I'm playing Red Dead Redemption 2 again, jumping back in the story to finish the side missions I sprinted through before. I've had a good hunt over the past 40 minutes, collecting a good number of perfect pelts and a perfect deer carcass. I'm feeling satisfied with myself, ready to close up shop for the evening. I'll take the pelts to the Trapper in Saint Denis and the carcass back to camp for donation.
I round the corner on one street, heading towards the market square where my Trapper friend resides. I'm not entirely paying attention; if I'm not playing a game seriously or for review, I'm usually watching some Youtube video or television show at the same time. This is the genesis of my mistake, as it has been before. I bump into an unsuspecting gentleman on the street and he flops hard like a football player on the World Cup stage.
He bounces back up far too quickly for a man who was grievously injured. I get off my horse as the gentleman decides to start a fight. Before the brawl even begins, I glance up at the top right of the screen and see the "Wanted" banner appearing. This isn't even for the fight, it's for knocking into the man in the first place. At this point, I figure I'm all in. I handily knock him out and loot his body. My bounty goes up.
What started as a misunderstanding eventually escalates into a full-fledged chase and shoot-out. I'm dodging the police down streets and alleys-I've long since left my horse and pelts behind-careful not to shoot too many cops, so I can keep my bounty on the low side. But eventually they get me and Arthur Morgan goes down in a hail of gunfire. Red Dead Redemption 2 informs me that I'm "Dead," and when I respawn, my pelts are all gone. Just another night in Saint Denis.
The Short Road to Being Wanted in Red Dead Redemption 2
In the tradition of Rockstar's other open-world games, Red Dead Redemption 2 has an elaborate Wanted system. . If Arthur Morgan is seen committing a crime, witnesses will report to the local authorities, who will then hunt you down. Out in the wilderness, you might have a chance to catch a witness and either intimidate or kill them. In a crowded city, though, they'll likely find the cops before you can even figure out which direction they're coming from.
Red Dead Redemption 2's Wanted system has several holes. For one, while you can defuse a situation before it happens, you have few options if another citizen decides to fight you. You can run away, but if they're on horseback or armed, that can be harder. Once someone wants you dead or unconscious, it's all on the table. There's no going back; the easiest option is to always respond in kind.
So, the first problem is that the citizens in Red Dead Redemption 2 are quick to fight. As I noted in our review, you'll scuff their shoes and they're automatically ready to kill you. Some of this is justified within the world: especially in the frontier towns, people are ready for a fight and only need an excuse. That's understandable, I just wish that "Defuse" remained an option after a random NPC decided to start something.
If someone shoots or hits you first, and you respond, there are a few outcomes. In the case of knocking someone out, you generally have an even chance for others to understand that you didn't start the fight. At that point, you only gain a bounty for looting their body. But sometimes the act of knocking them out, or even killing them, is an automatic crime. At that point, for smaller crimes, you can surrender to the cops or try to get away.
The next issue is Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn't understand what self-defense is. He shot first, and you shot him back. You just happened to be the winner. RDR 2 understands only the outcome, not the process. It can see that you killed or knocked out someone, not the line of actions that led to that outcome.
The final problem is that sometimes the game can just decide you've done something wrong. When I wrote the article Which Animal is the Biggest Asshole in Red Dead Redemption 2?, the final section in the article was on "Man". And most of those clips were people becoming Wanted for no real reason. In one, the player started by antagonizing the cop, but became Wanted the instant the cop pushed him, not the other way around. In a few of them, Arthur would bump into someone and become Wanted even before a conflict could happen.
And in Saint Denis, all of these problems are amplified. The city is full of life, and the streets are crowded between pedestrians, horses, and the streetcar. The law is also far more present in Saint Denis than anywhere else. You might be able to ditch the cops easily in Valentine, but in Saint Denis, the smallest indiscretion turns the city into a warzone.
Again, some of this is understandable. Saint Denis is meant to be the hard contrast between civilization and the wilderness. Alongside the first game, Red Dead Redemption 2 is all about the death of the Wild West, which Saint Denis reinforces. Civilization doesn't want these rough ridin' outlaws in their town and the police are ready to jump on and infraction. It's storytelling through gameplay, something that should be lauded.
But there are times when Red Dead Redemption 2's Wanted system just seems broken. Most of the time, I don't have a problem with it; I've worked out how to stay on the straight and narrow. But occasionally, I bump into someone and start the biggest conflict since the Civil War.. Because I can't say "My bad, man," once someone has decided that I've transgressed.
"We've got lawmen in 3 different states after us. They chased us from the west, they chased us over the mountain," Arthur says to Dutch at the beginning of Red Dead Redemption 2. I'm half tempted to say the Blackwater job went wrong because Arthur bumped into someone.