[Warning: Complete Spoilers Ahead]
I never played Red Dead Redemption and I’ve never had the attachment to John Marston that other people have had. And while I wasn’t completely disappointed to end up playing as John Marston during the epilogue, it did make me somewhat sad.
I knew Arthur’s fate almost from the beginning. I didn’t know the details of course, but I knew he either had to die or leave the gang, and leaving just didn’t seem like something Arthur would do. Rockstar isn’t a developer that likes twists. Surprises aren’t their forte, so, apart from the tuberculosis diagnosis, most of the Red Dead 2 storyline is pretty straight forward. Who didn’t see Micah Bell as the rat that he is from the beginning?
Where Rockstar shines is in their ability to write believable and charismatic characters. Both Arthur Morgan and John Marston have their fair share of character development throughout Red Dead 2. Much to the dismay of many Marston fanboys, John wasn’t always a family man and all round good guy. And Arthur, who begins as a blank slate, quickly develops into, in my opinion, one of Rockstar’s best characters.
I played as Arthur Morgan for 50+ hours and came to love his character. I watched as he changed from a loyal, albeit outspoken, enforcer for Dutch, to a more compassionate and wiser man. I was floored at his death, even if I saw it coming. No doubt, taking over as John Marston, after Arthur went to great lengths to help him escape, was supposed to be a hopeful thing. During the epilogue you follow Marston as he tries to better himself, and put his old world behind him. He becomes a ranch hand in an attempt to do honest work, but even then he struggles with that. In an attempt to stop Abigail from leaving him, he buys a ranch of his own by taking out a loan, something old Marston would have never done.
I tried to play the epilogue slow. I had rushed the end of the story out of a desire to see it through, and now I felt I had made a mistake doing that. After building up his ranch, I travelled with Marston a bit, as I had with Arthur. The intention was to finish the side missions I had left undone as a sort of tribute to Arthur. But the whole thing just made me sad. Marston just isn’t as good as Arthur. His character isn’t quite as witty or charismatic. Even in the journal, Marston doesn’t draw as well as Arthur. And Marston has a distinct style. I tried to smarten John up. Dress him sort of like how I did Arthur, but the game seemed to go to great lengths to force him back into his iconic outfit.
Every time I did anything in the world with Marston, I was reminded that I could have done it better with Arthur. Every time Marston scribbled in Arthur’s journal I thought, I wish I did this with Arthur. I discovered the fallen meteorite as Marston, and was bummed that I hadn’t gone that way with Arthur. So I ended up pushing through to the finish, as I had during the end of the main story, leaving all the extra missions undone. It’s kind of fitting I think. Often when we die we leave things undone, it’s inevitable. Maybe it’s better than John gets on with his own life in the end, instead of trying to finish someone else’s.