Red Dead Online invites dozens of heavily armed cowboys to share the same multiplayer space. But what happens when someone used to a life of crime in the story mode of Red Dead Redemption 2 ambles into a crowd of unsuspecting do-gooders who are just trying to get along? Rockstar Games has baked a clever system into its new online experience to slow down griefers, one that relies on timed “Parleys” and opt-in, competitive “Feuds.”
I stumbled onto the system of Parleys and Feuds when a man rode into me, nearly killing my horse. He was thrown clear of the tangle of limbs and was on his way back to check on his own mount when I shot him dead.
I figured he had it coming, but it seems he saw things differently.
Moments later he spawned back into the game, galloped up from behind me and my horse Wally, and shot me dead. But he didn’t stop there. He hunted me down two more times. Each time, Red Dead Online spawned me just a little further away from where I had died. Each time, he found me on the in-game map, rushed over and put a bullet between my eyes.
It was the fourth time that he shot me down when Red Dead Online gave me an option: Would I like to Parley? Or would I rather challenge my rival to a Feud?
My first inclination was to choose Parley. Once selected, a 10-minute timer started ticking down in the background. When he and I squared off again, we found that the only weapons we had at our disposal were our words. We could pull our guns and aim them at each other, but when we tried to pull the triggers, nothing happened.
Ten minutes is a long time to jaw at a stranger on voice chat in a modern multiplayer shooter. It didn’t take long for us to sort things out. He apologized for hurting my horse, and I for killing him that first time. Then we headed our separate ways.
The Feud option, on the other hand, is a little more interesting.
To test out the Feud mechanic, first I had to find a willing test subject. So I ambled over to the first player I could find, a man in black named BIG_M_UNBROKEN, and asked if he would be so kind as to kill me four or five times in a row. Once he had, I challenged him to a Feud.
It seems that Parleys are one-sided affairs, while Feuds must be agreed to by both parties. Once he accepted my challenge, the game invited us to run at each other guns blazing while a three-minute timer ticked down. Respawns were on for the duration. Red Dead Online even tossed up a kill counter to keep score.
In the end, neither of us lost anything more than a few rounds of ammunition. Had it been a real Feud, at least one of us would have gotten the satisfaction of killing the other more times in a fair fight. Not a bad way to blow off a little steam, with the end goal being to keep the peace.
After the smoke cleared, we went at it again just to see what happened. Turns out, Red Dead Online was paying attention. We were each just one more kill away from triggering the option for another 10-minute Parley. It’s also worth noting that I was able to trigger Parleys and Feuds both while in a Posse and in Free Roam mode.
Systems that enforce good behavior in online games work best when they’re not overly punitive. While there’s a time and a place for killing other players in-game, repeated infractions like the ones described above can spoil the fun. For that reason, I think that Parleys and Feuds are a genius idea.
But I can also see how the Feud mechanic can become a vehicle for all kinds of emergent gameplay. Just imagine Feuds used in a semi-organized fashion, a bunch of dedicated gunslingers facing each other down on the mean streets of Valentine while the townsfolk — other players not involved in the duels — look on. I’m eager to find more scenes like that coming from Red Dead Online in the near future.