The explosive popularity of Fortnite and PUBG means that battle royale has become a genre in of itself. This year, some of the biggest names in gaming have adopted battle royale, ranging from Call of Duty’s fast-paced battles to Supercell’s mobile-friendly Brawl Stars. Now, Rockstar is getting in on the action with Red Dead Online, the multiplayer spinoff for Red Dead Redemption 2.
While the main appeal for Red Dead Online is its story-driven “free roam” mode, it also offers a number of competitive options, including a BR-style mode called “make it count.” It may have been inspired by the battle royale blockbusters, but it offers something very different. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the complex nature of Fortnite, Red Dead Online offers something simpler, slower, and a lot more tense.
There are two important things to know about “make it count.” One, its last-man-standing battles are comparatively small, with groups of either 16 or 32 players fighting it out. Second, you’re extremely limited in terms of weapons. This isn’t a game where you’re dropped on an island, and you can scour buildings for all kinds of guns and grenades. Instead, you get a bow and a knife and that’s it. That said, it does have an ever-shrinking playfield that forces players to get closer to each other as the match goes on.
This structure means that everyone plays very carefully. There’s a lot of crouching behind cover, waiting for the perfect shot. The people who run around tend to be those who are out of the match quickly. The mode’s maps facilitate this kind of gameplay very well. Every location where I played featured lots of spots for cover, my favorite being a tobacco farm with dense fields that I could wander through. There’s an incredible thrill when someone runs by you and doesn’t even notice you amid the thick foliage.
“Make it count” has a tension that’s largely absent from many other battle royale games. When I die in Fortnite, it’s not such a big deal; at least I gained some experience and knocked out a couple of battle pass challenges. But Red Dead Online’s take has a much more singular focus. The only goal is to survive and be the last person standing. I had an incredible moment playing yesterday when I made it to the last three, and another player spotted me at the same time I saw them. We both pulled out our bows and fired simultaneously and killed each other, giving the third player the win.
The one drawback to this more methodical style of battle royale is that it isn’t necessarily fun to watch. Like others in the genre, “make it count” offers a spectator mode after you’re eliminated from a match. But watching someone hunker down behind a wooden box for five minutes isn’t all that entertaining. With the right viewer tools, I could see it becoming a better spectator experience, but right now, there’s not much to watch.
Unfortunately, with the way Red Dead Online handles its competitive modes, you can’t just jump into a round of “make it count.” Instead, the game has playlists, which serve up modes seemingly at random. Aside from battle royale, Red Dead Online offers a fairly standard list of competitive options, ranging from a team-based mode where you have to capture territory, to a solo battle where you’re trying to rack up the most kills. These are all fine, but it’s frustrating to not be able to play whatever you want.
Of course, Red Dead Online is still in a fairly early beta; it doesn’t even open up to all Red Dead Redemption 2 players until tomorrow. So there’s a good chance that it will change and improve over time. And I hope it does. The core of the experience is so intense and thrilling that “make it count” might just be my favorite part of Red Dead Online so far. You only get a single bow, but it turns out that’s more than enough.