I completed the main story just over a week ago (including epilogues) and while I admire the game for its ambition and scope, the overall experience and its indulgence at times left me cold to be honest.
I will caveat the below points by saying that it took just me over a month to complete (god knows how many hours) and by the end I had a 83.3% completion rate (I cannot recall ever getting that far above 50% for any Rockstar or other open-world game).
- For me, the main story is too long - it really felt like the game should’ve started hitting a natural crescendo after the events of chapter four but instead it has the mis-step of the Guarma section before then eventually coming to a conclusion. The two epilogue chapters could’ve been considerably condensed to the point where the second one feels like a proper drag. It’s a real shame but it slogged on to the point where I was hoping it would be over.
- The characters are incredibly well-written and I did end up caring about pretty much all of them both inside the camp and those connected to Arthur/John as well, their back stories and wanting to see them come out of the whole saga but I can’t say I hold the writing and the development of the story in the same affection as I do the first one. The main plot points/twists (tuberculosis diagnosis; betrayal of Micah/Molly) lack any real punch because they’re so telegraphed due to the lack of subtlety of their delivery and those big soundtracked moments just feel like they’re wildly trying to hit something like arriving in Mexico in the first game and missing because it doesn’t feel very natural or organic. I don’t have a problem with John’s dilemma regarding his morality in the face of his mortality (hehe) near the end but it feels unnecessary when the story toys with that theme for what feel like its entirety when you have chats in the camp and just the way the various game systems almost prevent you from going out and shooting everyone in sight. You get so much money from the main missions as well that there is no incentive to rob people/shops/trains etc. thus the moral dilemma feels off-kilter.
- I also can’t suspend my disbelief for long enough at everything going wrong all the time for the sake of setting up the main Rockstar game mechanics within the story. It’s fine when it comes to Dutch but at least there’s the dramatic irony of already knowing about his downfall but with examples such as Uncle spotting a stage coach to rob which turns out is the property of Leviticus Cornwall or Lenny scoping out something which is far more heavily armed than he was told, I couldn’t really help but groan at times.
- The actual experience of the main story in conjunction with the open world is really jarring. For example, moving away from your camps near Valentine and Rhodes after at the end of chapters two and three doesn’t feel as tense because once that’s done and dusted you can quite easily pay off your bounty and go back to those towns in the open world setting. It makes no sense as well when you’re being told that the gang is constantly being moved east to escape the law. In turn, your old camps should be swarming with Pinkertons or the law to find out your next move but I went back to one immediately with Arthur and there was no one there. It’s only until you free John from prison that the game tags you as dead or alive is Ambarino which is right at the end!
- The size and variety of the map was woefully used from my experience and it felt by the end that it doesn’t need to be as big as it is. I explored a lot (in terms of allowing myself to check things out when travelling from one point to another - very rarely, if ever, fast travelled) but I didn’t even realise there was that area past Strawberry until you get there in the prologue. The game gives you no incentive or reason to go back to areas like the West Grizzlies or the middle north of the map (I get that they aren’t densely populated with things to do). It just feels like the map is unnecessarily big and that can be a grind when traversing it.
- My ultimate problem is outside of not really loving the story, I can’t say I had a load of fun with the game. There’s the drinking with Lenny mission which is a great laugh, there are a few side-missions and stranger sub-plots which can be fun and/or interesting and I did love turning on the game and not actually furthering the story because I’d get sidetracked by random events, exploring areas of the map or hunting for legendary animals. Sadly, a lot of it though felt like busy work and rather workmanlike.
I like and admire parts of this game (the scenery and vistas; the wind blowing rubbish through Saint-Denis; the score and soundtrack; the character-building; sections of the story and the stranger missions) and I think it’s a good game, but I don’t love it. I should probably play the first one again at some point just to check I’m not remembering my experience of that from eight years ago through rose-tinted spectacles.
I think the broader message of this video sums up some of my other problems with the game (apologies for the typical vlogger/Youtuber style editing).
The point about the random events is quite salient - I read back through this thread and we’ve all seen the same ones fairly often, it’s only our reaction in the brief few seconds afterwards that ever so slightly changes our experiences. And the bear trap/snake bites/injury/beggars ones happen so often that you end up doing them just because of the reward.