Following its first major patch, GameCentral gives its verdict on the multiplayer mode of Rockstars blockbuster western.
Weve been playing Red Dead Online for over a week now and, for obvious reasons, its almost impossible not to view it through the prism of GTA Online. With GTA Vs online mode still going strong, and maintaining a huge player base half a decade after release, many have been anticipating the online component of Red Dead Redemption II just as eagerly as the main game.
Rockstar has spent five years supporting and expanding GTA Online, in both scale and scope. Its also had a vast amount of player feedback to draw upon, which has all served to increase the anticipation of what Red Dead Online could be.
With that in mind, once you get past the introductory sequence, Red Dead Online free roam feels sadly underwhelming. After wrestling with the ungainly but powerful character editor, you can create a suitably unique (and insanely ugly, if you wish) avatar through which to live your Wild West dreams. Thereafter follows a short series of story missions, the completion of which will leave you familiar with the basic mechanics and with a few hundred dollars in the bank. What you do next is up to you. The problem is, theres not much you actually can do.
Icons appear across the map, leading you to various mission givers, many of whom youll recognise from the story mode (and the first Red Dead Redemption), but the missions themselves are dull and desperately repetitive. Rob a stage coach, kill a wild animal, deliver some letters, they all amount to busy work, made more so due to the long travel times involved. Mission destinations are frequently a considerable distance away and more often than not youll just engage cinematic camera mode and let the computer take you there.
In fact, the safest way to travel is to go into cinematic mode and watch the progress of your blip on the map screen. This way you can see if your route takes you near potentially hostile players and plan accordingly. To make matters worse mission time limits are often tight which leads to regular fails, especially when other players decide to make life difficult.
At launch GTA Online was bare bones compared to the behemoth it is now, but there was still lots of content: missions with new contacts becoming available as you levelled up, racing, tennis, golf, arm wrestling… there were regular and varied free roam events and a steady stream of player invites to missions, races, deathmatches and other activities. You were never stuck for something to do.
Red Dead Online enables you to easily jump into various PvP modes and horse racing events, which is fine, but free roam lacks any sort of purpose or direction.
Rockstar already released the games first patch after listening to players complaints about the pitiful rewards earned from missions. The payouts have been increased slightly, but it doesnt make a whole lot of difference since almost all purchasable items in the game are locked until you level up sufficiently – requiring hours of play before youre allowed the privilege of buying them.
As with GTA Online, a big issue is simply player douchebaggery. So many players will shoot on sight for no reason at all. Griefing has always been a problem in GTA Online due to non-existent game balancing and a bunch of ridiculously over-powered vehicles. Red Dead Online doesnt suffer from that – not yet anyway – but theres the same lack of consequence for players who are just out to spoil other peoples days.
The long and short of it is that Red Dead Online is not Grand Theft Auto Online. But, and heres the rub, its not supposed to be. To enjoy Red Dead Online you have to stop trying to play it like GTA Online. The game has a very different pace and focus. Traversal can be a chore if youre simply going from A to B but it feels less of a problem if you make it about the journey and not the destination.
Stop and do a little hunting. Selling a few pelts when you get to town will add a few much-needed bucks to your bank account and hunting is a strangely therapeutic experience. While youre at it, gather some herbs or do a spot of fishing. Keep in mind that food you catch and cook yourself is much more effective at replenishing your stamina, health, and dead eye cores than most of the stuff you can buy in stores. Its also a heck of a lot cheaper, and every cent counts at this stage in the game.
Once you start to play Red Dead Online on its own terms you can begin to appreciate the experience a little bit more. Its woefully short on meaningful content, but the foundations are in place. Given how dramatically GTA Online has grown since launch we fully expect Red Dead Online to develop into something great further down the line.
As it stands now, its a fairly basic world simulator in which you can hang out and chill, hunt, fish, and do odd jobs. You can do those things in the single-player game, but theres always the nagging feeling that there are more pressing matters for Arthur to attend to. For your online character, free of the shackles of narrative, it feels much more natural. And you can do it with friends.
And for those who dont have anyone to play with, Rockstar has included a very handy option called Posse Up which enables you to load into the game as a part of a random posse. Its a pretty neat way of hooking up with new people and seems to match players up well.
In its current state, Red Dead Online wont appeal to everyone, especially if you want bang for your buck. A decent selection of competitive modes, including the now obligatory Battle Royale, will keep the trigger-happy… happy for the time being. But free roam is what most people are interested in and its going to take a while longer for Red Dead Online to become the Wild West experience everybodys been hoping for. GTA Online suggests Rockstar will get there in the end but it might be a long ride yet.
By Miles Guttery