It’s no secret to anyone rock star game‘ Red Dead Online Always striving to achieve the same level of success as other seemingly immortal multiplayer games, Grand Theft Auto Online. The latter still regularly tops NPD sales reports and has been at the top almost consistently since its launch in 2013, while the former hasn’t really taken off. But why?
Assume for now that it’s not just because people prefer a modern setting Grand Theft Auto – because, honestly, I really don’t think so – which is why I think GTA Online is doing so well and Red Dead Online struggles to keep up, despite having three years to grow into an older, more successful big boot brother.
GTA Online has been full of energy since it first launched, and Red Dead just lacked that energy. Early on, players know that heist missions have been going on for a while. Those were the correct levels for the online portion of the game in 2015, when the update hits had gone through the GTA 5 campaign, where story beats like jewelry store jobs and bureau raids proved that Rockstar could complete the heist as well as any Oceans 11 remake or sequel. The anticipation and release of the first benchamrk content drop was enough to keep everyone invested. From there, the GTA Online business model was born.
It didn’t stop there. Over the years, GTA Online has had regular story updates that are as rich in narrative and fully functional as any mission in GTA. Some of these updates even bring changes to the map (and even introduce a new map entirely!) These updates feel fulfilling, varied and fun – from simple things like robbing the Pacific Standard Bank with Lester, to Crazy missions like this stop a malicious AI named Cliffford from ending the world. While the latter sounded like a shark jump in Saints Row IV, the cinematic presentation, cutscenes, and tone were so careful that none of the missions felt like Grand Theft Auto.
Nearly a decade later, this respect for the history of the collection itself continues to impress, even if you don’t care about the brand, you have to admit it’s impressive. While the latest update may be heavily advertised as being about Dr. Dre, it also brings back Franklin Clinton, who has been moving on since he became one of our heroes in the GTA 5 campaign and became a multi-millionaire. Callbacks like this are exactly in line with other hugely successful multiplayer online games like Final Fantasy XIV and Fortnite, making fictional Los Santos feel like a real (if not a little crazy) one Places, which make your story diverse and play with your friends will feel like they’re really worth doing and are part of the series’ ongoing canon.
Red Dead Online, on the other hand, feels relatively light on content… mostly because it is. Most updates are largely based on new specialist job characters (simple, repeatable missions that re-use the same gameplay over and over), and hardly any unique cutscenes or characters.
Unfortunately, the lack of demo in Red Dead Online leaves players with a character whose story goes nowhere after the first five heavy cinematic missions. A July 2021 update called Blood Money adds long overdue “chances” to the game and was supposed to fill the same void as GTA’s 2013 Heist update, but they both require a new currency called “Capitale” to play, and it ends up being largely unremarkable. That’s really saying something, considering that one of these fancy new additions is a train robbery! It might be as big as the Los Santos Heist that everyone loves so much, but sadly it’s not.
The problem with the game’s content is further exacerbated by a morality system that does little other than limit the missions you can actually play. Surely a “white hat” cowboy could thwart the evil on the frontier without being incapable of interacting with it on any level? But the game wasn’t designed that way at all, and it’s done a major damage to it.
Coming back to currency, the two games have very different attitudes towards currency. GTA Online uses a simple single currency that seems to continually give GTA money through in-game events, multiplayer matches, commercial mini-games, and daily visits to the Diamond Casino. If you’re on a budget, you’ll have no trouble finding quests or heists to participate in and earn your cut.
Red Dead Redemption, on the other hand, is…well, it’s a little harder. It comes in four different currencies; Gold Bars, USD, Capitale and Character Tokens. Each is obtained in a different way, and each is used for different things. You’re unlikely to feel very rich for long, as accessing most in-game content requires you to spend cash or hone it over a long period of time, either by crippling your daily challenge streak or selling time-consuming items from collectors in your expert role.
To make matters worse, Red Dead Online also now has several Outlaw Pass updates, these are paid battle passes that just give you bells and whistles like camp flags, horse hairstyles, new beards and goofy emotes instead of anything substantial thing. Compared to the content offerings, new locations, and traditional characters that routinely appear in GTA, it all feels a little… barren.
While I don’t think Red Dead Online is a lost cause, it definitely needs a refocus, and Rockstar needs to reevaluate the fun that people who play these games actually find. I know the Red Dead team might want to do something unique and differentiate it from Grand Theft Auto Online, but at the moment it just doesn’t work – I think the developers have to know that too.
There’s also the issue of publisher support, knowing which games are the most popular, which seems to be the basis for an easier decision for Take-Two Interactive. Rockstar regularly tries to attract more players to GTA Online with free in-game currency for Twitch Prime and PlayStation Plus members, and the game is regularly released at a cheaper price – sometimes even as a freebie on the Epic Games Store. With this Meanwhile, Red Dead Online is largely unpopular.
Red Dead’s PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S versions have yet to be announced, and Grand Theft Auto is at the forefront of marketing for Sony’s latest machine, offering PlayStation Plus members a standalone GTA Online mode, free character transfers to whatever The new version is available on whichever platform you are currently on. Faced with this knowledge, I can’t help but wonder if Rockstar regrets the decision to separate its internal development focus from Red Dead Online. I hope the studio can turn the fortunes of the Wild West game around, but I just don’t think it’s spending money at this point. The well-known ship may have sailed.
If you’ve reached the end of this article and you’re looking for an online sandbox game, you should probably know that the “expanded” and “enhanced” re-release of Rockstar’s biggest moneymaker, Grand Theft, is automatically set to arrive online March 15, 2022Now is the perfect time to get the crew together and go loot some digital vaults, because thanks to a proper update, this online-only crime game is being chock-full of co-op missions and other things to do and see.
Until Rockstar makes major changes and updates to Red Dead Online, I really don’t recommend you play it. Just go play GTA and enjoy Los Santos again. And you don’t even need the stress of buying a new version: you can still play the PS4, Xbox One, and PC versions right now, safely knowing that any and all progress will carry over for your team whenever you decide to finally upgrade to A new version of GTA Online.
You can’t say the same about Red Dead Online. Just three years later, it feels like Rockstar might be flogging a dead horse with that horse.