Of the people that have played Red Dead Redemption 2 on PlayStation 4, just 40 percent have completed Chapter 3. A month after the game’s release, most PS4 players haven’t passed the game’s midpoint. The game offers plenty of alternate activities to keep people busy. But something else may be stalling players from completing Arthur’s story: the unrewarding power curve.
A “power curve,” in the context of gaming, refers to a feeling of progression, and it’s particularly common in open-world games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for example, starts you with three hearts and a bathing suit. You’re weak, capable of being killed in one-shot by a random bokoblin. By the end of the game you’ve got gobs of hearts and enough armor to fill a scrap heap.
That slow progression into becoming an all-powerful Ganon-killer motivates you to constantly seek out new temples and dungeons. Exploration and new experiences are rewarded with an ever-stronger character. The Elder Scrolls, Fallout and Assassin’s Creed series all follow this general model.
Rockstar’s other open-world series, Grand Theft Auto, has a strong power curve. When you start Grand Theft Auto 5, none of the main characters have much in the way of equipment or abilities. After a few dozen hours, though they’re able to call in tanks and harrier jets and various other outrageous implements of destruction.
Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t hindered by its lack of jetpacks and rocket launchers. But Arthur’s lack of progression (and in some ways, regression) over the course of dozens of hours means fewer carrots can be dangled before the player to encourage them to complete story missions.
How the game motivates you
There are four different progression hooks in Red Dead Redemption 2: cores, weapons, horses and your camp.
Cores progress by getting kills and sprinting around the map, whether you play the story or not. They never feel like a meaningful source of progression, as being able to sprint for 10 percent longer or take one extra hit is far from empowering.
Weapons could have offered a more exciting solution to the power curve problem, but none of the guns you unlock after the second chapter feel markedly different from the ones you started the game with. Unlocking a pistol that has a slightly longer range than your last pistol is underwhelming.
Horses also offer a potential avenue for progression, but the difference between a mid-range horse and an elite horse is negligible. Also, you can access one of the best horses in the game, for free, in the first few hours of gameplay, which removes this sense of progression from the equation entirely.
The biggest investment in the game, your camp, has some decent upgrades (notably a fast-travel system), but those also peter out about halfway through the story. The best available satchel is the most challenging camp upgrade and it gives you, somewhat comically, the ability to carry 99 cans of beans.
The story missions begin to feel like homework without meaningful progression. It’s especially brutal given the tone of these missions, which is consistently dark and depressing. The sole motivating factor becomes seeing how this horror show ends.
To the game’s credit, the writing and performances are compelling from scene to scene, but even those upsides aren’t enough to motivate a playthrough of a story that can take 60-plus hours to complete and requires a lot of joyless and repetitive trotting on the same paths. Side missions offer a respite, with their hour-long story arcs and lighter tone, even if you quickly accept that the rewards for completing them are, effectively, the missions themselves.
The game rarely gives Arthur new tools, limiting even the best side missions to a handful of similar tasks framed in slightly different way: collect a debt, play a parlor game, ride a cart from A to B, do some cover-based shooting and then scamper away before the law shows up. Little else keeps these missions fresh beyond the cutscenes and dialogue.
The counter argument to all of this is that Rockstar wasn’t trying to make a power fantasy. It was just trying to make a realistic adventure game set in an open world, and constantly earning new rewards runs counter to that. Which would make sense if there were simply no rewards. But there are a ton of them, from weapons to treasures to horses to cores. They are just rarely meaningful rewards.
What about Red Dead Online?
And Rockstar has another problem: Red Dead Online. Grand Theft Auto Online launched five years ago and has maintained an audience by constantly giving players something to work toward, be it ownership of a military base or a jet-powered hovercar.
A day after launch, Red Dead Online is intent on maintaining the tone of Red Dead Redemption 2. I’m not sure how many players will grind for dozens of hours for a different shade of horse. After six hours of gameplay, I already had 90 percent of the tools in my tool kit, with little desire to drop hundreds of dollars of hard-earned currency on a slightly different repeater.
Long term, Red Dead Online may require a major tonal shift, akin to the original Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare expansion, which opened up the potential for progression with mystical beasts and weapons.
Rockstar created a visually realistic digital world with Red Dead Redemption 2. But the lack of fun new toys to play with, perhaps as a nod to that realism, is one of the main things that may keep people from seeing the story that Rockstar seems to treasure so dearly.
There’s an irony to that, I suppose: Players won’t see the conclusion of a story about how power corrupts because they’re not given the power fantasy they expect.
- Red Dead Online’s
- Red Dead Online's
- Red Lights on Xbox 360 - 3 Common Problems and Simple, Effective Tips on How to Fix Them
- Xbox 360 Flashes Four Red Lights - How Can I Fix This Problem?
- Power and Problems With Advertising - Anti-McCain Campaign Ads Do a Disservice to Seniors
- Lotus Elan + 2S
- Xbox 360 Red Power Ring Errors - Can the Xbox 360 Red Circle Be Fixed?
- Xbox 360 Red Light Error and Red Rings of Death Permanent Fix
- The Deadly Effects Lack of Sleep Can Have on Your Life
- Xbox 360 Red Light Fix - Red Rings of Death Error Permanent Fix