Red Dead Online launched in beta on Tuesday, letting Red Dead Redemption 2 players explore the Wild West together. There’s an entirely separate story to discover, missions you can tackle as a posse, and a chance to rub elbows with other players — or shoot them in the face — as you freely roam the world.
There’s also a series of more traditional competitive multiplayer modes called the Showdown Series. Right now, that exists as a trio of playlists, a rotating set of modes that includes traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch and control point game types. There’s also a separate horse racing playlist.
Red Dead Online also has its own take on the battle royale genre, and implements that genre’s rules in some fun ways. One game type, called Make It Count, drops a group of players into a map with the goal of being the last person standing. But Make It Count doesn’t scatter a bunch of weapons and items around the map that could potentially make you more powerful. Everyone’s on the same level playing field in Make It Count.
There are two variations on Make It Count. In one, players fight with bows and a limited supply of arrows. In the other, players only have six throwing knives (and a regular knife), which deliver one-hit kills. Those weapon restrictions force many confrontations in Make It Count to be up-close and personal — within range of a bow and arrow, at least.
Like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, Red Dead Online’s battle royale mode will shrink the play area on a set timer, pushing players into increasingly tight quarters.Adding to the tension of Make It Count is that battles often take place in wide-open outdoor areas. I’ve mostly fought other players in the woods of Tall Trees and foggy swamps of Saint Denis, with few or no structures around to take shelter in. The best you can hope for is to hide in the bushes or the shadows of a stable in the town of Strawberry and hope you don’t get spotted. But Rockstar also heavily discourages camping; if you remain stationary for too long, the game will warn you that it’s about to expose your position on the map to other players.
Rockstar amps up the pressure with a stress-inducing soundtrack, a creepy whine of strings that makes playing Red Dead feel like you’re in a slasher flick. The Showdown Series has some good music throughout, but it’s at its most affecting in Make It Count. And when another player is nearby, the controller will vibrate in a way that feels like your heart quickly pumping as the adrenaline hits. It’s extremely effective at ratcheting up the tension.
I’ve been in matches with as few as eight players and as many as 13, but don’t expect Make It Count to match the massive player numbers of other battle royale games. And right now, it seems that the only way to play Make It Count is to have it pop up during the Showdown Series playlist, which means you’ll have to play the other game modes (Shootout, Most Wanted, Hostile Territory and Name Your Weapon) to enjoy Rockstar’s take on battle royale.
Fortunately, most of those other modes are also pretty good. Most Wanted plays with deathmatch scoring rules so that players who have more kills are also worth more points when they’re killed — and their kill count score is displayed right over their heads. Name Your Weapon also plays with scoring by giving each weapon in your arsenal its own scoring value. The “trickier” a weapon is to use, the more points it will get you per kill. So a kill with a tomahawk or your bare fist grants more points than the easy-to-use carbine rifle or the reliable shotgun does.
The downside to Make It Count is that it’s not particularly interesting to watch. And Red Dead Online seems to very frequently matchmake me into current games of Make It Count, where I’m forced to spectate others slowly try to kill each other. Make It Count needs its own dedicated playlist.
Make It Count is where I’m most interested in spending my competitive time in Red Dead Online. Rockstar promises updates to the game’s online multiplayer modes, so hopefully we’ll see the studio experiment more with more variations on the battle royale-inspired mode.