The first chapter of Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of my favourite video game openings, despite technically being about 2 hours long. You join the Van der Linde gang shortly after a ferry heist goes badly wrong, and they are forced to flee to the cold north to lie low from the authorities. As one of the longtime members, Arthur Morgan, you help the gang regroup and strike an offensive against a rival gang while learning the game’s basics along the way.
From the offset, it’s a strange intro for an open-world action game like this. The player is thrust immediately into the story, and you join the gang deep into their career. It seems odd but it is an excellent way to ensure an incentive to push on, and the starting text stating how “the age of outlaws and gunslingers was at an end” describes perfectly the harsh melancholic tone of the rest of the game. It manages to throw you into an ongoing story while also beginning a new chapter for the gang you run with.
The game also establishes several of the key tenets of the rest of the experience in these opening hours, of which I was not even truly aware of until I went back to replay the start – including the character of Leviticus Cornwall and his relationship with the Indians of the Wapiti reservation. Introducing the numerous and varied members of the gang was a task in itself. The also draws you in with some of the best writing in any AAA game, which is engaging and dynamic. Arthur Morgan is an instantly likeable character and his banter with John Marston (the protagonist of the previous game) is a particular highlight. Additionally, apparently, cutscenes can play out slightly differently depending on the order you undertake these starting missions.
The few hours spent in the harsh cold introduces you to some of the most spectacular views in the game. The way snow settles on your clothes, and the way you can see your breath in the cold – it all sells this excellent environment. By the time this chapter slowly finishes and you roll into the verdant green around the small town of Valentine, and the snow gets weaker, you’ve entered, literally and environmentally, a new chapter.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. You can watch a trailer below.