Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook
Welcome back to our multi-part look at Red Dead Redemption 2's missions.
As we saw in our previous article, the game's first chapter gave us an introduction to an array of mechanics tucked within brief and exciting missions.
In Chapter 2, the game's training wheels come off.
Now camped at Horseshoe Overlook, the state of New Hanover opens up before us, and we see this expansion translated into the missions as well.
The straightforward objectives of Chapter 1 give way to multi-part missions and an increased agency for the player, allowing you to decide how a mission should be tackled.
This structured openness is used to great effect. The results are almost always pleasant, and, with Chapter 2, they begin to become sublime.
Now, let us now have a look at the missions of Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook.
One more piece of upkeep for those that may be skipping the preceding articles -- our grading scale is as follows:
A: These are the missions that are as impressive as Red Dead 2's immense and nuanced world. Transcendent moments that validate video games as art.
B: Exceptional sequences, these missions create moments that leave a lasting impression.
C: *The bread-and-butter of Red Dead 2. Filled with straightforward action and character development that keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged.
D: Forgettable missions that serve just to introduce a character or mechanic without many frills.
F: Painful. The game would be better without these missions.
It's important to note that the "C" grading is not meant to imply that a mission is average compared to other games. Rather, "C" should be considered a baseline for Red Dead 2 relative to its exceptional "A's" and "B's" and its lackluster "D's" and "F's."
The primary goal of this investigation is to create a hierarchy within Red Dead 2's missions, not to provide a definitive stance on how the game stacks up against others.
Note: Mission descriptions and heavy spoilers follow.
Red Dead 2 Chapter 2: The Missions
Polite Society, Valentine Style (Uncle)
You and Uncle are headed off to Valentine, and a few of the gang's ladies want to join. It does not take long for things to go sour in town, and, soon enough, you are shanking a man in a hotel and chasing another to a cliff's edge.
The moments in this mission feel pleasantly intimate. There is a sense that these small encounters are just a tiny fraction of the activity taking place in bustling Valentine -- a feeling that is reinforced by the information the ladies seem to be gathering while they are out of your purview.
It seems as though the events transpiring around you would take place even if you were not there to witness them, and this is the heart of what is so compelling about Red Dead 2's world -- it is filled with life.
It is a treat to see this sensation translated into something discrete and compact like this first mission.
Americans at Rest (Javier)
While you are in town, why not stop by the saloon to have a drink, offend some prostitutes, and get in a barroom brawl?
This mission climaxes with Red Dead Redemption 2's first transcendent moment: an absolutely stunning fist fight in the rain.
The brutality of pummeling a man into the mud is visceral on a level beyond the ultra-violence of the preceding gunfights, and this mission shows off just how much style the game has.
Exit Pursued by a Bruised Ego (Hosea)
I would have been much happier if this mission served as the game's hunting tutorial (rather than Chapter 1's "The Aftermath of Genesis").
Beyond the mechanics of hunting (stealth, tracking, and skinning), this mission teaches you about legendary animals, baiting, and stables, and it is a welcome opportunity to learn more about Hosea.
To note, the grizzly execution of the bear takes place immediately following the conclusion of the mission, but I am including its dispatch in my grading.
Money Lending and Other Sins I-III (Leopold)
There are some outstanding debts to the gang, and Herr Strauss wants you to collect.
While the debtors' stories are adequately compelling, the most exciting aspect of this mission is its showcase of Red Dead 2's responsive and limitless world.
With one pour soul, I decided his fate was to be hogtied and left on a train track. With another, a bystander caught me giving him the rundown, and I had to apprehend the witness before he reported my crimes.
The way your actions snowball is one of my favorite aspects of Red Dead 2, and this mission gave me my first taste.
Paying a Social Call (Kieran)
In an earlier mission, your posse takes an O'Driscoll named Kieran prisoner, and now it is time for him to spill the beans (or lose his own) on where the rest of his gang is camped out.
The following gunfight is standard fare, and this mission primarily serves to validate that Kieran is indeed trustworthy prior to accepting him into the gang.
A Quiet Time (Dutch)
Lenny, one of the gang's youngest, is rattled after seeing Micah get arrested, and Dutch sends you to Valentine to get him drunk and steel his unquieted nerves.
What follows is a very special mission that includes controlling a urinating Arthur, having a slap fight with Lenny, and nearly drowning a man.
The absolute highlight of this bizarre mission is when you wake up after the night of debauchery. In a moment that smacks of Dude, Where's My Car?, you realize just how far you are from Valentine and your trusty steed.
Time to perform some grand theft carriage and get her back, I suppose?
Who Is Not Without Sin? (Reverend Swanson)
Reverend Swanson is a man haunted by alcoholism, and you find him drunkenly falling out of his chair at a poker game.
Arthur did not seem overly alarmed by Swanson's state, as he found this to be a suitable time to sit down for a few hands of hold'em, so I was not in any rush myself.
It is easy to get lost in Red Dead 2's mini-games (poker, dominoes, fishing, etc.). They have a slow and deliberate pacing perfectly aligned with the cadence of trotting through the game's immense prairies, and I spent a good hour trading chips before I thought it necessary to go after my inebriated compatriot.
Maybe I should have never left the comfort of that poker table, because, soon enough, I had to kill a man assailing Swanson and jump from the path of an oncoming train.
Some men just cannot stay out of trouble.
Blessed Are the Meek (Micah)
Arthur does not seem to do much unless he does it begrudgingly, and it is no different now that he needs to bust Micah out of Strawberry's prison.
The severity of Red Dead 2's wanted system makes committing any criminal act in densely populated areas a scary proposition, and this mission's complete disregard for discretion is exhilarating.
After demolishing a prison wall and shooting up a town full of lawmen, the game forces you, for the first time, to deal with having a high bounty on your head.
How you want to handle this debt is your choice alone, but more theft and murder seemed like the most reasonable approach to me.
The Spines of America (Hosea)
In an attempt to prove to a fence named Sheamus that your gang is worth its salt, you and Hosea are off to his cousin's farmstead to liberate a stolen stagecoach and some items from his home.
Plainly, this mission serves to introduce fences, and its execution is uninspired and unexciting.
In the end, there is a brief mention of the talismans and trinkets that fences can provide, and I wish that these items had been the focal point of this introduction.
The mystical nature of these good luck charms would have been an excellent chance to showcase some of the more bizarre happenings bubbling under the game's surface, and an emphasis on this aspect would have elevated the fence beyond being a cash machine for stolen goods.
The First Shall Be Last (Javier)
Since the gang's failed heist in Blackwater, which immediately precedes the opening of Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the members (Sean) has been under arrest.
Unsurprisingly, Arthur does not seem too fond of Sean, but he is still willing to help Javier and Charles perform a rescue before he is transferred to government officials and lost for good.
What follows is the game's first phenomenal gunfight, and I tasted the most classic of Leone's Westerns as I charged up that canyon, executing bounty hunters as a stellar score swelled behind me.
This is pure and effective cinema.
We Loved Once And True II - III (Mary)
It seems that there is someone Arthur cares for, or, at least, there was.
After receiving a letter from Mary, a former lover, you are set on a journey to retrieve her brother Jamie from a religious order he has fallen in with.
Following a horseback chase and invoking some fancy gunslinging to save Jamie's life, we get a peak at Arthur's softer side -- a welcome relief after so many missions headlined by his testosterone-driven callousness.
Also, bonus points to the mission for the weird turtle patches on the robes of the Chelonians.
Pouring Forth Oil I - IV (John)
John finally has an idea Arthur is impressed by: use a wagon loaded with explosives to stop a train, and then rob it.
The first part of this mission sends you out for the oil wagon. Perhaps there are more subtle ways to approach this section, but, as I walked up to say a friendly "hello" to the men of the Heartland Oil Fields, I found myself in a frenetic gunfight.
My complete lack of preparation made this quite an intense battle, but my crossed fingers served their purpose, and I absconded with a wagon that the enemy gunfire did not detonate.
The finale sees Arthur, John, Charles, and Sean performing the train robbery and having a shootout with lawmen.
This is most notable for its formal introduction of a player's ability to rob any of Red Dead 2's trains whenever they choose, an inclusion so perfect for an open-world Western that I suppose Rockstar had no other choice then to implement it.
A Fisher of Men (Abigail)
While John may have good ideas about train robbery, his parental skills are lacking, and his wife (Abigail) wants you to take out their boy (Jack) for some male bonding and fishing.
Red Dead 2's fishing finds a nice balance between relaxation and active participation, but, unfortunately, your little trip goes south when Pinkertons show up on the banks to let you know that they are on to you and Dutch.
A small aside to mention that, while I am continually impressed by the performances captured in the game, Jack's voice acting here is a disappointing exception.
The Sheep and the Goats (John)
This mission has me torn.
It begins with animal herding, a mechanic I could have left back in 2006's The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess.
However, the close of the mission, a heated showdown in the heart of Valentine, is stellar.
As my gang and I pushed a wagon through the city streets, and laid waste to Cornwall's men, I had flashbacks to one of my favorite sequences from the exceptional The Last of Us.
There is no harm in riffing on old ideas when executed as well as Rockstar has done here, and it is what saves this mission from mediocrity.
An American Pastoral Scene (Micah)
Now it is Micah's turn for big ideas: steal a banking coach headed in to Strawberry.
While the robbery goes off without a hitch, you find yourself in yet another shootout with the O'Driscolls.
At this point, these sort of middling action sequences with light character development are beginning to feel like Red Dead 2's filler.
If the primary goal of this mission is to give you a bit of disposable income, why not relegate it to the level of the optional home robberies you can activate from camp rather than making it a mandatory story mission?
A Strange Kindess (Dutch)
And, once again, it is time for the gang to move.
This time, you are in on the scouting, which ultimately leads to a brief combat encounter as you rescue a captive German.
This mission does a nice, subtle job of expanding the game world. The West is not just the born-and-bred American cowboy and the displaced Native American, and the game often reminds you of the diversity present in the late-19th century United States.
The result is something that feels more real.
Chapter 2 Summary
As you roam the world, there is often the sense that everything you do matters. Bump into a pedestrian, get charged with assault. Save someone with a snake-bite, get a free item at the general store.
If the missions are going to match this impressive feat, it is important that your actions within them feel similarly consequential (in ways that are subtler than just advancing the story).
With Chapter 2, the game sets an outstanding precedent (with a few slight missteps) for giving players meaningful choices within the parameters that are necessary to keep the narrative moving.
Be a noble criminal or a mean son-of-a-bitch. A master of stealth or a gunslinger. The choice is yours.
With missions like "Americans at Rest" and "The First Shall Be Last" we find transcendent violence that rivals the greatest moments of Western cinema. And "A Quiet Time" offers an experience that only video games, and no other format, can provide.
Let us hope that Red Dead 2 will stay on this path as we look at Chapter 3: Clemens Point soon.
If you want to know what we think of Red Dead 2 as a whole, be sure to check out our Red Dead Redemption 2 review. If you're looking for tips and tricks for the Wild West epic, be sure head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page.
And if you would like to see more of our Red Dead 2 mission gradings, those that are currently available can be found at these links: