Few games sustain my interest for a long period of time. I’ve gotten into a habit of playing games up to a certain point and then losing my way with them, failing to find the incentive to keep turning them on as they near their end. Online gaming should relieve me of this problem, as you can be put up against all sorts of opponents and the experience will theoretically remain different every time. While this isn’t always the case, and my short attention span does often still rear its ugly head, Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption proves to be one of the few games that has an online mode that still has me coming back every other week.
This is testament to Rockstar’s excellently designed world and the myriad features that they offer in online Red Dead. The game came out in 2010, and two years later I’m still enjoying it as much as I ever did. While GTAIV’s online mode is a clumsy affair, Red Dead’s still feels immensely fresh and engaging, with a quick and easy way of creating posses, observing scores and traversing the map keeping things consistent. Roaming the countryside with your buddies on the back of a horse still feels incredibly natural, and it helps that the gun-play in Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar at its finest. While many of their other games have suffered from average shooting, Red Dead’s system rewards practice and genuine skill. One of the reasons why the game is so addictive is because you are constantly getting better at killing your adversaries.
This isn’t just because of the weapons acquired through the balanced levelling system, either. You get better at killing because you learn exactly when to roll to throw your enemies off and how to pull off headshots with a single bullet before your enemies can even react. It’s a system where there’s no end to how good you can get, and the best of players will always, without fail, feel as if their hard work is paying off. This sense of progression is aided by the aforementioned levelling system, which drip-feeds new guns and mounts to the player at a steady rate.
While you do start off with basic equipment, you never feel as if the game is being particularly unfair towards you, and, thankfully, you level up to a decent stage without too much effort. The best weapons are reserved for those of the highest level by default, but lower-levelled players can still pick these weapons up at weapon spawn-points or loot them from deceased players, and online team areas such as gang hideouts keep the experience points coming in large quantities. Upon reaching level 50, you can opt to pass into legend rank, which returns you to level one again, but gives you the chance to earn better steeds as you level up through the ranks once again. Players who have passed into legend a maximum of five times – and this in itself takes a long time indeed – can look forward to riding a humorous zebra-donkey hybrid as reward for their actions.
But becoming a five-star legend isn’t all that the game has to offer. There are numerous weapon challenges available online which take a considerable amount of time to master. The rewards for doing so are vast, however, as your individual guns become golden once you complete specific weapon challenges assigned to them. Getting golden dynamite is incredibly time-consuming, for example, but every kill that you get contributes in some way, and the feeling of being a badass and sporting golden weapons is one that doesn’t wear off. And, of course, getting golden guns in every weapon could easily takes years. To keep things interesting, however, there are many multiplayer maps, events and scenarios to play out with specific goals, and expansion packs have added plenty more.
The feeling of exploration in the online multiplayer is also worthy of acknowledgement. Red Dead Redemption’s world map is big, but online it becomes so much more alive and interesting. You’ll want to get your buddies on top of a stage coach, drive it into a river and stay on the roof for as long as you can without drowning, just to see where the river takes you; you’ll go exploring up in the mountains and find new routes and places you can get to. Even sticking in the same place can lead to all sorts of interesting scenarios: long bridges can serve as walkways for jousting matches as you ride towards each other on your steeds, and you can steal a one-man horse and cart and have makeshift chariot races against each other. You can haul yourself up in a building and fend off waves of the Mexican army, or you can head on up to Tanner’s Reach and hide in the solitary cabin, avoiding wild cougars. You can sit at a vantage point sniping off other players, or you can start a fist-fight on the edge of a cliff and see who can knock the other over the edge first. There’s so much to do, and the only genuine limitation is your imagination, as the game’s engine is versatile and invites people to mess around with it.
It can be a very amusing experience to play Red Dead Redemption online, especially with a bunch of friends. Gathering a group together to commit mass-suicide by leaping off of an enormous cliff can be hysterical, and just riding across the countryside with a buddy, only to turn and slaughter their horse with a well-aimed knife attack, which causes them to tumble to the ground as you race off ahead, is always entertaining. Red Dead is the kind of online experience where you can dick around and not take things too seriously, but one that also rewards players when they wish to be more serious and earn achievements.
I bring this up now because while Red Dead Redemption is a couple of years old, its online mode is still an excellent experience. Becoming a public enemy by owning people five times in a row without dying will never stop being satisfying, and although I am personally a five-star legend with my zebra-donkey and an arsenal of golden guns at this stage, I still have plenty more guns to make gold. And, even then, the fun doesn’t stop once you’ve capped out your online statistics for the game. You will always be finding new areas to explore, or new ways in which to explore them; just the other day I found a pool of water that I normally ride right by, but upon closer inspection found that you can wade through it and stand on a large rock, feeling the water spray up in your face in an unusually chaotic way.
Red Dead Redemption’s online mode is the best open-world online experience that there is on the home console, in my mind. It is genuinely still as fun today as it was the first time that I played it, and there’s nothing better than claiming a saloon and head-shotting every player who comes near you, or finding another ridge to drive your stagecoach off of with other players still inside, just to see what happens. Game sessions still tend to be well-populated and there’s always a challenge from players, even if they’re a lower level than you. With a perfectly balanced difficulty to it, infinite opportunities to mess around and experiment, and plenty of targets to work towards, Red Dead Redemption’s online functionality is still as special today as it always was, and it remains the game of this generation that I’ve invested the most time into.
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