red dead On-line has reached the end of its lifespan. It’s both a fantastic experience that I’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring, and a game that will never reach its full potential, forever in the shadow of its bigger (and far more profitable) sibling, Grand Theft Auto On-line. Now that Rockstar has said it’s no longer paying much attention to the western, it’s worth revisiting the frontiers to judge the game on what it’s accomplished since its inception in 2018.
Red Dead Online begins with your character being betrayed, held responsible for crimes he didn’t commit, and hanged as an outlaw. They escape thanks to the efforts of high-class dame Jessica LeClerk, who has her own revenge mission in mind since she was widowed by scavengers trying to get her husband’s fortune. The player becomes LeClerk’s instrument of justice, and once unleashed on the frontier, it’s time to get straight to work, completing bounties, killing robbers, and getting a stable of beautiful horses to brush.
Following the LeClerk missions will take you through a short campaign in which you will occasionally have to make moral choices. Will you bring a wayward daughter back to her father or let her run away with her lover? Tie good-for-nothings to the tracks and let the train do justice, or are you more merciful?
The game tracks your actions with an honor system, and at first you might think you’re getting into some really deep role-playing. However, this notion falls off after LeClerk’s missions and never really returns; The honor system remains, but will automatically fill up over time as you do th ings like brushing and feeding your horse. It’s usually pretty clear what will result in an honor loss or restoration. Clearing a gang’s hideout allows you to spare the leader or execute them, and self-defense is fine, but executing witnesses is taboo.
Aside from a few cosmetic rewards, it just never really is Affairs. It feels like there are great plans that were eventually dropped, and characters like Old Man Jones – who feels like the angelic answer to the fiendish stranger in the Red Dead franchise – are just… there. Jones spends the early campaign idling around cutscenes, imploring you to treat those around you with honor and dignity. It feels like it’s going somewhere, but Jones somehow disappears after dropping all his premonitions.
So it’s up to you cowboys to make your own fun once you’re done with the campaign missions, and there’s plenty to help you along the way. You can hunt and fish, set up camp and cook delicious stew, hunt down high-priced criminal bounties, or run your own moonshiner’s shack. When I log in, I can easily fall into a comfortable rhythm of activities. I start at my camp, cook up some stew and coffee, and eat my breakfast manually, pulling the trigger with every bite and sip. Then I hop on my big horse, Hayseed, and wander the vast, untouched wilderness in search of missions.
The essence of these activities is basically always the same: you either ride your horse, swing a lasso or shoot a gun. While the actions aren’t very varied on paper, Red Dead Redemption 2Adding spice is the great grappling, combat, and physics systems. As with most open-world games, there’s usually a compelling context as well, be it exciting or melancholic. My friends and I spent hours and hours arguing in a muddy backyard.
The world also feels organic, if not as fleshed out as the single player experience. When I’m out, I might find someone trapped under a rock, only to find out it’s an insidious trap set by bandits. Or I can find someone who actually needs help getting back home after a wolf attack and when I get them home I find an available mission at their ranch which of course leads me to Valentine where I pick up a bounty board.
Red Dead Online can be both lighthearted and zen – just the experience of enjoying a horse’s hooves against the hardpacked dirt and open skies of the American border. It can also be an absolute clown fiesta where my friends and I enjoy a good old fashioned match of Stab Battles in a swanky mansion. It’s a great social sandbox, but one that never really rivals its sibling GTA Online
Rockstar’s massive open world is still beautiful to explore and full of little details to discover. There is much joy in individual moments, but there is no overarching vision that guides Red Dead Online a tangible and concrete goal – and now there likely never will be, as Rockstar continues to focus on it GTA6 and continues to devote time and resources to the mammoth GTA Online.
There’s something tragic about that, because during Red Dead Online can’t host flying cars and Elon Musk parodies, it features Gravitas. My friends and I were always in character when we hung out on the edge. in the GTA Online, we race through the streets at 260 km/h while listening to the Backstreet Boys. in the Red Dead Online, we stared thoughtfully into the fire and sipped coffee from a tin cup before taking off with our horses at a gallop. The joy was in the journey, and for all the game’s missed potential, I still loved those quiet moments punctuated by wild cowboy action.
It’s a disappointing ending for fans who have persevered through new character roles and occasional events awaiting greater recognition or vindication from Rockstar. The game has been plagued in life by draft content and periods of inactivity – with the exception of battle passes – and now it’s sitting in purgatory. Only time will tell if the community the game has attracted sticks around or seeks a brighter future elsewhere.