The Red Dead Online beta is still trundling on, and with it the continued complaints about griefing, the in-game economy, microtransactions and lack of content. This week the game received a major update - and despite specifically seeking to address "destructive player behaviour", the update has received criticism for failing to fully address griefing problems, and for actually encouraging aggressive play.
Oh, and all those other issues are still lingering too.
On the griefing front, Rockstar has managed to make some positive changes, including tweaks to the parley system. Previously you had to be killed several times before being given the option to parley or feud: now players have the option to parley after one death, meaning you can instantly opt not to be damaged by the posse (or damage them) for 10 minutes.
Beyond this, players with consistently aggressive behaviour are now being marked in red on the map and minimap, while peaceful players only show when in very close proximity. Those who are consistently aggressive can now rack up considerable bounties and trigger NPC bounty hunters to appear.
In theory, all of this should help - but unfortunately other aspects of the update directly undermine these changes. As highlighted by desmondao on a highly popular Reddit thread, the introduction of daily challenges means players are encouraged to kill one another to gain rewards. Meanwhile, should you choose to shoot someone first in act of self-defence, you will be marked as a griefer on the minimap - sometimes causing confusion as to who the griefers actually are.
From my own experiences in free roam over the past few days, I found some of the update's features were genuinely helpful. The instant parley option, for instance, is invaluable in preventing specific players from repeatedly targeting you.
The problem is that so many people instantly shoot each other in Red Dead Online that the griefing comes from a different player every time. In my five hours of play since the update - on a new account which shouldn't have posed much of a threat to other players - I only met three players who didn't instantly attack me, and one of them was AFK. None of the aggressive posses seemed particularly bothered by the NPC bounty hunters either: they simply slaughtered them all.
Despite the new map system, it's still surprisingly easy for an aggressive player to get the drop on you. As an example, here's a video of one of the incidents from last night, in which my midnight hunting/gathering session was rudely interrupted by a random blue player. When I called my horse back, my carcasses were gone. Brilliant.
The cause of this aggression is partly because it's so easy to kill: why take the chance someone else will shoot you when you can shoot them first? On top of this, there are very few reasons to interact with players outside your posse other than through violence. The addition of daily challenges only adds further incentive to randomly kill other players.
Although it's fun to have shoot-outs on occasion, if you want to actually do other things like hunting, fishing and story missions in free roam, the aggression becomes irritating when you're just trying to get around. When I was trying to reach a mission in Blackwater, it took me 10 minutes and three deaths to finally get to the NPC.
And, if you're playing for the purpose of immersion, you're sure not going to find it in free roam, which currently feels more like a giant death match than an open world game. There's not much middle ground between opting to hide away in the wilderness or throw yourself into a never-ending firefight. It's a shame, because Red Dead Redemption 2 has a fantastic game world - but the current multiplayer systems are detracting from this.
Meanwhile, in the economics department, players still have a number of criticisms about Red Dead Online's grind. When players discovered basics like baked beans were more valuable than gold rings and missions were giving fairly low rewards, many resorted to alternative sources of income to pull in cash, such as fishing and hunting. Although not addressed in the patch notes, the latter of these has received a significant nerf in the update, with the money received for hunting rewards slashed in half. Perfect deer carcasses, for instance, now fetch $5 instead of $10.
The introduction of the bounty system is only adding to financial pressures: I found myself steadily racking up penalties simply for defending myself against other players (about $1 for each kill). It may not sound like much, but when you factor in other overheads such as stable upkeep, food and ammo, it takes a very long time to earn any cash in Red Dead Online: something that feels particularly galling compared to the income flow in the story version.
With Rockstar simultaneously introducing a variety of (rather ugly) paid cosmetics and expensive emotes, it's safe to say the update has not gone down well.
What about that final problem - a steady flow of new content? This update does add a few points of interest, including fishing challenges, target races and a new event called Fool's Gold, along with the (slightly dubious) daily challenges and a new shotgun. But there are no new story missions, side missions or actually aesthetically pleasing cosmetics.
Although it's still in beta, it seems Rockstar still has plenty of work to do to make Red Dead Online feel alive. If it wants to keep up with competitors, it had better do it quickly.