Is Red Dead Online Worth Playing in 2021?

Rockstar Games, the video game developers behind the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption franchises, recently released a standalone version of the online mode for Red Dead Redemption 2. With a retail price set at $20, Red Dead Online is a reasonable cost for anyone who likes to play online games, but (for whatever reason) doesn’t have an interest in the amazing single-player campaign of Red Dead Redemption 2.

As an added incentive for those on the fence about trying out Red Dead Online, the game is currently available for only $5 on the Steam, Epic Games, PlayStation, and Xbox One digital stores. But is Red Dead Online worth playing in 2021?

The Gameplay

red dead online gameplay

Red Dead Online is set in a truly open world. You can create your own character with a relatively basic character creator (with only options for the “traditional” gender binary, unfortunately) and choose from a few basic clothing options right away. During the tutorial missions, you’re introduced to a unique plot that involves your character being helped to break out of prison, where you were on death row for a crime you had nothing to do with. In return for your freedom, your character silently agrees to help find the real killers.

After an introductory mission where you steal a horse, you are let loose on an open world and can continue the story only when you feel like it. The world is the same one featured in the Red Dead Redemption 2, including a sizable chunk of the map from the previous Red Dead Redemption. There are regions that simulate Texas, Appalachia, the Louisiana Bayou, and the extremely cold Rockie Mountains, all of which are in a fictionalized version of the United States with unique landmarks and towns.

As far as what there is to do, you have options. One of the simplest ways to make money is to hunt animals, which gets you skins, meat, and other animal parts like antlers and feathers. These can be sold directly to butchers for money, and the meat can also be cooked at a campfire to create very effective healing items.

There are also missions available in most towns and smaller hubs. If you prefer to do things on the honorable side, you can defend caravans in escort missions, deliver letters by horseback, or reclaim stolen property. If evil is more your jam, there are heist missions, assassinations, and a lot more of that sort of stuff to really get your hands dirty. Either way, missions like that will award you a small amount of money and gold, the latter of which is a premium currency used for major unlocks that is also available to buy with real cash. But there’s a catch.

Player vs. Player

red dead online player vs player

Red Dead Online is a bit more player vs. player oriented than a lot of online games will force you to be. Most missions involve a public component, where other players can attack you or otherwise mess up your gig. For example, if you’re escorting a caravan, after a certain point other players who are nearby can attack the caravan and cause you to fail. On the flip side, they receive rewards for doing so. That makes it ideal to do these sorts of missions with friends for additional protection, but in the couple of months that I have personally been playing Red Dead Online, I have only once had another player actually interfere with my task at hand, and they were unsuccessful.

When you’re just doing regular open world stuff like fishing, hunting, or foraging, you can set yourself to “defensive” mode, which makes other players killing you far more effort than it is worth. In the event of being killed by a random passerby, you can even choose a “parley” option, which stops whoever killed you from being able to be hostile with you for ten minutes. This gives you plenty of time to get away from any potential griefers and makes random player vs. player a really small annoyance at worst for most players. If you just can’t stand PVP content, don’t let that be enough of a deterrent from trying Red Dead Online. Even if it is sometimes unavoidable, the map is huge and sparsely populated, and most other players are just going about their business. I almost never PVP in other games, and yet I have never felt like there was an obnoxious amount of PVP in Red Dead Online.

The Series Playlists

red dead online series playlists

In addition to the general open world where you can do pretty much anything you want to do, Rockstar also includes a mode called the Series Playlists in Red Dead Online that allows you to do contests against other players. My personal favorite is the Racing Series, which includes horseback events where you have to run a race and complete various objectives against other players. Unfortunately, the quality of your horse from the main game does affect how quick you’ll be in these events. Fresh out of the box with my starter horse, however, I was able to place between 4th and 6th out of 12 to 16 players pretty regularly and even cracked the top three twice. These events also provide you with in-game money and gold, though they provide more if you do better.

Aside from the very enjoyable chaos of the race events, there are also more traditional battle royale style PVP modes, where the objective is something like getting headshots on opposing players. This sort of content isn’t my jam, but for those of you who thrive on player vs. player content, there is a lot of variety and different events to enjoy.

Since I started playing there has always been at least one “featured” series as well, which includes specific events, and sometimes gives additional gold and money. These are a great way to grind for resources, as grinding is a huge part of the game because things cost a lot of money.

The Economy

red dead online gold bars
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The biggest issue with Red Dead Online, honestly, is the economy. Things cost a pretty obscene amount of money, and there is a lot of grinding ahead of you if you want to make the money you need. In the base game, you’ll have to do missions for between $10-20 dollars at a time and hunt animals to accumulate the money for new clothes or weapons that can cost hundreds of dollars. Additionally, most things in the game are locked to your rank, the Red Dead Online equivalent of experience level. Rank doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on anything else but allows you to unlock different clothing, horses, and weapons.

It’s easy for a day’s grinding on regular missions or hunting to disappear when you buy a new gun or a few pieces of clothing. Luckily, the difference in tiers with different guns is pretty minimal. It won’t be a pressing need to improve beyond the first guns available to you. All you really need is one of each type, and the differences between the variations are things like a slight damage increase in exchange for a loss in accuracy, or vice versa. I personally find the earliest versions available of many of these gun types to be the best, as they’re better balanced, but your mileage may vary.

The Roles

red dead online roles

The best content for making cash and gold in Red Dead Online are the roles. Unfortunately, they also require gold to unlock, which means significant grinding, or spending a bit of real money to get yourself started. They range from 15 to 25 gold each, which is a significant amount of grinding, or between $5 and $10 of real money on the digital store. I was impatient and spent $5 to unlock my first role, which ended up providing enough money and gold (via daily challenges) to unlock the others without additional investment.

The current roles available in Red Dead Online are the Trader, Moonshiner, Bounty Hunter, Naturalist, and Collector. Each of them have their merits and different things to do that will help you earn cash in-game far more quickly than the base content, which is why they’re locked behind an initial gold investment.

The Trader, which is the role I personally picked first, involves hunting skins and carcasses from animals, doing supply missions, and then later selling what you and your sidekick have accumulated to local buyers via missions where you drive a wagon into town. When you arrive, you inevitably have to fight off a bunch of bandits at your destination. You can do local deliveries, which other players cannot interfere with, or distant deliveries, which can be targeted by other players, but also give slightly more money. It essentially adds a significant improvement in the rewards for usual hunting, so it may be your best choice if you already enjoy the hunting mechanic in-game.

The Moonshiner role, which actually requires getting Trader first or paying an additional 5 gold to skip that requirement, is a great way to make cash. You run your own moonshine operation, with a bar in the basement where you can hang out, listen to a band, get drunk, and invite other players to enjoy the festivities. It’s also a great way to earn passive income, as you really only have to swing by and tell a guy named Marcel to start making moonshine, come back in between 30 minutes and an hour when it is done, and then deliver it to somewhere nearby for a really great payout. The Moonshiner role also includes a unique storyline that is a lot of fun and benefits your Moonshine operation when completing it. This is my favorite role and the one I spend the most time doing.

The Naturalist role involves sedating animals and taking samples from them (without killing them) to sell to Harriet, the woman from who you get your supplies. It’s a good way to make money, although it doesn’t synergize well with the Trader role as Harriet will get upset with you if you kill animals. Weirdly enough, you also have to skin animals to complete your Naturalist guide, which rewards you with extra experience in the role. This is the role I would recommend the least, as it is tedious and needing to do the opposite of what Harriet wants you to in order to “complete” the role is a frustrating choice.

The Collector role is a great choice if you want to make money, and if the collection aspect of video games is something you’re into. You purchase maps from Madam Nazar that show the locations of various collectibles, including rare coins, tarot cards, arrowheads, fossils, and a lot more. You then go around and collect them, and sell them to Madam Nazar when you have a complete set. This can get you a lot of money if you enjoy traveling around the map picking up collectibles. It’s a great way to make cash if you want a break from the constant murdering.

The last and probably most popular role is the Bounty Hunter. With this role, you go to bounty boards in various towns, grab a wanted poster, then go out hunting for the target. You can kill the target and bring back the body, or use your lasso to tie them up and bring them back to the local sheriff’s office alive. Bringing them in alive gives you a little more money, but can also be slightly more of a pain in the butt, as your target is often surrounded by people shooting at you. I have more than once accidentally killed my target while trying to clear out their bodyguards. The best part of the Bounty Hunter role is that in addition to cash, it awards gold in addition to cash, meaning it may be the best choice as your first role, that way you can quickly accumulate the gold necessary to unlock other roles. That said, all of the roles can help you get gold as they allow you to do new daily challenges that also give a significant amount of gold.

The Verdict

So, back to our original question: is Red Dead Online worth playing in 2021? There are some fair criticisms of the game that are worth noting. Updates to the game are apparently pretty few and far between, as months and months go by without new content. There is also some serious criticism of the server qualities, which I have experienced only somewhat. In a day of playing about six or seven hours, I am usually disconnected by the Rockstar servers once. As someone who also plays Fallout 76, I’m used to this and it really doesn’t bother me that much. I have only once lost anything significant because of a server crash, and it wasn’t really that big of a deal.

But with that in mind, is Red Dead Online worth playing? I think so! It has been my primary game for more than a month, and I am enjoying the heck out of it. The world is one of the best in open world games, and it’s just a lot of fun. I never feel like I’m running out of things to do, and there’s enough variety to the gameplay to keep it fresh. Some days, I just want to hang and fish while I wait for my moonshine to be ready for delivery. On others, I want to go hunt bounties and shoot ne’er-do-wells in the face. There are enough choices that it doesn’t feel old yet, and after more than a month of playing every day, that’s a good sign for me as a gamer who burns out really easily.

If you like online games and the old west setting appeals to you, you should absolutely give Red Dead Online a try. Whether you decide to buy the standalone version, or you buy the full Red Dead Redemption 2 so you can experience the wonderful story, you will get a great game for your money. There is far more good in Red Dead Online than there is bad, and I for one will still be enjoying this one for a while.

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Matt Lamour
Matt Lamour is a freelance writer, social media manager, novelist, songwriter, guitarist, and political activist. When they're not writing or working on some sort of creative project, they spend their time with their cats, their wife, and their video games.

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