Is it safe to say that Red Dead Online has been a bit of a disappointment? The online component of Red Dead Redemption 2, we expected big things from the team at Rockstar -- especially given the developer's experience with the ridiculous ongoing success of GTA Online -- but a few weeks after Red Dead Online launched, it just kind of... Fizzled out.
We're sure that some of you will disagree, but it felt like Red Dead Online never made the splash that people expected. This failure to set the world alight can be broken down into many, many factors, but chief among them is that in its beta state (which lasted roughly seven months), there just wasn't much for players to do. The open world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is top tier, but strip away most of its dynamic events, character interactions, and countless secrets, and you're left with a pretty desolate map.
Of course, the influence of GTA Online can't be ignored. By the time Red Dead Online launched, GTA Online was already a juggernaut -- and had been for years -- and it was absolutely overflowing with missions and activities. By comparison, Red Dead Online was barren. You had your story missions and your competitive modes, but in its beta form, it was little more than a template -- the framework for something much bigger.
And so here we are seven months later, and Red Dead Online is finally out of beta. Fortunately, there's no doubt that Red Dead Online is now a better experience than it ever has been -- but is it worth your time? If you had given up on the game before, is it now worth another shot? What improvements have been made? Is the future looking bright for Red Dead Online? In this article, we're going to attempt to answer all of these questions, so saddle up and take a ride with us.
Red Dead Online - The Good
Let's start out with the positives, shall we? Red Dead Online's got a lot going for it -- which should be obvious given the sheer quality of the single player campaign -- and there are plenty of good reasons to dive in, either alone or with friends.
The open world
We've already mentioned this, but the open world of Red Dead Online is just so well made. Now, it's not quite as populated or as busy as the open world of the single player campaign, but it's still a joy to be a part of, and it's gosh darn beautiful at times.
Simply exploring the world and riding around with friends can be a great way to relax. With so many picturesque vistas to see and a wealth of varied environments to visit, it's a world that you can truly immerse yourself in.
Tying into our love of the open world, Red Dead Online now has a reasonable range of dynamic events that you can stumble across while travelling from place to place. Some are similar to the events that you find in the single player campaign, while others are rather unique and new.
The majority that we've come across haven't been massively in-depth, but they do a decent job of breathing a little more life into the dusty roads and trails of Red Dead Online. It's particularly cool coming across a group of outlaws or a bandit camp out in the middle of nowhere. A touch of action here and there can go a long way in keeping things entertaining.
While the story missions in Red Dead Online aren't quite on the same level as the ones in the single player offering, they're still fantastic fun -- especially with friends. Many of them see you get into huge gunfights with whole gangs of baddies, and some of them throw interesting gameplay twists into the mix.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the story missions in Red Dead Online is that they're constantly providing you with moral quandaries. You'll have to decide whether to be the good guy or the bad guy during these quests, and if you're playing with others, everyone gets the chance to vote on the action that the party should take. Player choice isn't a world-shattering addition by any means, but it does add some welcome weight to each story mission, and gives you an opportunity to role-play your ideal gunslinger.
Hunting in Red Dead Online is the catalyst for many an exciting misadventure. Wandering off into the wilderness in search of pelts is pretty much the game's best freeform activity, and as you can imagine, attempting to hunt down deadly creatures like bears or cougars with your pals can be the source of some brilliant self-made stories.
Hunting's also a solid way to earn some dollars in Red Dead Online, and having a steady supply of meat is never a bad thing when you've got a health core to worry about. Even hunting down deer and other peaceful beasts can be an excellent way to unwind after lengthy stints of action.
All that we've already said about hunting can be said about fishing in Red Dead Online, minus the deadly bears and cougars, obviously. Get a couple of friends together and head on down to the water's edge. Lovely stuff.
Yep, Red Dead Online now has multiplayer poker. Find your local saloon, sit down with a group of friends or strangers, and enjoy some quick and dirty gambling. Always a laugh, and if you're good at it, well... You stand to make a heck of a lot of money in a relatively short space of time.
Red Dead Online - The Okay
Some elements of Red Dead Online don't quite hit the mark, but they're still worth looking into when you're in between story missions or you want to add a little structure to your routine.
Stranger missions are basically side quests in Red Dead Online. Some of them are pretty much on par with the quality found in the main story missions, but others can be disappointingly short or straight up uninteresting. Very hit and miss.
Still, if you (and maybe your mates) are looking for a way to level up or make some quick cash, stranger missions might be worth your time -- just don't expect anything amazing.
Much like stranger missions, PvP in Red Dead Online can be very hit and miss. Anyone who's played Red Dead Redemption 2 will know that it isn't the tightest shooter on the market -- and it obviously doesn't want to be -- but it means that like GTA Online before it, PvP can feel a bit janky and, at times, cheesy.
But don't get us wrong, there's still fun to be had here -- it's just that the circumstances need to be right. Playing with friends can give you an immediate advantage, for example, but it still takes time to learn the maps and race tracks. You can quite easily tell which players are veterans, because you'll notice that they have all the best spots staked out from the second a match starts. And in races, the best jockeys always use their experience to cut corners and take off at just the right time.
Again, PvP can be a good laugh (or an intense affair), but it can be very unforgiving if you're new on the scene.
Offensive and Defensive playstyles
Coming out of beta, Rockstar added a "playstyle" system to Red Dead Online. It allows players to choose between 'Offensive' and 'Defensive' from the in-game menu. Defensive mode is the big deal here. In order to tackle griefing in Red Dead Online (essentially the act of players murdering you in an attempt to ruin your fun) defensive mode is designed to dissuade potential aggressors.
Griefing in Red Dead Online was a real problem during the beta phase. With no private lobbies, new players in particular were always in danger of being killed or robbed or harassed regardless of how they wanted to play. You could barely set foot in the nearest town without catching at least one bullet -- usually to the head.
Defensive mode is a step in the right direction, then. It lessens the damage that you take from other players, you can't be headshot, and you can't be locked onto using the game's automatic aiming system. You also can't be lassoed or tackled. In short, it makes you quite a bit harder to kill, and even if a player still decides to go through with murder and put you down, they get a big old bounty placed on their head that everyone can see.
But defensive mode doesn't solve everything. At point blank range, a few shotgun rounds from another player can still kill you, and having defensive mode enabled locks you out of certain stranger missions -- the ones that other players can interfere with.
The bottom line is that if another player is only out for blood, defensive mode still isn't going to stop them from at least trying to kill you or ruin your day. But hey, like we said, it's definitely a step in the right direction for those who just want to get on with the game.
Red Dead Online - The Bad
And here we have the aspects of Red Dead Online that need some work. The game's coming along nicely now that it's out of beta, but improvements to this stuff would make a world of difference.
The economy in Red Dead Online is stingy -- it's as simple as that. Although Rockstar has increased the cash and experience rewards that you gain from completing missions and activities, it can still feel like you're grinding for hours at a time just to get by. Guns and clothes are especially expensive, and depending on how you want to play and how you want your character to look, it can take a long, long time to get there.
The issue here is that earning a good amount of money requires lengthy stints of grinding -- especially when you've had your fill of the story missions. You're either hunting animals and hoping you come across bandit camps day after day, or you're working through match after match after match in PvP.
Now, we're not against a bit of grinding here and there, but the economy just feels out of whack in Red Dead Online. Defying death in a particularly tricky story mission? Here's ten bucks for your trouble, barely enough to buy a few supplies.
And no, we can't talk about this stuff without mentioning microtransactions. Let's be real: they're not going anywhere, but with an economy as stingy as this, you can't help but be cynical and wonder just how far the system can be pushed in order to tempt players into spending real money.
It's just a shame, isn't it? Ultimately, Red Dead Online deserves better than this.
The lack of server options
This is a hot topic among the Red Dead Online community right now, and for good reason. When you play Red Dead Online, you're plopped into a server and that's that. You're always going to be in a world with other players, and you're always going to be playing by the same rules.
Put simply, it'd be nice to have options. Servers with no auto-aim for more hardcore players? Servers where you're encouraged to hunt down and kill other players? Servers where you can't attack other players? Private servers? Again, give us some options here, Rockstar.
There still ain't that much to do
Yep, even out of beta, Red Dead Online still feels a bit barebones. Once you're done with the story missions that's just about it for the meaty solo or co-op content. Past that, you're looking at freeform activities like clearing out enemy strongholds and hunting, unless you want to dabble in PvP.
This does mean that there's room to grow, though, and the hope is that Rockstar continue adding more and more stuff to Red Dead Online through future updates.
Conclusion - Should You Play Red Dead Online?
If you're a fan of Red Dead Redemption's world and its atmosphere, then yes, at this point, you should definitely try Red Dead Online. On the flip side, if you're not a fan of the weighty controls or shooting or any other key gameplay aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2, chances are that you're not going to get along with its online component either. This is the same gameplay design and loop, only in an online environment.
Should you try Red Dead Online if you're a solo player? Even though we think it's best enjoyed with a friend or two by your side, we'd still say yes, give it a try. It's worth playing for the story stuff alone, and the introduction of defensive mode means that you're much less likely to be hassled by other players. It's not a perfect solo experience, but it's solid enough.
In conclusion, Red Dead Online is in a reasonably good place right now, even if it is a little lacking in terms of content. If you don't mind a bit of a grind and you're looking for something that you can come back to again and again, then you could do a lot worse. With a few key adjustments, Red Dead Online could be something quite special, but it's going to take time and a clear vision on Rockstar's behalf.
Are you a big fan of Red Dead Online? Are you thinking about going back to it, or playing it for the first time? Tell us your best cougar stories in the comments section below.