by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 6th December, 2018
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a humongous game so the decision to postpone its online component for one month after the game released was a sound one. Fans could finish the game's excellent story without having to rush it in order to jump online as soon as possible, and developers could spend the time polishing the huge and ambitious online part of the game.
And when it launched, Red Dead Redemption 2 online mode launched in the beta state with Rockstar notifying users that the current mechanics, game modes, and features are not final and that their progress may be wiped once the online mode exits beta. Also, the online component will stay in beta for as long as it takes so you can expect for it to last for weeks, months even before transforming into the stable version.
The good thing is that, during the beta period, the game should be regularly patched for bugs and glitches and we should receive regular updates introducing new content so the perks of participating in beta should be aplenty. We played Red Dead Redemption 2 Online Beta and have to say that, even in beta, RDR 2 Online is an excellent experience.
On the other hand, the game shows early signs of microtransaction-heavy formula that made GTA V Online one of the highest grossing games of all time. But for what is worth, RDR 2 Online Beta should definitely be checked out, if just for a day or two, by everyone who bought the game.
You start the online mode as a prisoner, en route to the infamous Sisika Penitentiary for a crime that, apparently you didn't commit. Once you arrive at the sheriff office you get the chance to customize your character and we found character editor to be fairly detailed albeit a bit on the ugly side when it comes to default faces to choose for our outlaw.
But after a few minutes of tinkering, you can create a character that doesn't look like a member of one of the numerous freak shows that roamed through the Wild West. After you finish creating your character you are transported to the penitentiary. Then another cutscene plays and suddenly you are free from your shackles and free to do everything you want, after a prolonged tutorial.
The tutorial, in the form of a couple introductory missions, explains main game mechanics, it introduces players to unique features found in the online part of the game and jumpstarts the game's story, which is a tale of wrongful accusations and cold revenge. After the second story mission, where you will be joined by other players (each story missions must be played with other players in the form of a temporary posse or with friends), ends you are free to roam through the huge map and do what you please.
And, as we already said, the game is filled with activities. There are literally hundreds of stranger missions that deal with all kinds of tasks, from recovering stolen coaches to killing everything that moves in gang hideouts. The cool thing is that every stranger is a unique character with full voice-overs that sound better than in most other single player games, making it extremely easy to fully submerge into this wonderfully atmospheric world. The game carries honor system found in the single-player mode to the online part of RDR 2 which means that some strangers offer honorable while others offer dishonorable missions.
We didn't notice that high honor carries any benefits (and that low honor has any repercussions) aside from the fact that some posses require from potential members to be honorable or dishonorable, that some story missions vary based on your honor level, or the interesting feature where players of opposite honor to yours can invade your stranger missions and try to prevent you from finishing them.
Also, every story mission has one moment of choice where each player votes and decides whether their group will follow the rightful or the outlaw way of doing things (e.g. you may decide to bring an outlaw to justice or spare them for a bit of extra cash). There are also various characters on the map that can change your honor level, for a price. Aside from stranger and story missions players can go and search for gang hideouts, go hunting or fishing, or take place in one of the three PvP playlists that offer various competitive modes.
The first playlist is made for larger groups of players and here you can play deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, domination mode where four different groups battle for controlling the map, chose your weapon mode where killing foes with trickier weapons or those that do less damage (like tomahawks, throwing knives, and bow and arrows) brings more points and most wanted mode where each kill increases your wanted level.
The smaller group competitive playlist offer deathmatch modes as well as chose your weapon and RDR 2 variant of Battle Royale dubbed Make It Count where up to 16 players are given either a set of throwing knives or bow and arrows and then sent on an ever-shrinking map to kill or be killed. And finally, there are horse races that take place all over the map.
PvP game modes are fun to play, they suffer from the same control issues (laggy controls and hard aiming) found in the single player but auto aim (yap, it is there, even when battling other live players) and the fact that all other players have to shoot with same bad controls are making things easier for everyone. Maps are closed down sections of the game's map and are usually excellently designed and filled with open spaces perfect for mass shootouts and tight streets where you cannot escape from a duel. Each map is great and there isn't a single map that feels like it is inferior to others.
The problem is that each playlist is random meaning you have to play modes you don't like or exit the lobby and start a new session, which takes time for the game to load. We would like to see an option for players to vote for the next match because some modes are really worse than others. And once you exit the competitive playlist your character will spawn on whichever part of the map the last match took place in. And from there you can visit the online part of the menu and select to spawn in any of the five states found in the game, but you cannot fast travel.
You receive your camp after you finish the second story mission, as well as your first horse which is okay for roaming the map but is bad for races and such. You can move your camp but each resettlement is charged a couple of bucks. You also pay your daily camp free, which is $1 for smaller camps and $2 for larger camps that can take 5-8 players. Your camp cannot be attacked but there is an option to enable other players to ravage your camp if you feel adventurous. Each player can found their own posse and then invite their friends or make the posse free to join. Each posse is either lawful or outlaw-like and they can attack other posses, hunt and free roam together, and participate in story missions as a group. At the moment, the game doesn't offer activities such as heists, or poker that would be perfect for groups of people to partake in.
Overall, RDR 2 Online Beta feels like a finished product. There are no server related issues, PvP matches function perfectly and are lag free, we never experience any bug or glitch during a story or stranger mission, and every part of the game feels like it is polished to perfection. The leveling system is excellent; each activity gives you XP with many items, weapons, horses, and pieces of equipment being locked until you reach a certain level, which creates a game where you are constantly having new goals that will be unlocked once you reach a certain level. We grinded through stranger missions and PvP modes for two days straight because the fishing rod is locked until you reach level 14 or so and the whole process didn't feel like a chore because we had a ton of fun doing it.
Of course, the game still feels like a beta version because many activities we expected simply aren't to be found in the game. You cannot play poker of dominoes (which will be great for this type of game, and a nice way to earn money) nor you can do big, lucrative heists with friends of your posse. RDR 2 Online without the option of robbing a bank or a train is unacceptable and we certainly hope that the only reason for the game not having those is the fact it is still in beta. There are a couple other things that are illogical and should change once Rockstar launches the full version of RDR 2 Online.
For instance, you cannot erect a temporary camp (like in single player) in order to quickly cook meat or craft some items. Instead, you have to reach your main camp or decide to move it closer to your current position, and pay the relocation fee. Lassoing animals is extremely hard for instance, and here lassoing a deer or an elk is important because that's the only way, aside from using bow and arrows, of killing them without damaging their pelt and thus getting more money when selling pelts and carcass to the butcher. And Dead Eye plays no part in multiplayer because it doesn't slow down time; it just colors the world in sepia and allows you to shoot people while hearing your heartbeats so we hope that Rockstar decides to either modify it or completely remove it in the full version of the game.
When it comes to griefing, RDR 2 Online looks like a perfect place to find a ton of griefers. Free Roam mode that allows everyone to shoot at you, the Wild West theme of the game where everyone wants to become an infamous outlaw, and the dominance of unlawful posses are perfect prerequisites for a griefing-heavy experience. But we have to say that we encountered just a couple of players who wanted to ruin the game for everyone else, and just one psychopath who tried to kill us non-stop while we finished some business in Blackwater.
The good thing is that you respawn seconds after being killed right next to the place where you got killed. The player who killed you is marked with a red dot (instead of being a pink dot like everyone else) so you can track them in case they want to kill you again. And in case they kill your horse, you will get a new one because you can get horse insurance for free (but that's just for your first horse, insurance have to be paid once you buy a second horse). Overall, griefing isn't a problem right now but expect to be shot at once you reach larger settlements like Saint Denis or Blackwater.
These towns are teeming with people and some of them will surely try to ruin the game for you, and for everyone else. They get dishonor points for each kill, but that doesn't matter because you know, most of them probably want to be as dishonorable as possible. The issue is that you get dishonored even when killing other players in the act of self-defense, so that's pretty lame.
And we now finally come to the issue of the in-game economy, which you probably have heard about. We all know that GTA V Online brought billions of dollars to Take-Two, mostly because the game pushed heavy for microtransactions. If you wanted to afford every new piece of "free" content you had to either play the game for eight hours each day or to reach for your credit card to buy the game's infamous Shark Cards. And it seems that RDR 2 Online is also incorporating this kind of in-game economy.
Story and stranger mission rewards are laughably low. You get from $2 to $5 for these missions, which is extremely low amount considering that the second worst revolver model costs $195, Lancaster Repeater costs $405 (that's the second best repeater in the game), pump action shotgun costs $444, and a solid long-range rifle (Rolling Block Rifle) has a price of $685. That's $1,700 in total for a solid arsenal of weapons and in order to earn that amount of money you have to grind for around 40 hours (we earned around $200 during our first day when we played around five hours of RDR 2 Online).
Add to that a new horse (luckily, the free horse for all PS4 players is pretty good and don't have to be replaced except if you want to win some online races), daily expenses in the form of camp tax, ammo and food (as in single player, you should hunt animals for meat instead of buying food, but still), a few pieces of clothing and you reach some crazy amount of playtime in order to afford a solid equipment for your character. Sure, there are treasure maps that earn up to $100, and there are other ways of earning money but simply put, the economy is based on grinding your way to better equipment. Maybe we will be able to earn lots of money by doing heists with other players. If that's the case, we certainly hope that Rockstar will introduce those sooner rather than later.
Many pieces of equipment are level-locked meaning you can't buy them before reaching a certain level but many of those can be bought for gold bars. And gold bars is the second currency in RDR 2 Online that players will be able to buy with real money once the game comes out of beta. And this is the problem because some items and pieces of equipment can only be bought with gold bars and you earn those super slow, like you earn premium currency in free-to-play mobile games. So, if you want the best horse or cool clothes you'll probably have to shell out additional cash for gold bars. And since there are talks that the full version of the game will feature properties players will be able to buy we are hoping they won't feature eye-watering prices (or prices in gold bars) that will be unreachable for many players.
Sure, this is still in Beta and we hope that Rockstar will tweak the in-game economy to allow a bit faster cash influx because not everyone has hundreds of hours of free time that is needed to grind enough cash to get quality equipment. Overall, Red Dead Redemption 2 Online Beta is an extremely fun experience. You can do whatever you like, PvP is really fun (and a good way to earn some cash), stranger missions are interesting enough and the fact you can ride with your friends in a posse and doing all kinds of unlawful (or lawful) stuff is phenomenal. We just hope that Rockstar will introduce new content like heists and poker and will work on making earning money a bit easier. With those tweaks, Red Dead Redemption 2 Online could become the favorite pastime for millions of players.