Wild West Online revealed: The Red Dead-like MMO 'built from the ground up' for PC

This leaked image was mistakenly believed to be for Red Dead Redemption 2.

Yesterday a leaked image started circulating on a Grand Theft Auto forum showing a cowboy that looked an awful lot like John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. Unlike what many assumed, this wasn't Red Dead Redemption 2, but it could be a PC gamer's best chance to eke out a living on the frontier. Wild West Online is an open-world PvP MMO that wears its inspirations on its dusty, sun-bleached sleeves. Players will form gangs to either break or defend the law, roam the hinterlands, or settle in for a game of cards at the local saloon. In PC Gamer's exclusive reveal, I sat down with Stephan Bugaj creative vice president of publisher DJ2, to find out more.

The creators of Wild West Online expect to launch a $250,000 Kickstarter at the end of the month, with stretch goals tied to additional funding. The team is already working a core version of the game, which they anticipate will arrive later this year regardless. The Kickstarter is simply meant to secure extra funding to expand its features. Wild West Online takes plenty of cues from Red Dead Redemption's excellent online mode only with one major difference: It's an MMO. No, this won't be the typical routine of questing and grinding levels, but a seamless open world using server shards where a few hundred players will coexist together or die trying.

"There's an audience for this that just wasn't being served on PC."

Stephan Bugaj

Even so, that Red Dead Redemption DNA is intentional, says Bugaj. Tired of waiting for a proper Red Dead Redemption on PC, the newly formed 612 Games decided to take matters into its own hands. "There's an audience for this that just wasn't being served on PC," Bugaj explained. "So we wanted to make this big, open Wild West world with a bit of a twist that, like the best MMOs, is a place where people can really live in."

It's an exciting proposition on behalf of the new studio 612 Games, which is partially owned by DJ2 and made up of developers and artists that have worked on a wide variety of games from Crysis to League of Legends. Because DJ2 owns equity in 612 Games, they're more than just a publisher with the likes of Bugaj and DJ2's CCO Dan Jevons driving creative vision using their extensive history at companies like Pixar and Sega. 

Some of Wild West Online's environments look stunning.

From what Bugaj revealed to me, Wild West Online is more than just a knock-off version of Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer. You won't just be locked into an endless game of cops and robbers. Players can also specialize as gatherers, like prospectors who mine for gold or farmers, and the resources they harvest funnel into a player-driven economy. "Resource gathering and building camps is going to have more of the social aspects of other MMOs," Bugaj said. There's a crafting system that relies on finding and learning recipes as well.

Unlike most MMOs though, Wild West Online won't necessarily feature an overarching progression or skill system. "It's something that we're still kicking around," Bugaj said. "There's going to be story, character, and gameplay-driven motives to keep playing, but we haven't yet fully worked out what the progression system is going to be for that." 

Wild, wild west 

Those familiar with Rockstar's games will recognize the law system that lies at the heart of Wild West Online. Players who commit crimes in town will earn wanted stars and, at a certain threshold, become targets for player deputies or bounty hunters. There's a gang system woven into this as well, which could hopefully give rise to some interesting rivalries between different bandit or bounty hunter posses.

There's more ways to break the law than just murder, however. Thieving will be a core part of a bandit's lifestyle, and Wild West Online also has a vision for bank heists or simply being able to steal from other player's campsites and town shops. Do this too often, however, and you'll be exiled from town and have to make use of bandit hideouts—which offer the same amenities but cater to a much deadlier clientele. 

PvP combat is at the heart of Wild West Online.

"In Wild West Online it's more about pitting lawmen against bandits against working class people caught in between."

Stephan Bugaj

One key difference is that Wild West Online will only feature combat against other players. Being wanted won't result in NPCs coming after you. While later updates might change this, if you've broken the law, it'll be up to someone else to take you down. "It's more like a reputation system than anything," Bugaj said. "The wanted system in something like Grand Theft Auto is really about PVE combat, whereas in Wild West Online it's more about pitting lawmen against bandits against working class people caught in between."

Bugaj was clear that, while Wild West Online might borrow some themes from survival games, the main goal "isn't just to stay alive but to socialize and interact with players." I asked about the consequences of death and how that impacts your wanted level and was told that while there would be consequences that are still being worked out, WWO won't feature permadeath or strict penalties. 

Reach for the sky 

With no gameplay footage available yet, there's definitely some room for skepticism. And it's worth pointing out that some of the game's most original ideas are locked behind stretch goals. For example, if Wild West Online raises 1.75 million dollars 612 Games will add train robberies as part of a "season one" update—meaning even if the goal is met the feature won't be available at launch. Train robberies are without a doubt WWO's coolest idea. Acting as a server-wide raid of sorts, players can login during a set time each week to either defend or attack a train that travels across the entirety of the map. The thought of hundreds of players involved in that kind of event is exciting. 

One stretch goal that has me scratching my head is the first one, where if DJ2 raises $400,000 they'll include women as playable characters. While I'm sympathetic to the development strains of an indie MMO, it's puzzling to have gender equality locked behind a stretch goal—especially after Ubisoft's excuses for why no playable women were in Assassin's Creed Unity rang so hollow. When I brought this particular stretch goal up with the team, they said they were already aware that it's a sensitive issue but doing it properly was simply beyond their resources at this time.

The other elephant in the room is that Wild West Online will be released around the same time as Red Dead Redemption 2, which is also slated for fall of 2017. Now, Rockstar's sequel still hasn't been confirmed for PC as of yet, but it's pretty hard to imagine that they'd skip it considering the massive success of GTA 5 on Windows. That means Wild West Online could have some stiff competition—assuming that Red Dead Redemption 2 has multiplayer similar to that in the first game.

Still, two Wild West open-world shooters dropping in 2017 sounds like a good problem for PC gamers to have. And with Wild West Online built from the ground up for PCs and multiplayer, it's hard to ignore the potential. Bugaj says what's arriving later this year is just the beginning, as the studio plans to add a heavier emphasis on story and bigger features in later updates.

We'll have more info on Wild West Online in the coming months. 

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.