Red Dead Online Still Finding Footing As Rockstar Receives Feedback From Beta Launch

The players have spoken and Rockstar games is starting to deliver updates to the Red Dead Online beta launch that incorporate user feedback, but the realism that Red Dead Redemption 2 relies on still seems lost in translation.

It's been nearly a month since Read Dead Online beta launched and added a new dimension to one of the most celebrated games of 2018. After a trickled rollout the servers opened up to all players November 30th who were eager to give their opinion on how the steady paced western translates as an online multiplayer.

The reviews for Red Dead Online have been a mixed bag. The game has garnered praise for its sim-like qualities but Rockstar still has a long way to go to address player issues with pacing, world building, and the in game economy. 

Taking place right before the events of Red Dead Redemption 2, the online prequel removes the pressure of completing the main story. However, some players feel this has made the world feel limited.

As it stands, Red Dead Online seems to be suffering from a lack of player base in an otherwise simplified version of the RDR2 world (also known as Fallout 76 syndrome). Even the aesthetic and interactive elements of the wild west of the full game have been streamlined leaving some finding the online experience unsatisfying.

This general approach to online games seems to be an issue in captivating the fanbase. You start with a character build, editing their appearance and attributes before joining a posse or setting off to explore. Whether with a group or solo players compete in horse races and complete narrative driven missions like raiding outlaw camps. 

The controls have proven to be as unpredictable as the modes as the mechanics of RDR2 seem incompatible to these styles of game play. Aim assist can help, but movements are slow and steady, making rapid combat frustrating for many. 

Free roam events, PvP challenge with up to 16 players known as the "Showdown Series" where players encounter five modes of play including Shootout Mode and Hostile Territory. 

Unfortunately, you don't get to choose a preferred mode of play and are stuck cycling through them randomly like an iPod shuffle. The game will notify you of these showdowns and their locations allowing you to warp to the right area on the map. Fast travel doesn't come free, though. Be prepared to spend $4-11 per warp, which could be pretty steep for players just starting out.

This brings us to biggest complaint facing RDO so far: the checks and balances.  

The Gold Standard Isn't Cheap

When logging on to the RDO servers you'll be starting from scratch with a new character and a simple revolver. This could be worse -- 19th century weaponry isn't known for being endlessly eclectic. What's really got users annoyed is the major cost for even minor modifications.

A popular example has been the cost of changing the revolver to an all black finish which will run you a whopping 12 gold bars. With some estimating that 1 gold bar = ~8 hrs of play, it's clear that gold bars are a premium and rare currency. 

Gold nuggets are earned through completing missions. Earning 100 gold nuggets will net you one gold bar. It's pretty safe to bet that gold bars are available for in game purchase using real world funds based on how hard they are to get. The current prices range from 25 gold bars for $25 to 350 gold bars for $99.99 -- mind you, that's real world money.

While cosmetic changes have become a popular way for developers to squeeze a few more dollars out of players, many are put off by the buying power of the in-game dollar. Upgraded weapons range from $350 to $1k+.

When compared to the prices of the times and the payouts from playing, prices seem heavily inflated. Selling a $35 Mauser pistol for a grand wouldn't be so egregious if the endless grind produced more than a few hundred dollars for a few hours of play. Prices seem disproportionate for most goods. For example, a gold wedding ring costs $1.15 but a can of baked beans is $1.50. Hm. 

This also would be more manageable if so much of your currency didn't have to be reserved for survival. One of the core immersive elements of Red Dead Redemption 2 has been the need to hunt, trade, and live off the grid in a hyper-realistic way. To keep your character, your horse and your weapons in good working order, you’ll need to spend cash on sustenance items, like food, shelter and gun oil.

Even playing with a group in the online world can cost you. RDO does support up to seven players in a posse but it costs $200 in-game. 

This hasn't gone over well with players. Rockstar has responded to fans saying prices will be scaled back and transactions will be refunded for in game currency with a bonus 12 gold bars thrown in to be delivered to all players by 12/24.

These limitations have forced players to get creative. Some players are already using the racing mode to farm gold, cash, and XP. Rewards are received for every race entered that completes, even if they receive a DNF for not finishing it. This has resulted in some players circling around the start for 14 minutes rather than participating. While this may be working for some, these elements have been a drag for fans looking for an immersive multiplayer. 

Losing the Plot

The currency grind reveals one of the bigger issues with RDO: the oversimplification of the gameplay. Red Dead Redemption 2 is all about utilizing the beauty of simplicity to add to the realism. In an online world where cash is king, though, these simple tasks can become chores quickly. 

Rockstar designed some elements to offset this that may be improved on in the future. A good example is how the honor system will affect the plot that unfolds for you. Depending on your honor level, different free roam missions will be available. Honorable players may receive requests to protect a convoy against attacks from gangs. Ruffians may be the one doing the attacking instead.

A Land of Opportunities is the name given to an ongoing series of co-operative missions for two to four players. Rockstar has stated they intend to continuously build on these missions which could offer opportunities for a more balanced reward system and engaging storytelling. 

A world of outlaws does mean you'll have to watch your back. Currently there are no PvE server meaning your experience in the online world can be up to the mercy of other players and you can't isolate activities with a set group. This may change in the future, but Rockstar is already having trouble handling the servers they do have. If you've been booted with error 0x21002001 you know what we're talking about. The weak servers and odd physics being reported by players are part of the beta experience, but beyond the bugs Red Dead Online still has a lot going for it. 

The Silver Lining

There are some shortcuts added to the online world to enhance the experience. The addition of a personal catalogue allows you to  buy guns, ammo, oil and more that's delivered right to your camp. 

Also, unlike in the main game, horses in Red Dead Online don’t really seem to die. Your first horse will have insurance, but any horses you buy after that will cost five gold bars to insure. The insurance accelerates returns, but even uninsured horses respawn. Be careful that no one steals your horses. Hit left on the d-pad go to the stables option to edit who can ride your horse.

As mentioned above, missions are narrative based, providing players with the chance to complete multi-part missions which can change based on your actions. There are leaks of these missions turning into a full story for Read Dead Online. Even though the single player campaign is massive, the online world is likely where all additional content will exist from now on. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on if Rockstar finds a unique direction for online by taking the lead from the story without turning into a copypasta.

These missions reward players decently but you can only get the cash reward once per mission. Replays just give you experience. Keep in mind is that you’ll earn fewer rewards if you die and restart from a checkpoint. Payouts range from $30-250. 

If you're spoiler-phobic, the missions may not be your thing. This strategy will disrupt the story mode from being linear if you haven't finished the main RDR2 campaign yet. It won't, however, reveal the ending. Red Dead Online is a prequel to the main game, though it’s not entirely clear how early. Players have triangulated known information and concluded a little before the Blackwater heist that kicked off the main game’s story campaign.

If you want to use the online mode as more of a cowboy sim, focus on gathering resources and hunting. You can go to a butcher to sell the pelts/feathers/claws/carcasses and to a doctor's office to sell the herbs to profit from free-roaming. 

Whichever style you prefer, make sure you check on your ability cards from time to time. As you level up more cards will be available and can be exchanged for in-game currency as well. Some cards regenerate health or deal more damage which could expedite your exploring.

Rockstar Promises New Frontiers

So, what's next for Read Dead Online? The refunds indicate that Rockstar plans to increase the cashflow in general. This rollout has already left some users wary, though. Many wonder if the price drop will be just enough to appease players while still pushing a grind that tempts them into purchasing gold bars.

The developers already announced they are reducing the prices of "...most weapons in the Wheeler, Rawson & Co Catalogue and Gunsmiths. For players that have already purchased weapons at the previous prices, we will automatically deposit the difference to player balances." 

Rockstar also announced a rebalancing of the values of select pelts, skins and fish as well as horse reviver and pamphlets. They also promised they aren't done tweaking the Red Dead Online economy, “We are conscious of and still evaluating an assortment of further adjustments based on feedback from the community," they wrote on their site. 

With two patches last week, they seem to be good for their word. And yet the online still doesn't feel well rounded. Empty world, non engaging NPCs, and multiplayer options that don't quite capture the dynamic storytelling of the single player offline mode are all roadblocks.

Online games like GTA rely heavily on repetitive gameplay, and Read Dead Online will have to develop greater player control over PvP modes and address issues with farming to build an active community. Even those that are there just to explore will need more interactive elements to maintain the general intricacy that made Red Dead Redemption 2 so real. 

Despite the slow news rollout, Rockstar has been open about this beta being a testing ground and are urging users to provide feedback about how to improve the experience. Add your thoughts in the comments, post on social media, and make sure to @Rockstar to see if they maintain their honor or go full outlaw in future updates.


Published Dec. 21st 2018

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