Red Dead Online - Tumbleweed

Red Dead Online‘s Blood Money update has been live for a few days now, so I’ve had time to really sink my teeth into it. I’ve completed the first Quick Draw Club pass on one character (and I’m about 2/3 of the way through it on a second), I’ve done most of the Crime missions, and I’ve done the train robbery Opportunity four times now. I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, my opinions on the update have solidified.

In short, the Blood Money update is actually good (yes it is), but people also seem to hate it. There’s a lot of vitriol going around in the gaming community, and while that outrage is mostly performative and hyperbolic, I do think there is a real complaint somewhere in that mess that’s not being articulated very well.

First off, Blood Money is actually really fun. It adds a new type of activity (called Crimes, or Blood Money Missions), which are basically just focused Stranger Missions. These don’t feel all that much different than, say, a mission you’d already pick up from any of the Blood Money quest-givers. That’s not a complaint; I actually enjoy Stranger Missions in Red Dead Online, and getting more of that type of content is a welcome addition to the game.

Plus, there’s a benefit to this content that a lot of old-timers are overlooking (and it really only hit me because I’ve recently started a fresh character in the PC version of the game). You now have a repeatable source of gold farming without buying into a role. See, with Stranger Missions, you do get a gold payout, but each one is on a cooldown. Once you complete a Stranger Mission, you have to find a different Stranger to talk to if you want to do these missions back to back. The additional travel time makes them less efficient than farming Bounty Boards. But if you haven’t unlocked the Bounty Hunter role, which costs gold, your alternative was always to do these Stranger Missions and migrate between them.

With Blood Money Missions, that changes. Now, each of the four Blood Money quest-givers has a list. While individual missions have their own cooldown timer, you can alternate between different missions while others are on cooldown — even missions from the same quest-giver.

Red Dead Online - Blood Money Missions

There’s another benefit of Blood Money Missions over Stranger Missions: A few of them have three parts with an over-arcing narrative. That makes them a bit like Infamous Bounties — these are a little more complex than your common-flavor Stranger Missions.

And then there’s the Capitale. This is a new currency that you’ll find across the world (mostly in Blood Money Missions, but not exclusively), which brings out your scavenger instincts a bit more than previous RDO activities. I admit, Capitale isn’t a great name for an in-game currency, and thus far, Capitale itself feels like a wasted opportunity. The only thing it’s good for is buying into Opportunities — there’s no Capitale vendor who will exchange it for new outfits or weapons or anything.

It’s not well-implemented, but at least it gives us something new to collect in the game. There’s nothing horrible or offensive about it (besides maybe the name).

Red Dead Online - Capitale

And then there’s the Opportunity itself. This is basically like a mini Wild West version of GTA Online‘s heists. It’s not as complex, and it doesn’t require four players operating in synchronicity the way heists do, but it’s the same basic concept. Here, you (and some friends, if possible) rob a gemstone from a train.

The thing that makes this fun is that there are multiple ways to approach it. You can rush the train immediately, and brute force your way to the jewel. You can wait for the train to embark, then set up an ambush. There are even boats stashed alongside the river (though I’ve admittedly not been able to come up with a good strategy for using them to get to the train). While this is certainly not as complex or adaptable as, say, a Hitman map, it still offers multiple ways to play that complement different playstyles.

So all of that sounds pretty good, right? Why are people so upset?

Well, there’s a greater context here that’s important to discus. As just a small update, Blood Money is fine. In fact, it’s pretty damn good. However, RDO hasn’t had a meaningful content update since the Naturalist update, which came out almost a year ago. Blood Money was sort of pitched to the player base as the next big step in the game’s evolution.

The biggest problem with Blood Money is that it does very little to fundamentally alter the core of the game — something that every major update has done. Now, when I say major update, we all know I’m talking about roles, right? If not, let me clarify: There are three updates I consider to be major: Frontier Pursuits (which brought RDO out of beta), Moonshiners (which was considered an additional Frontier Pursuit), and Naturalist (which, thus far, added the most recent role).

These updates are so far in the past at this point that it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking each one was. Every new role makes huge changes to the gameplay loop of RDO, and each one comes with benefits that feel like substantial additions to the game.

The Collector role had you scavenging and collecting things across the five states, piecing them together and selling completed collections for scads of cash (and Collector is still the best way to make RDO$). On top of that, it added the shovel and metal detector, and it gave us some great perks, like increased satchel storage and the ability to pick herbs from horseback. This is probably the least game-changing of all the roles, but it wasn’t released as a standalone; it came packaged with two other roles.

Red Dead Online

Bounty Hunter quickly became the fastest way to farm gold (aside from daily challenges at the old daily challenge rates). It also introduced a whole new series of missions, plus the Legendary Bounties, which are more grandiose story-based bounty hunts. It gave us access to the reinforced lasso (an essential item in your Wild West toolkit), bolas, and the bounty wagon.

The Trader role made our camps worth returning to, and it transformed hunting from an activity for the truly desperate (selling feathers for 60 cents a pop) into a full-fledged career. It added delivery missions and resupply missions. It offered substantial upgrades to your campsite. It introduced the hunting wagon, which allows you to store more animal carcasses than your meagre horse can carry.

And all three of those roles — Collector, Bounty Hunter, and Trader — came packaged in a single update. When you reflect back on it, it’s absolutely astonishing how much these activities changed the gameplay fundamentals.

With the Moonshiner, we now have the option to own a freaking bar. We can bring our friends inside, get drunk, watch a band play, and slap each other silly. It’s a whole lot of fun. On top of that, Moonshiners added a new set of story missions, plus role-related activities that randomly pop up on the map, such as rival moonshine stills and revenue agent checkpoints.

Red Dead Online - Harriet

And then there was the Naturalist. As much as people complained about the role itself, you have to admit that the Naturalist update was huge. It added nonlethal hunting (sedative ammo), new world events, Legendary Animals, Gus (who takes on the role of the trapper from story mode), and the Field Guide (which is RDO‘s version of the animal compendium). It also added the wilderness campfire, which is such an essential feature that it’s hard to believe RDO players survived for so long without it. So many of these features were things that were offered in story mode but were suspiciously absent from RDO. Once the Naturalist update brought them all together, it became clear that Rockstar had only held them back so they could wait until they could implement them in a meaningful way.

So when Blood Money was announced, along with the promise of what looks like heists, people were genuinely excited. Expectations soared, and we all hoped for something as game-changing as the Naturalist update. It’s been a year, so that seemed like a reasonable expectation.

But Blood Money was… well, it’s not a dud. It’s hard to complain about any of this content, because I believe the content itself is actually good. But it’s just not enough. Not after all this waiting. Not after the incredibly groundbreaking updates we’ve had in the past. Blood Money just feels like Rockstar is stalling for time.

The thing is, Blood Money had so much potential. This is where Rockstar could have added the wagon fence (which would allow you to sell stolen wagons, like in story mode), or the horse fence (same concept, but with horses instead of wagons). Or how about a bank heist? Or a steamboat heist? Or hell, an actual heist, which requires four players to be in synch and perform specific roles to accomplish a grander task? How about the option to walk into a store and rob it at gunpoint (like in GTA Online)? Or adding safes to crack on trains and in banks? At the very least, we could have gotten something new to spend our money on, like more horses and outfits (something that every role has added to the game).

Now, there’s actually one area in which Blood Money does feel like a game-changer, and that’s with the Quick Draw Club. Instead of a four-month long, 100-level-deep season of premium content, Rockstar broke this up into four 25-level passes, each about four weeks long. They also gave players the opportunity to purchase a few of the essential items that initially were exclusive to the Outlaw Passes.

Red Dead Online - Quick Draw Club

It’s kind of funny, actually, because this was Rockstar’s way of tripling the cost of the pass without actually making anyone upset. The buy-in is a meagre 25 gold bars (instead of 30-40), and you’ll get it all back when you complete each pass. So instead of paying 100 gold bars, you’re actually recycling 25 over and over again. That’s a lot less intimidating than flat-out dropping 40 gold bars on a pass, and it meant I could buy into the pass right away on my new character without farming gold for ages. It’s win-win, really — Rockstar gets to charge more for the pass, but even so, the buy-in is smaller and people are happier.

Honestly, the Quick Draw Club is brilliant, and I hope we see more of these instead of returning to the Outlaw Passes from days of yore.

If Blood Money is just the foundation for something much bigger, it has a lot of potential. But so far, it’s not really offered anything we haven’t seen before. While it’s bringing some of the community back, it’s certainly not going to have a long shelf life. I mean, we’re only three days deep at this point and I’ve already completed almost all of the new content.

Red Dead Online - Joe

As is, Red Dead Online Blood Money is a good update with tons of room for growth. In its current state, it’s shallow, and it doesn’t justify the enormous, excruciating, year-long wait, but there’s nothing about the content itself that is genuinely bad or offensive. It’s just that Blood Money isn’t nearly enough to bring RDO into a new era — and we really, really need that right now.

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2 years ago

Ive played since beta and have mostly loved the game but without any random free roam robberies it’s made me lose all hope and interest in the game.

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