.
Of course, Red Dead Online muddies the waters here but I can use it as an example as well. Rockstar is releasing story content for Red Dead Online in pieces, almost as if it were episodic. Red Dead Redemption 2‘s story is worth experiencing, and releasing it in a staggered, episodic way would have been better for players everywhere.