Oh this article has been bubbling away inside me for weeks now. See, I bulldozed my way through RDR II‘s story just so I could get to the ending ASAFP as I wanted to do a write-up for this ere’ blog. Since finishing the game, I’ve been mulling the ending over in my head and comparing it to the ending of the previous game. See, I really didn’t much enjoy the ending of RDR when I first experienced it. It’s a cruel and unforgiving ending that torments the player. However, after a while and finishing the game again – the finale to the previous game quickly became my favourite game ending ever.
So obviously massive SPOILERS ahead and throughout this whole article. If you’ve not finished RDR II yet, stop reading now and go play the damn game. This is the only SPOILER warning I’m giving and directly after this paragraph is done, I’m going straight into huge SPOILER territory… you have been warned.
So Arthur dies in RDR II. When I first started playing the game, I had already convinced myself that Arthur would die in the game. I mean, this is a prequel and seeing as the plot of the last game was John Marston hunting down his old gang members and given the fact that Arthur was not part of the last game… you could pretty much work it out yourself. However, through the course of the story, some gang members do just leave the gang. So a ray of hope was given that maybe, just maybe Arthur leaves the gang at the end and is still alive during the events of RDR. But that wasn’t to be the case. Arthur dies in this game and depending on your moral-meter (being good or bad), the ending slightly changes too. But before I get to the last moments of Arthur Morgan, I need to cover just what it is that kills him…
Arthur is diagnosed with Tuberculosis at around 50% of the story. It wasn’t until my second play-through when I noticed during the mission Money Lending And Other Sins III where you have to collect a debt from a farmer called Thomas Downes that he spits in Arthur’s face. Later his wife reveals that Thomas is ill and even later still during another part of said mission, Thomas dies. It’s that previously mentioned spitting when Arthur contracts Tuberculosis from Thomas. As the game continues, Arthur slowly dies in front of your eyes and even before he is diagnosed. It begins with some subtle coughing that you don’t really notice, the coughing gets slowly worse as the game progresses. Arthur’s skin becomes pale and his eyes bloodshot. Other characters will comment on how ill he looks, etc, and it goes on until the very end. It’s a marvellous piece of storytelling from Rockstar where Arthur’s fate sealed very early in the game, but you the player (and Arthur) are not made aware of it until much later. Playing a second time really brings the clever writing to the forefront.
This is what kills Arthur, not a hail of bullets as with John Marston in the previous game but a disease. It’s a slow death and one that unfolds as you play. Rockstar can be pretty damn cruel sometimes, they make you enjoy and even love a character… then they kill them off. They even kill off your horse in this too and it’s got some emotional gravitas to it. I mean, you spend a lot of time with your horse, you brush it, feed it and bond with it through the game. The horse becomes more than just a means for transportation and as he/she dies, Arthur comforts it and its pretty damn touching too.
There was one thing I was doing whole playing my way through RDR II, I was keeping an eye on the story completed %. As the game slowly built to it’s finale, as Arthur’s time was coming to an end, as I completed the “final” mission… I noticed something. The story was only 70% complete. Arthur was dead but there was still 30% of the story left? That’s when the epilogue began, a fucking huge more than a quarter of the entire story epilogue. John Marston returns and you get to play as him for this final 30%. I was kind of expecting something like this. I thought they would do something similar given the ending of the previous game as after John dies, you control his now grown up son Jack. In RDR, you only play as Jack Marston for a single mission as he tracks down Edgar Ross and kills him for betraying John. In RDR II, you play as John for a huge chunk of the game. It’s got to be around 5-7 hours of the game.
John’s section of the game is very slow and plodding in an already slow game. Most of John’s story is about him going straight by turning his back on his outlaw days, getting a job on a ranch, making a bad decision and Abigail leaving him. It then continues with John trying to make amends as he buys some land and builds his own ranch, the ranch in RDR. You have to physically go out an buy goods and building materials too then actually build the ranch to entice Abigail back. The whole thing is very slow and very, very reminiscent of the ending to the last game where John works on his ranch, tries to build a relationship with his son Jack and so on. It all leads up to where RDR (almost) begins as Edgar Ross searches for John to get him to work for the government to hunt down his ex-gang members.
Everything ties up nicely indeed… but is it a good ending?
Honestly, I’m still not sure. Yeah I didn’t much like the ending to the last game at first but it grew on me and became my favourite game ending so far. But that’s because it was a shock, a ballsy move by Rockstar to kill off the main character. With RDR II, it just feels like a repeat. Arthur’s death is very, very different – but the point is, it’s still pretty much the same ending. A lot of the same beats are repeated, not necessarily in the same order but they are there. The slow working on the ranch, the death of the main character, the “surprise” epilogue, etc.
I enjoyed playing as John at the end, of course I did as he’s one of my favourite game characters, but I also think it dragged out a bit too long. Did the epilogue really need to be 30% of the game? It’s not just the ranch building and all that, its the fact you have to take Abigail out on a date, get a photograph taken. Before all of that when working on the first ranch you have to teach the rancher’s kid how to ride a horse, milk a cow. etc. It just began to feel like unnecessary fluff to drag out an already very long game. Maybe if the John Marston epilogue had been released as DLC later and not part of the main game. Maybe if the credits rolled when Arthur died and with John escaping with his family leaving me to fill in the blanks, leaving me with a sense of loss as with the previous game, maybe I would’ve enjoyed it more?
I don’t know but after spending 50+ ours playing as Arthur Morgan and watching him die… that was enough for me. His demise was brilliantly written and realised. Yes I love John Marston and yes, of course they had to tie everything into RDR. I just think the epilogue as too much and superfluous.