After revealing yesterday that the beta phase of Red Dead Online would launch today, the servers promptly became available to owners of the Ultimate Edition earlier when a large patch was released for the game. Gameplay footage from the multiplayer mode is already up on YouTube and Twitch, which you can see in the linked post, as well as a brief rundown of activities in Red Dead Online.
Rockstar Games has posted about the launch and we've learned a great deal of new information from it. Like GTA Online, Red Dead Online has a leveling system. Just about every activity in the game provides you with varying amounts of XP, and as you increase your rank, your character will unlock new abilities and items. This means progression is a little easier to understand than in story mode.
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Award Challenges are contextual, global challenges that you can work towards at any time during the game. These range between the straightforward and generic, which require to you kill X number of Y enemy for example, while others are more complex and involved. This can be likened to the story mode's 90 challenges spread across the 9 categories, however in Red Dead Online you have a total of 12 categories in which there are Award Challenges. It's likely that as the game is expanded with DLC, more challenges will be added over time.
An Ability Card system is used to add gameplay depth. Ability Cards, like the name suggests, give your character new abilities. These are acquired organically as you level up, or can be bought. Once you have an Ability Card, it can be further upgraded with money or XP independently of your own Rank. There are two types of cards: Active and Passive. You can have one Active card at any time, which gives you an ability you need to trigger while you are in Dead Eye mode. You can equip three Passive cards at any given time which affect your stats and confer bonuses you don't need to manually activate.
The Honor system is also used in Online and is overhauled. Like in story mode all your actions will affect your Honor rating, but instead of being a linear rank system where the more honorable you are the higher your Honor Rating is, thus giving you bonuses, in Red Dead Online the honor system is more akin to a binary moral system used in RPGs. If you choose to be a crooked, dishonorable bandit, then you can roleplay as such and you're not "punished" by the game for it.
In Red Dead Online the Honor rating determines what kind of missions you are eligible for. Some missions are locked unless you are in high standing, but conversely, some missions will only be available if you are sufficiently notorious. This way having low Honor isn't directly "worse" than having high Honor, it's just a different story experience. In addition to these Honor-related Strangers Missions (read more about them and competitive game modes here) there is a broader mission framework called The Land Of Opportunities.
Land Of Opportunities / End-game Content
The Land Of Opportunities seems like what Rockstar intends to be the end-game content in Red Dead Online. Described as a 'deeper cooperative strand' with 'multi-part series of missions', you can expect something akin to the Heists in GTA Online. Not too much is known about these missions, and currently they are not available in Red Dead Online, but you can expect them to be added by full launch. Honor will play a significant role in these storylines.
Red Dead Online's Posse system has also been detailed. It turns out that the game's take on traditional MMO "guilds" is very different from the approach of any other game. Firstly, it's two-tiered with temporary and permanent Posses available. Temporary Posses are formed with up to 4 players in any given session which disbands after the session is over or all players leave, leaving no trace of it behind. Forming a temporary Posse costs nothing, and has no impact on a permanent Posse.
Permanent Posses are more akin to GTA Online Crews, but still different in many respects. Permanent Posses cost in-game currency to set up, but can fit up to 7 players and, like the name suggests, don't disband automatically. This is best suited for a group of friends playing together who want their version of a guild. Being part of a permanent Posse unlocks new customization options, and Posses have their own names, colors and logos.
Buying items also works entirely differently than it does in Red Dead Redemption 2. Instead of there being specific stores for various item categories scattered across the world that you physically have to visit, you have a system that resembles a Wild West Amazon. The character at all times has access to a catalogue of items with their associated prices and variation options, which you buy via that catalogue and have delivered either to whatever post-office you wish in the game world or directly to your camp if you have the necessary upgrade.
Camps also work differently than the one in Red Dead Redemption 2. Customization is much more in-depth, allowing for a greater control over the décor of the camp, and there are different upgrades available which tie into the gameplay differences between the two modes, like the delivery upgrade outlined above.
Currency: Gold Bars & Nuggets
Speaking of buying items, we also get a first look at what the microtransaction system will look like in Red Dead Online. A second premium currency, Gold, is added beyond regular money. Gold is much harder to earn and is usually acquired in the form of gold nuggets. 100 gold nuggets equal one Gold Bar, and this is the form of the currency that can actually buy stuff. Or, to be more precise, will be able to buy stuff.
Rockstar has announced that the in-game store for premium items will not be active during the course of the beta. This is where you can spend Gold on cosmetic items, or purchase Gold in exchange for real money. Rockstar's statement makes a particular effort to highlight that only cosmetic items will be available in exchange for premium currency. Red Dead Online strictly is not going to be a pay-to-win game.
This system differs from the model used in GTA Online. In that game, there is only a single unified currency that buys everything and anything. This is earned through regular in-game activities or can be bought for real currency. Red Dead Online's system seems to ensure that regular-use items will not be available for the premium currency, Gold, meaning all that must be earned, and only special cosmetics will be premium items. This is bound to be favored by players, and we think it is an ethical move as well. Separating regular in-game money from premium currency also answers a question we asked way, way back about gambling in Red Dead Online.
Griefing / Parley & Feud
Rockstar has also implemented a new system that seeks to mitigate griefing in the game. The Parley and Feud system is likely the result of 5 years of experience gained trying, with mixed success, to curb griefing in GTA Online. When one character repeatedly kills one other character, the algorithm kicks in, offering the player being repeatedly killed by the same guy to either Parley or Feud. If Parley is chosen, a 10-minute timer begins, during which the two characters involved cannot attack one another. You can't shoot the guy who has been killing you, and he can't shoot you either.
Since griefers are creatures that crave attention and entertainment, 10 minutes is guaranteed to get them bored and out of your hair. This is a one-sided action, meaning if you chose to initiate Parley, there are no requirements. With Feud, however, you have the chance at a more violent resolution of differences. Feud must be agreed to by both parties, which then initiates a 3-minute timer and a kill counter. It sets up a fair-fight environment were, for 3 minutes, you have unlimited respawns dedicated to killing the guy you have a beef with over and over again. Whoever has the most kills by the end of it is the winner. Since griefers don't like fair fights, they likely won't often agree to Feuds, but that's why the Parley option is there.
Rockstar has also warned players that progression during the beta may have to be wiped (hence no microtransactions or premium store yet). While the developers expressed a hope and desire to keep progress until and through launch carrying it over, it is very possible that at some point they will have to wipe ranks, items and mission progress to ensure a stable and bug-free game experience.
If you have any observations, ideas or bugs to report, Rockstar is awaiting all kinds of fan input about Red Dead Online here. More info about features, modes and DLC will be revealed in the coming days.