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Red Dead Online’s new update is pretty good — but not enough for fans

Why Red Dead Online’s issues run deep

Red Dead Online - a young woman clutches a smoking shotgun. She’s dressed in red and black, with a cowboy hat and skirts on, and has black hair. She looks determined. Image: Rockstar Games
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

The newest Red Dead Online update, Blood Money, focuses on the criminal side of frontier life. There’s a new currency, new missions, and lots of quality-of-life changes to the usual cowboy formula. Blood Money is perfectly fine; it doesn’t transform the game or add elaborate, wild new professions ... but if you like Red Dead Online, you’ll probably like Blood Money.

The problem is that many Red Dead Online players don’t really seem to like Red Dead Online right now. This cromulent content update has done little to calm down an increasingly frustrated fanbase. So why are cowboys so rootin’ tootin’ mad at Rockstar Games?

Red Dead Online has had a bit of a content drought, especially compared to its sister game Grand Theft Auto Online. In July 2020, players dressed up as clowns and congregated in public spaces to protest the lack of updates. Players got access to the Naturalist role later that month, and then the Bounty Hunter update in December. The next year, in February, Rockstar introduced Telegram missions, which were solo-friendly, fleshed-out adventures.

Delivering updates in July, December, and then February is a sedate pace for online games, which rely on regular, consistent injections of content to maintain player interest. Making matters worse are consistent technical issues, monetization concerns, and comparisons to Red Dead’s clearly favored sibling.

Even today, players are reporting familiar glitches like missing animals, crashes to desktop, and mysterious horses randomly appearing in the world. The last few updates have all been about picking up new jobs and professions, but the main campaign still leaves several threads unresolved. The first few hours of the game spend so much time establishing characters like Old Man Jones, and right now, it doesn’t seem to lead to anything. Red Dead Online’s slow progress is frustrating because it feels like the potential for so much more is there.

It’s not as though Rockstar can’t achieve this, at least not due to an easily discernible reason. Competitors like Hello Games (No Man’s Sky) and Bethesda Game Studios (Fallout 76) release more regular content updates, despite their games having had much shakier starts. Even GTA Online, Rockstar’s older title, gets big, flashy updates like player-owned arcades and submarines, or going to a cocaine island with Dr. Dre. Sure, it’s harder to come up with equally exciting ideas for the Old West, but Red Dead Online just feels left behind.

The game does remain in my personal rotation. Sometimes it’s satisfying to log in alone to hang out with my horse and take in some beautiful scenery. Plus, Red Dead Online is one of the few games in my library that can easily handle gameplay for a group of more than four friends. We regularly laugh ourselves breathless over the game’s physics engine and the Looney Tunes antics it allows.

But the fans who are following the title as a Forever Game are disappointed, and it’s not any individual decision or patch that has made them so frustrated. An update like Blood Money can be an oasis, but who knows how long they’ll have to wait for the next morsel of content? Red Dead Online has hit its stride as an enjoyable online sandbox, but once you run out of content, there’s nothing to earn or strive for but enjoying the experience itself. For many long-term fans, it means the game falls short of their hopes.

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