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Red Dead Online

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Red Dead Online
Red Dead Online.jpg
Developer(s)Rockstar Studios
Publisher(s)Rockstar Games
Producer(s)Rob Nelson
Designer(s)Imran Sarwar
Programmer(s)Phil Hooker
Artist(s)Aaron Garbut
Writer(s)
SeriesRed Dead
EngineRAGE
Platform(s)
Release
  • PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • May 15, 2019[a]
  • Microsoft Windows
  • November 5, 2019
  • Stadia
  • November 19, 2019
Genre(s)Action-adventure
Mode(s)Multiplayer

Red Dead Online is a 2019 action-adventure game developed and published by Rockstar Games as the online component of Red Dead Redemption 2. After several months in beta,[a] it was released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in May 2019, and for Microsoft Windows and Stadia in November 2019. A standalone client for the game was released in December 2020. In Red Dead Online, players control a customizable silent protagonist who is freed from prison after being framed for murder, and tasked with taking revenge in exchange for proving their innocence. Set in 1898, one year before the events of Red Dead Redemption 2, the game comprises story missions where up to four players can complete tasks to advance the narrative, as well as various side missions and events.

Like the single-player game, Red Dead Online is presented through both first and third-person perspectives, and players may freely roam in its interactive open world. Gameplay elements include shootouts, hunting, horseback riding, interacting with non-player characters, and maintaining the character's honor rating through moral choices and deeds. A bounty system governs the response of law enforcement and bounty hunters to crimes committed by players. Players can traverse the open world alone or in a posse of up to seven players, with or against whom they can partake in organized activities.

Developed in tandem with the single-player story, Red Dead Online is viewed as a separate product despite the development team's wishes to translate elements of the single-player to a multiplayer environment. The team took lessons learned from the multiplayer of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto Online when developing the game. Red Dead Online received criticism at launch for its balancing of gameplay and in-game currency; later updates addressed the issues. It received positive responses with praise for its presentation of missions, co-operative events, and technical improvements. Like Grand Theft Auto Online, the game receives constant updates that add new content, including various roles that players can select to earn additional rewards. Reception to post-release content has been generally positive, with praise directed at the more significant additions, though the lack of new content over time has led to some criticism.

Gameplay[edit]

Players can use camps, either individually or as part of a posse, to rest, access their wardrobe, craft, cook, and fast-travel.

Red Dead Online is the multiplayer component of the 2018 video game Red Dead Redemption 2.[3] Played from a first or third-person perspective, the game is set in an open-world environment featuring a fictionalized version of the United States.[4] Player progression in the single-player story does not affect the multiplayer game. Upon entering the game world, players customize a character and are free to explore the environment alone or in a "posse" group. Players can partake in organized activities with or against members of their posse, or against other groups. As players complete activities throughout the game world, they receive experience points to raise their characters in rank and receive bonuses, thereby progressing in the game.[3]

Camps can be temporarily set up throughout the game world, either for an individual player or a posse, where players can rest, access their wardrobe, craft, cook, and fast-travel. Horses are the main forms of transportation, of which there are various breeds, each with different attributes. Players must either train or tame a wild horse to use it. Increased use of a horse will begin a bonding process, which can be increased by cleaning and feeding it, and the player will acquire advantages as they ride their horse. Players must insure their horse so it heals over time and can respawn.[5]

Dispersed throughout the game world are story missions in which four players complete tasks to advance the game's narrative.[5] The game world also features events in which up to 32 players can partake individually or with a posse group.[6] Event types include a deathmatch mode devoid of firearms and a race mode by horseback. Players are notified when a competitive event begins somewhere in the game world and are given the option to immediately travel to the event. Alternatively, players can join specific events at will. Outside events, non-player character ("strangers") in the game world offer missions, such as contract killings or camp raidings.[3] Up to four players can join a temporary, ad hoc posse group for the duration of a game session. Alternatively, for a fee, up to seven players can join a persistent posse that regenerates when its leader comes online. Within a persistent posse, players can customize the group's style and track player stats. Friendly fire can be disabled so that teammates do not injure each other.[3] If two players continue to kill each other, the game presents two optional modes: parley, in which the players cannot interact with each other for a short period of time; and feud, where the two players partake in a three-minute shootout.[5]

Red Dead Online adds several new systems atop the single-player mode's gameplay. In addition to in-game cash, which can be used for supplies, Online adds gold, a second in-game currency used to purchase luxury and special items,[3] and tokens, which are earned by unlocking role ranks and can be used to purchase role-specific items.[7] Players acquire gold nuggets by completing challenges and can convert 100 nuggets into gold bars. Rather than having to travel to a town's store, online player characters can order supplies anywhere from a handheld catalog. The orders become available for pickup in any town's post office or the player's camp. Online also introduces "ability cards", in which players can activate one active and three passive powers for their characters. Players receive these cards by rising in rank or direct purchase, and can then upgrade the cards with in-game currency and experience points.[3] Red Dead Online uses the Honor system from the single-player story, measuring how the player's actions are perceived in terms of morality. Morally positive choices and deeds like helping strangers and abiding the law will add up to the player's Honor, while negative deeds such as theft and harming innocents will subtract from the player's Honor. Some story missions can only be initiated if the player's Honor is at a particular level.[5]

Synopsis[edit]

A Land of Opportunity[edit]

The game's narrative takes place in 1898, one year before the events of Red Dead Redemption 2. The player takes on the role of a silent protagonist who is arrested for murder and imprisoned in Sisika Penitentiary. Six months into their sentence and awaiting execution, their prison transport is intercepted by a group of armed men. Their leader, Horley, escorts the player to his employer, the widow Jessica LeClerk, who reveals that the player was unfairly accused of murdering her husband Philip, who she suspects was actually killed by his business partners Jeremiah Shaw, Amos and Grace Lancing, and their outlaw accomplice Teddy Brown to take over the entire business. Jessica enlists the player's help in avenging Philip's death in exchange for proving their innocence, and allows them to leave.

After the player is provided with a camp and some work, they meet with Horley in Blackwater, who suggests that they provide assistance to several sheriffs while he investigates Philip's murder. Upon doing so, Horley tells them to seek work with either US Marshal Tom Davies or outlaw Samson Finch, depending on the player's honor level. If the player has high honor, Davies enlists the help of the player and their posse in apprehending notorious bandit Alfredo Montez; with low honor, Finch has the player's posse prove themselves for an upcoming job by robbing a group of wealthy industrialists, and killing his former partner and his garrison.

After either series of events, the player's posse meets with Horley and Jessica to help them kill Teddy Brown, who is hiding out with his gang at Fort Mercer. With the assistance of the local authorities and several Marshals, the player's posse besieges the fort and eliminates Brown's men, before capturing Brown himself, who is swiftly killed by Jessica afterward. The player then continues working for either Davies or Finch, helping the former deal with retribution from Montez's gang, or assisting the latter with a bank robbery in Saint Denis.

Meanwhile, Amos and Shaw try to finalize their takeover of Philip's business by coercing Jessica into signing a forged contract. Accompanied by Horley and the player's posse, Jessica meets the two men and their bodyguards in Blackwater. When Amos denies any involvement in Philip's death, an enraged Jessica shoots him dead. During the ensuing shootout, the player's posse retrieves the contract from Shaw, and escorts Jessica and Horley out of Blackwater. With only Grace left to be dealt with in order to avenge Philip, Jessica vows to do so one day, and laments that her vendetta has led to both her and Horley becoming fugitives. She then thanks the player's posse for their help and informs them that their role in her quest for revenge is over, before leaving with Horley to go into hiding.

A Life of 'Shine[edit]

A Life of 'Shine is a story chapter added in December 2019. The player character is introduced to Maggie Fike, who once controlled the moonshining business in Lemoyne but disappeared after falling afoul of revenue agents led by the ruthless Reid Hixon. Maggie convinces the player to invest in her business and help her carry out her revenge against Hixon. The player rescues Maggie's nephew Lem from the revenuers, attracting the attention of the Braithwaite family, who have turned to moonshining and recruited Maggie's former cook Danny-Lee Caton to oversee production. The Braithwaites threaten retaliation after the player sabotages their moonshining operations, while Hixon also learns about Maggie's revived business and ambushes the player and Lem on a job. To deal with both of their enemies simultaneously, Maggie arranges a supposed peace meeting with the Braithwaites and anonymously tips off Hixon. At the meeting, Hixon arrests the player, Lem, and Danny-Lee, but they manage to escape after Lem detonates a wagon of explosive moonshine he brought with him. With Lem's help, the player kills Hixon and captures Danny-Lee, bringing the latter back to Maggie, who allows him to leave on the condition he vanish forever. The player then returns to producing moonshine with Maggie and Lem.

Development[edit]

Red Dead Online was developed in tandem with the single-player story.[8] Though Red Dead Online and Red Dead Redemption 2 share assets and gameplay, Rockstar views them as separate products with independent trajectories, reflected in its decision to launch the multiplayer title separately. The development team took lessons learned from the multiplayer of Red Dead Redemption (2010) and applied those with the best elements of Grand Theft Auto Online (2013), particularly in regards to introducing narrative elements to a multiplayer title.[9] The team also seeks to translate elements of the single-player story to Red Dead Online, overhauling them for an online space.[8] Producer Rob Nelson felt that, while the team's experience on Grand Theft Auto Online helped with the foundations of Red Dead Online, the differences in the game's direction, pace, and scale demanded a different overall approach, slowly leading the player into the world with smaller steps instead of the fast pace of Grand Theft Auto Online.[8]

Red Dead Online's public beta opened on November 27, 2018, to players who owned a special edition of the base game, and then progressively opened to all owners.[3][a] The progressive release was a choice by Rockstar to mitigate any major performance issues by the influx of players.[10] Rockstar added and adapted several game modes during the game's beta stage,[11] and made changes to the game's balance and economy.[12][13] Player progression in the public beta carried over when the beta ended on May 14, 2019.[2][14] Red Dead Online implements microtransactions by letting players purchase gold bars for in-game items such as weapons and cosmetics. Rockstar had adopted a similar approach for Grand Theft Auto Online.[14] Rockstar donated five percent of in-game revenue generated in Red Dead Online and Grand Theft Auto Online in April and May 2020 to relief efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of its nine worldwide studios donated to local charities.[15] Rockstar closed the game for two hours on June 4, 2020, to honor the memorial of George Floyd.[16]

A standalone client for Red Dead Online, which does not require the base Red Dead Redemption 2 game, was released on December 1, 2020 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.[17]

Additional content[edit]

Post-release content is continually added to Red Dead Online through free title updates. Rockstar plans to evolve the game's world over time, including expanding the player's in-game businesses from a small camp to a larger company. Rockstar intends to add more role-playing elements to Red Dead Online over time,[8] including additional roles and missions.[18] One of the team's greater challenges with the game is the addition of experiences that allow player freedom without too much structure.[8] The first update to the game world was in December 2018, wherein saloons in the game world played Christmas music.[19] To coincide with the full release of the game in May 2019, Rockstar released an update that included new story missions, dynamic events, free roam activities, and poker.[20]

The Frontier Pursuits update, added to the game on September 10, 2019,[21] implemented three new roles: bounty hunter, where players earn rewards by tracking down targets; trader, which involves players collecting and selling items to expand their camp into a business; and collector, which is focused on discovering collectibles using items such as a metal detector and binoculars.[22] The development team decided to implement roles as a result of frequent player requests for a stronger connection to their character;[8] Nelson noted that the team enjoyed the immersion of Rockstar's open worlds and wanted to extrapolate that feeling for personalized characters. The trajectory of the roles is intentionally slower than Grand Theft Auto Online's missions, with each role set to have logical successors that gradually advance players' financial success.[23] The update also added an Outlaw Pass, which grants players access to additional rewards for an in-game price, and a limited promotion named the Wheeler, Rawson & Co Club, where players could unlock specific rewards as they gain experience.[21] With each of the roles, players are assigned special tasks for a limited time, such as Legendary Bounties for bounty hunters and specific items for collectors.[24]

The moonshiner role was added to the game on December 13, 2019. An extension to the trader, the moonshiner role focuses on producing, managing, and distributing moonshine. The update also included additional content, such as the first purchasable property and a new Outlaw Pass.[25] To celebrate Christmas in December 2019, Rockstar granted free supplies to players and added a temporary period of snowfall in the game world.[26] The naturalist role, added on July 28, 2020, allows players to track down animals, choosing to study or hunt them. The update also added new clothing, animals, and an Outlaw Pass.[27] The team enjoyed the animal hunting mechanics present in the single-player games and felt that it could be effectively imitated in Red Dead Online. The naturalist's Vitalism Studies feature, which allows players to temporarily assume control of an animal, was viewed as an experience that "bend[s] reality" in contrast to the game's otherwise grounded tone.[28]

For Halloween in October 2020, Rockstar added a new game mode, Dead of Night, wherein players fight against zombies. The Halloween Pass, which was available from October 20 to November 16, added several Halloween-themed reward, including horse masks, emotes, and weapon variations.[29] The team felt that the in-game events reflected some of the mysteries present in the single-player game.[28] An update in December 2020, released simultaneously with the standalone client, added new ranks to the bounty hunter role, a new Outlaw Pass, and additional items to acquire.[30] Snowfall in the game world returned for Christmas 2020, alongside an additional weapon and gun variant.[31] Three solo missions were added to the game on February 16, 2021;[32] Rockstar intends to add more in the future.[33] Eight horse races were added to the game on May 25, 2021.[34]

Blood Money was released on July 13, 2021;[35] it was previously detailed in May and June 2021,[36][37] followed by an official announcement on July 6,[38] and a trailer on July 7.[39] It adds missions focused on the criminal underworld, with players helping Guido Martelli to create his own criminal network in Saint Denis.[36] The update was the result of the developers wanting further criminal experiences in the game. The addition of Martelli, a character originally referenced in the single-player campaign, was seen by the developers as a way to gain consistency between the two modes.[40] The update also adds the ability to rob homesteads and camps across the game world.[37] In both missions and free roam, players can find Capitale, a valuable commodity sought by Martelli which he exchanges for further criminal opportunities;[39] the developers saw these opportunities as a way to add complex missions wherein players can find new strategies for completion.[40]

Released alongside Blood Money was the Quick Draw Club, a series of four passes that provides players with rewards and bonuses to assist in gameplay; the first reward is the outfit of Dutch van der Linde, a character from the single-player story. Purchasing all four passes grants players free access to the upcoming Halloween Pass 2.[39] One of the characters added in Blood Money, guitar player "Bluewater" John, is portrayed by musician Christone "Kingfish" Ingram;[35] an original song co-written by Ingram, "Letter from Bluewater Man", was released as a digital single on August 20, 2021.[41] Snowfall, music, and decorations in the game world returned for Christmas in December 2021, alongside new holiday-themed maps and bonuses for in-game currency and levels.[42]

Reception[edit]

Red Dead Online received criticism at launch for its in-game currency rewards for activities, with players complaining that they were too low for the cost of goods and upgrades.[43] Some players calculated that a single gold bar could take an estimated eight hours to earn in the game.[44] Rockstar agreed to re-balance the game's economy following complaints.[12] Similar complaints also emerged about the griefing taking place in the game;[45] Rockstar fixed these issues by making player visibility dependent on their proximity and behavior.[13] The Verge reported that several users who played as black characters had been targeted by griefers posing as Ku Klux Klan-inspired clans or slave catchers who often called them racial slurs.[46]

IGN's Luke Reilly praised the game's co-operative story missions, noting that the game's player versus player modes typically have a skill imbalance. Reilly lauded the technical improvements made throughout the game's updates, though noted that some remained.[47] Matt Martin of VG247 found the game to be more enjoyable than Grand Theft Auto Online, from both a technical and gameplay perspective. Martin criticized some balancing issues, but attributed them to the game's beta status.[48] The Verge's Andrew Webster found Red Dead Online's battle royale game mode more tense than games such as Fortnite due to the smaller player count and slower playstyle.[49] Kotaku's Heather Alexandra wrote that Red Dead Online was "gamier" than its single-player counterpart, specifically in seeing the realistic towns transformed into deathmatch levels.[50] John Saavedra of Den of Geek criticized the simplicity of the story missions, writing that the free roam missions are a better way to "break up the monotony" of traversing the world.[51] Christian Just of GameStar felt that Red Dead Online carried most of the strengths of the single-player game, effectively fulfilling his childhood fantasy of cowboy life.[52]

Red Dead Online was nominated for Best Multiplayer Game at the 2019 Golden Joystick Awards.[53] Rockstar's parent company Take-Two Interactive reported that the game hit peak players in December 2019 following the release of the Moonshiners update;[54] this was surpassed in December 2020, which saw more new and returning players since the game's beta launch.[55]

Post-release reception[edit]

Jordan Oloman of Eurogamer appreciated the improvements made to the game by May 2019, praising the quality of the story missions, but felt that players needed more purpose within the world.[56] After the release of the Frontier Pursuits update in September 2019, Oloman found the game enjoyable enough to play instead of returning to single-player.[57] Polygon's Cass Marshall wrote that the update added elements that made the game fun to play with friends.[58] Eurogamer's Oloman considered the December 2019 Moonshiners update the best to date, and found the new characters compelling.[59] Kotaku's Zack Zwiezen echoed this sentiment, praising the amount of content available.[60] In May 2020, the game was reportedly used by a group of employees to conduct online business meetings instead of Skype or Zoom; the immersion of the world was cited as an appealing feature, though the technical issues and lengthy tutorial were criticized for new employees.[61] Several players reported to playing the game as a refuge during COVID-19 lockdowns.[62]

In July 2020, several players dressed their characters as clowns to demonstrate their displeasure at the game's lack of updates.[63] Kotaku's Zwiezen considered The Naturalist update "a step back" from Moonshiners, but found that it made him appreciate the game's nature and details.[64] Polygon's Marshall called the update "perfectly fine" but noted that it failed to make the game "feel meaningfully different" like the varied Grand Theft Auto Online updates.[65] Writing for NME, Oloman felt that the update contradicted the "ruthless" nature of the game, and that the tasks became repetitive.[66] PC Gamer's Christopher Livingston described it as "surprisingly disappointing", citing its similarity to the trader role.[67] Following a patch released in August 2020, several players reported significant, game-breaking glitches;[68] in response, Rockstar reverted the game to a previous version.[69]

Kotaku's Zwiezen considered the October 2020 Halloween update "disappointing" due to the lack of memorable or significant content.[70] He also criticised the December 2020 update, perceiving Rockstar's favoritism to Grand Theft Auto Online.[71] The update received similar criticism from several players, who felt that it was lacking in content and rewards.[72] Conversely, Zwiezen considered the February 2021 solo missions to be an improvement as it alleviated concerns of dealing with other players.[73] In March 2021, Alex Avard of GamesRadar+ wrote that Red Dead Online could "reach its true potential" if it continued to build upon the momentum of the previous year, though noted that the game's monetization system remained unbalanced.[74] In July 2021, Polygon's Marshall felt that Blood Money was suitable for regular players, but noted that the lack of regular updates was "frustrating" due to the game's potential.[75] Rion Duncan of Screen Rant felt that the Blood Money missions were too similar to stranger missions,[76] criticizing the lack of preparatory gameplay for the heists as seen in Grand Theft Auto Online.[77] Otto Kratky of Digital Trends praised Blood Money and wrote that, unlike with previous updates, Rockstar was "finally appealing to those Old West clichés" and setting the game in the right direction.[78]

In December 2021, PC Gamer's Lauren Morton expressed disappointment at the game's lack of activity compared to Rockstar's other projects throughout the year, though noted that it "remains as expansive and gorgeous as ever".[79] The game's January 2022 update—bonus rewards for existing missions—led to some backlash from players as they considered it "low effort" and described the game as "dead" due to the lack of new content;[80][81] players and reporters compared the game to Grand Theft Auto Online, which received major updates in July and December 2021,[82][83] while Red Dead Online's most recent Blood Money update was considered lackluster in comparison.[84][85] An online fan campaign ensued; the hashtag #SaveRedDeadOnline trended on Twitter,[85][86] with over 18,000 tweets.[83] When a new game mode in Grand Theft Auto Online was released on January 13 without an announcement from Rockstar, Kotaku's Zack Zwiezen partly attributed its silence to the #SaveRedDeadOnline campaign.[87]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The beta for Red Dead Online opened for owners of the game's Ultimate Edition on November 27, 2018. Players who played Red Dead Redemption 2 on the first day of release (October 26) were granted access the following day, November 28. Players who played the game within the first three days of release (October 26–29) were granted access on November 29, and the game opened for all other players on November 30.[1] The beta ended on May 15, 2019.[2]

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