Red Dead Online has reached the end of its life, both as a fantastic experience Ive explored for hours, and a game that will never live up to its potential, forever in the shadow of its bigger (and considerably more lucrative) brother, Grand Theft Auto Online. It's worth revisiting the frontier to see what it's achieved since its 2018 release.
Your character is betrayed, condemned, and sentenced to be hanged as an outlaw in Red Dead Online. She escapes, thanks to the efforts of high-class lady Jessica LeClerk, who has been tasked with her own criminal revenge mission since she was recently widowed by scavengers trying to savor her husbands fortune. Once the player has been released on the frontier, it's time to get back to work fulfilling bounties, killing thieves, and obtaining
If you follow the LeClerk missions, you are put through a brief campaign wherein you must make the occasional moral choice. Do you return a broken child to her father or let her flee with her lover? Do you tie some neer-do-wells to the tracks and let the train do justice, or are you more merciful?
The game keeps track of your actions using a honor system, which may seem like a lot of fun at first; the honor system fades away as you do things like brush and feed your horse; it tends to fill up over time as you go along; it's usually pretty clear what leads to an honor drop or recovery. Executing witnesses is a no-no.
It just never really matters, beyond a few cosmetic benefits. It feels like great ideas were overlooked at some point, and characters like Old Man Jones who feels like the angelic answer to the devilish Stranger in the Red Dead franchise are just there. It feels like the beginning of something, but Jones does so poorly after deleting all of his foreshadowing.
Once you complete the campaign missions, cowpokes can hunt and fish, set up camp and make some mouthwatering stew, hunt down high-priced criminal rewards, or run your own moonshine shack. Then I jump on my big horse Hayseed and go out in search of missions in the vast, unspoiled wilderness.
The fundamentals of these activities are always the same: you're either riding your horse, swinging a lasso, or shooting a pistol. On paper, Red Dead Redemption 2's superb grappling, fighting, and physics systems add depth. There's also usually some compelling context, whether it's exciting or melancholic. My friends and I have spent hours just wreassling in a muddy field.
The world feels more organic, albeit not as detailed as the single-player experience. I might discover someone trapped under a rock, only to discover it's a dangerous trap set by bandits. Or, I might discover someone who desperately need help returning home after a wolf attack, and when I return theyll find a mission available at their ranch, which naturally leads me to Valentine, where I pick a bounty off the board.
Red Dead Online can be both calm and peaceful, allowing for a horse hooves against the rough terrain and open skies of the American frontier. It can also be an absolute clown fiesta, where my friends and I enjoy a good old-fashioned Stab Battles in a debonair mansion. It's a great social sandbox, but one that rarely evolves beyond a brief standoff in a city or a wild horse change.
The vast open world of Rockstars is still breathtaking to explore and full of little secrets to discover. There's a lot of joy to be found in individual moments, but there's no overarching vision that lead Red Dead Online to a tangible and concrete destination, and now there will probably never be one, as Rockstar is moving on to focus on GTA 6 and continues to devote time and resources to the monumental GTA Online.
It's a tragic thing to have a game that isn't capable of flying cars or Elon Musk's parodies, but it does give you some charm. In GTA Online, we'd contemplatively stare into the fire and drink coffee from a tin cup before going off to a canter on our horses. The pleasure was in the journey, and for all of the missed opportunities of the game, I still enjoyed these peaceful moments, punctuated by rootin-tootin cowboy
The fan base that stuck it out through new character roles and the occasional event eager for Rockstar's recognition or vindication has come to an end. Only time will tell whether the group it has attracted sticks around or moves on to a brighter future elsewhere.