There is a lot of talk going around about what needs to change in Red Dead Redemption 2’s recently launched Red Dead Online beta. The broad consensus is that the game’s economy is currently its biggest issue, given the grind that is demanded to earn any reasonable amount of money, and the strange disparity in value between certain sellable items. I acknowledge the multiplayer’s economy definitely needs a rework, but I’d argue the game’s aiming system should be at the top of Rockstar’s to-do list.
One thing that makes Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series distinct are their predispositions toward auto-aim. Both series have the option to free-aim if players wish, but both default to an auto-aim setting that requires little effort from the player. The auto-aim does, however, seem designed to counteract the games’ slightly stiffer aim controls, so I can appreciate the intent.
The problem comes in when you take this auto-aim online. Auto-aim is an inherently less enjoyable crutch in competitive games, removing much of what makes shooters skillful. Grand Theft Auto Online remedies this by supporting different servers that lock in particular aim settings, allowing players to enjoy the competition with like-minded individuals. Whether due to it still being in beta, or simply that Rockstar doesn’t think it similarly compatible, Red Dead Online doesn’t currently feature the same option.
What we’re left with is a multiplayer experience in which players are free to use whatever aim setting they wish, regardless of what settings their opponents have. Obviously, this results in everyone using lock-on, and with the option to choose between narrow, normal, or wide lock-on frames, players can tweak how generous they want their lock-on to be.
For players looking for a challenge, lock-on creates two problems in Red Dead Online’s competitive scene. Firstly, the width and range at which the game locks on targets means players barely need to look for enemies. Simply hold down the aim button and the game will tell you wherever enemies are in your field of view, and where’s the fun in that? The second problem is that it’s caused Red Dead Online’s competitive modes to devolve into this bizarre metagame of headshot prioritization. The auto-aim locks onto an enemy’s center mass, but body shots take several hits for a kill, while headshots are instant. Players that account for this have started to use the lock-on to acquire the enemy, then—while tanking body shots from said enemy—they will slowly move their sights up to the head for a guaranteed kill. With the speed and relative skillessness of this strategy, winners are generally whoever sees who first.
I appreciate Red Dead Online has only been live for a couple of days, but this is a problem I feel is important to bring to Rockstar’s attention. One might argue that the game’s economy is a far more pertinent issue, and though I understand that perspective, splitting servers would be far easier and quicker than reworking the game’s entire economy, while being similarly beneficial. If players prefer the lock-on system, that’s fine, but those that wish to play with free aim shouldn’t have to suffer the alternative. Grand Theft Auto Online gave players a choice in how they experienced the game’s competitive scene, and Red Dead Online should be no different.