So, Awards seasons.
We all love/hate/tolerate them in whatever way we see fit, but they always come crawling back year after year after year after ye-
And, alas, another awards show has come and gone, the culprit this time being the Steam Awards, celebrating the best video games from the dreaded, useless, pandemic-ridden wasteland that was 2020.
And to be fair, 2020 had its fair share of bangers, we had Valve crawling out of the bottomless pit of Dota 2 skins to release the greatest VR game made so far in Half Life Alyx, Bethesda redeeming some of their post-Fallout 76 image with Doom Eternal, my personal favourite, the indie scene stepped up to deliver with smash hits such as Hades, Ori and The Will of The Wisps, and many more.
But one game reared its head again at the aforementioned Steam Awards, a game that, despite the emphasis on the whole THIS CEREMONY IS ABOUT THIS YEAR aspect, decided to rock up anyway. But what game could be so disruptive that it appears at an annual awards ceremony 2 years after it came out?
Why, only one of the best single player games of all time, Red Dead Redemption 2!
And, sure enough, that’s exactly what happened, as Red Dead 2 took Game of The Year at the 2020 Steam Awards. Now, despite its comparatively older status in comparison to the other contenders, these being Doom Eternal, Fall Guys, Death Stranding and Hades, few can argue against Red Dead taking the crown. After all, it represents what many consider is the pinnacle of gaming.
A crisp, beautiful environment. A rich, deep story that pulls you in and doesn’t let. A joyous experience from start to end. But, most important of all, a protagonist that ties everything together and makes the whole experience so much more memorable. Red Dead 2’s protagonist Arthur Morgan is such a protagonist. Compelling, developed, unique, humourous, Mister Morgan can do it all. The way he progresses through the story is beautifully written and oh so compelling.
But, to truly dissect it, we’re gonna have to get into some serious spoiler territory, so if you haven’t played the game, go away.
We’re introduced to Arthur in Chapter 1 as fiercely loyal, caring for the gang that, for all intents and purposes, are his family. He’s shown to also be able to stand on his own two feet, particularly throughout the opening events. From rescuing Sadie Adler to the bar fight in Valentine to the train robbery with John, Sean and Charles, Arthur is shown to be able to flip from caring, to firm at seemingly a flick of switch, but each switch is written and portrayed in a way that feels genuine, never forced, or contrived for the plot’s sake.
Sean’s death in Chapter 3 is a perfect example of this. Arthur takes a second to mourn a fallen friend, an action that all could sympathise with and understand. Bill Williamson, in typical Bill Williamson fashion, protests his ignorance to the events that lead to Sean’s demise, which prompts another very human reaction from Arthur, rage.
Arthur lists off each and every single red flag that screamed “THIS IS A TRAP YOU DAMN FOOL” to Bill, with each sentence carrying the perfect tone, cadence, delivery and weight to make even the thick-skinned Bill cower. Then, after briefly conversing with Micah Bell, who at this point might as well be carrying a sign screaming “I’M A BAD PERSON” on it, Arthur even manages to let out a somewhat comedic rebuttal to Mr Bell’s snake-like defence of Bill and his innate mediocrity.
In one scene alone, all the pieces came together, and Arthur is shown as caring, ruthlessly honest, and comedic in about 3 minutes. Come on, that’s great character building.
However, it’s the chapter in Guarma where Arthur’s character DEVELOPMENT starts to kick in. Emphasis on the word development. Because a lot of the things that Arthur had done prior to this, had been in line with the character we met back in Chapter 1. But in Guarma, the Arthur we know is rattled, at his lowest point in the story thus far. And this change also coincides, or is possibly spurred on, by the dark turn of his mentor and father figure, Dutch van der Linde. Now, I would LOVE to go on an emotional deep-dive of Dutch’s descent into madness, but I don’t have 18 hours so that’ll have to wait. Anyway, let’s get back to our beloved Mister Morgan.
The first act of Arthur’s gradual turn is the event that transpires in the caves below the compound in Guarma, wherein Dutch kills their guide after she demanded more payment for her services. This obviously rattles Arthur, as you can hear the inflection in his voice change radically. It’s not a man who follows his mentor semi-blindly anymore, it’s a man fearful of what said mentor is becoming. However, gradually this fear shifts into frustration, with the major showcase of this is when Arthur and Sadie break John out of jail, against Dutch’s wishes. And, if you haven’t gotten to the scene where a clearly enraged Dutch scolds Arthur for defying, please seek it out. It is, by far, one of the best scenes that these two share. And by this game’s standards, that is indeed high praise. And the tension between the two just escalates and escalates, with several casualties along the way, either from being shot, or straight up leaving the gang, with John being one, during the final heist. All this coming to a heart breaking head after said final heist.
And it is after the final heist that Dutch’s mask finally slips, the idealist we followed all the way from Chapter 1 is gone, all that remains, is a cold-hearted, selfish, low-down criminal. After the heist, as the gang make their way back to camp, it is revealed that Abigail, one of the side-characters and wife to John, was kidnapped by federal agents, and will no doubt be killed for her involvement with the gang. Arthur begs Dutch and the gang to rescue her, but after some silver-tongued shenanigans from Micah, who is in “single worst person you’ve ever met” mode, Dutch declines to help her. And, one by one, all the other gang members follow him, unwilling to stand against him. All except two…Arthur and Sadie.
Now Sadie is another character who I also don’t have 18 hours to discuss how amazing they are, so unfortunately, she’ll have to take a backseat for now. Sadie and Arthur forfeit their earnings from the train heist and ride to rescue Abigail. And it’s on this ride, that Arthur finally, and passionately, lets go. He’s done with the charade, the pretending that his happy family is still happy, that the gang can finally retire in peace. Times have changed. And in his own words, they’re thieves. In a world that don’t want them no more. And he has finally, and mercifully, accepted the truth. And with his own death at the hand of Tuberculosis on the horizon, he accepts that the world doesn’t have anything left for him, all he can do is make the wrongs right. He and Sadie rescue Abigail, learning Micah has been a rat, working with the same agents since Guarma. Armed with this damning information, Arthur sends Sadie and Abigail to reconvene with one of the last truly sane gang members, Tilly, who is with Abigail’s son, Jack.
And with that, Arthur is left with nearly nothing. All that remains is himself, his trusted horse, and his father’s hat. He dutifully puts it on, and rides to confront Dutch. One last job. Arthur rides to camp, outs Micah as the rat, earning a standoff between himself, Micah, and Dutch.
However, fate still has one more twist in the works. John reappears, having been left for dead by Dutch after being shot on the train heist, and then WHOOPS Federal agents appear again and all bets are off. The bullets start flying, from both sides, John and Arthur make their grand escape…. or it would’ve been grand if their horses didn’t get shot and killed. That would’ve helped. And just like that, all bets are off. John and Arthur flee up a mountain, bullets flying at them from all sides. And it’s here, that Arthur’s development as a character and as a person comes to a head. He chooses to stay on the cliff, to buy John time to get to his family and escape. His final action for John being the most profound and heartwarming, signifying the adventure Arthur has gone on. He hands John his hat, wishing that he only gets out of the life that now lies in tatters around them, and to never look back. And as John flees into the distant night, Arthur Morgan takes his final stand, where he perishes, a redeemed man.