It’s been a little over a year since Red Dead Redemption 2 released. Rockstar once again delivered a title that the masses nearly universally enjoyed. Red Dead Redemption 2 encompassed a massive open world with an amazing story and one of the most compelling main protaganists in gaming history. The question was, how would the world translate to the online gaming space? With the gigantic success of GTA 5’s online component, Rockstar had the blueprint to give the community a potentially enormous and engaging online open world experience. So almost a year after full release, how does Red Dead Online stack up?
A little over a month ago, a few of my friends decided it was time to grab the game. Not sure why it took them this long, but I was pretty excited. We had played a lot of the original Red Dead Online back in the day when Red Dead Redemption originally released. While I had played through the single player in two, I hadn’t touched the online mode for various reasons. I really didn’t have a ton of people to play with and typically I’m not a big multiplayer guy. When I do, I prefer a co-op experience or a world where I could mostly avoid the other players.
While on the surface RDR2 online fit that bill, early impressions that I saw of the beta didn’t interest me. It basically looked like a free for all where players just griefed each other over and over again. So I stayed away. Far away. Then came the digital Black Friday sale and our group message was filled with pics of everyone downloading the game. My return to the online wild west was now inevitable. So I jumped on and tried my hand at the cowboy life. Bear in mind that I have only dabbled in the PvP part of this game. I really wanted to see if it’s online component could draw in a traditionally single player experience person.
Right off the bat, the game was as gorgeous as I remembered. Stunning sunrises, dynamic weather patterns and sprawling landscapes were a treat for the eyes. This time it was just me and the world. No real direction aside from the brief tutorial. After I finished that, I set off to get a small head start on my buddies and get some new weapons and gear.
The game allows you to set up a posse for you and your friends. With that, Chet’s Band of Love was formed. Spread throughout the lands are small side missions that give you an opportunity to make some extra cash and experience. You could also hunt animals for the butcher or spend some time fishing. There’s also a line of story missions that you can do either with your friends or with random people. Full disclosure, I tried to do some with the online randos but that immediately devolved into chaos as my companions decided they would stray from the mission and go insane just shooting everything they saw. Hard pass. However, the real meat of experience for me was the new online roles you could pursue.
In September of 2019, Rockstar released a major update in the form of Frontier Pursuits. With a little bit of gold, you can take on the role of a bounty hunter, trader or collector. Each one costs 15 gold to start (though with a Twitch Prime account you could get the bounty hunter license for free at a later date) which while not an insurmountable sum, it does take time to accrue the necessary funds. In December, they also released the moonshiner role, an offshoot of the trader role. Each of the roles bring with them different items, weapons and even some new horses for your character. Let me give you a quick overview on each.
- Trader: Enjoy hunting or building the flashiest camp? This is your gig. Hunt down animals (when you can find them, more on that later), keep your camp buddy Cripps topped off with supplies and make deliveries for some sweet cash. Pimp out your camp with some nice amenities and even a camp dog.
- Bounty Hunter: Pretty straight forward. Hunt down the most vicious criminals while earning money and learning some cool gun spin moves. Legendary bounties were also added for a little extra challenge and cheddar.
- Collector: This one is either your favorite or the most boring. However, there’s no debating that it is probably the most lucrative as far as time invested. Meet Madam Nazar and go searching for a ton of different collectible items. From arrowheads to tarot cards, there’s no shortage of items to find. Having trouble locating something, buy a map or two. Sell the items individually, or to make the most money, in a set.
- Moonshiner: Probably the most fleshed out role starting off. Play through a short set of story missions and take out your competition while you’re brewing that sweet illegal hooch. Advance far enough to unlock a speakeasy and even a full band while different patrons frequent your establishment. Then sell that shine to the highest bidder. Rinse and repeat.
Each role consists of twenty levels and I soon found out that doing them was probably the fastest way to level up your character. The experience gained is really unmatched by any other form of questing. And they’re pretty fun to boot. So fun that I have been playing since late November almost exclusively. It made some of activities that were otherwise monotonous, entertaining and worth while. I spent hours hunting, running around looking for tarot cards or chasing down the criminals to take them in. I say hours, but in reality, it’s probably days.
They also introduced a kind of a battle pass model. The Wheeler and Rawson Co. Club works similarly to a season pass where you earn rewards just by leveling up. It’s a whopping 40 gold but if you complete it, you get it all back. During the holiday, Rockstar added a snow effect as well as several limited time pieces of gear. To this point, it looks like they are beginning to hit their stride delivering some cool limited time content and events. But it’s not all sunshine and roses.
Griefers. Not a fan of them. However, with any online open world game, you have to expect some asshattery. Luckily, the developers introduced a defensive mode that made it harder for others to shoot or spot you. Now it works both ways but for someone like me, it does the job.
Then there are the bugs and crashes. Again, to be expected but still pretty annoying. Sometimes they’re hilarious, sometimes not so much. One of the biggest ones right now is the severe lack of animals. This seems to be directly tied to the number of players in the game lobby, with 16 or 17 being the sweet spot and over 20 severly impacting the rate at which animals spawn in the world. Often, you have no control over the lobby and thus it can really render the Trader role useless. Sometimes you get lucky and get in a solo lobby. A bit of advice, try starting up a bounty or bootlegger mission and there’s a chance you get in by yourself. Then, it’s like freaking wild kingdom. I asked Rockstar about this and they are aware of the situation. That’s it. Only took a month for the response as well. Also, I’ve seen rumblings that this is more of a console issue than on the PC. When the Moonshiner role released, it also seemed plagued with issues. I had to hard reset my game several times and couldn’t deliver anything without getting an infinite load screen. While I believe it’s working better after a few updates, it’s still not 100%.
The biggest issue I have with the game as it currently stands, is the in game economy. It’s pretty egregious. Now, before I go off on this, I want it to be known that you can earn gold and money through regular play. Now how much you earn is directly tied to your commitment to playing daily, especially with gold. Full disclosure, I did purchase the one time 25 gold bars offer for $5. This was after I realized that every one of the roles was locked behind gold. I already had the bounty hunter license thanks to the Twitch promotion, so with the 5 gold I already had, I was able to buy the other two roles when I first started out. Also, completing one challenge daily will reward you with a progressively larger bonus to your gold intake. After 28 days in a row its possible to earn almost 10 bars a day.
Now, it’s not always super easy. Some of the daily challenges are ridiculously time consuming. There are also several items locked behind the gold bar system. Want to be a moonshiner? 15 gold for the trader role, reach level 5, then 25 gold for the moonshiner role. That’s nuts. Now, straight cash can be pretty easy to acquire, especially through the roles. Most of those missions also offer a bit of gold as well but it doesn’t add up fast. I understand how game economics work so this isn’t anything new. And you can argue about the value of product for days. In the end, it’s all subjective. I just want it to pump the brakes. You shouldn’t have to either pay out of pocket or risk losing your family because of the amount of time required to get enough dough for the best features. It’s ridiculous.
So what’s the verdict? Hard to say I guess. I have really enjoyed my time with the game. Almost too much. It’s my character, it’s my story. That’s what I usually look for in a single player experience, so to find it in a massive online open world is definitely unexpected. For the most part, it’s incredibly well done. You have to stay conscious of the fact that you are in an online game though. All of the unpleasantness that you find in most of those games are here as well, they’re just masked by the amazing world Rockstar created. The situation is fluid, new things are being added weekly, good and bad. I don’t ever see it becoming the juggernaut that is GTA Online, that’s an impossible task. But if the game creators continue to pump out meaningful content, then it has the potential to be an amazing game for a long time to come.