Red Dead Online is set to kick off in the coming weeks. But with such a massive open-world to explore in Red Dead Redemption 2's single-player story, why should you be excited about the game's online mode?
Rockstar's open-world Western game, a prequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption, was released to wide critical acclaim and is basically all anyone in our office – or yours, probably – has been talking about for weeks.
While you might expect an online mode to be live from the game's launch, it makes sense for Rockstar to want you to focus on the main story – and boy is there a lot of it – before waltzing into a less narrative-driven multiplayer experience in Red Dead Online.
[Update: Red Dead Online beta to launch at the end of November.]
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Rockstar has proved itself at converting a massive single-player game into a lively online experience, as shown in the launch of GTA Online in 2013, which has become almost as massive a phenomenon as the mainline GTA V game it spun off from.
So what can you expect from Red Dead Online, and when does the beta actually start?
Cut to the chase
- What is Red Dead Online? The online component of Rockstar's open-world Western
- What can I play it on? PS4 or Xbox One
- When can I play it? The beta launches in November, with the full release likely in 2019
Red Dead Online beta access
Yes, Rockstar are easing in with a Red Dead Online beta – the company warns to expect "turbulence" at launch while optimizes the gameplay – but it's a public beta, and we're going to get our first good look at what this means very soon.
According to IGN, the Red Dead Online beta is set to launch at the end November. Anyone with a PS4 or Xbox One copy of the game will be able to access it.
This is likely to lead to a full launch shortly after. That may mean it comes in December, or we may have to wait until early 2019 to play the full online game.
Red Dead Online multiplayer
So what will Red Dead Redemption 2 Online look like?
An official announcement for the online service read: "Using the gameplay of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 as a foundation, Red Dead Online will be ready to be explored alone or with friends, and will also feature constant updates and adjustments to grow and evolve this experience for all players."
There's not much else to go on, other than the online mode from Rockstar's other massive open-world property. If Red Dead Online is anything like GTA Online, we're going to see targeted quests and missions in an alternative game world, with freer customization and actions without the same long-term narrative consequences.
Playing with friends or matchmaking with strangers is a given, though we could see servers restricting player numbers below GTA Online's 30 for a more curated feel.
We imagine Red Dead Online will stay comparatively grounded, and not veer too much from the central game experience. We can envisage saloons where you play poker and start fights with other players, and we can see quickly descend into bottle-over-the-head chaos.
The option of challenging players to quick-fire duels, or pulling heists and train robberies with your posse – with new missions like these added with regular updates – is likely to form a big part of the appeal too.
Red Dead Online: what we want to see
Red Dead Redemption 2's protagonist Arthur Morgan already allows an immense level of detail in how he dresses and styles his appearance. Opening up a character creation tool for Red Dead Online seems like a natural step, meaning you can make a cowboy avatar that truly feels like you. The option to play as a woman seems like a no-brainer, too.
All the minigames
We definitely hope the minigames will be playable online with your friends – card games, knife games, drinking games, and all that other wholesome fun you cowboys get up to.
A slow, slow pace
One of the things we love about Read Dead Redemption 2 is the thoughtful pace – so we're hoping the online mode doesn't go too octane for the rustic cowboy setting. We want to take a slow trot to the saloon before beating our friends at poker, or lying in the undergrowth while we wait to rob an incoming train – not a 6v6 deathmatch on flaming ponies.
Maybe some zombies though
Okay, as much as we love the core Read Dead experience, the last game's Undead Nightmare DLC was a fantastic adventure in its own right, raising the dead in what felt like a serious Western blended with a camp horror movie. It was too good an experiment not to resurrect this time around – we hope.
We haven't seen cross-platform play for a Rockstar game before, though the CEO Strauss Zelnick has been open about his desire to overcome traditional console distinctions for online play.
We'd love to see PS4 and Xbox One owners play together in Red Dead Online's wild west, though Sony have also proven themselves a stickler on this point in the past – even if it eventually succumbed to pressure on Fortnite cross-platform play.