The Soapbox: Red Dead Online is just not as fun as it should be

    
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Strap in, buckos.

A few weeks ago, I detailed my newfound adventures in the single-player title Red Dead Redemption 2. More relevant to our interests here on MassivelyOP, when I purchased the game it came with an MMO version, Red Dead Online. As a fan of MMOs and someone who has thoroughly enjoyed RDR2, I naturally decided to give the online version a try. Unfortunately, the high expectations set by the single-player version remain out of reach for the MMO.

In the introduction to Red Dead Online, as in any decent MMO, you are thrown directly into the character creator. I wouldn’t even mention this fact except that it’s notable due to how difficult it is to make a halfway attractive character for this game. Seriously, the teeth choices in this game range from nasty to downright cringeworthy. Perhaps the reality is that in the 1899 old west, the lack of common hygiene and beauty products led to a land full of gnarly looking people, but I would rather not. Even so, there are plenty of other aspects of RDO that yank us out of full immersion. Is it too much to ask to be able to create a character I won’t mind looking at for the next several hundred hours of my life?

The map in RDO is identical to the one used in RDR2. Towns, landscapes, sights, and sounds will be familiar to those who played through Arthur Morgan’s story. However, it does quickly become apparent that the online version occurs prior to RDR2 chronologically. Certain NPC characters present in the online world are decidedly not present by the end of RDR2. The main story quest isn’t fantastic, but it also isn’t terrible. A socialite widow has used her influence to release your character from jail (yes, your story starts in jail) in return for a favor. She’s asked you to hunt down everybody she suspects may have had a hand in her husband’s murder. The “story missions” are actually 2-4 person dungeons with very similar victory conditions: Either kill or capture the big baddie after fighting through waves of trash mobs.

This brings me to my first major gripe about the game: the mission queues.

Let’s put aside the fact that the story missions, which should be the most similar to the single-player RDR2 experience, force a grouping mechanic that is very hit-and-miss. The actual execution of the grouping is also suspect. I’ve played maybe five total story missions, all of which required a group to complete. Unfortunately, on two separate occasions, I’ve queued up multiple times only to be told that no other players could be found. Both times I ended up logging out for the day and returning at a different time in the hopes that other players would finally be available.

When a required grouping mechanic can’t find a group, there’s a problem with the system. Two solutions come to mind that could fix this issue. Rockstar Games could fill the group roster with NPC bots if a certain amount of time is passed while waiting in queue, or preferably it could redesign the story missions so as to give the player the choice of completing them solo at a reduced level of difficulty. Forced grouping mechanics in MMOs have never worked well, especially as time passes and lower levels see decreased populations.

My second major gripe about the game is just how grindy it feels. Granted, every MMO ever created is designed with an element of grind, but some don’t feel grindy. Whereas RDR2 does a nice job balancing the fast-paced and interesting main story with more leisurely side-questing and exploration, RDO includes missions that aren’t nearly so interesting and exploration that requires a certain amount of vigilance thanks to the open-world PvP aspect of the game. The missions are very repetitive (some variant of go kill guy, go get the guy and bring him back, or escort/deliver this wagon/boat/caravan someplace), and the rewards are minuscule.

For example, the cost to obtain trader (one of the cheaper “roles” in the game, akin to a progression path) is 15 gold bars just to open up the role. I’ve been playing the game somewhat sporadically for a little over a month, and I’ve amassed barely over 8 gold bars. A month of playtime and I’m just over halfway to opening up a single progression path. I’ve recently learned that completing a challenge every day will slowly add to a gold multiplier (up to 2.5X) that can accelerate progress, but I had to go to an outside source to discover this. I’ve also recently learned that this multiplier perk was set to be nerfed by Rockstar now that RDO has been spun off into its own standalone title. The daily challenge multiplier will be reset every 28 days. The slow progression along with repetitive mission types both greatly contribute to a “run through the tar, rinse, repeat” level of grindiness.

I am COMPELLED to SHOOT!

Something that bothers me more than it should with regard to RDO is the way it handles player character/NPC interaction. The game uses RDR2-style cutscenes, but your character does not say anything, ever. It probably has something to do with trying to limit voice lines in the game, but it comes off as very odd. Rockstar obviously knows this, as the NPCs frequently point out how your character “doesn’t have much to say” or is the “strong, silent type.” I appreciate a certain level of self-awareness in a game, but the frequency at which these lines are delivered comes off as annoying.

The problem is exacerbated further during group content cutscenes when the player-character plus three random players all nod and gesture silently like a pack of mimes when being interacted with by the quest-giver. Certainly, there must be a better way to handle NPC interaction. Loads of MMOs have non-voice-acted player characters and manage to feel more naturally interactive than this game.

One of the most frustrating things about RDO is that Rockstar showed us a glimpse of what the game could be with RDR2. The single-player game included some great little details that really enhance the Red Dead experience. Many of these details forge RDR2 into the charming open-world realization of the old west that it is.

But sadly, while most of the core mechanics carry over into the online version, many of the fun little details did not. I wrote in my RDR2 impressions about my surprise that Arthur’s hair and beard actually grew out over time and needed to be trimmed if a certain look was desired. This is not the case in RDO, probably due to the number of hairstyles available and the variants that would be required to code.

Other things stand out as well: no sleeping, no campfire building (unless you have a certain, more recently added role unlocked), no capturing/taming of horses, and the afore-mentioned no talking. These are all little details that feel absent from the game, and their absence impacts the overall experience.

Something that I’ve pondered while planning this review is whether my viewpoint is tainted because I played RDR2 first and RDO second. That’s very possible. To me, it feels like RDR2 is the premium experience and RDO is what happens when you try to shoehorn that same experience into an MMO. It wasn’t really designed for that business model, and the things that got lost during the conversion were things that greatly enhanced the single-player game.

So I’ll likely continue playing RDO for a bit, at least long enough to unlock and try out a role, but it’s hard to picture myself spending a great amount of time there. That’s a shame because there’s a lot of potential in RDO. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t deliver on the fun factor in the same way that RDR2 does.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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Feyd Darkholme

I bought this when it was $5 in the hopes that it might be fun some day… the myriad stories about griefers ruining the experience, forced grouping, etc, has made me not want to even install it though… Hopefully they put some effort into making the game better.

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BalsBigBrother

So as a Fallout 76 player the obvious question from me is would you all be willing to pay a Fallout 1st style sub for a private lobby access, assuming no tech issues prevent such a thing.

It just seem like such an obvious revenue stream to me for a game that seems much loved in concept but no so much in as it’s currently executed.

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Hurbster

Bloody wish they had done Undead Nightmare instead…

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Joseph Mcfadden

i loved the single player – loved it – fantastic storyline. A+

the ……”online” …. version was quite possibly the biggest disapointment i have ever had after buying a game.

its just plain junk…worthless.

i pay to play in a wild west world!!! …. where i get to take pictures of wildlife and give animals CPR after i take a blood sample?? WTF?!?!?

its insanely repetitive at best, fun for about 12 minutes, full of bugs that continue to go unfixed, lacks any meaningful support or future.

this could have been fantastic – unfortunately it appears to be just a cash-grab by a large studio in the way you typically see a cash-grab from a BS development group posing as EA on steam.

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Sarah Cushaway

Exactly.

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Anstalt

RDO is not an mmo!

Rest of the article is great and I agree with it, but seriously, RDO is in no way massively multiplayer. Like, not even close, its just regular multiplayer numbers.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

It’s as close as you’re going to get from a major publisher at this point. Since no one has discovered the magic formula to replicate WoW and cause millions of subscribers and billions of dollars to materialize out of thin air, they don’t seem interested in anything less.

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Jon Wax

Obligatory “map is too small”

Pauleh
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Pauleh

I’d be happy with RDO if I could host private lobbies, all I really want to do is jump on with a few friends and mess about in the world, not get randomly killed by hackers or players.

O RA
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O RA

A socialite widow has used her influence to release your character from jail (yes, your story starts in jail)

Skyrim: Am I joke to you?

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squid

It’s the go-to when there isn’t a beach nearby to wash up on.

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Robert Mann

Actually, Arena and Daggerfall both started with the same premise. It was not until they started the adventure series, and created a list of “3 ways all stories begin” that they used any other method in TES. One of those on the list, of course, was “With an escape from prison”.

The others were, I believe, “with a letter” and “with a betrayal”. It has been a while though, so I’m not certain.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I haven’t played the older ones. Just Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim. And in all three of those your character starts out as a prisoner. It’s a lazy, but convenient way to get any character from any in-game species and background to a fixed point. Why is a Nord in Morrowind? Prisoner. Why is a Khajiit in Skyrim? Prisoner. No further backstory or explanation needed. Your character doesn’t need a plausible motivation to be there because they had no say in it whatsoever.

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squid

RDR2 was meant to be a Western RPG/life simulator; RDO is meant to be a GTAO-style murderbox. Rockstar fucked up when they assumed that people would want to play RDO that way instead of playing it as a continuation of RDR2, but with other people.

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Sarah Cushaway

Exactly. Most people who are fans of RDR2 just want a DLC for RDR2, not a hacker gank paradise grind simulator that is RDO.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I think it circles back to the one comment from when (I think) Star Wars Galaxies was being developed, that “no one wants to play an Uncle Owen simulator.” Except… a lot of people *do* want to do that. To have an experience that mixes the mundane (being a farmer) with the impossibly exotic. (Being a farmer on a planet with two suns and space monsters wandering around the wilderness.)

Being “Uncle Owen” hits that mark for people – there’s a level of comforting and familiar in being “just a moisture farmer,” along with a touch of danger (because Sand People and Krayt Dragons exist.) But not *too much* danger, because Sand People will mostly leave you alone unless you piss them off and krayt dragons are incredibly rare.

I think that’s what a lot of people were hoping for from RDO. The chance to live out the parts of an old Western Movie that *aren’t* just the gunfights and showdowns and bandit murders. But Rockstar made a game that’s *just* the gunfights, and showdowns, and bandit murders. And then built it in a way to allow trolls to take over and dump buckets of monkey poo on everyone.

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Sarah Cushaway

Right? If I had my option to do so in RDO, I’d just be a horse breeder/trader/stable keep. I’d go tame or buy horses, breed them, sell them, whatever.

But nope. My options are PK’ing, getting PK’ed, or grinding role dailies for no real reason or purpose. Oh, and most are -timed- dailies. So much “fun” :p And honestly, you can’t even be a real outlaw in this game with anything to do but PK. Can’t rob banks or coaches, can’t plot out intricate train robberies, can’t even rob a store.

Such wasted potential.

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Jon Wax

There’s a game called outlaws of the old west that was supposed to be ps4. It was a vague wild west sim. Not sure if it vapored

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cursedseishi

Quick bit of googling, but…

Released in Early Access on steam and seemed to do well/okay. At some point Snail Games (well known here for not-good reasons) apparently bought the developers up and served as publisher going forwards.
Then they decided to yank the rights from the developers for the game, and said devs are not allowed to work on or even deliver prepared updates for game—essentially killing it.

And I’m guessing the planned console releases died with that.

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Jon Wax

Survival game does not survive