I realise you’ve probably just read that headline and your first reaction is to make a joke about how Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t end. I get you, it’s quite long. I think it earns that slow burn. But that’s now what I’m here to discuss.
I’m here to talk about spoilers. Namely, death. It’s always a good way to end a story, but death gets in the way of open-world game design. Also, it’s a bit of a downer, isn’t it? Death. Bit morbid. Plus, the player can’t carry on after the credits roll if they’re dead, can they? Saying that, I now want an open-world game where you can free roam as a ghost or a skeleton once the story is out of the way. This will never happen, though, because game developers are cowards who are notoriously scared of spirits and reanimated bones.
Anyway, there are two ways developers tend to deal with this issue in open-world games. The first is by having no stakes – your character can’t die, and once the story is over they simply go around running errands and mopping up collectibles. They might even be close to a literal god by the end – like in some of the Assassin’s Creed games – but they’re happy to just mill about for all eternity. Or there’s an even worse option: reverting you back to an old save. Here, the story is perpetually at its climax – see Cyberpunk 2077 – and dicking around just feels wrong. I’d much rather be a cyberghost.
The first Red Dead Redemption and its sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, solve this issue by simply letting you take control of another character. You get the best of both worlds with this approach: an ending that’s actually impactful, and another excuse to explore the world.
You could even argue that both Red Dead Redemption games have two endings, due to the epilogues nailed onto the conclusion. Yeah, you might spend a bit longer digging up pig shit than is ideal, but those moments of mundane ground you in the world and make the more bombastic set pieces feel more impactful. These games feel almost poetic at times, and I can’t help but think watching Arthur Morgan stare at his last sunset wouldn’t be as emotionally resonant if you were suddenly back in his cowboy boots again moments later. If he were a ghost, though…
OK, I’ll shut up about the ghosts thing (seriously, developers, call me – I got ideas), but this is a problem we’ve already solved, and yet games keep either giving our main character plot armour or just turning back the clock. Reverting the world state in a choice-based game feels like going to the shop, buying all your groceries for dinner, then getting home to realise your carrier bag split during the walk and your fajitas are in a pile of dog turds on the field. Playing around in an open world after the credits roll feels like eating food with a hole in your throat so the food just pisses out the hole and you don’t get the satisfaction of swallowing.
I realise making another character isn’t a simple thing. The way it works in Red Dead Redemption 2, a good bulk of the side quests have exclusive voice lines depending on who you’re playing as, and even your notebook, in a lovely touch, has different doodles depending on the artistic abilities of that character (spoiler: Marston can’t draw for shit). It’s an investment and not an insignificant one. I get it. Still, if you’re the kind of game studio that’s in a position to make a triple-A open-world game in the first place, you can probably afford it. Your players will notice the little touches and the effort you went to, and that final farewell will stay with them for a long time.
Next: Video Games, It’s Time To Stop Wasting Worlds And Admit That GTA 4 Was Right
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Kirk is the Editor-in-Chief at TheGamer. He likes Arkane games a little too much.
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