It feels unfair (and a bit tired) to forever lump Wild West Online in with Red Dead Redemption. After all, film critics don't feel obliged to mention Stagecoach every time they talk about a cowboy movie.
And yet, it's unavoidable for two reasons. The first is that this game largely exists because of Rockstar's reluctance to bring its popular Western series to Wild West Online's platform, Windows PC.
The second is that WWO is very similar to RDR in terms of missions, looks and structure. There are lots of similarities, as you’ll see in Polygon’s gameplay video above.
The main difference is a change of focus from a narrative, single-player campaign starring an identifiable protagonist, to a self-created player character who ranges around an MMO world.
I don't want to accuse developer 612 Games of copying the world’s most successful video game Western. Any open-world game set on the American frontier in the late 19th Century is likely to include riding around on horseback, shooting bad guys, acquiring gold, hunting down wanted criminals, hanging out in saloons and avoiding posses. This is basic genre stuff, and it takes a wildly creative mind and a great appetite for risk to subvert time-worn standards.
Likewise, multiplayer role-playing games tend to follow certain patterns. These usually include gathering of resources, crafting, upgrading through combat, exploration, team-building, character individualization and base improvement. Wild West Online is no exception.
This means that the game is pretty much what you would expect it to be. When I looked at the latest build earlier this week, I spoke to one of the developers, who told me that there is a great appetite for such a game among PC gamers. I do not doubt him, especially with Red Dead Redemption 2 coming next year (currently only for consoles).
I'm interested to play the WWO alpha, if only to try my hand at surviving as a homesteader who'll kill every last varmint who so much as steps on my land. But there’s always a chance I’ll wind up as a desperado, always on the run from Clint Eastwood types.
The demo I witnessed features exploration, a gunfight, buying clothes, mooching around an encampment. a treasure hunt, mining gold and, of course, picking flowers. Yes, the game includes crafting.
Wild West Online's open beta begins soon, with the final game out later this year. It's available for pre-order for a basic minimum package of $19.99.