Remember the image of Red Dead Online that we had in our collective heads back in the day? Of heists and hijinks, of dramatic gunplay, deadly duels with lawmen and carnage all across the desert? And remember how that wasn’t really what we got, and everybody pretty quickly got bored after a week of dragging each other behind horses?
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Well, with the new Blood Money update Rockstar has tried to bring that idea back, but in accordance with Red Dead Online’s history, it feels like a cheaper, lesser version of what we were all hoping for. The trailers and the single-player escapades with Dutch, not to mention the precedent set by GTA Online, evoked the idea of complex, calculated bank robberies and outlaw flights across the frontier.
And while some of that is technically here, it’s a rather shallow incarnation that feels like it misses what made those exploits fun or exciting. To start with, you meet the menacing Italian crime lord Guido Martelli, who gets one of those classic Rockstar overwritten introductions, all the more baffling considering you basically never see him again after that point. Martelli waves you towards four contacts across the map, each one of which has a bunch of missions to give that all revolve around the less-legal pursuits - theft, murder, kidnapping, all the classics.
The problem is there aren’t many missions to choose from and what’s here feels pretty unremarkable. Go to this place and shoot somebody. Go to this other place and pick something up. Go to this place and shoot somebody so you can pick something up. Sometimes a train or larger building is involved, but Red Dead Online has been around since 2018 and none of this feels particularly fresh. No new gimmicks, no real variation, it’s just more Red Dead Online, only now the money given to us at the end of the mission comes from an Italian bandit, not an American Sheriff.
Further alarm bells were rung when it was revealed that this new update contains a new in-game currency, Capitale. You can obtain these little bearer bonds through the new crime missions, but at a drip-feed rate that evokes the image of trying to nuzzle your way through a locked door. You usually get a single Capitale for every fifteen-minute mission (assuming you find where it’s hidden in the level, which isn't guaranteed), and the cheapest thing you can buy with it costs you fifteen Capitale. So unless you’re willing to just buy Capitale manually with the micropayment Gold Bars, you could be spending days farming these little pieces of paper.
And what can you spend them on? The chance to try a bigger, more elaborate crime caper, which I actually like as an idea, theoretically speak. People think they want more in-game money and bigger numbers on their weapons, but there’s no better reward for gameplay than more gameplay. So I dutifully chiseled my way through the basic burglaries and butcheries, eventually managing to find a rather cheap but effective way to farm Capitale until I could play the special Covington Emerald mission. Past experiences in the game had given me the Gold to just buy my way into the heist, but I refused on principle to skip this stage of the process. If it reaches the point where I am paying real money to avoid gameplay content in a game I paid for, something has gone deeply wrong somewhere.
Eventually, I racked up 25 Capitale to play the hardest version of the jewellery heist. And yes, this mission was a little more interesting - there’s a bit where you wander around accruing information and setting up traps and distractions, which might’ve worked nicely if given a bit more depth - but eventually it just becomes another gunfight on a train, which I’m pretty numb to in Red Dead at this point. It’s not bad, it’s just not quite exciting enough to be worth the large amount of effort put into accessing it.
And certainly not when it comes to rewards. I figured that stealing a legendary emerald might result in some meaningful money, but it’s a pretty average payout, and for some inexplicable reason the game rewards you less the faster you do the mission. I have no idea why this is, but it means that if you hit the train, grab the gem and get out of there before the cops can collect themselves - you know, like some sort of well-planned heist - your already-slightly-too-mediocre reward gets penalised even further. And because Capitale only buys access to the big crimes once, you have to start farming all over again for a second attempt.
This whole update might’ve been more interesting if all the crimes were as deep as the Covington Emerald, and if whoever suggested a third currency was beaten with sticks at the planning stage, but as it stands Blood Money feels like a pretty weak addition to a game that’s been feeling rather neglected for a while now. I really wish Rockstar could give the impression that they actually care about this, that it wasn’t some grim obligation that they’d tied themselves to, but Blood Money isn’t doing much to convince me otherwise.