A month after Red Dead Redemption 2’s release, Rockstar have finally made its online component available for all dual-wielding gunslingers. However, while the single-player tale of Arthur’s absolution and the demise of the Van Der Linde gang is a near perfect epic, Red Dead Online is a good, bad and downright ugly return to the wild west.
Focusing first on the positives, Red Dead Online is an occasionally thrilling experience that can be enjoyed as a lonesome enigma who doesn’t take kindly to strangers. There’s a serviceable story for you to complete, the open-world is stuffed with activities, and it’s just a blast exploring the landscape and witnessing the chaos of a dozen horses frantically sprinting about the wilderness in search of their whistling owners.
While the main story missions demanding that you play with four other cowboys is a daunting requirement that will make all reclusive gamers sweat from anxiety, the action is still incredibly fun due to your teammates being unpredictable time bombs. True, it can be frustrating when one of your brothers keeps dying as another incessantly shouts obscenities through their microphone, but these absurd moments can succeed in making you laugh. The highlight of these grouped missions is having to vote on moral decisions; do you free the pleading bandits soiling their previously white undergarments, or do you elect for them to be crushed by a train and turned into diced meat?
In addition to the main story missions, there is a plethora of ‘strangers’ for you to approach, woo with your silence, deformed face and receding hairdo, and complete errands. Although repeatedly stealing wagons does eventually become tiresome, it is nice seeing familiar faces like the Irish drunk, Sean, and the fan-favourite rancher, Bonnie McFarlane.
Surprisingly, the most amount of fun to be had in Red Dead Online is during competitive races and wars for supremacy. Capture The Territory is easily the worst thanks to individual-minded players running around the battlefield as lone headless chickens, but Cold Dead Hands, Most Wanted and Open Races are fierce competitions in which your success is not dependant on others being ‘gud’.
The bad aspect of the online resort is identical to the biggest issue with real-life: the world’s full of d*cks. With the only repercussion for stabbing gamers in the back being a meaningless ‘tut-tut’ as your honour slightly lowers, it’s no surprise that the wild west is a hellish playground where the helpless rise from the dead only to be quickly sent back below the dirt. Although this can sometimes result in the beginning of an unbreakable bond after a bloody series of mano-a-manos, it’s mostly a frustrating loop that makes you want to break your controller.
With there being no fast-travel, manually riding to a mission only to be purposefully bumped into and gunned down by some unloved kid is more than irksome. Not only that, but exploring towns like Valentine and Saint Denis is nigh impossible thanks to one person not being able to keep their gun in their pants, resulting in everybody whipping out their pistols and flinging them about.
And The Ugly
Being unable to peacefully explore the beautiful world or complete errands for strangers without frequently being murdered from behind by random yetis isn’t Rockstar’s fault, but there are soon to be turned on anti-consumer practices which unveil the game’s beauty and reveal its hideous spots.
Although microtransactions were an ugly inevitability, it doesn’t mean that they are unavoidable plague that should be accepted, especially with Red Dead Online’s ridiculously over inflated economy. In single-player, a volcanic pistol costs $130, while online it is a hefty $450. Guns, cosmetics, services for your horse, and even shaving your head all cost way too much thanks to the inflated prices coupled with how difficult it is to earn money without grinding to sell pelts.
Having to pay real cash to wear a fancy hat, a sporty trench coat or lucky white underwear will be fine due to the online component being a free addition to the 80-hours long single-player campaign, but it’s not okay for Red Dead Online to become a pay-to-win scam. If you stick with your initial pistol through being unwilling to give up real cash for gold or spend a dozen hours hunting, then you are at a disadvantage as you’ll need to shoot opponents a hundred times to kill them. And if you think you can simply save up your in-game pennies by completing missions, then you are wrong as you always need to buy food and ammo, and you need to spend even more dough on improving your camp and probably taking a dump.
Red Dead Online is like a rockstar’s career: there’s good, bad and ugly moments. Although it’s fun interacting with honourable gamers, meeting up with the beautiful Bonnie McFarlane to retrieve her wagon, and competing in fierce races and battles to be crowned the most supreme outlaw since Billy the Kid, the gross economy is an unavoidable hurdle that may result in a large number of cowboys putting away their hats for good.