When Red Dead Redemption 2's new online mode launched earlier this week, it kicked off a familiar discussion among Rockstar Games enthusiasts. Namely, the desire for Rockstar to support Red Dead Redemption 2's single-player as well as it does its online mode.
It's a frustration for the community that stretches back to the dawn of Grand Theft Auto 5. When GTA 5 first launched back in 2013, it was assumed that it would have the same robust single-player DLC as GTA 4, which benefited from some truly fantastic expansions. But as the years passed and GTA Online exploded in popularity, it became clear that no single-player expansions were forthcoming.
The lack of new single-player content has since become a sore point among longtime fans who feel Rockstar has abandoned solo players for the money of GTA Online. Their frustration has been exacerbated by GTA Online's continued support—a big Nightclub expansion dropped over the summer—and the sharp decline in releases from Rockstar. Where Rockstar once regularly published everything from Midnight Club (Tom Orry's favorite game) to LA Noire, it now seems to focus almost exclusively on GTA and Red Dead Redemption.
Rockstar's explanation for not releasing a single-player expansion is that GTA 5 is a pretty big game as it is. Rockstar director of design Imran Sarwar told Game Informer in 2017, "[Releasing single-player expansions] was not really a conscious decision, it just happened."
He elaborated, "With GTA 5, the single-player game was absolutely massive and very, very complete. It was three games in one. The next-gen versions took a year of everyone's time to get right, then the online component had a lot of potential, but to come close to realizing that potential also sucked up a lot of resources. And then there are other games – in particular Red Dead Redemption II."
Sarwar said he didn't see single-player expansions as "possible or necessary," but that they would potentially happen "for future projects."
Now that Red Dead Redemption 2 is here, the question is once again whether Rockstar Games will put together a robust single-player expansion, or at least some additional content like bank robberies. Will Rockstar Games release a Wild West version of Ballad of Fat Tony? Or will it focus entirely on Red Dead Online?
It's all a matter of speculation for now, but my guess is that it will be the latter. Rockstar is wealthy enough now that it doesn't really need to accede to the wishes of a vocal contingent of fans. It can focus on its online modes as much as it likes and count on remaining a Top 10 bestseller pretty much forever. If GTA 5 ever drops off, it can always turn around and make GTA 6.
Red Dead Redemption 2, I'm sure Rockstar would argue, is an absolutely enormous game. I've been playing for a solid 50 to 60 hours and I'm still not quite done. There are a huge amount of stories to uncover, trains to rob, legendary pelts to acquire, and challenges to undertake. How Long to Beat estimates that completionists can spend roughly 136 hours finishing Red Dead Redemption 2.
It's a dense, lively world that's tremendously fun to explore as it is. Nevertheless, most fans would argue that there's still plenty of room for improvement. For one thing, the outfit selection is surprisingly limited, especially when compared to the more varied (and frankly cooler) array of cosmetics on hand in Red Dead Online. For another, the actual sandbox elements can feel surprisingly narrow at times, as evidenced by the inability to rob banks outside of story missions.
With Red Dead Redemption 2's world being as rich it is, it also feels as if there are plenty more stories to be told. Arthur Morgan's story may be done, but there's precedent for Rockstar featuring different characters in its expansions. GTA 4's The Lost and Damned expansion, for instance, focused on a motorcycle gang, who naturally saw Liberty City from a very different perspective from Niko Bellic. The same can be said for Ballad of Gay Tony, the story of a gangland nightclub owner, which has grown to be one of GTA's most beloved stories.
GTA 4's single-player expansions were popular because they fleshed out Liberty City, and because they didn't include Roman calling every five minutes to go bowling. It's easy to imagine a hyptothetical RDR 2 expansion taking a similar approach, perhaps focusing on another member of Dutch's gang, or even a member of the law. Heck, maybe it could follow someone from Rains Fall's tribe, which would be a nice turn for a genre that has been notoriously hostile to indigenous people.
Even if Rockstar opts not to tell a whole new story, it still has plenty of room to grow Red Dead Redemption 2's sandbox. New side missions, guns heists, outfits, and legendary animals would certainly be welcome. It would be cool to be able to rob a riverboat, or to maybe have more to do in the saloon. I would love an excuse to spend some of the extra money rattling around in my character's pockets.
Rockstar may write all this off as fan kvetching when there's so much game to play as it is, but in truth it should take it as a compliment. Players are invested in their world, and they're willing to pay for more. What's more, they want single-player stories—not more co-op missions with narratives that are simple at best.
Whether Rockstar decides to accede to these requests will say a lot about its direction going forward. If no single-player expansion ends up materializing for Red Dead Redemption 2, it's fair to assume that this will be the course for Rockstar going forward. Online play will always priority.
For what it's worth, Rockstar should take it as a compliment that fans are hungry for more Red Dead Redemption 2 after 130 hours of gameplay. It speaks to how invested they are in both the world and in the characters who live in it. Hopefully Rockstar will honor that investment by giving single-player fans the attention they deserve.