Historically speaking, online betas can make for unhappy trails, pardner
. That said, even though millions of us have been doing our darndest to break Red Dead Online
since it launched last year, Rockstar
has managed to (mostly) keep its powder and its pants dry. For my part, this interactive online Westworld lassoed me in early, and I was corralled into becoming a regular player. I'm now ready to give you a straight shoot on this out-of-beta offering.
Before we begin, it goes without saying that RDO
has changed significantly in eight-months’ time. If you moseyed in for a peek around launch, didn't like what you saw and got the hell out of Dodge
, well, you'd best turn that horse around and giddy on back. Rockstar has streamlined RDO into being a phenomenal cowboy experience. It'll eat your free hours quicker'n AI gators do hog-tied NPCs.
Any greenhorns ought to be brought up to speed with a basic description of this online frontier. Boot up RDO and you'll need to fashion yourself a desperado to star in a narrative thread that's separate from the Arthur Morgan
odyssey in the single-player mode. In this sordid tale you're a jailbird who's broken out and been hired by a vengeful widower, Mrs. LeClerk
. Foul play is afoot and how you choose to investigate her conundrum is up to you and your own abstract ideas on justice. Are you a shining Lone Ranger
or a Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen
? The choice is yours.
"The good news is there's plenty of trouble to get into between chapter releases. If you're after more structured fare there are sub-missions with 20 odd Strangers missions..."
Once your moral compass is set in over the course of a few introductory missions, you'll find that some content is locked away from your grasp. For example, honourable types will soon find themselves in the tutelage of the righteous (but violently practical) Marshal Davies
. Conversely, bad seeds will do the (very) dirty work of bank robber Samson Finch
. Using an alt I've taken both roads and have found either path to be well directed and sharply written experiences. Being episodic, it's still a work in progress, however.
The good news is there's plenty of trouble to get into between chapter releases. If you're after more structured fare there are sub-missions with 20 odd Strangers
missions. If you played through the solo, you know the sort of errands on the menu. Deliveries, Escorts, Hunting, NPC Rescues, Recoveries, Horse Thievin', Assassinations, Robberies – so many ways to get paid or to earn yourself a plot at Boot Hill. And obviously you'll do all of this for the usual personal improvement grind that lets you build up a modest collection of perk cards, plus you can earn better guns with more lethal ammo.
"I had a blast rolling with a (magnificent) seven player posse, where everybody geared up and got spec’d with certain abilities to suit specific strategies..."
Does player griefing exist out there where the deer and the antelope play? You betcha. They don't call this the Wild West for nothing. Tenderfeet can insulate themselves from it fairly easily, however, by playing in Defensive mode. Should you get Jack McCalled
in the back for no dang reason by some duded-up, egg-sucking gutter trash, simply click 'parley' to effectively become invulnerable to them for 10 minutes. That said, you do have to suffer a lot of stupidity. Having your peaceful fishing session or an intense hunt ruined by some random pecker holster is still annoying.
As with most online games RDO is best consumed with some like-minded folk watching your keister. I had a blast rolling with a (magnificent) seven player posse, where everybody geared up and got spec’d with certain abilities to suit specific strategies. You can also gather around the fire at your ever-evolving campsite, mosey on into towns, get Doc Holliday
levels of drunk in a saloon, battle enemy gangs, sniff out treasure, or just spend way too many hours playing poker.
"However, the real magic threading these set-piece moments together is the emergent fun that happens along the way..."
Basically, I'm here to tell you that RDO has some of the best scripted mission content since GTA V's heists. However, the real magic threading these set-piece moments together is the emergent fun that happens along the way. Spontaneous skirmishes can erupt out of nowhere, as will events that lure the entire server into a deadly competition, perhaps involving a stage coach that needs to get somewhere. Whether you'll be the one nervously riding shotgun on it, or the highwayman lying in wait is all up to you. Either role is the stuff of white knuckle controller holding. My only complaint: wagons handle like rusty shopping trolleys and the bastards can't reverse when you smack into something.
Speaking of peccadilloes, the folks who pooh-poohed the solo for not being respectful of their time won't be enamoured with this online portion. RDO still doggedly goes at its own molasses pace. Earning a precise means of fast-travel takes some serious grind. Ditto earning the scratch to buy a steed who can be outfitted to gallop faster than a three-legged rocking horse. Make no mistake – the many microtransactions that appear at every vendor will start to whisper sweet nothings to you before too long. That said, the good news is that “Rockstar Gold” can't be used to beef up your abilities faster than the poorer players.
"Personally, I think these structured killfests are solid offerings but they pale in comparison to co-op missions or the random madness you fall into via free roam..."
It also has to be said that all you solo gunslingers are in for a big mechanical difference here. Obviously Dead Eye's slow-mo schtick can't be replicated in a server environment, but it's still incredibly important in the PvP modes. Triggering your right-stick click now accesses your equipped ability cards. For instance, one card might regen your health with Wolverine
-level alacrity while Dead Eye mode is active. Another might let you and your teammates deal more damage when Dead Eye is ticking away.
As I mentioned, these are of paramount importance in the deathmatch-style games that are divided up into small (16 players) or large (32). Personally, I think these structured killfests are solid offerings but they pale in comparison to co-op missions or the random madness you fall into via free roam. If you put a revolver to my head, I'd say my pick of the litter would have to be a recent addition called Overrun. It's like a game of forcings back
, played in incredibly close quarter arenas with moving checkpoints and short two-minute timers.
I'm also partial to Most Wanted, where over-achieving players essentially raise a bounty on themselves. The twist: a far less sweaty player who knows how to bide their time and pick their shots can in fact turn the tables and take home moolah. It's tactical and rewarding if you're of the underhanded persuasion. Like me.
Whether you're a wild mustang wanderer in free roam or a hardcore PvPer, RDO delivers pretty amazing fun. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention that it's still a “mostly what you make of it” online experience. New content comes in dribs and drabs. And when you look over yonder at GTA V (where players are getting casinos and all sorts of cool things) it's clear that RDO needs better and more frequent support. Hopefully Rockstar can be spurred into that action, because what's already here is well worth saddling up for.