Red Dead Online's final goodbye is a fond one

Red Dead Online's final goodbye is a fond one ...

Red Dead Online has reached the end of its useful life, both as a fantastic experience Ive explored for hundreds of hours, and a game that will never fulfill its potential, forever in the shadow of its bigger (and far more profitable) cousin, Grand Theft Auto Online. It's worth revisiting the frontier to see what the game has accomplished since its 2018 release.

Your character is betrayed, framed for failing to commit crimes, and forced to flee the scene by the efforts of high-class lady Jessica LeClerk, who was recently widowed by scavengers trying to slay her husband's fortune. Once the player is unleashed on the frontier, it's time to get back to work fulfilling rewards, killing thieves, and obtaining a stable of beautiful horses to brush.

If you follow the LeClerk missions, you are sent through a short campaign wherein you have to make the occasional moral choice. Do you return a broken daughter to her father, or let her run off with her lover? Do you tie some neer-do-wells to the tracks and let the train enact justice, or are you more merciful?

The game tracks your actions on an honor system, which at first seems to be an assumption that you're in for some serious role-playing; the honor system fades out after LeClerks missions and never really returns; it tends to fill up over time when you brush and feed your horse; and when you clear a gangs hideout, you can spare the leader or execute witnesses, which is a no-no.

It's just never really matters. It's possible that there were good ideas that were never realized at some point, and characters like Old Man Jones who feels like the angelic answer to the evil Stranger in the Red Dead franchise are just there. It's like the beginning of something, but Jones sort of vanishes after dropping all of his foreshadowing.

Once you have completed the campaign missions, cowpokes can hunt and fish, establish a camp and make some excellent stew, hunt down high-priced criminal rewards, or operate 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 game's main focus is always the same: you're either riding your horse, swinging a lasso, or shooting a rifle. Red Dead Redemption 2's excellent grappling, fighting, and physics systems add spice. As with most open-world games, there's also usually some compelling context, whether it's exciting or melancholic.

The world feels more organic, though it's not as detailed as the single-player experience. When I'm on the road, I might stumble upon someone trapped under a rock, only to discover that it's a deadly trap set by bandits. Or, I might discover someone who needs help returning home after a wolf attack, and when I return to their ranch, I'll find a mission available, which naturally leads me to Valentine, where I pick a bounty from the board.

Red Dead Online can be both serene and zen, offering me the pleasure of watching a horse hooves against the shady ground 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 restored mansion. It's a great social sandbox, but one that can never quite match up to its sibling in GTA Online. The action rarely goes beyond a brief fight in the middle of a

The vast open world of Rockstar is still fascinating to explore and packed with little secrets to discover. There is a lot of enjoyment to be found in individual moments, but there is no overarching strategy that led Red Dead Online to a tangible and concrete destination, and now there will certainly never be one. As Rockstar moves on to focus on GTA 6, the game continues to devote time and resources to GTA Online's immense expanse.

It's a tragedy, because while Red Dead Online does not have flying cars or Elon Musk parodies, it does have a lot of charm. In GTA Online, we'd contemplatively stare into the fire and drink coffee out of a tin cup before proceeding on our horses.

The fans who stayed together through new character roles and the occasional event waiting for Rockstar's recognition or vindication have come to an end. The game has now been put to the test, and it remains in purgatory. Only time will tell whether the group it has enthused or decides to leave for a better future elsewhere.