Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 tells the tragic story of Arthur Morgan’s vain attempts to sustain the livelihood of the Van Der Linde Gang. The player’s choices, whether good or bad, determine how Arthur goes about saving his friends, and the spirit animal shown at the end of his story changes to suit those decisions.
RDR2’s honor system is nothing new. The same system was implemented in the first Red Dead Redemption, but it had much less of a direct impact on the main story. Both the original and Red Dead Redemption 2 give the player different benefits based on their honor rating. Players who do good deeds receive high honor, and eventually their reputation earns them advantages such as store discounts.
However, in RDR2 the honor system is given much more emphasis, and it affects more than just the open world and extends its influence into the game’s story. One of the more obvious examples of this comes at the end of Arthur Morgan’s section of the game, with a single sequence of shots that alters depending on the player’s honor ranking. After a weak and mortally ill Arthur Morgan fails to keep the Van Der Linde Gang from splitting apart, he eventually succumbs either to his tuberculosis or a brutal, bloody fight with fellow gang member, Micah. As Arthur’s life fades away, the games shows one of two things. If the player has high honor as a result of choosing to do good actions throughout their playthrough of Red Dead Redemption 2, then they will see a peaceful buck grazing in the fields. If they have been an outlaw through and through, by way of robbing and killing, then they see a black coyote in a storm.
These are Arthur’s different “spirit animals,” and they act as a final reminder to the player, before they step back into the shoes of John Marston, that their in-game decisions have the power to influence the game’s story. The basic plot points of RDR2 may not change with each in-game decision, but the message of Arthur Morgan’s story does. Was Arthur an honest, kind optimist who failed to uphold the positive ideas that his gang was founded upon, or did he stay true to his black hat and waste his entire life in pursuit of fortune? The choice is up to the player.
Arthur’s spirit animals aren’t the only story-related element altered by the player’s honor ranking. Other cutscenes and dialog are different based on Arthur’s reputation. For instance, the way in which gang members reminisce over Arthur during John’s portion of the game changes to reflect his deeds. Additionally, entire cutscenes also change, such as Arthur’s parting conversation with either Reverend Swanson or Sister Calderón during his story’s final chapter. In the end, the animals are just one of many things in Red Dead Redemption 2 that add to Arthur Morgan’s complexity as a character.
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