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Red Dead Redemption II lacks player agency during its story missions

Oct 28, 2017
1,868
#1
I feel this point has been completely ignored by most major review sites. For a game meant to be open-world, this is rather curious.
RDRII only truly embraces open-world design thanks to its numerous side-activities like hunting and fishing, not dissimilar to something like Minecraft.
On the other hand, the story missions are painfully linear and scripted, as if open-world mission design hadn't evolved since 2008.
As pointed out in a must read post from Mark Brown (Game Maker's Toolkit), the core mission design of RDRII is staggeringly dated.
He said:
Like most Rockstar games, these missions are extremely restrictive in what you’re allowed to do. The game constantly tells you what to do, with a pop up command at the bottom of the screen, and if you don’t follow this script to the letter you’ll be hit with a “Failed” screen.
I’ve failed missions for trying to flank around the bad guys - that’s counted as leaving my crew behind. I’ve failed for trying to take enemies out using stealth, instead of loud gunfire. I’ve failed for trying to solve problems in creative ways. I’ve failed because I broke the law - never mind that I’m playing as an outlaw, and the game has a whole police response system built in.
The missions can also remove mechanics arbitrarily. In one, I wasn’t allowed to take my gun off my horse. In another, I wasn’t allowed to whistle for my horse so I had to chase on foot.
https://www.patreon.com/posts/thoughts-on-red-22570692

Player agency and story-telling isn't incompatible. The game didn't need to be this rigid.
For all RDRII's "realism", this lack of player agency completely kills the immersion and believability of the world.
 
Oct 27, 2017
1,635
#4
Yeah, I just finished chapter 3 last night and I've gotten somewhat demotivated to keep playing because of the mission design. Like, when I have a prompt to, say, break into a room to rescue someone... I have to interact with a specific object designated by those tutorial prompts 30 hours in and it's like... eh. The game doesn't create any dynamic scenarios in the gameplay.

Yes, the way you interact with NPCs and the way the story progresses in the camp outside of cutscenes is truly next-gen (or at least getting there and showing the potential) but the gameplay and mission design is definitely a generation behind.
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,940
#8
Yeah, the mission structure is super rigid and the rules as to what you can or can't do extremely strict. Unlike anything I've seen in the open world genre actually. The PS2 GTAs were nothing like this.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,027
Portland, OR
#9
Yeah, the game really doesn't encourage creativity or problem solving. In one mission, I'm tasked with subduing some people without killing them. OK, fine, I'll equip my lasso. Nope, the game wants me to have a scripted fist fight. It makes it more jarring when the game gives you any freedom at all because you're expecting prompts for every action and when they don't come it makes you think you've broken things. When you engage with the game on the level of "just tell me what to do," it makes everything work better, but it does take away any engagement from a "now how will I accomplish this" angle.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,064
Phoenix
#13
It's a linear story that lets you explore its world and do side missions. It's not pretending to be anything different, and everyone knows exactly what they are getting themselves into. If you don't like that type of game, I suggest you just move on.

IMO, it's suppose to be an interactive movie.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,021
#16
The open world games with the most player agency (Fallout 4, MGSV, Far Cry, etc.) all have horrible story telling. So yeah, the story missions in RDR2 and GTAV are linear. But it’s definitely worth it
 
OP
OP
Phabh
Oct 28, 2017
1,868
#18
Yeah, we know, its a linear story.

What's glaringly lacking from your OP is example of games offering "player agency" and amazing storytelling.
The Last Of Us is an example and could be applied here. Take for instance the hotel part of that game and apply it to RDR2. Linear-wide mission design. Arbitraty failed states in 2018 in a game of this caliber is a big disappointment.
 

DeeDogg

Banned
Member
Oct 29, 2017
4,509
Florida
#19
That’s what I hate most about this game and GTAV. and it’s so backwards from the older GTA games that let you approach pretty much any mission any way you pleased
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,870
#20
I just never expect it from them. I know they want their thing to go a certain way when they are doing campaign missions. It sucks. Luckily the open world is what it is.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,489
#21
It wouldn't be mentioned in reviews because it's not really news, Rockstar Games have always been this way as far as mission design goes, all the way back to at least GTA 3, and even prior.

They offer a lot of open-world sandboxes to play in, with immaculate detail and immersive dialogue, acting, animation and other things, but they've never offered a ton of player agency in missions. It's always been extremely linear and directed.

Personally I don't mind it because it tells a well-crafted story and I enjoy games that have more scripted moments rather than ones that are generally emergent in story missions that leave you just feeling kind of indifferent to completing one; for example clearing out a camp in Far Cry and completing a mission in Far Cry can often feel the exact same.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,770
#22
The open world games with the most played agency (Fallout 4, MGSV, Far Cry, etc.) all have horrible story telling. So yeah, the story missions in RDR2 and GTAV are linear. But it’s definitely worth it
Witcher 3 quests could be approached in several ways without failing
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,492
#23
Yeah, I just finished chapter 3 last night and I've gotten somewhat demotivated to keep playing because of the mission design. Like, when I have a prompt to, say, break into a room to rescue someone... I have to interact with a specific object designated by those tutorial prompts 30 hours in and it's like... eh. The game doesn't create any dynamic scenarios in the gameplay.

Yes, the way you interact with NPCs and the way the story progresses in the camp outside of cutscenes is truly next-gen (or at least getting there and showing the potential) but the gameplay and mission design is definitely a generation behind.
I'm the same way. I'm on chapter three and struggling to keep motivated enough to continue playing. When all the systems coalesce in the open world the atmosphere and sense of immersion is incredible. But the story missions are so rigid that even attempting to deviate from the script borderline breaks the game. It reminds me of the way Battlefield 3's campaign felt back in the day. It's a shame Rockstar wasn't able to marry all these complex's systems into the narrative missions.

I've put RDR2 on the back burner to play Hitman 2 instead. I'll maybe jump back in when the online component is out.
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,587
Belgium
#24
Wasnt always that way, you had some freedom in the GTA3 line of games that let you finish missions in different ways.
Like what? All I remember from those days is having to restart missions from the start because I fucked up one little detail or timing.

Also, there is some agency in some of the missions in RDR2. Not huge amounts, and not in all of them, but like people are saying, that's not what this game seeks to be.

The Last Of Us is an example and could be applied here. Take for instance the hotel part of that game and apply it to RDR2. Linear-wide mission design. Arbitraty failed states in 2018 in a game of this caliber is a big disappointment.
TLOU is SUPER linear and gives players agency by funneling them from arena to arena. This exists in RDR2 too. You can tackle certain encounter in different ways too, in exactly the same way TLOU did.
 
Oct 27, 2017
559
#25
Since GTA V I've accepted that story missions in Rockstar games are kinda just heavily scripted setpieces.

I know the earlier GTA games were pretty lenient with how you completed them, but what was GTA IV like? Haven't played that in ages.
 
OP
OP
Phabh
Oct 28, 2017
1,868
#26
It wouldn't be mentioned in reviews because it's not really news, Rockstar Games have always been this way as far as mission design goes, all the way back to at least GTA 3.

They offer a lot of open-world sandboxes to play in, with immaculate detail and immersive dialogue, acting, animation and other things, but they've never offered a ton of player agency in missions. It's always been extremely linear and directed.

Personally I don't mind it because it tells a well-crafted story and I enjoy games that have more scripted moments rather than ones that are generally emergent in story missions that leave you just feeling kind of indifferent to completing one; for example clearing out a camp in Far Cry and completing a mission in Far Cry can often feel the exact same.
GTAIII had a lot more player agency so it definitely hasn't always been the case with Rockstar games.
 
Oct 27, 2017
1,388
#28
Like what? All I remember from those days is having to restart missions from the start because I fucked up one little detail or timing.

Also, there is some agency in some of the missions in RDR2. Not huge amounts, and not in all of them, but like people are saying, that's not what this game seeks to be.
It wasnt like, story changing or anything, it was more like, you could set up a road block and make them go off the road and into the water or, have some freedom to take out the cars youre following or whatever. They werent scripted to the road like GTAIV and on had them in most missions.
 
Feb 2, 2018
2,555
#29
Linear missions are better than open-ended ones.

Every time a game tries to go open ended in level design they wind up making it basic as hell to accommodate play styles.
 
Oct 27, 2017
3,587
Australia
#30
Yeah there's a lot of weird stuff with the mission structure, which is more evident due to how detailed and engrossing the game is otherwise.

Like you can see somebody is in trouble, it's painfully obvious as they are telling you they're captured. You can't go to the Sheriff the next building over though, there's no option to, you have to break in and free them.
Also, this is not related to missions but I have to vent anyway, I saved somebody from a surprise (unscripted) Grizzly attack last night. Whipped out my rifle and took it down in one shot! Perfect pelt! Fuck I have a bounty for disturbing the peace... oh shit they're shooting at me! My pelt :(
 
Oct 27, 2017
3,297
#31
Good example would be AC: Odyssey. At least that offers you multiple ways to approach a mission as opposed to hitting fail states because you deviated off the linear path in RDR2.
 
Oct 28, 2017
542
#32
Why does every moment have to have agency? Why can't the vast majority of game-world time be about agency, with a critical path that embraces linear story-telling? I know that when I'm forced into situations where I don't want Arthur to be, or actions I don't want him to take, I feel real character development happening because the character I crafted in the open world is at the mercy of circumstance and pressure - which is what happens to actual people and a huge number of celebrated characters in literature and film.

I think that's the broader point of this game: It's not always about you. You're not going to save the day. It rejects the narcissism inherent in most other games, which rely almost exclusively on power fantasy and the hero's tale.

This isn't that. It's something altogether different. And it's brilliant. Who cares?
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,587
Belgium
#33
Good example would be AC: Odyssey. At least that offers you multiple ways to approach a mission as opposed to hitting fail states because you deviated off the linear path in RDR2.
And RDR2's story takes a big 'ol dump from on high on that of AC:O's.
It wasnt like, story changing or anything, it was more like, you could set up a road block and make them go off the road and into the water or, have some freedom to take out the cars youre following or whatever. They werent scripted to the road like GTAIV and on had them in most missions.
That level of agency exists too. Maybe not that specifically, but you can tackle encounters differently based on the tools your given.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,770
#34
Since GTA V I've accepted that story missions in Rockstar games are kinda just heavily scripted setpieces.

I know the earlier GTA games were pretty lenient with how you completed them, but what was GTA IV like? Haven't played that in ages.
Gta4 is where this crap started. Every single chase mission had scripted events happen in front of you to make them more difficult
 
#35
I don't think this is necessarily a problem. "Player agency" is not a universal value all games need to adhere to.

That said, there was an instance when I did feel betrayed by Arthur's decision. A woman in the camp was trying to confess something to him, and he blew her off to go on a dumb and not urgent mission that I certainly didn't feel like going on. I wanted to stay and see what she was talking about. There are negative consequences for his choice, but I would have liked to have made a choice there myself.
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,827
'straya
#37
This was my big issue with Rockstar's previous games but the writing is so much better in RDR2 that I don't mind it as much. Not saying they shouldn't have player agency, every game should, but it's not killing my enjoyment and immersion.
 
Oct 27, 2017
10,107
#38
There are times during story missions where my control of the movement is almost taken away from me during the most simplest sequences. The act of simply walking behind another character and following them as we talk, does my movement feel like it's locked into following the other character, like Arthur was a magnetized to the character.

There is a whole stranger mission of following this French guy and "guiding" him to his boat and my movement felt stuck into following him. It felt like I wasn't even playing but just watching a 5 minute illusion of me playing.

Rockstar's story missions in their open world games have always been rather linear in this regard, but this instance was incredibly bizarre.
 
Oct 30, 2017
4,710
Denmark
#42
Welcome to ANY ROCKSTAR GAME EVER.

I'm surprised someone's only realizing this now, but I suppose "player agency mainstream games" has become more and more common, to make people notice this distinction.

However, if it's this or AC Odyssey or Zelda, then uhh, fuck that. I want my Rockstar game. I can trodge through linear content so long as it surprises me, which it does because Rockstar often tell good stories with their campaigns that rise well beyond what the other really popular game giants like Call of Duty manage to do. My sweet spot would be Witcher 3 and Mass Effect but those are outright RPGs and Rockstar make games I would consider "Action games" first and foremost.

But I also have thought for a while now that the linearity of Rockstar and honestly Witcher 3 quest design is a prime example of how crunch affects a game production. It's all made on an assembly line with slave labour. The upside is that the author's content within it is good but the actual game here that paves way to that story is made under intense pressure and little time to throw any real passion or personal touches, or non-linear extras into it.
 
Feb 12, 2018
1,840
#43
For all the talk about immersion for me I found the heavy mission scripting and the way stranger interactions are triggered made the game feel like a sort of flimsy diorama of what R* imagine a truly open game to be like.

I just never felt at any point that I was needed for any of it to work and that hurt my engagement with it.

It made me want to rewatch Deadwood, but partly cause I feel Deadwood is a better RDR than RDR
 
Oct 25, 2017
4,587
Belgium
#45
For all the talk about immersion for me I found the heavy mission scripting and the way stranger interactions are triggered made the game feel like a sort of flimsy diorama of what R* imagine a truly open game to be like.

I just never felt at any point that I was needed for any of it to work and that hurt my engagement with it.

It made me want to rewatch Deadwood, but partly cause I feel Deadwood is a better RDR than RDR
Your first Rockstar game?
 

zuf

Member
Oct 25, 2017
405
#47
Why does every moment have to have agency? Why can't the vast majority of game-world time be about agency, with a critical path that embraces linear story-telling? I know that when I'm forced into situations where I don't want Arthur to be, or actions I don't want him to take, I feel real character development happening because the character I crafted in the open world is at the mercy of circumstance and pressure - which is what happens to actual people and a huge number of celebrated characters in literature and film.

I think that's the broader point of this game: It's not always about you. You're not going to save the day. It rejects the narcissism inherent in most other games, which rely almost exclusively on power fantasy and the hero's tale.

This isn't that. It's something altogether different. And it's brilliant. Who cares?
I don't think the OP means linearity in open world games but how you have to stick rigidly to scripted movements and placements within a mission.

Buy coffee from a catalogue - RDR2 will wait until you've bought a tin from a shelf. Crouch behind a box - Nope, have to go to a specific crate. Kill a few more bad guys and don't follow a character - Failed mission.
 
Last edited:
Nov 6, 2017
3,337
#49
Failing a mission by going to the exact point the mission was going to send me to anyway a bit too early happened more than once and was an undeniable frustration throughout the game.

The game makes no compromises about what it wants you to do at any given time during its main story missions, for better and definitely for worse.
 
Oct 25, 2017
727
Decapod 10
#50
The first Redemption is the exact same way during missions. Don't take detours to check out anything interesting, don't get off your horse to check out those flowers, don't loot those dead guys because you've got to keep up with the NPCs or you'll fail the mission. If you're not in a mission it's fine, but eventually on missions you learn to just take the most clear-cut, obvious route between A and B and that's all.