Do you like cowboys? Why bother asking, right? Who doesn’t like cowboys. Just in time for the busy holiday buying season Rockstar Games came in to fulfill our dreams of living in the (admittedly, dying) wild, wild west with Read Dead Redemption 2, a mature experience that both fans and newcomers alike gobbled up like beans and biscuits. Thanks, Rockstar! Sure, it was probably slower and more thoughtful than some fans expected, but most of us really enjoyed it. It sure did sell a whole lot.
So it’s no real surprise that Rockstar is attempting to bring that cowboy magic online with the equally anticipated Red Dead Online, now rustling up some action in beta. What do you get when you mix the distinctly western thrills of Red Dead Redemption 2’s map with the game modes and unpredictable matches of Grand Theft Auto Online? Gather around that fire, friends, because have I got a story for you!
A chaotic world that the wild, wild west would have been unable to sustain; that’s what you get. The moral compass of every new real player you meet in the open world is established within a few seconds of meeting (and if you pay attention to science news at all, this actually follows established rules of judging people by their covers in the first minute of meeting them), marked by whether or not they draw a weapon of some kind on you. A gun? Very threatening. A lasso? Slightly less threatening. A knife? Back to threatening.
So far, Rockstar has yet to add a passive mode to the Red Dead Online, which would allow players like me, (i.e. a pacifist until someone shoots my horse, steals my hard-earned animal carcasses, or ties me up three times in a row) to be one-shot while out and about in the wilderness, just trying to make a living in this hard, cold world.
Don’t get me wrong! The map is still large and unchanged, and while the economy remains in shambles, the core mechanics of how to play the game are still there. You still require food, a necessity leading to painstakingly getting that perfect kill on that deer you’ve been tracking for way too long; which leads to running your tush off to get back to camp before you’re slain by a passing griefer; which leads to sitting by the campfire for five real-life minutes turning all that meat into sustenance. Everything in the world still takes time and patience, making sure things happen in their proper sequence. I’m sure this is how Rockstar probably intended things to play, judging by the base game.
Again, stressing this is still very much a beta, you’ll encounter plenty of bugs throughout, just waiting to be squashed in future updates. From little things like losing all your pelts when you die, to big things like a game-breaking bug that keeps you trapped in the handheld catalog until you force-close the application. I’ve gotten that one twice. Lesson learned? Don’t look at the Fresh Food in the catalog. It hates that.
When Rockstar launched the beta late last year, it immediately had some issues that needed to be sorted out. The number one complaint: the economy of the game was inflated, except no one had been around during the inflating. No one had the money to pay for anything! Rockstar has since mostly fixed the problem, but money still remains hard to earn, and gold bars (used to pay for special items or to unlock things like clothes and cosmetics early) are incredibly hard to earn naturally, without spending real money. Rockstar also has plans in the works for dealing with griefers, which was perhaps the #2 complaint, and here’s hoping that it’s a good plan, because boy am I sick of dying to the latest player who thinks they’re the evil Clint Eastwood.
Just like the base game, the beta’s story missions are captivating, at least the first time you play them. The nth time, when you’re in it for the money or the experience, they can start to get a little tiring. I wish that there were more of them available, but that’s probably something future updates will add, at some point at least, so we’ll all have to be patient until then. For even more gameplay, there’s extra PVP game modes such as racing and showdowns, as well as the newly added Battle Royale mode, which is capable of hosting up to 32 players. Seems like every game needs a Battle Royale mode these days, and Read Dead Redemption is no exception.
A couple of tips for curious newcomers to the world of Read Dead Online: one, for the love of all that is holy pass on the right when both parties are on their horses going as fast as possible. I suffered fatal head-on collisions three times, which, let me tell you, usually takes out every living being involved. You? Dead. Your horse? Critically injured. The other guy’s horse? Critically injured. The other guy? Dead. One time I managed to survive one of these collisions left me feeling guilty about my role, and quickly revived the other party’s horse and ran off before they got angry enough to shoot me for being the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s like the western version of putting a note on the car you just smashed into, hoping doing so will clear your conscience.
Two! Money is, like I said, hard to come by. Just go hunting! Fishing works too, but story missions (after you complete them for the first time) rarely net more than $10. A perfect buck carcass will net you $10 at the butcher’s, for much less work, and hopefully with a bunch of pelts and other dead animals stowed all over your horse. You can make a cool $40-$60 per trip, sometimes more, depending on what you’re hunting and how efficient your shots are. Remember, perfect pelts are the most valuable, and you need to have the right gun for the job.
Overall, I’m really enjoying my romp through Red Dead Online, even in this early beta stage. When there’s no other players around (a.k.a. I’ve been avoiding everyone that shows up on the map like there’s a magnetic field around me) it’s a relaxing experience; beautiful and intriguing, and with a lot to do if you know where to look. I realize that being solo may the polar opposite to what an “online” game entails, but sometimes you just wanna take things slow. I haven’t even really touched the competitive modes yet; I’ve been having too much fun in the wide open world. There’s a lot of promise here, and if the incredible success of GTA Online is any indication, we could be looking at something truly special as the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to exert its manifest destiny online.