Red Dead Online has reached the end of its useful life. It is both a fantastic experience that I've explored for hundreds of hours, and a game that will never fully fulfil its potential, forever in the shadow of its bigger (and much more profitable) sister, Grand Theft Auto Online. It's worth revisiting the frontier to see what it's achieved since its 2018 release.
Your character is betrayed, framed for crimes they did not commit, and sentenced to death as an outlaw, thanks to the efforts of high-class lady Jessica LeClerk, who has her own vengeance mission in mind since she was recently widowed by scavengers trying to get her husbands fortune. Once the player is released on the frontier, it's time to get back to work filling voids, killing robbers, and acquiring a stable of beautiful horses
Follow the LeClerk missions for a brief campaign in which you must make the occasional moral decision. Do you return a broken child to her father, or let her leave with her lover? Do you tie some neer-do-wells to the tracks and let the train do justice, or are you more merciful?
After LeClerks missions, the game senses your actions and never really returns; the honor system always fills up over time, when you brush and feed your horse. It's usually pretty clear what leads to an honor drop or recovery. Executing witnesses is a no-no.
It's just never really matters, aside from a few cosmetic benefits. At some point, great ideas might be scrapped, 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 almost like it's all about something, but Jones kind of disappears after removing all of his foreshadowing.
Once youve completed the campaign missions, cowpokes can hunt and fish, build a camp and cook some delectable stew, hunt down high-priced criminal rewards, or manage your own moonshine shack. Then I jump on my big horse Hayseed and explore the vast, unspoiled wilderness.
The basic idea of these activities is always the same: You're either riding a horse, swinging a lasso, or shooting a pistol. On paper, Red Dead Redemption 2's excellent grappling, fighting, and physics systems add to the fun. Whether it's exciting or melancholic, there is always some compelling context to everything.
The world itself is also organic, although it's less fleshed out as the single-player experience. I may discover someone trapped under a rock, only to discover that it's a ruthless trap set by bandits. Or, I might discover someone who needs help returning home after a wolf attack, and when I return they'll have a mission available at their ranch, which naturally leads me to Valentine, where I pick a bounty up off the board.
Red Dead Online is both serene and zen, giving you the opportunity to witness a horse hoove against the sand dunes of the American frontier. It is also a great social sandbox, but one that rarely matches up to its brother in GTA Online. The action rarely goes beyond a brief confrontation in the center of a city or a frantic horse change.
The vast open world of Rockstar is still breathtaking to explore and full of little secrets to discover. There is a lot of joy to be found in individual moments, but there is no overarching vision that led Red Dead Online to a tangible and concrete destination, and now there will probably never be one, as Rockstar continues to dedicate time and resources to GTA Online.
Although Red Dead Online cant accommodate flying cars or Elon Musk parodies, it does provide some gravitas. My coworkers and I were always half in character as we sped through the streets at 160 miles per hour while listening to the Backstreet Boys. In Red Dead Online, wed contemplatively stare into the fire and drink coffee out of a tin cup before departing at a canter on our horses.
The game's supporters who stayed stuck through new character roles and the occasional event until Rockstar rewarded them in person or in office now sits in purgatory. Only time will tell whether the community the game has attracted sticks around or strikes out for a brighter future elsewhere.