Getting to the end of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story is a commitment, and not just in terms of the time required. The game’s final 20 hours took on emotional toll on me; everything feels hopeless, and everyone seems doomed.
But the epilogue introduces a major tonal shift after all that gloom. It breathes life back into the soul of the game, replacing the sense of dread and clearing up the phlegmy cough of despair. It also fixes the major pacing and tonal issues that plague the final acts of the main story.
[Warning: The following contains major spoilers from the endgame events of Red Dead Redemption 2. Turn back now if that’s not your bag, cowpoke.]
Red Dead Redemption 2’s themes are strong, but they take way too long to develop. I’m forced to suffer through Dutch’s countless failed plans that not only feel redundant, but also made me question why Arthur had the patience to repeat the same patterns. Arthur and I rode toward the end of every mission knowing that misery waited at the end.
I accomplished nothing in the game’s final acts. In fact, I lost more than I had ever hoped to gain. Members of the camp turned on each other, died, or vanished. The donation box, with all the extra cash I dumped in it throughout the game, was stolen. What a waste.
I realize this is the point, but Rockstar didn’t need 20 hours of heartbreak to make me feel like my efforts had been in vain. The moral of the story is clear before it’s repeated so many times that it becomes exhausting
The depressing slog had one saving grace, when Arthur realized that saving others was the only way he can give his own life meaning. He used his last minutes to save John and set him on a new path — one that isn’t doomed. (Mostly.)
Red Dead Redemption 2 plays a strange trick on me at this point. The emotional weight of the game’s final chapter makes me want to walk away, but there’s a brief flash of excitement when I learn I’ll be playing as John Marston, again. That excitement is fleeting when I realize my first task will be shoveling literal shit in a barn. No way can I stomach more suffering.
But the epilogue of Red Dead Redemption 2 moves in a way that sets it apart from the main narrative. The farm missions are tedious but mercifully short. I stick with them, because I know that John is working to create a home for his family. He wants something, and I want to help him get it, even if it means doing virtual manual labor.
Arthur never has any concrete goals outside of surviving for another day or making some money. I always knew he wasn’t heading anywhere, which made each mission feel futile. He was on the run when the game began, and his circumstances only grow darker from there. The game’s story never offered me any hope that my efforts would bring him peace.
But John’s quest to build his home in Beecher’s Hope is attainable. I know I’m getting closer with every step, and every mission.
Sometimes he’s trying to convince a bank manager to loan him the start-up money. Other times he’s haggling with someone over a load of lumber. The homestead slowly takes shape through his hard work, and I become re-invested in the game.
The epilogue is an idyllic respite from the horrors of the doomed Arthur Morgan, outside of some unfortunate moments of human flaying.
I finish John’s quest just five hours later. He builds his home, and he’s getting married to the woman he loves. He has a roof over his family’s head. It’s a truly moving story arc that didn’t need 60 hours of development. But I feel more satisfied by those brief hours than everything that came before it. All I need, it turns out, is a sense of purpose.