GOTY 2018: Best Character

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This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are 10 awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!

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Best Character: Arthur Morgan, Red Dead Redemption II

Rockstar Studios | October 26th, 2018 | PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Runners-up: Atreus, God of War | Tsuyoshi Nagumo, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

You're not supposed to like Arthur Morgan. Not at the beginning of Red Dead Redemption II.

He's bland. He's milquetoast. He's not very interesting. In the game's first chapter, we're introduced to the Van der Linde gang as they flee to the remote winter wilderness. Arthur is little more than an emotional blank canvas that players initially use to complete the tutorial.

And yet, his transformation from loyal enforcer to conflicted moral authority throughout the game's six acts is a masterfully executed slow-burn payoff. Arthur isn't just the year's best character—he's the most grounded and relatable protagonist Rockstar has ever written.

Arthur's capacity for compassion and self-reflection is unearthed during a plot that—no spoilers, I promise—repeatedly forces him to brutally confront the choices that led him to anarchy. His stereotypical outlaw exterior is stretched to its breaking point by the love he lost, by the debtor who died by his hand—by the leader he can no longer follow.

All that Arthur was and believed in withers away in the game's sixth, and best, chapter. Where John Marston's redemption arc in the first game felt unearned, Arthur truly finds a path to redeem himself, or at least get very close to redemption. Even if you can't get into the game's opening chapters, it's worth sticking it out until Arthur's story concludes. We watch Arthur punch, spit, kick, and crawl forward in a rapidly civilizing world that no longer needs men like him, all while he tries his best to keep together a gang led by a father that no longer trusts him.

Early on, Dutch Van der Linde is lost in thought dreaming about an escape plan that, as we'd learn, would never come to fruition. Meanwhile, Arthur, who I chose to play honorably, was only ever focused on the safety and well-being of his adopted, misfit family. Arthur's charm slowly percolated to the top over the first five chapters of the game: his side-eyed looks at incestuous pig farmers, his singing during fishing trips, his surprising progressive attitude toward women suffragettes. The supreme voice acting by Roger Clark sells the internal conflict playing out across the 60-plus hours it takes to reach the credits.

When Arthur did a good deed, he was called a good man. But his life of crime was never far away. The Pinkerton Detective Agency, chasing them since the beginning of the game, had foiled every one of the gang's attempts to find peace. Arthur simply couldn't identify as a "good man" when federal stooges killed his closest friends in part because of crimes he helped commit.

Instead, knowing he was doomed to either die or face prison, Arthur did his best to amend each of his mistakes across several states and dozens of side quests and dialogue choices.

Arguably, he failed. Arthur made little difference by the time the credits rolled: the civilizing industrialization of the 20th century still nipped at every outlaw's heels. There would be no refuge for Dutch's gang. They would each depart or die. Even so, Arthur was a relatable, troubled soul that guided me through the brutal old west of 1899. His incessant attempts to be better than his past, even when his life of danger and murder caught up to him at the end, will stick with me for a very long time. — Aaron Thayer