It appears that gamers aren't the only ones who have been wishing for the Red Dead franchise to make its way to PC after all these years, it's game developers too. Luckily, the latter can do a whole lot more about the situation than the former, and Wild West Online was born. The developers, 612 Games, are a team of industry veterans with a passion for Western games. But will the project live up to expectations?
As mentioned above, the link between Wild West Online and Red Dead Redemption goes beyond both games sharing a setting. WWO is the direct result of Red Dead Redemption inspiring a group of people who decided to create their own Western game exclusively on PC to fill the void left by John Marston's adventure, as well as whatever the sequel is in store.
Wild West Online was officially announced on May 11 2017. However the day just before that announcement one of its promotional screenshots was leaked early and mistaken for a screenshot of Red Dead Redemption 2. It was only after the official announcement of the game that it became clear another Western title is on the block.
Obviously, the first question that rose in everyone's minds was whether it is even viable to release a Western game so close to the release of something as major as Red Dead Redemption 2, but there are a few things going in WWO's favor. Firstly, while Red Dead Redemption 2 has only been confirmed for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, WWO is coming exclusively to PC, meaning the markets for the game are completely different. Additionally, WWO is a full-on massively multiplayer online game, so it fills a different niche than Red Dead Redemption 2, which (we hope/think) will primarily be a single player experience with an additional multiplayer mode called Red Dead Online.
The dev team, 612 Games, have prominent members of the gaming industry in their team, with people who've worked on games like the Crysis series, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Star Trek Online, Neverwinter Nights, Hawken, Ryse and The Darkness. With a solid lineup of heavy portfolios, they also carry weight with investors which is why this isn't a crowdfunded project.
So far, all the ingredients for a great game are there: experience, talent, passion and a budget. The Western genre is woefully underrepresented, so there is plenty of space for two games, especially on different platforms. However, there is a red flag flying, albeit a small one. The game uses a game engine which was developed for War Z, one of the worst disaster stories of the indie gaming industry, and is supported by a company owned by one Sergey Titov, who is widely blamed for that debacle.
Nonetheless, the signs are promising, and the jittery animations of the gameplay video that was just released can be chalked up to this being the alpha version of the game. The developers plan on releasing free DLC post-launch, in a season-based model similar to some of the "live service" multiplayer games that follow this mentality.
The game boasts a massive map, with its biomes set to be expanded further with Mountainous and Mexican regions as DLC. Regular missions will be joined by a reputation system, allowing you to be either a ruthless outlaw or a valorous deputy. Players can visit saloons for a few rounds, some gambling, or possibly some adult entertainment on the upper floors, while cities will also boast general stores and gunsmiths.
In the wilderness, a dynamic day/night cycle will vary the way you play by bringing about different gameplay conditions. During the day, there is a greater measure of safety during your adventures, while night time brings the perfect opportunity to camp and rest, or ambush unsuspecting enemies under the cover of darkness. Some of the proposed DLC will be adding night-only missions with a great variety in objectives.
But, how will this game measure up to Red Dead Redemption 2 This is the question everyone will inevitably ask even though the two games are essentially different genres and on different platforms. When there are just two Western titles on the horizon, they will be compared no matter what.
Fact is, even with the kind of experience the people working on Wild West Online have, they still won't get a measure of investor interest or funding to match the insane amounts of resources that Take-Two and Rockstar Games can mobilize. Big budgets aren't everything though, and passion and skill often count for more. Thing is, Rockstar packs both of those qualities in plentiful supply too.
At the end of the day, Red Dead Redemption 2 will end up a more polished product benefitting from a single player campaign, whereas Red Dead Online alone will also be able to match or better the experience of Wild West Online. There is likely a reason why 612 Games isn't even considering a console launch - they're picking their battles.
The tentative release date of Wild West Online is December this year, with alpha and beta stages spread out between now and then. Whether the game lives up to the expectations it sets for itself, and whether it can truly scratch the Red Dead itch that PC players have, is anyone's guess until then.