How trying to fish took me all over the world of Red Dead Redemption 2
© Rockstar Games
I spent six and a bit hours roaming around the massive world of Red Dead Redemption 2 in search of a fishing rod.
I just wanted to do a bit of fishing.
Red Dead Redemption 2 kicks off teaching you about its many systems and the ins-and-outs of living life in the Van der Linde Gang as you, Dutch, John Marston and the others escape the Pinkertons following a botched job. It's a fantastic tutorial system, a great way for Rockstar to ease you into the new way RDR2 has you interacting with people and things around the game world, but it's a bit of a spoiler-minefield and it's better experienced first-hand.
Post opening chapter though, you find yourself at Horseshoe Outlook, where the gang has set up camp and started looking to rustle up some money. This is the first point where you're able to strike out on your own. The gang could use your help with a few tasks, and there's the ever-pressing need for a variety of camp supplies, but if you'd like, you can just head off into the sunset.
After tooling about the camp for a bit and spending a little time in the nearby town of Valentine, I worked out what I really wanted to do. I wanted to fish. There was just one problem — I didn't have a fishing rod. In the build I was playing Arthur Morgan just didn't have a fishing rod to kick-off the game.
It's hard to tell if it will always be that way. My gut says that by the time the game releases, you'll have a fishing rod alongside the rest of your survival gear. Survival is such a critical focus in RDR2, and fishing plays a vital role in that focus. I had bait on hand too, so it was odd to lack the tackle.
The expanded inventory in RDR2 means there are a stack of places the rod might be hiding on Arthur. The weapon wheel you've gotten used to in GTA V is there — you can select a weapon slot and cycle through your options by tapping L2 and R2, so at first I checked my hands and melee weapon slots. Nada.
If you press R1 in RDR2, you'll switch to your item inventory instead. Here you can access food, tonics, your campfire and other gear. No fishing rod here either, sadly.
I was a rodless S-O-B, but I had time. I could do whatever I wanted in this massive world. The map itself was blanketed in a grey fog — as I travelled it, it would slowly uncover to reveal the breadth of the world beneath. On the parts already uncovered I could see a hint of blue somewhere South of the camp.
My theory was that I would be able to find a person with a fishing rod near water. All I'd need do is follow the water around until I happened across some unfortunate soul and I'd have what I needed to catch a dinner.
Before long, the other side of this river was out of range of my revolver, and I realised it had turned into some sort of lake. And while there had been plenty of men in canoes or rowboats, I hadn't seen a single fishing rod among them.
Your horse can swim, but it's bound to the same in-game rules as Arthur. That is — it has limited stamina, and once it runs out of stamina it will lose health until it drowns. If your horse dies in RDR2, that's it — it's dead. There's a 'downed but not out' state for the beast, and you can bring it back from that state, but if it dies, it dies.
That means trying to cross the lake by forcing my horse to swim it was a bad idea.
Luckily I realised this right before I reached the point of no return, and my horse lived — barely — after a frantic paddle back to shore. Like Fry (like fry!), my time is worthless, so I tried again — this time I swam to a canoe, threw its occupant out and began my paddle.
I'm still not exactly sure what happened, but my canoe sank about halfway across the lake. It actually reminded me of what happens when you take a boat too far out on the water in GTA V, minus the sharks. The water itself was pretty busy — there were a lot of paddlesteamers and other large watercraft making their way through the centre channel — so my guess is either the guy I stole the boat from shot at me and I missed it, or canoes are not sturdy enough to cross heavily-trafficked waters.
Saving nothing for the swim back, I abandoned my sinking canoe and struck out across the waters. A relatively uneventful 30 seconds later, I was on the shore. The shore where I'd started initially, because I drowned and respawned back near my horse.
I wasn't having any luck with this lake situation. Maybe the water activity scared away all the fish. Fortunately, I'd seen another patch of blue deeper in the map — it was time to check it out.
Virtù e Fortuna
About halfway to my destination I heard yelling. A stagecoach was parked on the side of the road, but drawing in I realised it was actually a horse drawn cage. Off the road, a chain gang argued amongst itself. When one of the two guards walked over to break up the impending fistfight, the prisoners sprung into action — the two who had been fighting attacked one guard, while a third prisoner distracted the other. It was over in moments, with three men lying dead on the ground — two guards and a prisoner. The prisoners saw me, but they paid me no nevermind, and I looted the guards afterwards.
It's not new for Rockstar games, but their ability to make the world feel alive through scenes like this is second to none. My input is inconsequential here, and so is my presence. At least half a dozen times I heard a commotion and ignored it — locked in as I was on getting that fishing rod — only to stumble across the aftermath afterwards. Sometimes I'd get to loot, sometimes I'd find the rotting carcass of a predator, and sometimes there'd just be a few hats on the ground and nothing else. Doing nothing is an active choice in RDR2, and it ironically makes your presence feel that much more special.
The rolling hills near the lake quickly gave way to thick woods, and the closer I got to my river destination the darker it got below the canopy of trees. The piers here were dilapidated, the waterway devoid of human life. But the water itself was alive, with ripples on the surface indicating an abundance of fish.
My horse hated the area, its head flicking back and forth as I sent it towards the water. The more of a bond you make with your horse, the better it becomes. It gets more stamina, runs faster and reacts less to gunfire and other scares. You can calm it down while riding it by tapping L3, and if you don't, and it gets too agitated, it will buck you off and run away. When we reached the edge of the river and it did exactly that, frightened of what was an admittedly spooky setting, I was inconvenienced but not really put out. I was about to ditch the horse for a canoe I'd seen across on the other bank, so it was no big deal.
While swimming out into the water a lot came together for me. The muddy riverbanks, the dilapidated jetties, the absence of human life, the abundance of fish. And the weird logs that stuck just barely out of the water. What really came together on me was the jaws of one of a dozen alligators I'd failed to spot in this river, but I somehow managed to fight it off and get away. You can quickly drink a health remedy if you are close enough to dying — normally you need to go through the Weapons Wheel and then to the Items Wheel to select one, but RDR2 can be pretty helpful at times.
Here's what I know about swamps. Alligators are extremely quick, they will absolutely chomp you if you fall in the water, and their eggs sell for $2.50 a pop, which is a fortune. Baby gators languish near their parents and they're easier to kill, but skinning and butchering a gator is tough thanks to their proximity to other actual dinosaurs.
I travelled all over that swamp and nobody had any damn fishing rods. I made a spectacle of myself when a snake bit me and I yelped loud enough for the entire Australian Rockstar office to hear me. Poison lasts for a long time, and you can only heal it with herbs — herbs I didn't have and couldn't find. American Ginseng was one such herb, I believe — and I have no idea what that looks like. The poison wears off if you ignore it for long enough — the cowboy way.
Roaming the swamp, looking for fishing rods and gator eggs, eventually I came across a town — Saint Denis. Correction; Saint Denis is a city, not a town, and it's absolutely massive. You can catch a stage show, shop at any number of stores, visit an array of saloons and hotels in search of a distraction if you like.
Not a single store sold a fishing rod, which is odd — it's a stick and some string on it, it's not like carbon rods and gyroscopic stabilised reels are a thing in the late 1800s. But I did happen across a different sort of store. The Fence clearly trades in goods acquired through less-than-legal means, and I figured there was a halfway decent chance he'd have a stolen fishing rod.
I was wrong. But what he did have was a bookshelf that had scrapings on the ground in front of it. And the mini-map showed a room without any doors behind that bookshelf. Sadly no matter what I did, I couldn't work out how to unlock the bookshelf. The only thing I could think to do was point a gun at the man and get him to tell me.
He helpfully opened his cash register, and then begged me to not hurt him. He wasn't telling me diddly about that bookshelf, sadly. He had $45 in his cash register — a Wild West Fortune — so it wasn't a complete loss. But I was still in a bit of a bind.
Crimes are reported by witnesses in RDR2, and this man was obviously a witness. Robbing a store earns you roughly the same bounty as killing someone, about $10-$15, which I'd learned when I robbed a general store in Rhodes — a township in the swamplands — and tried to simply hoof it. I skipped that part of my story because it makes me seem like a clumsy thug, seeing how I died when I rode full pelt into a low hanging tree branch and a nearby sheriff executed me. I also still had to pay off my bounty.
Anyway, so I'm in a pickle in this Fence store. If I let this man live, he'll go to the sheriffs and I'll have a bounty on my head. So I stabbed him.
Naturally, as my luck would have it, a citizen of Saint Denis was walking by a window while I did. A witness. And because this guy is a Fence, he doesn't have a front door. By the time I'd finished stabbing this shopkeep, there was a deputy halfway to the only entrance in or out of this building.
Obviously I stabbed the deputy. I hid behind the door as he ran in, and I stabbed him in the back. This didn't endear me to the lawmen of Saint Denis, I tell you what. Eight of them posted up outside the Fence's store, ignorant that Arthur Morgan's Dead Eye talent would soon send five of them to their maker.
Taking cover in the doorway I hit R3 and entered Dead Eye mode. I painted the first guy twice because I'm an idiot, and then dragged the reticle over another four heads. A tap of the R2 button, and they all died. A brave lawman rushed the door while I was reloading, but I quickly switched to my knife and gutted him.
I popped the other two and took off down the network of alleys that make up Saint Denis, losing the lawmen on my way. Instead of Five Stars flashing until the cops have lost interest, GTA-style, RDR2 displays the word Wanted in large letters at the top right of the screen. If you can hide until the red filling the word has drained away, you're in the clear.
I got to about “Wa” before a deputy stumbled across me and my problems began again. Another dozen or so of Saint Denis' finest cornered me in a dead-end alley, leaving me with just one option — to perish in a hail of gunfire because there was no way I was fighting my way out.
You can get a double-action revolver from the gunsmith, but until you buy that you're stuck with a shitty single-action affair. That means each shot takes about half a beat more than you really want it to, because Arthur has to cock the stupid thing each time if he wants a trigger pull to do anything.
I popped a Dead Eye restoring concoction to try another six shot clear-out, but it didn't help. I was out-gunned. I died. When I returned, I had a bounty of $145. It might as well have been $1 million, because there was no way I was paying it. My only real option was to get out of Saint Denis.
An uncharacteristic turn of luck came for me when I realised I'd respawned at the train station. I dare not try to buy a ticket, of course — the last thing I needed was some little bastard shooting me in the ass to collect the bounty.
So instead, as the train pulled out of the station I ran up alongside it and jumped on board. It was actually pretty easy, and with that done, I held down on the touchpad to activate the cinematic camera and waited until I left the Saint Denis bounty influence area.
The cinematic camera is one of my favourite features in RDR2. Expanding on the slick camera system from GTA V, activating it allows you to autopilot your way through the game world. When you're going on long rides, you can activate it and simply hold X to have Arthur ride to the misson's destination on his own — either matching the pace of his companions, or at a canter when alone. It's one of the many ways Rockstar is trying to blur the lines between gameplay and cutscene.
Jumping off the train was actually not that detrimental to my health, although by this point I had started to suspect that the build I was playing was a little more forgiving than the regular game would be. I had definitely lived through some things I shouldn't, and I felt like I was increasing my stamina at a higher rate than normal.
I hopped a stagecoach back to Valentine feeling a bit defeated. I'd travelled far and wide in my search for a spot of fishing, and I had failed. I guess I'd, you know, play the massive videogame on offer instead.
The stagecoach back to Valentine saved me a bit of time in trying to return to Horseshoe Outlook, where the gang had an array of tasks for me to complete. I'll skip them here — I'm trying to stay spoiler free — except to point out that of those I completed in this playsession, none awarded me with the coveted rod.
I went bear hunting instead. I wasn't really equipped for it — it's the story of my Wild West life, really — but I wanted to see what I could manage. I'd tracked deers, rabbits and boars in my time with RDR2 so far, and it's pretty easy. You've got Eagle Eye when you tap L3 and R3 at the same time, and using that you can get some help seeing the trails animals leave. It also helpfully shows you herbs you can harvest, if you've got a green thumb.
With that in mind, I tracked down a bear in the woods, the discovery of droppings answering that eternal question. I got a bit lucky as I hunted it, actually. Often I've found when hunting in RDR2 you can stumble across your quarry without realising how close you are. This was not the case with the bear, which I saw well before it saw me. I drew my bow, nocked an arrow and steadied myself. I wanted to hit it square in the head, to make sure I wouldn't have to shoot again.
I loosed the arrow, and Arthur proved to be one hell of a shot. It thunked into the bear's head, accomplishing exactly one thing. It upset the bear a lot. The bear charged down the hill at me, an arrow sticking from its face, and my horse bolted away before I could join it. I activated Dead Eye, bow still equipped, and so in slow motion I got to witness this massive creature barrel towards me. The second arrow didn't piss it off more, but only because I think it couldn't have been angrier.
It mauled me to death. I actually kicked it off at one point, but I made it about half a metre before it finished what it started. It was amazing.
Sadly, my time had come to a close. Actually, I'd played for about half an hour longer than the session was scheduled for. I'd covered so much ground in RDR2, and I'd revealed relatively little of the massive map. I'd wrestled bears, alligators, lawmen and horses, and I'd come off worse for wear against all of them. I'd robbed people, mugged them, murdered them and even helped a few out of sticky situations. I'd ridden, train-hopped, sat in wagons, swam and paddled. I even ran for a while, when I lost a horse. I'd hunted, played blackjack, brawled, bathed and watched an old timey picture show. I didn't get to fish though, even though I knew it was in the game somewhere.
There I was, standing next to a river, watching the rapids rush away from me. It was time to go. I switched to first-person and threw Arthur into the river, to let him finish off the session in the spin cycle.
The whole game can be played in first-person, and it's remarkable how that perspective changes things for you. Fist-fights are tougher, but more rewarding to win. Chases on horseback seem like they play out at double speed. And flopping your way down white-water rapids is actually pretty scary, especially when you realise that the water is getting faster as you go. It's the hallmark of a waterfall. They're awesome in first-person, even if this one was about five metres high, tops.
There, at the bottom of the waterfall, was a man standing, fishing. His Australian Shepherd dog was woofing at me from his side as I clambered up onto the shore. I pet the dog, drew my revolver and shot the fisherman in the side of the head.
And then I fished. It was awesome.
Red Dead Redemption 2 releases October 26 on PS4 and Xbox One.