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.
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.