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Thursday, May 23, 2024

In 'Red Dead Redemption,' the Wild West Is a Refuge

Red Dead Redemption 2 was a long-awaited addition to Rockstar’s library of games upon its initial release in 2018. Now, three years and a pandemic later, the base game itself and the online multiplayer mode Red Dead Online (RDO) continue to capture players’ attention through the story, characters, and open world exploration that Red Dead Redemption has come to be known for. Since 2018 and over the course of the pandemic, players have found ways to explore an in-depth world and connect with friends through the game’s two iterations.

With the story mode of Red Dead Redemption 2 presenting a vast in-game world and the online version expanding offerings to players who are looking for more, it's no surprise that players keep turning to the game as the pandemic drags on, both for escape and connection. KawaiiValentine, a variety Twitch streamer, shared what playing Red Dead Online did for her, especially during the early part of quarantine:

“After the Animal Crossing boom, many friends and I began to gravitate toward Red Dead Online because it gave us something we were able to connect more to as adult players once the ACNH nostalgia wore off,” she says. “Even in the early days of the pandemic, when we were scared to even go outside—Red Dead gave us that ability; the ability to fish and hunt together, ride horses together, and travel and explore the world together. When the days felt like they were blending together last March, Red Dead gave a sense of structure and togetherness that was missing for many of us, easing our anxieties about the unknown. Even when friends weren't available to play, the community that Red Dead has fostered has allowed players to make new friends during a time when making connections and meeting new people was seemingly impossible in real life.”

Rockstar has taken note of that growing community and introduced changes to the game and future updates to keep players coming back. Red Dead Online updates have included new missions, competitive fishing and poker, and quality-of-life updates that helped to make it easier to identify players that were griefing or harassing other players.

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The most recent summer update, “Blood Money,” adds new missions where players embrace their criminal side and conduct coach holdups, train robberies, and kidnappings.

Sam, a tattoo artist from the UK, said that one of the reasons she keeps returning to RDO is primarily because of the freedom to explore the game’s large setting with friends as well as the specialist role. “I’m also a massive completionist, so I love being able to collect things and completing the different roles that are available.”

Roles in RDO offer players different paths of progression that lead to unique missions, items, and special skills like being able to identify moonshine hideouts or identifying rival trader wagons that players can decide to go after. The roles available in RDO include bounty hunter, naturalist, trader, collector, and moonshiner.

Another point of interest from the “Blood Money” update is that, unlike past updates, there will be no prerequisite item that players will need to purchase in order to unlock the new missions and content. This allows players who may not own every piece of DLC, or some who may not have had the same experiences in-game, to play together without having to “catch up” or spend more just to enjoy the new material. Sam, who was able to pull her best friend into playing RDO, shared a stand-out memory from her time playing one of the bounty-hunting missions.

“One time me and my best friend were completing a legendary bounty together that was set deep into the swamps near Saint Denis. It was a mission that I had tried previously and mentioned [to my friend]: ‘Just be careful around the water, OK?’ The mission was to hogtie the bounty and of course take them into custody, so when we had successfully tied up our bandit we had the job of trying to get him onto our horse. The next minute all I can hear is my friend screaming down the microphone and her character running as fast as she could away from an alligator. I would have helped if I could’ve stopped laughing!”

While the development team shapes the official future of RDO, the community around the game, and the whole series, continues to grow and pull in new players. With Twitter accounts like Red Dead Online News, a fan-driven account with 37,000-plus followers, and Madam Nazar IO, which helps players find the randomly appearing NPC in Red Dead Online, it’s not surprising that players of both the base game and the online component might take different things away from the game, such as the replayability of the main story or the unique narratives available in Red Dead Online.

But for a few players, one thing that consistently draws them back into the world of Red Dead Redemption is the story. Jon Norris, a marketing consultant and fan of the game, says it was a several things that helped him to connect with Red Dead. “I think it's the combination of all the story elements. My grandpa loved westerns, so I watched a fair few of them growing up, and being able to explore such a beautiful and fleshed-out universe with all the classic western tropes was very cool and nostalgic. Obviously having a great story and, for my money, one of the all-time great video game protagonists in Arthur, just made it all the more special.”

For KawaiiValentine, the communal experience that comes from creating a posse is definitely a stand-out element. “Making your posse and being able to hunt together to complete trader missions, or complete bounties together, or sell moonshine together, just really brings the game full circle and makes you feel more connected to the times. While many of us have seen these roles in pop culture or read about them in history, now we're able to experience something together that most, if not all of us, would never have.”

Red Dead Redemption has served as a point of community and escape for many players over the past year, most often through “a multihour binge situation,” as Norris put it. The game, in all its yeehaw-tastic self, has allowed friends to connect with each other on digital horseback during a time when being together physically was especially difficult.

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