Riding With Red Dead Online Role Players Was My Best Ever Multiplayer Experience
The last time I rode into Valentine in Red Dead Online I was shot, tied up, stabbed, and shot again. Some days that’s life in Rockstar’s Wild West wonderland, where the atmosphere’s magnificent but the murder indiscriminate.
I tend to spend most of my time in Red Dead Online alone against the world; hunting, fishing, and simply surviving inside the simulation. Sometimes I can saunter into towns solo without incident but, unfortunately, things regularly go south faster than a stork strapped to a scramjet. That’s the risk you run riding alone.
Today, however, is different. Today, I’m not alone.
“We tend to ride in two-by-two formation just because it makes a bigger impression when we ride into town,” explains DirtyWorka, president of the PS4 charter of the Reaper Lords, a GTA Online MC club that has since mostly migrated to Red Dead Online. “We won’t shoot at anybody unless they raise a weapon in our direction.”
“In which case we will all blast the f–k out of them,” he adds with a chuckle.
We tend to ride in two-by-two formation just because it makes a bigger impression when we ride into town.
GTA Online gave birth to crews for just about every niche you can imagine, from BMX stunt teams to slammed suspension aficionados to fighter jet squadrons, and everything in between. The Reaper Lords were founded as a dedicated GTA Online motorcycle club back in December, 2013 – nearly three years before Rockstar actually released the official ‘Bikers’ update. For years they were just one of many, many closely-knit clubs enjoying themselves within Rockstar’s expansive urban open world. They did, however, develop a knack for being noticed. After riding with them following their shift to Red Dead Online, it’s not hard to see why.
The audio begins to overload and crack at this point as the onlookers continue to chatter excitedly but, otherwise, Red Dead Online is taking the load of almost 20 new desperados descending on the town simultaneously in its stride.
The column files into Valentine’s main street from the south and eventually halts near the gun store. On command they perform a synchronised split down the middle and hitch up on the right and left side of the road. Several Lords have freshly hunted game to trade in at the butcher, which they hoist from the backs of their horses to their shoulders. Nobody runs; the pace is relaxed and realistic.
“We get kind of a mixed bag,” says Dirty on the topic of the crew’s distinctive way of moving from place to place. “Fifty per cent of people see it and they’re, like, ‘Wow!’ They respect it, and they’re cool. And fifty per cent are, like, ‘Oh my god, I wanna kill all of them.’ Throw a stick of dynamite.”
We like to have fun and we want other people to have fun too.
“I can tell you now, once that happens, we push them out of the lobby. The thing about this game, if you have 20 people in a lobby, like this, there’s nobody who can stand against you. Once that happens we just absolutely destroy them. But, again, we don’t go looking for it. We like to have fun and we want other people to have fun too. We get respect, we give respect. We get disrespect, you get disrespected.”
While I’m only a guest of the crew, I get the feeling that if I was summarily slaughtered by one of these stickybeaks standing by watching the Lords do their thing, the consequences would be severe. But nothing happens. Counting the Lords, myself, and the handful of additional onlookers from our lobby, there must be more than two dozen players here in Valentine right now. And there hasn’t been a single gun raised, much less a bullet fired.
It’s the mild, mild West up in here, and I’m loving every moment of it.
The Reaper Lords have been playing Red Dead Online since its launch, bringing the gameplay philosophies they established over in GTA Online to the world of RDO.
“We still play GTA on occasion,” says Dirty. “We’ll go there for events, and if we have friends who are still over there that are doing things and wanna do a ride or something like that, we’ll head over.”
“Some of us more than others play over there a lot. But as a crew we tend to spend more of our time over here now.”
The crew has a base, which is a modest, abandoned farm located between Valentine, Emerald Ranch, and Fort Wallace, just northeast of the Heartland oil fields. The house has a working interior and the farm itself is in a relatively quiet area of RDO’s large map.
“There’s not a lot of people that spawn into this area of the map, so it gives a chance to just chill and get our bearings before we go and do whatever we’re gonna do,” says Dirty.
The house is blue, which is the crew’s colour (all the Lords who’ve been assembled for the ride today are wearing outfits with at least one blue article), and towards the edge of the property there’s a single grave.
“We had a Reaper Lord who was one of our earliest members, Lord DillingerCapone; he actually passed away, in real life,” explains Dirty. “So it just seemed very fitting that we would select a location like this so we can pay homage to him and keep his memory alive.”
The rest of the crew waits patiently as this information is relayed to me, though some are currently on guard duty at various positions around the ranch, and some have been dispatched to hunt. There are folks from four continents here, from the US, Canada, Brazil, England, Scotland, and Australia, aged 17 years old to 50 years old. Anybody can join the notoriously exclusive club, but few players ultimately make it through the rigorous prospect process.
“If anybody wants to join, the first step is you have to go to our website and fill out an application,” says Dirty. “The secretary gets all the applications and we have certain criteria – and I’m not going to give you exactly what they are because we don’t want people just lying on their applications – but we have certain things that we look for on the applications and basically the secretary’s the gatekeeper.”
“If you meet the minimum requirements the secretary then passes the application on to our enforcers, and then the enforcers reach out to applicants and we’ll schedule what we call a rundown, where we come and basically break down the rules for them.”
The Reaper Lords have two charters, as they describe them. One is on PlayStation (the ‘Los Santos’ charter) and one on Xbox (the ‘Paleto Bay’ charter). While some of the Lords here today participate on both consoles, each charter has its own hierarchy.
“When I was secretary I was just curious; I wanted to see how many applications we got,” says Dirty. “So this was in 2017; this was after GTA had been out for over four years and the club had been around for four years.”
About one per cent of people who apply will make it to full member.
“We had over 970 applications just with Los Santos charter alone, and something like 930 applications for the Paleto Bay charter. This is literally over a 12-month period, four years in. Back in 2013, 2014, and 2015 we were doing multiple times that on a regular basis, so this is when things had slowed down a bit. But it just gives you an idea. To put that in context, right now we have under 100 full members, and a lot of us have been here for years. You’re literally looking at about one per cent of people who apply will make it to full member, and those people who make it to full member tend to be here for years and years after that. It’s not easy to get in, and that’s kinda why we like it.”
While Red Dead Online (and certainly GTA Online before it) are primarily geared around murder, mayhem, and all manner of malfeasance, it’s loyalty, maturity, and honesty the Reaper Lords value most. Dirty explains it takes a certain personality-type to be attracted to what the club is about.
“We don’t want booters and hackers and people who are going to be doxing people on the internet and just engaging in racist, misogynistic, and cancerous behaviour, because we want to uphold the reputation of our club,” says Dirty. “It has tremendous value to each of us. We have great pride in being associated with it.”
“GTA is crazy. Red Dead is crazy, in terms of the world around you. It’s a mess; it’s full of everything from 12-year-olds to sociopaths running around blowing stuff up, but there’s a certain personality type that really likes to have a sense of order and discipline and being a part of an organisation. We have a lot of members who are former military, for example, or law enforcement. It’s people who want to be part of a family and part of an organisation that has a little bit of order within this crazy world.”
Back at Lord Ranch, day has turned to night. The crew continues standing in a loose circle, each waiting for their opportunity to speak. No one is interrupted. Several crew members pull out torches, which push out the inky blackness and light the gathering with a soft, warm glow.
No one is idling fidgeting with their controls. No one is spamming emotes, attempting to draw attention to themselves. There’s an unspoken level of etiquette here that’s wildly unlike my usual online experiences, which are generally akin to a pack of pre-schoolers fighting over a jungle gym. I can see the appeal of the crew’s mature approach, and it seems an especially good fit for the slower-paced world of Red Dead Online.
When Dirty first joined the Reaper Lords he was just looking for a sensible, level-headed bunch of players to gel with.
“I didn’t care much that it was a motorcycle club at the time,” he says. “But I’ll tell you, as my time went on and you play with these people day in and day out and you see some of them more than you see you own family or more than you see your friends in real-life, you start to forge these relationships. That love just all of a sudden it creeps in and you’re, like, ‘Wow, this has become a really important part of my life and these people have become really important parts of my life.’ If I can’t get online for a week or something like that, I genuinely miss them.”
“I never thought I’d find anything like that in online gaming. That never even seemed like something that was reasonable to expect, but I’m so friggin’ thankful for all of these guys. For me that’s what it’s become; it’s become literally like a second family.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by several other crewmembers present, though there are supplementary reasons folks have gravitated to the Reaper Lords.
“When I first started looking for a club to join, Reaper Lords popped up everywhere,” says crew vice president KreeKree. “You saw them on Kotaku articles, and on Vice and that sort of thing.”
KreeKree appreciates the structure of the club and knowing there will always be trustworthy people online to play with.
“You’re never lacking for things to do,” she says. “There’s always something going on, especially when you have little mini club events; it gets you something to do, mainly.”
Current club secretary Assassin1 joined on a whim after spotting the Reaper Lords on YouTube but became consumed with the challenge of earning a spot in the intensely exclusive crew.
“I’d never really played GTA or any other games with a crew as such and I thought I give it a whirl,” he says. “Little did I know that I was applying for the hardest club to get in.”
“But then it became an obsession for me, I suppose, where I had to prove to myself that I could get into this club that so many people have failed to get in. And obviously that paid off for me.”
Another member, DBoy, found himself committing to the Reaper Lords after it became evident the crew looked like it had its heart in the right place.
I thought maybe all of the GTA community was like this; I didn’t realise until I got more active that this was something unique.
“My first interaction with any GTA title was the same day that I had my rundown,” says DBoy. “Somebody gave me GTA and then I put in it, I went into a lobby, everybody shot me up, and I turned it off. Then I went and Googled it and I kept seeing the Reaper Lord name pop up, and then I sent in an application, and I didn’t turn the game back on until I heard back.”
The day after DBoy’s rundown he had a medical emergency, but a Reaper Lords crewmember checked on him each day he was in hospital.
“I thought that was kinda dope and I promised I would stick it out and not let them down,” continues DBoy. “I thought maybe all of the GTA community was like this; I didn’t realise until I got more active that this was something unique.”
The Reaper Lords have some pretty firm ideas of the kind of tweaks that would suit their brand of gameplay – free aim lobbies, an easier way to distinguish between friends and strangers on the minimap, and more emergent activities that can be done within the free roam lobby as a team – but there’s definitely a strong feeling of respect for the world of Red Dead Online as it currently stands.
“I’ve been here about a week now and it’s different from where we came from, in GTA,” says Canadian member, Duel. “I appreciate it. I like the ambience to it. The idea that the surroundings are more natural. I like the hunting portion; I think it’s very relaxing. You get out in the bush there, with your rifle, and you’re tracking your prized animal, and once you get that kill it is actually pretty satisfying in my opinion.”
I don’t need to have my fun spoon-fed to me. The online experience for me is about the people you’re playing with.
“When GTA came out, it was a mess when the online came out, but it evolved into the greatest online game ever,” adds Dirty. “As far as online is concerned, for me, I don’t feel like Rockstar needs to entertain me. They created this amazing environment that I can do anything I want in, so for me the online experience is more having an environment where I can have fun with my friends. I don’t need to have my fun spoon-fed to me. The online experience for me is about the people you’re playing with.”
After a night-time ride with a thunderstorm crackling in the distance, much of the second hour of our session is dedicated to an entertaining, impromptu fight club. The crew has taken over a Blackwater bar and the Lords duke it out in brutal one-on-one fistfights. While not fighting, members are content to wait for their turn on the balcony above and listen to the discussion, which is surprisingly easy to follow for a room full of nearly 20 people. The Reaper Lords seem more than capable of finding or creating their own fun in Red Dead’s Western sandbox. They’re clearly not the sort of players who need a checklist of official activities dangled on the end of a string to stave off boredom.
“It’s really unfortunate that so many people just see the Rockstar logo and they just automatically assume it’s going to be like GTA,” says crew sergeant-at-arms, Firefoxkitt. “Everybody I’ve talked to, and the articles I’ve read; they don’t appreciate the game for what it is. It’s a beautiful game and you can do so much in it.”
It’s a beautiful game and you can do so much in it.
Firefoxkitt believes Red Dead Online should be allowed to remain distinct from the more madcap GTA Online, adamant that Red Dead Online is special in its own way.
“I think a lot of people are getting lost on that; they’re not appreciating every detail about this game that makes it great,” she says. “They just want this game to be like the other game that they love.”
Back in Valentine, every player on my screen is part of the crew – but there are still a handful of folks hovering, watching the spectacle. One of them strolls up to the leadership group, which is standing in a rough semicircle, observing the scene.
“What are y’all even doing?” he asks, earnestly.
“We’re just playing Red Dead, bro,” replies Dirty, watching as several other Lords trade in carcasses at the Valentine butcher.
“Y’all have an awful unique way of doin’ it,” the player continues. “That’s a s–tload of people. I don’t think I even know this many people.”
Dirty asks the bystander if he’s ever seen this many players in a lobby, all doing their own thing and not griefing others.
“I have not, dude; I’m really surprised at that man, honestly,” admits the player.
“We don’t shoot unless people get hostile with us,” Dirty explains. “We just try to keep it chill and have fun playing the game.”
“Well, I will leave y’all to it,” replies the player. “You have a blessed day.”
The player whistles for his horse, thanks the Lords for the good pictures, and rides out of town with his partner. We hear him speak to his friend one last time before he disappears out of mic range.
“God damn that was a f–king lot of people.”
“That’s what a posse should be like,” notes a second voice.
“That ain’t a posse,” replies the player. “It’s an army.”
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter every few days @MrLukeReilly. Anyone interested in joining the Reaper Lords can fill out an application on their website.
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