Brumhilde is dead. Long live Brumhilde.
As you may have figured out, I’m playing Red Dead Redemption 2 and I love it. Every time I go out in the wilderness it feels like going on a new adventure to meet new characters and hunt down a moose or two. Not all of my adventures get a happy ending, though.
Yesterday, my horse died in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Chapter I – Saint Denis
The first time I walked into Saint-Denis with Dutch, I had just outlived a bunch of robberies and thefts. I had a decent amount of money in my pockets, which ol’ Arthur was definitely eager to spend.
But rather than investing in futile weapons and clothes, I decided to purchase a new travel companion: a black Arab she-horse, priced around $1,000 at the stables of Saint-Denis.
As I saw her, I knew she would be my friend for a very long time. Class Elite, top speed and acceleration, and a mantle black as night.
I decided to call her Brumhilde, mostly because I had rewatched Django Unchained the night before. From that moment on, Brumhilde would follow me through all hazards, as our bond (both gameplay-wise and metaphorical) became stronger.
Chapter II – In The Wild
And God if it took a long time.
As I rode through the plains and swamps around Saint-Denis, I finally realised what the game was telling me: the more valuable your horse is, the more time you are going to spend trying to reach Bond Level 4.
Let’s just say I started bonding with Brumhilde at the beginning of Chapter IV, and I only managed to reach the maximum level halfway through Chapter VI. That is at least 20 hours of play-time if we include sidequests and general shuffling around Saint-Denis, a good portion of which was right on the back of the horse.
Still, and please pardon my French, Brumhilde and I have seen a lot of shit together. We went huntin’, killin’, ridin’ and runnin’ from the law more times than I can count. I started to really like that horse, goddammit.
But then, the Bounty Hunters came.
Chapter III – The Hunt
It was a chilly night north-east of Saint-Denis. Brumhilde and I were riding away from Charlotte’s cottage, where we had just helped the poor widow shoot bottles down.
Arthur also tried to impress her by missing every other shot, but that’s another story.
Those who played the game know the pain of following Arthur around at this time of the story, and how much more difficult every shootout can become. So, since we were practically wanted dead or alive in most states, a group of bounty hunters decided to pay us a visit just as we were hunting down a legendary moose.
Galloping hooves from the horizon mirrored the thunderstorm from the skies above. It was about to get worse, so
Arthur I decided to send Brumhilde away. I put several holes into those inglorious basterds, and all was quiet again.
Chapter IV – Farewell, Dear Friend
Brumhilde and I fled towards Annesburg, to reach Dutch and continue on with our adventures. But a new icon showed up on my map: Professor Marko Dragic’s lab.
Dutch could wait. Marko Dragic is just too beautifully written to be ignored. So Brumhilde and I turned round and went riding towards Marko’s lab. It was then that the Bounty Hunters returned. Only this time, they had three hounds and a few more guns. I was outnumbered, out in the open, with the shooters too close to be ignored.
I fought hard. I pulled out my semi-automatic shotgun and started to blow some brains out. Everything looked like it was going well. But I miscalculated. I made a mistake, and let the hunters deal enough damage to Brumhilde to put her down, agonising, waiting for my help to bring her back to life.
Raging, I pulled out my rifle one more time and started shooting to everybody who was in sight. Brumhilde looked at me from nearby, pleading for her life, neighing and suffering on the brink of death.
I did not see it coming. One of the hounds approached me from the side, too quickly, too fiercely. I did not have the time to aim at the damn dog, for when I saw it, it was already too late. The hound jumped at my throat, Brumhilde still on the ground. I could not free myself from the beast’s bites. One, two, three, and down. Arthur was dead.
Chapter V – Hope
I was not worried about Arthur. Damn, the poor bastard died so many times in my game that another respawn wouldn’t be a problem. Problem is that horses, in RDR2, have permadeath: once they die, it is literally impossible to bring them back. And, as the loading screen faded into the game’s colours yet again, I realised that Brumhilde’s icon had been replaced by a saddle on the map – the icon usually pointing at an abandoned saddle from a dead horse.
It hit me hard. As my temporary horse respawned next to me, I realised Brumhilde was gone. Hours and hours of gameplay trying to take her to the maximum level brought to dust. That was the worst: knowing I had spent so many hours with her, and she was now gone – maybe forever.
I desperately reloaded my last automatic save, only to find out that the game saved precisely when I died. My last manual save was from hours and hours earlier, and it was not an option to go back and redo all those side quests and story missions.
There was nobody in my house at the time to confirm this, but I am quite sure that I turned red in anger. Anger towards the game (it was arguably my fault as much as the game’s), anger towards those unbalanced bounty hunters, anger towards that stupid dog which decided to banquet with my throat.
I sincerely believed Brumhilde would come with me until the end of the game, after all the hours she spent with Arthur. Looks like it was not going to happen after all.
I ran back to my saddle. Brumhilde’s body was not even there. I put the saddle on my secondary horse and started riding towards Saint-Denis: maybe I could retrieve Brumhilde from the stables. Maybe not all was lost.
And, whilst thinking this, my then-current horse was riding slow and steady at its own pace. Which made me miss Brumhilde even more. Why wouldn’t he go faster, now that I needed it the most? Couldn’t he understand my pain, my impatience to retrieve my beloved travel companion from oblivion?
Chapter VI – Hello, Dear Friend
I ran through the main doors of the stable, my heart literally racing in my chest. I inhaled deeply, opened my eyes; Brumhilde was gone, forever.
No trace of her in the stables nor in the map. The only trace of her was just an abandoned saddle on a random horse. Part of me wanted to close the game right at that moment, leave it there for a week and then come back. But I saw that the stables had another black, Arab horse, looking just like Brumhilde – except for a few more marks on its face.
I ran to a nearby fence and sold a precious watch for hundreds of dollars, then robbed the cash register and ran away. I rushed to the stables and bought the new horse, knowing that she would never be like Brumhilde, but it could still remind me of her every day.
Welcome to the world, Brumhilde II. I will take good care of you this time.
Epilogue – Learning
There is no changing the past. Brumhilde is gone, and it took me a good while to fully accept it. Having to start from scratch with a new horse was disheartening, but I do not doubt I will manage to bond with Brumhilde II as well. It will take me a long time, but I may even do it before finishing the game.
The way Red Dead Redemption II is programmed and written, every action requires time to be completed. I may sound melodramatic to some, but because of the Bonding system connected to horses, a player can actually grow attached to one of his most trusted galloping companions. It is not just a gameplay mechanic. It’s something that sticks with you forever.
Brumhilde was not just a ‘virtual horse.’ She was a horse I spent entire hours with, a horse that grew with me as I grew stronger, much like what I did with Agro back in Shadow of the Colossus. There’s a reason we all felt sorry for Agro when he chose to sacrifice himself to save Wander. When good writing and game design come together, it is just natural to care deeply for our virtual friends. And Brumhilde deserved to follow Arthur until the end.
Goodbye, dear friend. I will miss you.
This piece originally appeared in Italian on Gameromancer.com.