When you had to individually open every drawer on a dresser just to find a package of crackers, Rockstar was telling you explicitly "This is going to be less fun than any other Rockstar game." Red Dead 2 is the first time in video game history that intentionally made their game tangibly less fun than its predecessor. Looting is tedious. Arthur Morgan is not a man of herculean strength and endurance. Your horse is meandering. Inventory management is cumbersome and restrictive. Missions (outside of a few select set pieces) are slow and pensive.
But its all by design.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the first, and remains the only, video game where every facet reinforces the themes of the narrative. And it/s all to reiterate over and over one thing: Redemption is possible through God.
This is most obvious in the final mission of Arthur's story. There are four possible endings depending on how you played the game. If you did immoral things, you either get killed in darkness or surrounded by flames. If you walked the path of the righteous man, Arthur dies watching the sunrise.
The final choice is even as straightforward as "Do you ascend the mountain or go down to the underground?" But that's obvious symbolism. The genius of the game is you don't realize that's what the game has been doing the entire time. With every mission and every action you take.
Arthur Morgan grew up in the Van Der Linde Gang under the mentorship of Dutch van der Linde and Hosea. Dutch is a man of eloquence. He's well read. He has principles, charm, dreams. And plans.
The game starts as the gang is running to the icy cold of the mountains after a robbery in Blackwater went bad. It takes some time to find out what happened as Arthur wasn't there, but there is a commonality between all the stories: it was a set-up and Dutch shot a young girl in the head. But Dutch is all about looking ahead. He claims its to keep the rest of the gang alive, but throughout we come to find that the Dutch we see, the one Arthur has been with his whole life, is a lie. The Dutch that kills innocent people, lies and manipulates good men, that's the real Dutch. Luring the weak down a path of wickedness, as he drags all those around him down in the flames with him. Dutch is not just a false prophet. He is the antichrist.
During his path with Dutch, Arthur ignores many signs from God. He just so happened to not be at the Blackwater robbery that went wrong. He is shown time and time again what happens to every gang. He is given out after out by Milton, the Pinkerton sent to track down his gang.
Robberies keep going wrong and the gang is worse off than they were before. He meets a nun and a friar who ask him for help and Arthur finds great satisfaction in helping. But Arthur, out of misplaced loyalty to Dutch, stays.
In the first act of the game, Arthur goes to the home of Thomas Downes, a local preacher who owes the gang money. Arthur is unaware that Downes has tuberculosis, and while beating him to death Downes coughs blood on Arthur. We find out later that Arthur killed Downes over $20.
Months later, Arthur is diagnosed with Tuberculosis. It's too late to save himself. After ignoring the signs from God all game, Arthur is finally ready to listen.
The last act of the game is noticeably more difficult. Arthur moves even slower. He doesn't have as much health. He's getting sicker by the day. But he keeps going because he knows now that he doesn't have much time left. Before the diagnosis, Arthur lived as a man with a death wish but was spared by God time and time again.
After the diagnosis, Arthur has to face his mortality. Luck won't save him. Nothing will. He comes to find he's tired of wallowing and to make the last days of his life mean something.
At one point towards the the final act, Arthur meets the nun again. They talk and she tells him that she thinks he's a good man. Arthur scoffs at the suggestion and tells the nun that he doesn't "know him". The nun responds to Arthur "that's the problem, you don't know you" and that whenever she sees him, Arthur is always helping people and smiling. T
his disarms Arthur, he goes on to tell the nun about his son, who passed away, and in one of the most emotional lines of dialogue of any video game, Arthur Morgan, the stoic, rugged, anti-hero of our adventure admits to this nun that he's afraid of dying.
It's unspoken but he knows if he doesn't change his way, he'll burn. She gives him a simple piece of guidance: "Take a gamble that love exists, and do a loving act."
True redemption for Arthur comes from those loving acts. He starts giving away his worldly possessions to the needy. He practices more patience and forgiveness for those that deserve it. It took contracting an incurable disease to do it, but its the only way God could get Arthur's attention. And in the end Arthur gives his life to save his brother and his brother's family.
And for this sacrifice, God grants him a peaceful death, overlooking God's green earth, enveloped in the dawn of God's love.