Alright, perhaps asking “What went wrong?” is a little strong, as I really did get many weeks worth of play out of Red-Dead Redemption. I believe I completed about 80% or so of the game, including most of the side quests that were available at that point. So I can hardly complain about lack of game-play.
However, I never actually finished the game, and I really have no desire to either go back and finish it, or even start again from the beginning. What happened?.
I stopped a couple of missions after John Marston returns home, reunited with his wife (Abigail) and teenage boy (Jack). Even though I still had a few side missions I could do at that point, I just stopped, and never returned to it.
After thinking about this for some time, I think I may have an answer, which I’ve alluded to before.
I’d been playing steadily for a few months, with my usual “explore the world and do a mission occasionally” play-style. Because there is so much to do outside of the main story missions, I was kept happily busy doing small side-quests, helping out travellers (or taking out ambushers), working on achievements and building up my level in treasure hunting, survival, hunting, etcetera, etcetera.
However what often keeps me playing games like this are the missions, and the lure of the story. While I have a lot of fun doing all the side bits, it’s the fact that the story is still there, that issues are unresolved, and that I can continue when I like, helps keep my interest high.
The story up to the point I stopped (even with a few side twists and turns) was about John’s need to have his family back. Even if he wasn’t smart about his choices, his drive was to complete the tasks he’d been forced to do, and go back to the life he had with his wife and son. That held the game together for me, and I wanted to get to “the end” and see that happen. Eventually, anyway. There’s something about unresolved tensions that attracts me, and the end is often a relief, and a disappointment that something is over.
Of course, John was reunited with his family, and he began to work on his farm rather than being the driven man he was before. We’d reached a climax, and now the story settled down into home life. I’ve since found that there is a chunk of story left, but at this point there’s little unresolved, there’s no pointer to the future, and my interest has waned.
I’ve mentioned before that the main missions keep my interest when out collecting MacGuffins, and this game is no exception. With my interest in the main missions gone, then I don’t care about all the little bits and pieces I’ve left unfinished. I just can’t summon the energy.
What’s interesting, is that this isn’t an uncommon method of storytelling; Books and movies use if often. You get to a climax, and things appear to settle down – even to some kind of normality, perhaps, then danger strikes, and the final climax hits, before everything is resolved.
I think in this case it’s not clear that there’s a “big bad” still out there that will ruin their lifestyle, and so it feels like we’ve gone past that last climax. Also, games have many climaxes, which are often referred to as “boss fights”, and so when you’ve taken down all the “bosses” you were originally introduced to, it really does feel like the story has ended.
So that is why I’ve stopped playing Red-Dead Redemption and probably won’t go back to it. Though I return to Liberty City regularly, and San Andreas slightly less, I won’t be visiting the West again any time soon.