Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 4: Saint Denis
Over Red Dead Redemption 2's first three chapters, we have seen some notable trends begin to emerge.
One is that straightforward action sequences with minimal plot development have solidly established themselves as the game's subpar filler. This is not to suggest that these missions are purposeless or even bad, just that they do not offer the gameplay innovations or narrative intrigue we see in the rest of the game's missions.
Another is that Dutch and his boys are not your typical genius criminals that are thriving in a world created for them. The are flawed, often ignorant, men that fail more than they succeed, and their way of life is coming to an end quickly.
And finally, as we get further and further from the game's tutorials, the chapters become increasingly focused, functioning more as self-contained narrative arcs riffing on classic Western mythos than the free-form structure of the first chapters.
Do these trends continue in this next chapter? And how does Rockstar embellish and vary the gameplay they have established thus far?
Let us find out as we look at Chapter 4: Saint Denis.
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 4: The Missions
The Joys of Civilization (Bronte)
Chapter 3 closes with Red Dead 2's introduction of Saint Denis, and, with the first mission of Chapter 4, Rockstar writes a love letter to it.
The gang is on the trail of Angelo Bronte, Saint Denis' crime lord, believing that he is currently in possession of Jack. Tracking him down sets you on a foot chase through the city's streets and alleys.
Saint Denis really is quite exquisite, bustling with life and activity. As a result, a mission that guarantees players will visit its nooks and crannies feels worthwhile.
The conclusion also provides a nice bit of world building, as a gang of children (apparently working for Bronte) is a sufficiently dark underbelly to the modernized city. If the outlaw lifestyle truly ends with you and your crew, what future do these pint-sized desperadoes have?
Angelo Bronte, Man of Honor (Dutch)
With the location of Bronte's estate in hand, it is time to pay him a visit and get Jack back.
Here is a modern criminal, conducting business in a modern city. His criminality extends beyond anything your gang could dream of. While you are trying to con your way into leads for small scores, he sits back and collects his riches from other streams -- yet another indication of just how outmoded your lifestyle is becoming.
Fortunately for you, one of these revenue streams appears to be blocked, and Bronte is willing to return Jack if you correct that for him.
What follows is a serviceable action sequence in a unique setting (Saint Denis' graveyard), and Bronte is true to his word. Again, Jack's voice acting leaves something to be desired, though I did enjoy his espousal of the virtues of spaghetti to his father.
I was also pleased to see a tender moment between John and Arthur at the mission's conclusion. As I have mentioned previously, the hyper-masculine ribbing between the gang's members often obscures the heart of their relationship (that they truly are brothers-in-arms), and it is nice to see that shine through on occasion.
No, No and Thrice, No (Mary Beth)
This mission primarily serves to give Tilly, one of the gang's members, a backstory, sending you to rescue her from a past acquaintance that has taken her captive.
While I appreciate Red Dead Redemption 2's commitment to breathing life into everyone in the crew, it feels as though characters that are going to have main story missions centered around them should be sufficiently established at this point.
An elaborated side mission for each of the supporting players seems like a wonderful way to round out these secondary characters, and it feels like this mission would fit perfectly as this type of non-essential mission.
The mission does let you decide if you will execute Tilly's captor or let him live. However, this type of decision no longer feels particularly exciting, considering you have this choice with nearly every NPC in the game.
The Gilded Cage (Hosea)
With this mission, I was transported back to accompanying Triss Merigold to the masquerade ball in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a wonderfully bizarre tonal shift amidst slaying werewolves and confronting witches.
While this mission is not as enjoyable as The Witcher 3's party, I appreciate Red Dead 2's willingness to continually shift its mood and style. Dressing up and attending a soiree at the mansion of the Saint Denis mayor definitely stands out amidst the grizzly violence that comprises a majority of the game's missions, and the estate itself offers yet another beautiful set piece to explore.
Additionally, the mission's ability to so tactfully introduce a number of characters and concepts, which will become relevant in later missions, is a testament to the quality of Red Dead 2's writing.
A Night of Debauchery (Trelawny)
As has been the case in the preceding chapters, Red Dead 2 loves to put you in the middle of established outlaw narratives, and here I was injected straight into the veins of Maverick.
Acting is a tactic we see characters use again and again as they navigate their ways in and out of the game's stickiest situations, and finally, it is Arthur's turn to perform, conning his way through a high-stakes riverboat poker game.
My primary gripe with this mission is the lack of play to the poker game itself. It took only two hands to bust Desmond Blythe, and the absence of any back-and-forth really deflates the intensity that this segment could build.
Also, why in the world is Strauss advising me to do anything but fold when Blythe is holding two Aces? While you get a nice little sweat, and ultimately win, with your pocket Kings, the only world where this is correct is the one where Strauss knows exactly what is coming off the top of the deck, and I do not believe that is supposed to be the case here.
Poker rant aside, the mission is excellent, including the shootout that lets you make your escape from the riverboat, though I was quite concerned that my fancy new pocket watch was going to be destroyed as I jumped into the water below.
American Father II (Eagle Flies)
Leviticus Cornwall has been relatively absent, aside from a brief mention of him at the mayor's party, but the tycoon has been making moves to further uproot the Natives.
Before he has a chance to do any more damage, Arthur is enlisted to infiltrate the Cornwall Oil Fields and steal a document that confirms there is oil under Native land.
While there is a bit of stealth and an explosion to provide some character, I have begun to grow weary of these straightforward action missions that offer little in advancing the plot. There is certainly a point to this mission, primarily solidifying both Cornwall and Arthur's relationship to the Natives, but I wish it gave just a bit more in the way of narrative progress or gameplay innovation.
Horseman, Apocalypse (Sadie)
This is the Sadie Adler show, and she continues to be remarkable.
For the first time, the gang's camp is under direct assault (by the O'Driscolls, who, like Cornwall, have been quiet of late). This adds an exciting dynamic that has not been tapped by the preceding missions, playing defense rather than offense.
Beyond this slight tweak, the mission shines because Sadie does. After seeing her knife several O'Driscolls, I followed, mouth agape, as she executed many more.
Additionally, this mission is the first time we see one of our own killed, and while I had not spent much time thinking about Kieran since Chapter 2's "Paying a Social Call," his death certainly indicates that the game's stakes have been raised.
On a note clearly unrelated to anything mentioned above, why does Red Dead 2 not feature a romance option? While the game's beginnings are nearly overwhelming in their unique approach to openness and realism, the minor chinks in the armor begin to show by this point.
There is so much care put into so many small aspects of the game that it is easy to become immersed. However, when this standard is not maintained, it feels even more present by way of contrast.
Fundamentally, I wish there was a Red Dead 2 experience that was both more demanding and provided more in the way of NPC interaction (beyond deciding if you will say "hello" or shoot them). Perhaps we will see a "survival" difficulty added to the game in the future to provide a more challenging, and more real, way to play this wonderful game.
Urban Pleasures (Dutch)
While we enter Red Dead 2 at a moment when the gang is facing a more than a minor change-of-plans, the series of misfortunes that has befallen them since has Dutch talking about a move to Tahiti. Sound like a desperate ploy to anyone else?
As always, the one thing standing in our way is money, and Dutch has decided to followup on robbing the Saint Denis railway station to rectify this, a tip that was passed along by Bronte himself.
Again we believe we are on the level of an outsider, and again we are made fools -- the station is empty and the law is hot on our heels. For a group of individuals that believe so strongly that they are above modernization, the gang sure does look like backwater yokels often.
Now that Red Dead 2 has more than sufficiently established gunplay on foot, wagon, and horse across a multitude of settings, I was very happy to see Rockstar begin to play with some new elements in this mission. Specifically, that is executing lawmen in the streets of Saint Denis while you ride aboard a hi-jacked trolley.
Here is hoping that these small vehicular flourishes begin to show up in more of these baseline action missions.
Country Pursuits (Dutch)
We have another major tonal shift with this mission, and one that is very different than we saw in "The Gilded Cage" -- this mission is a straight-up horror creature feature.
Despite the continual refrain that revenge is a fool's errand, Dutch continues to unravel and wants to punish Bronte for the railway station setup, planning to use a boat to enter his estate in shadow.
While I expected to board a boat and be on our merry way to the slaughter, this mission sends you on a delightful detour, helping a boatman check his animal traps and locate his son.
The foggy swamp is a wonderful setting for a bit of campy horror, and, soon enough, you are rescuing the boy from the jaws of a gigantic gator and applying pressure to stop his bleeding.
I love the often bizarre moments when Red Dead 2 decides to give you control of actions that many games would pre-script - pouring a drink at a bar, for example - and was happy to be administering the bandage to the injured child myself.
Revenge is a Dish Best Eaten (Dutch)
With the traps cleared and the child (presumably) recovering, the boatman is now free to help with the siege on Bronte's mansion.
As with Chapter 3's "Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern," a giant estate acts as backdrop for a massive gun battle, and I continue to find this setup extremely fun and exciting.
Additionally, your exit features a nice little gameplay variation we have not yet seen where carrying Bronte on your shoulder relegates you to using just your pistol as you blast your way out. A small touch, but I appreciate Rockstar's attempt to keep each mission feeling distinct, especially considering the sheer volume of them.
The mission concludes with a critical turning point in the narrative where Dutch, fully unhinged, drowns Bronte. The doubt Arthur may have been feeling about Dutch's leadership appears to transform into disgust, and I continue to applaud the game's writing.
It is so common for games to position their central characters as unimpeachable saviors of the worlds they exist within, and it is, at times, hard not to roll one's eyes as every NPC you encounter pats you on the back for your accomplishments. Red Dead 2 offers the counter (men whose ignorance continually leads to failure and horrifying events), and it is a welcome relief.
Banking, the Old American Art (Dutch)
Chapter 4 closes with an absolutely monumental mission.
The preliminary setup (a bank robbery scaled-up to Saint Denis-size) is already exciting, but the degree to which the gang's attempt fails takes this mission further. The unceremonious murder of Hosea and Lenny, two of the game's most likable characters, is powerful and effective -- proof of just how well rendered they are.
Separately, as I shot Pinkertons from the bank's windows, I was struck by how much the gunfighting in this mission transported me to a carnival shooting gallery. My position remained fixed as my targets bobbed and weaved, and while I do not believe this is an intentional reference, rooting the gunplay in a tradition that emerged in the period that Red Dead 2 is set is a nice little detail.
From there, the mission took a new spin on the escape, sending me up (rather than out) and eventually on to a boat that promised to leave everything I had learned about the world of Red Dead 2 behind.
Of course, nothing ever goes as planned for the gang, and the complete uncertainty of what is to come next makes this the most striking and exciting chapter conclusion thus far.
Chapter 4 Summary
There are a couple of missteps in Chapter 4, missions that ultimately feel like they would be better served as supplemental content and not essential story missions. However, the chapter has a lot to be enamored with as well.
Saint Denis is the richest and most exciting civilization we have encountered, and some tonal variation keeps the game feeling dynamic.
While there are fewer A-grade missions than preceding chapters, "Banking, the Old American Art" rivals the best the game has to offer, and there are slight gameplay flourishes to enjoy throughout.
While I have been extremely satisfied with what Red Dead 2 has offered thus far, the knowledge that Chapter 5 is prepped to provide something completely different has me excited. I cannot wait to dive in.
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:
Chapter 1: Colter
Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook
Chapter 3: Clemens Point