Why Red Dead Online players are starting over after hundreds of hours

It’s not easy flushing hundreds of hours of video game progress down the drain, but scores of cowboys are doing just that. Players are leaving their Red Dead Online accounts behind on consoles in order to pick up the Windows PC version of the game, even though it means leaving behind exclusive cosmetics, renovated moonshine shacks, and even real-money investments.

Red Dead Online started as a mode within Red Dead Redemption 2 on the humble PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it’s now available as a stand-alone game, and playable on the new generation of consoles thanks to backward compatibility. Red Dead Online accounts are not cross-platform; you can go from PS4 to PS5, since that would be using the same account, but not from PS4 to PC or from PC to Xbox One. That means that the players picking up Red Dead Online for $4.99 on PC, even if they have a rich history with the game, have to hit the restart button.

My friends have all made the switch recently, which means we’ve left completed season passes behind, along with established characters we deeply loved dressing up and pampering. So, what makes that sacrifice worth it?

Image: Rockstar Games via Polygon

For some players, it’s about escaping from a console that feels limiting. Players I spoke to over Twitter and Discord mentioned loading times, connection issues, and keeping the last-generation system actively hooked up as a burden that plagued their console playtime in Red Dead Online.

Jumping to a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X could solve some of these issues … but that requires actually finding and paying for one, which is no easy feat for most people. Meanwhile, anyone with a gaming PC can just drop $5; Rockstar has made the on-ramp very simple. The entire Red Dead Redemption 2 game isn’t required anymore, and players can even skip the tutorial to get right back into the open world for maximum efficiency. The price has also been accessibly low for now; it will go up to $19.99 on Feb. 15.)

Some players are leaving behind the exclusive rewards from the first season passes of the game, including cool dances, pretty rings, special eye patches, or masks for their horses. There’s no way to go back and reclaim them once you jump to PC; the limited-time Outlaw Passes are done and dusted.

“In the beginning, [starting over] kind of sucked, because I wasn’t as flashy and all,” said one player who goes by HealsNKills, in a conversation with Polygon over Twitter. “But it’s actually nice to get a fresh start.”

There are also big achievements that take thousands of in-game dollars (or real-money currency via gold) to build back up, like having a moonshine shack with a bar, a band, and a big still full of high-quality booze.

The sacrifice is still worth it for some. “The most impact for me was on performance and visuals, which were just so much better on PC,” says GracelessExit, another player we spoke to over Twitter. “Starting again was worth the better overall experience.”

Image: Rockstar Games via Polygon

There are also new social opportunities for fans who make the jump. Private servers, like Wild West RP, offer storylines and exclusive events for players who set up Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC. Private server play goes far beyond what base Red Dead Online offers, with mods to allow players to purchase wagons, equip new hairstyles, or use tools like shovels and axes in the open world. These perks, along with role-play communities, are a draw for die-hard fans who have grown tired of the standard experience.

There’s also an extent to which starting over actually makes the game’s pacing better. GracelessExit mentioned that earlier in Red Dead Online’s development, there were limited roles. By playing the game fresh in late 2020 or early 2021, the player can just dive into all of the content on offer at once, instead of finishing the roles and waiting for new ones one patch at a time.

Early adopters of Red Dead Online have complained often about the game’s pacing and update schedule — specifically, that it feels like a drip feed. A new player isn’t taking in the game’s roles and missions one at a time, with monthslong breaks in between. They get to jump in right to the good stuff, and juggle multiple priorities at once.

Players can earn everything for free, if they regularly log in and complete daily challenges. Missions and challenges award small amounts of gold, which can be hoarded and saved for expensive upgrades or cosmetics. Rockstar occasionally runs events like the Festive Series, which pays out double gold and tons of in-game dollars. This isn’t a perfect system, and HealsNKills admits that the “only downside” of his choice to start over on PC is that “the gold bar grind is high and too overpriced.”

Players have lost rings, horses, and dresses, but at the end of the day, the Red Dead experience transcends these things. It’s about moseying around with buddies on the frontier, and that still stands strong. Hopefully, Rockstar finds a way to restore these lost riches, but it’s not enough of a barrier to stop players from jumping back into Red Dead Online on a new platform.

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