Red Dead Online: Comin’ out of Beta blastin’
The quick and the respawning in 10 seconds
Ever since Red Dead Online launched, I've been home, home on the range. Where my dudes and the angry dopes play. Where seldom is slurred an encouraging word. And the teabags are delivered all day.
Sounds weird to say it, but RDO is coming out of beta. This fully fledged, more or less flawless and free (!!!) offering is removing its digital scaffolding to become a finished work. This is odd because from day one it's been in a better condition than a number of full-priced AAA online-only games. We're VATS targeting you, Fallout 76. Anthem, too.
Honestly, I could fill several articles with the emergent fun I've had in RDO with my posse of ne'er do wells. Oh, the shenanigans. Like vengeful Earps, we've hunted down Johnny Ringo types across the map (for 40 mins). We've also had verbal exchanges in virtual saloons that'd make Al Swearengen blush. And the fishing! So much fishing. Sometimes we even do it without dynamite.
Now it seems Rockstar is out to hook us with a slew of new tweaks and content upgrades. At the top of my to-do-list is something I've been absolutely starving for: new cooperative story missions and Free Roam activities. Being able to further the legend/ballad of my create-a-character – Buster Scruggs – is going to take priority.
I've even been handed a bit of info on where our characters will go next. The revenge saga of Jessica LeClerk expands today with new missions in A Land of Opportunities for both honorable and dishonorable players (or curious mixes of the two, like Mr Scruggs). Continuing on from the (especially lucrative if replayed) mission at Fort Mercer, our quest to find the killer of Mr LeClerk will take on one or two paths.
Straight-shooters who have played honorably will find themselves deputised into helping Marshall Tom Davies root out a gang of Valentine-based varmints. Players who opted for a more Billy the Kid route will find themselves shooting down lawdogs as they assist Samson Finch in a series of crimes that culminate in a daring Saint Denis Bank heist. Whatever your moral preference, both paths lead back to further revelations in John Marston's old stomping ground of Blackwater.
All of the aforementioned will be attempted if I can somehow pull myself away from the all new inclusion of Poker. We're getting five tables that sit up to six players in Blackwater, Saint Denis, Tumbleweed, Valentine and Flatneck Station. (And for the record I'm not going to make the Wild Bill mistake of sitting with my back to any of these doors.) So come at me, you wannabe Jack McCalls.
If you're against structured narrative or gambling, expect your opportunities for free-wheeling fun to multiply in other ways. Head down to the Bayou Nwa and keep an eye out for a somewhat respectable Skiff Captain called Thomas. Alternatively, shadier types can go down to Aberdeen and get work with some pig farmers. Anybody who watched Deadwood and was a fan of Wu knows the sort of tasks that await here. Think: civic-minded trash recycling. Of humans.
Rockstar has also noticed that players like me love nothing more than to tap that bass. Competitive fishing is now available on-demand in one of three new intra-Posse Versus Challenges. Reeling in a lunker before the timer runs out will make you a winner (and possibly a target for a bunch of sore losers). Likewise, you can earn some bucks competing in timed Bird Shooting Contests or Herb Picking Contests. I'd be lying if I said I was enthused about the latter.
Other improvements include an increase of Dynamic Events that will jack-in-the-box as you wander the prairie. This might be tenderfoots who have run afoul of the worst the West can offer. It might also be a bunch of coyotes (literal and of the two-legged variety) who want nothing more than to skin their smoke wagons and turn your head into a canoe. Get involved in either and it could mean extra XP, Honor, Cash and Gold rewards. Or an all expenses paid trip to the Boot Hill cemetery.
Speaking of gun violence and lives cut way too short, there's now a dedicated Overrun Showdown mode for adversarial play. Basically, you'll stake your claim on a piece of real estate while doing your best to run squatters off land that you want for yourself. It's American history coming alive in digital form, really. The feller or lady who owns the most at the end of the timer wins.
If that isn't enough, Rockstar has made some important tweaks to the core gameplay. The biggest change is Playing Styles and Hostility. The former lets you set your status as Offensive or Defensive. Offensive lets fellow players know you're down to swap lead at any moment. Defensive indicates you're more of a John Dunbar, Dances with Wolves romantic who's less about violence and more about wandering the plains and writing in your journal as you discover things. In this mode auto-aim wont find you, you'll take vastly less damage from other players and you can't even be trussed up in a lasso (a griefing favourite... of mine).
Last but not least, the Hostility System continues to be streamlined. The bigger pain in the butt you are in this Westworld, the more visible and tasty-lookin' you'll appear to your fellow players on the mini-map. Basically, dark blue blips are for chill cowboys, and this grows redder and angrier if you conduct yourself like Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Interestingly, if you continue down that dark path and you're killed at the zenith of the Hostility meter, you'll be respawned in a different territory altogether.
Either way you look at it, Red Dead Online looks like it has its dead eye open when it comes to meaningful improvements. If you've never thought to give it a shot, or six, you really ought to pull the trigger on a play-test.
As for me, I need very little excuse to saddle up for this once more. We're all staring down the barrel of the long-awaited Deadwood movie, and I've just finished binge-watching the old seasons of it in preparation. Westerns are about to go huge again, pardner. I for one can't wait to log on and resume being a devil on the run. A six gun lover. A candle in the wind. (Yeah!)