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Wild west, open world fantasy? Check. Interesting period firearms? Check. Interesting character and story? Uhhhhh.
"My tale begins in the 19th century."
Really, I had no problem with the story per se. In Grand Theft Auto IV, I play as an eastern-European with a shady past trying to start over in a new city. He finds out later that it's difficult to run from your past. The same theme is applied in RDR, following John Marston, a former outlaw, charged with tracking down his old gang in order to save his family being held hostage by the federal government.
I'm not faulting the story. I'm not even going to talk about it. I'm going to talk about John Marston specifically, who I've brought up a bit in a past piece I've written up.
It's less of an attack and more of a point I think is important to point out. What if John Marston were the archetype silent hero. Heck, let me go a step further and propose to you, for your approval, that John Marston is the evolution of the silent protagonist. The silent hero who speaks!
Think seriously of any important dialogue Marston had. Most of his usual remarks are, “Where's Williamson” or “I need to save my family.”
"Can you help me now? Can you help me now? Can you help me now?"
Maybe he had some nuggets while talking about his past dealing with Dutch or dark, past life as killer, but I'm really not going to remember Marston for that. I'm going to remember Marston as a former outlaw who went straight and is incredibly gullible. Promise him to help him with his task so that he'd get his family back and he'd do it all: kill men, swindle consumers, assist in a revolution, help rob graves, you name it. And the end of the day, you just need to throw you arms up in ignorance and say, “Maybe next time!”
So instead of trying to develop his character, what if he was silent? Nobody complains about Gordon Freeman. Despite never uttering a single word, just because he can swing a crowbar real good (among other things), everyone calls him a badass physisist. What if you get to one of Rockstar's classic zany supporting cast members, make them consider you offering a job, and Marston simply shrugs and it's implied he accepted the job? Would that alter how the current game feels?
"Questionable morals? Character development!"
What if we simply consider Marston a rare speaking-silent hero? His only worthwhile lines are quips during combat and scenes like skinning animals or hogtying criminals. Think of those like Link's grunt and yells from the Zelda series.
So was Marston's dialogue really all that necessary? It wouldn't change how I feel about walking into the wilderness to hunt animals, or start random acts of violence in Armadillo.