It's been a week since Red Dead Online's Naturalist update hit. The content drop added a new path for ambitious frontier wanderers, torn between conservation and big-game hunting. It's resulted in some new fun and activities, though players still seem to feel that something is missing.
It was only a few weeks ago that Red Dead Online players were dressing up as clowns in mobs to call attention to the lack of updates. Red Dead was languishing in a wild west that was proving a little stale.
But now that the Naturalist update is out, players have had a week or so to really dig into what's new in Red Dead Online. While the new activities are fun, it's raised a greater question of what Red Dead Online will be in the future, and whether this is the sort of update to expect from here on out.
A Born Natural
Not long after the clown circus came to town, Rockstar announced the Naturalist update: a new role where players can either study animals for the sake of science and conservation, or hunt them for sport. While other options were mostly about doing typical cowboy things like bounty hunting, this one put a new premium on the wildlife dotting Red Dead Online's southern landscape. The prospect of tracking big game and fabled creatures, to either learn more about them or shoot them, was pretty enticing.
Unsurprisingly, the hunting side was a little more preferable, due in no small part to conservationist Harriet's tendency to use knockout gas on the player for killing animals. In an online sandbox open to all the chaos you might expect from any Rockstar open-world game, it was tough for some players to avoid the occasional squirrel KO.
Despite the knockout gas, opinions seem positive on the Naturalist update. The front page of the Red Dead Online subreddit has more memes than complaints, so the ratio is going back to a more comfortable number. Some are even eagerly leveling up the role at a rate that's a little unhealthy. I respect the achievement, but please also get sleep.
Still, others aren't as keen on things. One post highlights their issues with the Naturalist, a common one being how legendary animals—a focal point of the role—spawn and show up in the world. It's hard to get a sense of whether good is outweighing the bad, but updates rarely please everyone.
What's Still Missing?
The more subtle but prevailing feeling is that there's still something missing in Red Dead Online. This update mostly addresses two things: the new role and bug fixes. Despite that, players are reporting disconnects and other technical issues. Rockstar Support has acknowledged the issues, tweeting on August 4 that the studio is working on a fix and will share updates as available.
The new battle pass, called the Outlaw Pass in Red Dead Online lingo, also seems fairly disappointing; even if it provides more progression, it's fewer ranks than the previous pass with the same gold cost. It's not the strongest foot to step forward with.
Previous Red Dead Online updates like the Moonshiner have added a good deal of content. By comparison, the Naturalist feels like a smaller stopgap. It might placate demands for more content, but it's not reaching the heights of GTA Online's Heists. It's more activities to do in a place that is, largely, the same as it was before the update.
As Jordan Oloman writes for NME, Red Dead Online's roles are introverted; "that would be fine if they led to something greater, but this process of adding more and more jobs to do is not very useful for a community that is begging to come together and put their newfound skills to use in a more focused fashion." And over at Kotaku, Zack Zwiezen notes how much smaller this update is compared to the Moonshiners one, which established a new business and bars.
The Naturalist update may have convinced the clowns to put down their face paint, but without a breadth of content in the update, it's hard to know how long that will last. RDO hasn't had quite the lead time that its modern open-world multiplayer sandbox counterpart GTA Online has had. And after finishing the Naturalist role's progression, players are left with the same questions: will they keep waiting to see what's next?