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Red Dead Redemption Online: A Bit Beyond The Economy

The Red Dead Redemption 2 feedback is in, and there's not much I can add regarding the biggest issue: the economy. While others have covered this in more detail than I could, what really bothers me about this game are some basic quality of life issues that soured the experience.

My setup was odd. I played as a purely honorable character to avoid the horrible shit the main story forced Arthur into, and while I was avoiding unnecessary violence, I decided to avoid any unnecessary violence. As a result, I decided to play as a vegetarian character who doesn't hunt or fish and doesn't eat any meat. (More on this later, as it led to some really bizarre discoveries about the mechanics.)

I put more than a dozen hours into the game (I didn't keep too much track of time), found all of the honorable Strangers and completed their missions, then followed the main story to 75%, at which point it dried up completely. Kind of bored with my options, I'm sharing my observations.


The pleasant surprises:

I was surprised the honorable path encourages non-lethal solutions both in the main story and Stranger missions. Early in the main story, the honorable decision is, "Do you shoot this guy in the head or let him go." Later, in the gunslinger missions, several involve lassoing and fistfights instead of killing. Having played plenty of bounty missions as an honorable character in Single Player, this was second nature and I was happy they didn't change the honor dynamic.

As for Stranger missions, most honorable ones don't involve gunplay. Fistfights, stealth, lassoes, and grabbing the loot and skedaddling are solutions to most problems. Beyond that, shooting a horse in the kneecap is a good way to end pursuit. There's very little ludonarrative dissonance (yeah, I know, but I had to use it) here, as one Stranger ruefully tells you that killing unnecessarily will one day cause regret, and the game provides plenty of missions where killing people is completely unnecessary.

What further impressed me was core maintenance without readily-accessible cooked meat. Foraging is pretty effective as you can restore half of your health and stamina core with a single can of… well, anything in a can. And cans are found everywhere. I'm running around with a half dozen of each, a bow, five bottles of gin, several cigars, a whole lot of cigarettes, and the best firearm I can get at my level.

I think the restorative properties of some of these items are boosted above their single-player properties as a concession to the inability to heal instantly at camp sites or build a fire wherever you go. Crackers in the single-player game seemed like a complete waste of time, but in the multi-player they can restore a quarter of your health core each. Same with cigarettes, which are no longer just something I collect for the cards. Deeper into the mechanics, those saloons and bottles of beer at camp which seemed mostly to serve as incidental animations are incredibly useful in multiplayer, too. A 50 cent beer bottle can restore most of your dead eye and stamina if you have the time to take a detour. And all of those herbs and berries that you can taste while wandering around the map? Shockingly, you can top up a core in a few seconds with a patch of mint or a few raspberry bushes.

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Basically, not only are the mechanics of single-player missions fully in allowance of non-lethal approaches to problems with awards on par with lethal options, but the game designs both the online stories and missions around these options pretty effectively.


The disappointments:

But the game still doesn't want you using berries and herbs too much. It hits you pretty hard when you've eaten four berries and suddenly you're told you won't get any benefits anymore. Meanwhile, you recall in the single-player game chomping down a side of grizzly every five minutes and never slowing down. Segregating berries and herbs from a can of peaches never looks more ridiculous until that's basically all you're eating. (I'm suspicious of this as a mechanic and wonder if they knew that foraging would conflict with the economy of the multiplayer and removed the ability to heal too much of your core too fast without risking health, ammo, or cash for core recovery items to keep your wallet open.)

Even if my character wasn't a vegetarian, non-combat core recovery would seem to be easy with fishing, except RDR Online gatekeeps the fishing pole until you're level 14. I completed a couple dozen Stranger missions as well as 75% of the main story and still hadn't achieved a level high enough to do something as basic as go fishing (to be fair, you can shoot a fish with your bow or trample it with your horse and get the meat if that's your thing).

As for experimenting with combat and the lack of it, while I was pleased that the game recognizes that the honorable choice in the single-player game usually revolves around rescuing people, serving people, forgiving people, and following the law of the land, it doesn't take long before you realize this game doesn't give a fuck whether you choose dishonor as a game path outside of the story. Let's Plays of dishonorable RDR Online sessions were filled with gamers racking up WANTED levels, piling on lawmen, getting pinged telling them that they were committing murder and rampaging, and yet none of it seemed to follow them outside of that red circle.

GTAV's single-player and online don't care if you committed a crime if you can escape. RDR2 has a separate economy, persistent threat, and an economic punishment if you fuck over the persistent world through crime, but RDR Online just plays by GTAV's rules.

No wonder Free Roam is filled with constant gunfights, sniping, and griefing for its own sake. RDR2 cares about its world and your character's place in it. RDR Online simply doesn't. It's a playground for chaotic brutality and violence with the threat of punishment only serving to create more easily-dispatched opportunities for violence in the form of NPCs.

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The plants and animals across ecosystems don't match RDR2, the law doesn't remember you like RDR2 does, and citizens don't remember or even acknowledge your actions like RDR2.


Final Thoughts:

While GTAV Online delivers an online version of GTAV, RDR Online trims, shuffles, and eliminates all of the flavor from RDR2. As a result, the Free Roam of the game seems to readily default to shoot first, ask questions later because the game doesn't care if you shoot first. The game wants you to shoot first before you do anything else. The game doesn't want you greeting and antagonizing, it wants you emoting dully to NPCs who don't even recognize your emotes or shooting them in the face. The game doesn't care if you dragged a Sheriff across three counties in broad daylight, it only cares if you are currently shooting at someone right this second and will get bored when you put your gun away. There's no persistence, no cleverness in the world design or the system's interactions, no charm to anything outside of the story modes.

So, I think maybe some of this needs to be fixed before the economy does. While it's true that you need a bunch of money to buy cool shit and they're keeping it away from you by putting their hand against your forehead while your hands flail desperately to grab at the prize, it doesn't erase the fact that the world of RDR Online is soulless, spare, and favors violent douchebaggery over deeper interaction.

For starters, ignoring the inflation of the game, if the game kept bounties on criminal players, criminals would be less likely to shoot players in public spaces. And if so, newbies would have places they can go to interact with other players and form pick-up groups. The bounties themselves could provide new opportunities for honorable and dishonorable players to police their own space through economic incentives. And if those incentives were tied to in-game money rather than gold/microtransactions, those incentives would be persistent and non-negotiable forcing players to do other missions or go hunting and fishing, or just about anything other than shooting other players outside of deathmatch to eventually pay them down.

But this is all from the perspective of an honor player who has seen all of the honorable options stripped from the open world in online play and finds a big gaping hole in the middle filled with griefing and inhospitable environments for new players. I'm actually limited in my ability to sum up how the game feels for actual dishonorable players, so I'm curious what everyone thinks.

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