Red Dead Online

I’ve played no small amount of Red Dead Online. In 2020, it was by far the game I invested the most time into, and it looks like that won’t stop just because the year has shifted to 2021. I did take a break from it for a couple months after getting a bit bummed out by the changes Rockstar made to gold payouts in RDO, but I’m back now, and I can’t stop playing it.

Keep in mind that this is a game that I put so much time into that I wore out the X button on not one but two separate controllers — and I now have a third that looks like it might not last much longer. I also wore out an analog stick by using the Dead Eye skill (which you activate by pressing R3).

In fact, I just checked my Rockstar Social Club account and it looks like I’ve played this thing for 706 hours now.

Red Dead Online - 706 Hours

Keep in mind this only counts time in RDO. The almost-200 hours I spent in the campaign aren’t tallied here. Yes, I spent 706 hours playing Red Dead Online alone.

Why do I keep coming back to this game, despite the fact that Rockstar is glacially slow at updating it and giving us fresh content? I can’t say for certain, honestly.

I’m tempted to say that it’s the game’s beauty that keeps drawing me back — the rising sun brightening the still-misty fields overlooking Flat Iron Lake, the impressively realistic way that snow behaves, the majestic god rays shining through the trees.

Red Dead Online - Shadow Buck

But the game certainly isn’t always beautiful. Some locations are drenched in mud and grime, most characters are missing half their teeth, and horses just don’t stop pooping. Keep in mind that this is a game where the gory animal skinning animation can be downright disturbing.

But even if Red Dead Online‘s visuals were consistently pristine, beauty alone isn’t enough to keep me locked into a video game. Genshin Impact, for example, is gorgeous, but I bounced off of it really hard once the game’s horrible Resin system wore me down. And if you look at a list of the games I was most addicted to over the past year, beauty isn’t the common denominator.

I think what I love about Red Dead Online is that the game world is so compelling. Not only does is contain an excruciating amount of detail, but Rockstar’s fantasy version of what the Wild West might have been like is irresistible. Once you enter, it’s really hard to not want to spend the rest of your day there.

Red Dead Online

And I really like the slow, meticulous pacing of RDO. This is a game that forces you to work really hard to do just about anything, which can admittedly feel tedious at first. But once you start finding your rhythm and seeing the hard-won fruits of your labor, it feels extremely rewarding. You can look at that expensive horse or fancy outfit or golded-out weapon and think about all the hours you spent working for it, remembering the better times with a glint of nostalgia.

You start the game having just broken out of prison, with nothing but a few bucks and the scraps that you’re wearing on your back, but these things will eventually be the foundation of a trading empire.

To even earn the gold to buy into the Trader Role, as just one example, you’ll need to embark on a long, almost-Sisyphean uphill grind. Then, once you get your first delivery wagon, you’re going to spend an excruciating amount of time running small deliveries and pocketing whatever profits you can. But when you make your first $625 delivery, you’ll wipe the sweat off your brow and lean against a tree, smiling, body aching, knowing that this is the life you’ve built for yourself through hard-yet-not-always-honest work.

Yes, I wish there were more endgame content. I want to build a house (like John Marston does in the campaign). I’d love to buy a wagon that my posse can ride around in together, or a party boat that will let me ride up and down the San Luis River for hours at a time, drinking and gambling and making all sorts of mischief. I would love to grow crops or herd sheep, or perhaps engage in some sort of stock trading (like the Turnip market in Animal Crossing). At the very least, let my character take a bath once in a while.

Red Dead Online

But my satisfaction at just existing and working in this world far outweighs my desire for there to be more in it. If it didn’t, there’s no way I’d be willing to invest so many hundreds of hours into this thing.

So here I am, typing these words while yearning to get back to the daily grind of hunting, trading, collecting, bounty hunting, and challenge-seeking. The road behind me is a long and dusty one, but it’s quite possible the road ahead is longer and dustier still.

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