'Red Dead Online' Is As Close As You Can Get to 'Westworld' Without Anthony Hopkins

With Red Dead Redemption II being hailed by many as a best game of the year (if not all-time) contender, the anticipation for Red Dead Online has been shrill as a tea kettle. Shrouded in secrecy since the game hit shelves in late October, Rockstar’s mysterious online feature has had us wannabe cowboys wondering, for weeks, how exactly the shoot-outs, plantations, open ranges, and horse-drawn carriages of Red Dead might get ported to a massively-multiplayer online world.

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Would it resemble the online modes of Rockstar’s past titles, like GTA V’s unfathomably successful multiplayer mode, or the one in the original Red Dead Redemption, which had a lot of promise but ultimately fell short of expectations? And, with a single-player story exceeding 60 hours in playtime, how much more could even be introduced into a game that’s already so stupefyingly large?

Released this week in Beta, Rockstar’s Red Dead Online, somehow, again, manages to exceed expectations. When RDR2 had many of us doubtful that it could even be as gigantic and immersive as the rumors foretold, Rockstar delivered in a way that we hadn’t really quite seen before, ever. And now, its Online mode feels just as baffling.

If Red Dead’s single player mode felt a bit like it was emulating Westworld, Online may as well be a full-on virtual cowboy theme park. You’re finally out on the grizzly American frontier with real, living outlaws, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if I ran into Anthony Hopkins along the way.

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Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar Games amazon.com

$ 59.99

$ 31.85 (47% off)

While many of us are still trying to squeeze the emotional, days-long demands of the single player campaign into the busy schedules of our real adult lives, Red Dead Online feels like it could not have come at a better time. It’s pick up and play, and in the very best form. With showdowns, co-op missions, racings mode, a fully-operational Battle Royale, and a massive open world, this Online mode feels like the antidote to relentless burdens of Arthur Morgan and the grumbly Dutch van der Linde gang. If you choose to roam the open-range, there are not just a plethora of characters waiting for you (many the likes of whom keen players will recognize from the main story), but actual users logged on as well, some in posses, others lone rangers, all dialing in to hit the saddles together or ruin each other’s day.

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Another extremely refreshing detail in Red Dead Online is the ability to, at long last, step out of Arthur Morgan’s soggy shell and set out your own path as a completely new character all your own. The women and the non-white characters in the story campaign are unquestionably among its most exciting and interesting elements (especially since a large part of the game takes place in prejudiced, KKK-infested bayous of the Deep South), and that made my gameplay as “Bad Cindy,” the wretched outlaw maiden of my own creation, all the more exciting. Kicking ass as an outlaw woman in the Wild West offers an exhilaration like little else, and as I mowed down legions of bearded men across the frontier, I felt, finally, freed from the drama and machinations of Dutch van der Linde.

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Bad Cindy.

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When relatively tiny games like DICE’s first Star Wars Battlefront or the original release of No Man’s Sky came with the full $ 60 price tag, it’s kind of astonishing that Red Dead Online comes at no extra cost. The beloved and super popular Overwatch, for example, is actually a full-priced game, even though it only exists online. And while I’m not one to vouch for games being over-priced, it is a wonder that a towering behemoth of a title—even one that received criticism for the amount of labor it allegedly demanded from its workers—is yours for no more than the original game’s $ 59.95 price tag.

This time of year is rough. You’re going to need something to distract yourself from all the time you are wasting trying to find the perfect gift for your sister’s husband, whom you barely even know. Go off and pester some rival gangs in Red Dead Online. Set their horses on fire. Hell, shoot a cannonball at some annoying teenager from Oregon. Sometimes, an escape into the madness of the Wild, Wild West is just what the doctor ordered.

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