Red Dead Online, the multiplayer accompaniment to Red Dead Redemption 2, is finally live, and - surprise! - it's a lot like Grand Theft Auto Online. Which means one thing - microtransactions!
Or at least it will have them, anyway. Red Dead Online is still in beta, and will remain that way for the near future as Rockstar makes sure everything's in some working order before switching on certain features. Features such as microtransactions, which here take the form of Gold Bars, are not yet enabled - perhaps to sidestep the exploits which plagued the early days of GTA Online - meaning the deal with them right now is that simply they don't exist.
But we have some idea of how they will work when the feature is turned on. There's some confusion about exactly how they fit into Red Dead Online's economy, and a fair bit of misinformation being passed around, so here's what we've gleaned from what is actually in the beta right now.
Gold Bars can be used to unlock items you don't have the cash for, and they can be used to unlock items you're not currently the right rank for. However, it's worth noting that using Gold Bars seems to be limited to cosmetic items only - so if you want a certain lean-to in your camp, or a nice new hat that's a few levels out of reach, for example, you can pay to get them straight away. Weapons, meanwhile, must be paid for in cash earned in-game.
None of which hides the fact that Red Dead Online, in its current state, goes heavy on the grind - payouts are fairly miserly at present, with estimates it will take around eight hours to earn a single gold bar. Take that and an unlockable feature like fast travel from your own camp - available once you reach level 65 in Red Dead Online, or unlockable for 112 Gold Bars - and, at current rates, you're looking at a time investment of nearly 900 hours. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that this is an economy without key features such as property ownership which are expected to be folded in in the near future.
That microtransactions will play a big part in Red Dead Online is inevitable, though, following the success of Grand Theft Auto Online and its Shark Cards - "the gift that keeps on giving", as Take Two CEO Strauss Zelnick referred to the mode. Will they effectively enable pay-to-win play, and encourage outlandish spending? With microtransactions not currently activated, and with key features from Red Dead Online still missing as it goes through its beta phase, it's simply too early to say either way.