Chapter 1 Review & Reflection – Wild American East (Red Dead Redemption 2)

By Wes Annac, Openhearted Rebellion

Wild American East is a Red Dead Redemption 2 playthrough and commentary series, split up into episodes in the form of videos and blog posts about each mission & open world adventure. Before you read this Chapter 1 review, check out the episodes that led to this point:

Introduction: Wild American East – Red Dead Redemption 2

Ep. 1: One Snowy Night in May

Ep. 2: John Marston’s Mountain Adventure

Ep. 3: Outlaw Journalin’

Ep. 4: Ambush at Ewing Basin

Ep. 5: Our First Train Robbery

We made it, cowpokes. We survived. After 5 episodes, we’re bidding our Colter camp adieu as we leave the mountains and head down into the open plains.

Now that Chapter 1 has come to an end, I’d like to share a few thoughts on the events that led us here. I’m eager to start the actual game, but this is a commentary series and Chapter 1 deserves some praise.

First, as I may have stated before; I don’t know how Rockstar originally intended to start this game. I’ve read that we could have originally opened in West Elizabeth, near Blackwater, where the gang camped before their notorious boat robbery. We would have access to all of West Elizabeth and possibly New Austin. That changed at some point during development, and the area surrounding Blackwater was cut from the game’s opening. This would be the reason the game opens in the mountains after the robbery, and we’re barred from exploring those areas.

I don’t know if any of this is true, but it is well established Rockstar had to cut a lot of content from this already massive game.

At the very least, it’s plausible that they could’ve planned to open the game in Blackwater before forcing us up the mountain and closing off that entire area. It would make sense to let the player briefly explore Blackwater and the Great Plains before putting us through an insane fight with the law ending in our scramble into the mountains.

Blackwater in RDR2. Credit: Rockstar Games/Red Dead Wiki

It would be an interesting and, for RDR1 fans, nostalgic way to experience the game’s opening. It would let Rockstar show off their incredible open world by first showing fans the town and surrounding areas they remember, rebuilt from the ground up. Plus, it would give the player a more hard-hitting sense of banishment than the current opening in which we are automatically barred from Blackwater.

Again, I have no idea if any of that is true. But if it were, it would be a win for everyone.

Regardless, in my opinion, the opening we were given is solid. Slow, but solid.

From the start, the player is hit with a sense of dreariness – a feeling that life in this universe is rough. Opening in a snowstorm in the mountains and keeping us there for so long, watching these people we’ve just met freeze and suffer; it gives you a feeling of grittiness and unease.

Credit: Rockstar Games

As we explore our frozen camp and talk with our little community, we see that it is just that: a small collective of mostly goodhearted people who are united in their admiration for one man. Dutch van der Linde took in each of them at their lowest and taught them survival skills while giving them a sense of communion some were desperately missing.

BUT… As the chapter goes on and we learn why we are stranded in this frozen hellscape, we realize that our little group is not so innocent. It doesn’t take long for us to learn that their virtuous leader has a dark side they haven’t totally seen – yet.

This outlaw gang is complicated. They’ve done a lot of bad things and will continue to throughout the game. It will have to get worse before it can get even worse. But they seem to operate with the belief they are helping the common man by resisting the elitists who wield power over the masses. To them, a train robbery is some bizarre victory for the working class – even though it is only a win for them.

I won’t pretend the Van der Linde gang is innocent, as the crimes inspired by their shaky philosophy are what led us here, empathizing with these characters we see shivering in the snow. I’m sure the gang is somewhat aware that all the violence isn’t good, but they justify it as some type of crusade against the law and the corporate elite. As we’ll see later, other gangs in this game do the same thing – rail against Uncle Sam with its laws and regulations that prohibit good ol’ fashioned American freedom – but for more sinister reasons. 

So, going into this little review, let’s remember that these are the protagonists but not necessarily the good guys. They could be worse, but they could be a hell of a lot better. At least we get to play through their misadventures.

Chapter 1 Summary: How We Got Here

We opened the game in a blizzard, high in the mountains, heading toward an unknown destination with a dying man in one of our wagons. We were introduced to a sizeable caravan of travelers, and since this is the late 1800s, they were of course in a life-threatening situation.

We met the player character, Arthur Morgan, who found an abandoned mining town in which the group could rest.

Arthur Morgan. Credit: Rockstar Games/Red Dead Wiki

After everyone poured into one of the houses, the group’s leader gave a stirring speech about how they would persevere despite the people they lost. It was made clear that something really bad just happened.

We went with Dutch to find two others who had split from the group – John and Micah – only to meet up with Micah who boasted about a homestead he found. After a short ride, we arrived at the home and hid while Dutch tried to appeal to the homesteaders’ sense of empathy, which, unbeknownst to us, was not going to work. The presence of a corpse in a wagon alerted us that these were no ordinary farmers.

Credit: Rockstar Games

It turns out our rival gang, the O’Driscolls, were in the mountains too. We dealt with this group of them and searched their place, only to get jumped by one cowering in a barn (we let him go) and caught off guard by a woman who was hiding. We found out the home belonged to a husband and wife, until the O’Driscolls killed the husband and took over the home, with the wife hiding out of sight.

Micah couldn’t help but antagonize this already traumatized widow, leading to an altercation that ended in her home going up in flames. Since she had nowhere to go and probably didn’t want to stay where she was, Dutch offered her a place in our little community.

With some food, a few supplies, new horses and a widowed woman, we rode back to camp to rest for the night.

John and His Damn Scrape

The next day we were immediately ambushed by Abigail, who is just obsessed with this John fella. He wasn’t with Micah even though they split off together (go figure), and she doesn’t like it when he’s lost in the snowy mountain wilderness for more than 24 hours. So, together with Javier, we went out to find our friend.

Abigail, worried for John. Credit: Rockstar Games

We learned a little about Javier in that episode, who was a notorious bounty hunter in Mexico before he killed a former high-ranking official in the Mexican army. He then fled to the United States to protect his family, where he would starve in the streets before Dutch took him in. 

Javier. Credit: Rockstar Games

It was here we learned about the failed robbery: the gang attempted to rob a boat in the town of Blackwater that was carrying cash for a big bank. The local law and Pinkertons ambushed the gang as if the whole thing were a setup. According to Javier, Dutch shot and killed an innocent young mother, Heidi McCort, at some point during the law’s ambush.

As we rode and talked with Javier about the robbery, we came across John’s deceased horse in the snow. It had been ripped to shreds by a predator, which was bad news given that John was nowhere in sight. After we picked up the faint sound of someone yelling, we were able to trace it to the Wolf Man himself.

John Marston, scarred but safe. Credit: Rockstar Games

It turns out John Marston, protagonist from the first Red Dead Redemption, got his unique face scar from wolves that killed his horse and gave him something to remember them by. He somehow evaded them and made his way to the spot we found him in. But of course, they weren’t done with him; they found us as we were riding him home, forcing us to deal with them.

We also learned how John ended up in the gang. Forced to live in the streets from a young age, John never knew his mother (she died during childbirth) and lost his father when he was just a kid. After running away from an orphanage, he turned to a life of petty crime. He had already killed a man by age 13, and that same year, was caught for stealing and nearly hanged. Dutch intervened and saved a young John, who found a family with him, Arthur and Hosea. 

The Most Frostbitten Game

After John was home safe, our next task was to find more food for our group. For this, we turned to Charles Smith, an experienced survivalist who was certain we could find game. As the blizzard settled, we rode out with Charles to find deer that would be coming out to feed.

Charles Smith: Expert Survivalist. Credit: Rockstar Games

In that episode, we learned how Charles came to be with the gang. He was born to a native American mother and a black father, and they lived on his mother’s reservation until soldiers invaded it, forcing them to flee. Shortly after, his mother was captured by soldiers and never seen again. When Charles was thirteen, he ran away from his father who had fallen deep into alcoholism. From then until the day he joined the gang, he lived alone in the wilderness, learning to fight and survive.

We found deer just like he said we would, and after we learned to hunt with the bow, we headed back to camp with two deer for Pearson (the camp cook) to make into a warm venison stew.


Slowly but surely, we built up food, supplies and morale. After a few days, Dutch seemed confident it was the right time to find out what our enemies, the O’Driscolls, were doing in these mountains. He figured we should find their camp, deal with whomever is there, and steal whatever robbery plans they may have. So, we did just that.

We found the O’Driscoll nest, and funny enough, they too were camping in an abandoned mining facility. I guess mine-related housing is all one can find in these mountains.

After an epic ambush and another ambush of our ambush, we found our rivals’ plans: they were going to rob a train owned by Leviticus Cornwall. So, we decided to hit it instead.

Dutch, studying the train robbery plans we stole from our rivals. Credit: Rockstar Games

How About That Explosion??

The Cornwall train robbery went off without a hitch. It was the smoothest robbery any outlaw gang has ever orchestrated, ever. It began with a badass explosion, thanks to the dynamite rigged to the tracks by the gang’s wisest member, Bill Williamson. Except, none of that happened.

Arthur, prepping for an epic explosion that never happened. Credit: Rockstar Games

We tried to blow the tracks, but due either to Bill’s incompetence or Arthur’s inability to hook up dynamite properly, the train chugged by with no cool explosion to kick off the game’s first big heist. Instead, we ran to the other side of the hill and jumped onto the top of the train, disposing of guards as we made our way to the front to halt the brakes.

Once the train was halted, we had an epic battle with an army of Cornwall guards defending his private car. He really didn’t want anyone to find the bonds we stole, as evidenced by the preposterous number of guards that came at us.

After our group of seven or eight outlaws disposed of dozens of guards, we had to deal with a few holdouts who wouldn’t let us in the private car containing the riches we sought. We woke ‘em up with round upon round of gunfire before blowing open the car and holding them hostage while Arthur, Lenny and a few others raided Cornwall’s train palace.

Waking up the stowaways. Credit: Rockstar Games

We read a couple documents addressed to the oil titan, and then, we hit the jackpot: Arthur found the bonds the O’Driscolls were after. With significantly more riches in our possession, it was finally time to leave the mountains.     

Chapter 1 Reflections

Opening the game in dire straits was a great way for Rockstar to commentate on the grittiness and real-life consequences of living a violent life. I don’t believe RDR was ever intended to glorify the outlaw lifestyle, but to shed light on how rough it was. Far from harmless or fun, living as an outlaw in the late 1800s meant fighting violently and losing people you care about. This opening feels like a solid way to introduce this theme.

Davey’s grave. Credit: Rockstar Games/Red Dead Wiki

Although we have no access to the open world and can’t venture too far outside of our mining camp; I’m glad we had something to run through and explore early on. It’s cool to see things like Davey’s grave, placed a few yards away from this old town’s graveyard, or the snowed-in wagons we’ll see a lot of in the chapters ahead. Knowing you can come back later to freely explore the mountain makes the whole thing more interesting.

I appreciate that we got to meet and talk with most of the gang if we chose to walk into the house in which they were staying. Though they were all miserable and it wasn’t a great introduction to the gang as they usually are, I enjoyed greeting them so early in the story. It could be because I never knew that was an option my first couple playthroughs. So, discovering that I could talk with so many people so early on felt like an easter egg (even though it wasn’t).

I think this chapter did a fine job introducing the fighting and shooting mechanics, as well as a slew of others. Rockstar managed to fit quite a few necessary tutorials into this opening chapter without ruining immersion, as they were things the player needed to do to move along the story for each mission. Make no mistake – there will be more mechanics with tutorials to come in Chapter 2 and even a few in Chapter 3.

The fight in the first mission was easy, for obvious reasons, whereas the second O’Driscoll fight in their camp was a little wilder. Dead-eye is always fun, whether it’s your first or hundredth time using it, so of course that series of ambushes was satisfying.

Overall, this chapter is a great introduction to a gang that has maybe, finally gone too far. Given how the game opens, it’s hard to imagine their situation will get any better. They’ve pushed their luck many times before, but now, it feels like time is running out. As we’ll see, civilization is moving on from the lawless wild west. The Van der Linde gang and other outlaw groups are facing a reckoning, but they don’t yet see the writing on the wall.

We are shown a harsh but beautiful world and told the story of a group of people who seem only to have each other. Additionally, they seem to have no other way to thrive together than to rob and steal. This first chapter revolves around them getting back on their feet after the law and so-called civilized masses have finally snapped back at them. It’s hard to imagine all that heat will just go away, but we’ll see.

Chapter 1 leaves us curious as to what will happen to the Van der Linde gang – even players who experienced the first game and generally know where everything leads. Knowing how things end for the gang in a vague sense can still leave you curious as to how the events will play out.

As we head into Chapter 2, we should keep in mind that this story is just beginning. We haven’t been properly introduced to all the characters, and they haven’t yet faced their greatest challenges as a group. Yes, they are on the run from some serious consequences, but the start of the next chapter will show us a gang that doesn’t know how dire their situation has become. They’re still drinking and singing by the campfire as they plan their next robberies, convinced they are one step ahead of the law.

Join me in Chapter 2 where we’ll meet the rest of the gang, learn more about our protagonist and engage in some not-so-harmless outlaw fun.


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