Red Dead Redemption 2 Online is Uninspired and How to Fix It

 

While I just wrote about how amazing Red Dead Redemption 2 was, it’s online version (now in Beta) is far from that.  What makes the core game great is the way it immerses you into the world, so that you feel there is truly an entire world going on despite you – you are not the center of the world, but just one of many threads in a rich tapestry of drama and tragedy.  However, once you go online, all that wonder disappears.

Now, it begins promising enough – you start out with two silhouettes darkened by the strong Sun shining through the window: a man and a woman – you are getting excellent customization.  You get to do much of what I wanted to see in regards to making your own character – and you can be male or female and each comes with several faces with chins, noses, eyes, ears, and mouths you can somewhat customize.  You slowly build your character, and you can even give them a name – though it’s limited to a string length of 12 characters – and for no good reason.  You get a mug shot and then you’re onto your introductory mission.  There is promise.

Well, then it goes down from there.  As you begin to explore the world you see a markèd difference from what you had before – though it’s somewhat the same world.  The world map is like a photocopy – the same towns and remote buildings are there – just not their character.  Gone is the immersive world and what is left is a bland world which screams out just how important all those minor storylines and events were to making the game a masterpiece.  Your random events are rare stumblings onto gang hideouts and generic ambushes – but nothing that makes it seem real.  When you go to towns you see that some shops are gone completely as are the inhabitants.  You’ll still see the shop keepers and even some random townfolk wandering through the streets when there are few players on the server (they seem to just not spawn when there are players about).  However, the inhabitants of the homes and colorful characters are all absent.  The gory scenes that were painted with corpses and clues to who they are give way to emptiness – abandoned homes with some generic items sitting in drawers.  I think I once stumbled upon a small amount of cash.  No drama of Nate nor flying saucers.  No rambling racists nor suffragettes.

Through this lonely world you’ll find even the animals more sparsely populated and even sometimes disappearing on you – from trails to the herd you just slaughtered disappearing after the second skinning.  It seems trains started appearing on Saturday, but neither they nor the stagecoaches have anything of value – I found an open miracle tonic on the one train I boarded.

The magic of the core game was absent – you’re left with most of the fighting features and not much else.  You cannot rob people nor greet them (apparently it is to much to get voice actors to do more than shushing horses and a few reaction sounds).  You can kill people and the few barnyard animals you find, but not really any other crime.  Even stealing a horse will have the stables sending you packing – they will neither let you keep it nor sell it.  Working with friends will leave you nothing to do but missions and killing others.

The rewards are scaled down greatly – the greatest prize I grabbed from looting an enemy was a whopping 85¢ – most lay down between 8¢ and 13¢.  When you grab biscuits, crackers, or cigarettes you’ll find you only pick up one – and never a cigarette card.  Then the prices get you.  The costs of clothes, haircuts, guns, gun upgrades, as well as certain items have gone through the roof.  Meanwhile, bullets and jewelry have plummeted in price.  Then there are daily fees for camp and horse stabling including the one you are riding.  Some of these items, even basic and uninspiring ones, can only be paid for in gold that you seem to get a bit of from missions and the extremely rare treasure map.   I’ve earned about one and a half of one thusfar – and they must be paid in full bars.  Changing the metals on guns even can only be bought in gold.  Most of it cannot be bought right away anyway – as you need advanced levels to buy things, including the bow and arrow Arthur practically starts out with – well the bow anyway, you can own arrows long before the bow that casts them at enemies.

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But let me tell you about my first character who I restarted with early because of what happened.

My First Experience

I made my player, Willa Miller – using up the full name length after googling female names of the period to find one I like.  I didn’t feel I had a large choice of faces that could work, but I was excited that I would be able to take this character through the world.  The opening scene was customized to the fact that I am playing a female character and I was taken in.  In the middle of that first mission you are effectively able to roam freely across the map and I took the little bit of ammo I had and did some hunting along the way – I had spawned in New Austin (I started in LeMoyne when I recreated her later).  The gang I was meant to attack went down easier than I expected, and I was unable to jump into a wagon to open a chest, but otherwise it was going fine.  I couldn’t rob the wagons that were driving past me, but that would become available later, right?  Nope.

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The end of that first mission had me lose the scrawny nag I had all my pelts on, but it gave me my first horse so I let it go.  I wandered a bit after that, caught a few more bits of game and tried out a stranger mission – killed a cougar.  I did a couple other missions and found that was too weak yet – my carbine repeater didn’t do the job, my arm was shaky, and I needed a stronger gun.  I struck out after buildings that may hold some goods and found a few – not as much as Arthur would find, but I got some goods.  So I went to Valentine and I decided it’d be a good idea to sell those goods, as I had with Arthur, but the general store now only sells, no buying.

Ah, but that’s when I started more than just seeing others – and hearing those with headsets speak.  Ammo is cheap, crimes are nonexistent, and you have a huge proportion of the humans in the game as outlaws.  The first real interaction I had just hunted a bear and went to check out Limpany and see if the gold bar was there -it wasn’t, nor were the dead prisoners.   As I head back toward my horse I see a guy carrying a big black pelt, like the black bear pelt my horse had been carrying – had he stolen it?  Can we do that?  As I run over to see, I get shot in the head and die.  I’m pretty sure it was mine and even if not, the pelts on my horse were all gone because I had died.

I ran back after him after respawning, I died thrice more before I could parlay giving me 10 minutes were he can’t kill me- the last time was when I heard him remark: “dumb bitch.”  Some nasty prick who likely hates women because he feels he is entitled to sex they won’t give him is apparently so I figured that’s fine.  Well, as I make it into Valentine I find that players have congregated there, I wonder what kind of interaction we can have.  Well, I hear four voices with thick Southern accents calling everyone a bitch and getting off on how they were gunning everyone down.  How would I be able to make any money if I can’t get to the butcher alive to sell what I had – or hell, make it across the street to the general store?

It got crowded and I snuck around, getting by from time to time to sell my stuff, but always hunted.  I also did kill one person myself without them showing me aggression first – but that’s because rather than show the names people gave themselves, you see their PS4 usernames and I came across an apparent Nazi (STROMTROOPERX99 – I read it as stormtrooper and they probably meant to write that anyway).  Perhaps I should have just punched him to be more symbolic, but I stabbed him in the back and it felt good.

At no point did the law seem to intervene – I didn’t even notice them at all until the next day – so maybe they were added in.  I couldn’t afford a rifle and I was alone, so I went to the stables.  What were the prices?  Well, the very best horse was free – perhaps a preorder bonus – I decided to sell my first horse, Tromper – whose name was intentionally bland because I don’t care for brown horses and he was an early one who I intended to get rid of anyway.  Well, that didn’t work out well – there are stabling fees which increase by the quality of the horse, and though I had around $70, I didn’t have the money to pay its stabling fee so I was not allowed to ride it.  I quickly sold him and there was no free cheap horse – I had to ride a nag for awhile, until I saved enough for the new horse since I intended to do something else with the money.  The nag just didn’t work on any long distance, so I went to buy a new one.  However, I still owed that stabling fee for the Arabian horse and so I could not ride my horse I just paid $50 for – and the insurance was not free this time anyway.

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I resigned myself to restarting, because I had lost more already than I gained.  My second character had it easier – she was on a server while others weren’t playing for awhile and I didn’t repeat my horse mistake.  Though I still ran into posses looking to kill everyone they could, they were further spaced apart this time – the Beta was now fully open so perhaps many got it out of their systems.  I even got some relatively fast money by finding out that of the few farm animals that spawn, the sheep just north on the west side of Valentine and the pig farm to the west on the south side are places you can rope and kill perfect animals without retribution.  Two perfect pig carcasses (one on your horse and the other you can run the short distance with) will net you $11.50, which is a lot online.  But, the only reason I kept playing was due to the custom characters – I liked being able to play the female character, especially one I customized.  If I could do that offline I’d stop playing online for sure.

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Immediately after uploading this picture, I exited the menu to find that I had been shot in the head.

How to Improve It

However, it is in beta and Rockstar is actively soliciting feedback from players.  While there is a huge potential for a great online mode – the game currently is lacking in the wonder that it could be.  I don’t know if there was just no vision for the online mode or if the problem is the workers had been so overworked during crunch that they just cannot put out the same level of excellence, not yet having recovered.

Therefore, I am stating unequivocally that Rockstar may take these ideas and put them into action without providing me with any compensation whatsoever outside of providing a better product for me to purchase. I waive any legal right which obligates any compensation or presumes any ownership of the ideas on my part. With that said, I won’t refuse any completely voluntary compensation (via my Patreon page below) – I just don’t demand it. Completely optional.

Rockstar, here is your salvation.  Despite not constraining your players to a specific server – as many MMORPGs do – you decided to put all your eggs into a PVP, resource heavy server.  You can solve this by diversifying your servers.  I suggest a separation to allow for three main player options: this requires a very base server for player information, a mission server, PVP servers, and social servers.

The main mode will be done mainly on players’ own machines rather than eating up your servers.  Rather than playing the entire game on your server, creating lag, the players will get their own world with everything in it – as they do in the core game – full of all the little surprises.  However, they may invite – or be invited – by their friends to join in on the game hosted on their machine and allowing for direct connections between the machines.  You don’t have to process any of it, the host machine or perhaps combined processing of them all will do it.  Only your friends are interacting with you there and you get to explore the world together or alone, getting immersed in that world.  Perhaps we assume that Arthur Morgan never existed or never came to town and they’ll be the same events as you already have.  Perhaps you’ll decide to make brand new ones in time.  However, these should be there – those living in these various homes are there.

The only thing you need do with your servers here is to set up the connections and track the players’ stats, possessions, and horses – minimal server stress.

This opens up what we should be expecting for co-op – collective, multiplayer raiding of homesteads, robbing stagecoaches, banks and trains, perhaps with some other new crime types.  Perhaps allow for homesteads to be built (since we’re not on the run) at various locations (the host keeps their homestead available)  – that’s a great use for gold and plenty of possible upgrades.  Can we even start building our own towns out of it, like McFarlane Ranch?

Of course, this will be the only mode in which homesteads are visible since there will be conflicts otherwise – it’s not so much an issue of server resources as an issue of exclusivity and pragmatism – only one homestead can appear and there will be conflicts otherwise.

When the player triggers a mission, they and any friends connect to the mission server, and others can be matchmade just like they are now though it may look different behind the scenes.

When you want to generally socialize, you can go to a social server, where you can thin out the herds of characters and animals as you are doing now – give players the ability to gamble against one another and drink themselves silly in saloons with perhaps some dancing, sit and watch shows together, and whatever else they want.  People meet and make friends.  Perhaps you can allow optional PVP capability outside of town.  The social function of emotes is lost currently as you’re too worried someone is going to gun you down when others are present – safe areas are vital.

Finally, in PVP mode players can duke it out against one another just as they do now.  This is where you have people killing one another and posses raiding one another’s camp.  What you have now is just the PVP and it drains your resources.  You also designed the game thusfar as if to encourage trolling behavior and senseless slaughter in constant gunfights.  It encourages players to ruin the experience for others with an overuse of violence and did I mention that it takes 16 deaths to parlay with all of a posse?

Other than outright trolls, most players will spend most of their time on their own machines – delving in further with the world around them with their custom characters, sharing the experience with friends.  There will be PVP and socializing with strangers, but the wear and tear on your servers will be greatly lessened while their experience will be greatly enhanced.

I’d love to see some new events – and maybe even missions – in which the aliens play more of a role.  You may be saving that for another game mode, but having it out with aliens may just be an ideal thing.  However, I would like to note that the big UFO craze in the West at this time was a cigar-shaped airship – I read somewhere that it’s in the base game crashed – not saucers.

I’m not sure what is available for men – I’m enjoying the new female clothing that is available.  However, I do notice the lack of some key outfit choices for female characters.  First, you need corset tops – despite what Arthur said about whale bones and horses.  It’s a classic look of the old west and one which females should find available.  There should also be dress options that take care of both the shirt and skirt and collared shirts, as well as the fancy hats full of feathers that we see displayed on the outskirts of St Denis in the shop of Algernon Wasp.  You also should add back in all the special outfits – whether you allow us to collect them ourselves or buy them with gold.  In fact, those out of era items such as viking helmets and pirate swords are what makes more sense to spend gold on.  Perhaps entire suits of armor should be available (much like Teddy Black wears in this very online mode) or pirate costumes.

It is understandable that you don’t want to deal with dialogue with four player characters in a scene – you can feel free to keep it like that.  However, please get some basic voice acting to just say hi to people and insult them like Arthur does.  It doesn’t have to a whole lot, just basic interaction and even two basic voices – one male, one female – is better than nothing.  Though a few different accents would be awfully kind.

Rather than posting everyone’s PSN ID (or Xbox ID I would presume for the other version), the chosen name should be what is displayed – when you get kill or get killed, you can have the PSN ID in parentheses.  If you want to immerse people, using an actual name goes a long way toward that immersion.  Now I fully expect there to be plenty of people who throw nonsense down anyway, there to just shoot shit and not much else, but it is about incentive – the name actually being shown incentivizes people to put in actual effort in naming themselves just like the current game design encourages random killings.

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Looking beyond the fact that the posse name seems to suggest the white supremacy Rockstar mocked in the core game, a name of HOTDIDDY is hardly what you want for total immersion, nor is BRAKYABRAI who was speaking at that moment.

It also may a nice addition to allow for more extensive modifications for horses – allow for unconventional dying of their manes and tails – such as deep purples, pinks, blues, and greens – make them stand out.  While not true to the period, neither was the viking helmet and full horse body armor can also assist in that.  Beyond making the world interesting, this will assist functionally when you’re trying to find your horse amongst the many others when it is time to mount up in a story mission.

Customizing weapon appearance is something that needs to be made much more accessible.  It’s expected that people will stand out and gold is much too hard to come by for it to come down to massive costs in gold to edit anything.  Perhaps the price should be toned down to a single gold bar to be able to edit the gun’s appearance and each change paid for in cash – along with the ability to see how changes look together prior to confirming them all.

There also needs to be more control with the user-generated audio.  There is no option to lower the volume of other users speaking relative to the rest of the sound (it’s frankly too loud now) and there is a need for limiting how far away you can hear people.  I would want to hear people that are at a radius where you might be able to hear someone yelling, not with a diameter of the width of New Hanover.  I’ve travelled long distances picking up conversations between people who were nowhere near me.

We also know that something like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is coming at some point.  The game has the success to justify it and you put so much macabre content throughout the core game.  When it comes, allowing characters to become vampires or zombies or werewolves – with storylines unique to them and to those who remain human – would be a sensible companion expansion for the online version of the game.

In all, the biggest needed change is the one of perspective – the mode I suspect would become primary would carry over the full immersion that makes the offline mode so mindblowing into the online mode while reducing your server costs rather than increasing them.  It reinstates the immersion and the feeling that you are actually part of a fully functioning world, rather than a cheap ripoff of a magical experience.

All images are in game captures.  Fair use.

This work is unpaid because this is not a for-profit site.  If you want to help support this work and more like it in the future, please consider becoming a patron of mine on Patreon on my page.  Funds will not only help me transition to writing full-time but will allow me to purchase professional images for the articles.

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