I had a really odd experience yesterday that – if it had happened to me earlier or more often – would have resulted in me deciding Red Dead Online is busted. But given the amount of time I’ve played, and that I’ve never seen anything remotely like it, I’m going to chalk up to some weird anomaly I’ll never understand. We’ll call it The Mystery of the New Hanover Ranch.
I was walking my horse very slowly up to a ranch around the border between New Hanover and Lemoyne. There was white smoke coming from the chimney, so I figured it was inhabited by some NPCs. I don’t think any icons showed on the minimap, but I figured I’d go see who they were anyway. At this point, I was just exploring. I’ve been doing that a lot. I might go so far as to say few games know how to reward exploration so well as Red Dead.
Suddenly, as I’m nearing the front porch, something explodes and I get knocked off my horse. At first, I figured I’d triggered some sort of bad guy hideout. I have a long history of disarming landmines the hard way, so maybe that’s what had happened here. Bad guy hideouts are indicated by plumes of black smoke, so maybe the white smoke from the chimney was a variation of this?
When I got up from the “you’ve been exploded but not quite killed!” animation, I immediately fell back from the house while my horse ran off. But there were no red dots on the minimap to indicate an enemy gang, so it wasn’t a hideout. It must be some PvP shenanigans, so I did what I usually do the few times I’ve run into a hostile player: drink up a tonic to fortify my health and run away. I took to the forested hilly area of New Hanover and found myself suddenly under attack by a couple of wolves!
What? Now, wolfs? Really? I still didn’t understand what was going on with the explosion I had fled! One of the wolves even looked scarred up, but if he was some sort of legendary wolf, he went down to a shotgun blast just as easily as a mundane wolf. There were three of them. And when I knelt to skin one of the carcasses, a cougar suddenly spawned right in front of me.
This is NOT how Red Dead Online works.
I’ve been hunting and most recently working on the Naturalist role, and one of the true joys of this game is watching how wildlife is modeled. It’s subtle stuff, but it’s omnipresent once you start to look. In fact, that’s the point of the Naturalist role: to encourage you to look at what Rockstar has built to model the natural order. But unlike hunting, where your goal is to look at it long enough to efficiently kill it, the Naturalist role transforms that final step into sedating the animal to take samples while it’s sleeping. It’s a small tweak, but it goes a long way to fixing the game’s wildlife in your mind as something other than target practice. It’s like a hunting game with a convenient eleventh-hour tweak for people who aren’t accustomed to shooting wildlife or who have little stomach for it.
Anyway, my point is that Rockstar takes great care with the illusion of animal behavior. I have never seen something spawn like this cougar. Literally right in front of me, out of thin air so that he has to drop about a foot onto the ground. And because I can’t get to my shotgun quickly enough – if you’ve played much Red Dead Redemption, you know how quickly death by cougar comes! – I’m dead.
So I respawn – I still don’t fully understand why it matters if you ever die in this game :( – and shoot the cougar so I can resume skinning my prizes. But before I can get to work, two cougars immediately spawn. I shoot them both. Three spawn. I kill two and die. I respawn and kill the third. More spawn. Cougars and wolves of all varieties. Out of thin air, right in front of me. I shoot at them.
Is there some player griefing me with super predator bait or something? It’s insane the menagerie that appears out of thin air right in front of my shotgun. Alligators, wolves, cougars, a black panther, a buffalo literally standing on the backs of more wolves. They spawn, I open fire and backpedal. It’s a bloodbath. What is even happening? It’s like a dream sequence in an Ubisoft game!
Eventually, I fall back far enough that the latest round of spawns doesn’t go aggro. They’re just hanging out now, more cougars, a wolf, a buffalo. And now there’s a chest at my feet. It spawned when I wasn’t looking. I open it and collect a little bit of money and gold. And then another chest spawns. I open it and collect a little more money and gold. Then two chests spawn. I open them, keeping an eye on the idling predators. Then three chests spawn. Then even more chests spawn, all on top of each other, nested chests clipping into each other’s gamespace. Over 500 money and 20 gold and the chests are still coming!
Wait, has someone hacked something and now I’m benefiting from their illicit gains? Isn’t this how accounts get closed? I run away from the chests and predators to log out, then log back in. The chests and predators are gone. But the money and gold I looted from the chests is still in my account.
I have no idea what that was, but in the end, I got a huge financial leg-up that I clearly didn’t earn fairly. Which is kind of a bummer. I mean, not enough of a bummer that I didn’t spend it.
Everything else in Red Dead Online has been rock solid, but whatever happened yesterday on that New Hanover ranch is a mystery. A lucrative mystery, but still a mystery. I wish I’d gotten a picture of that buffalo standing on those wolfs.