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Red Dead Online Call to Arms: Tips and tricks for beginners

Polish those pistols and pick out your favorite hat. It’s time to jump into Call to Arms, the all-new PvE survival mode in Red Dead Online. Strawberry is under siege. It’s up to you and your posse to ride into town and save the day, like the climax of any good Western. Survival is key, so here are some tips and tricks to winning Call to Arms rounds in Red Dead Online.

What is Call to Arms in Red Dead Online?

Three players walking in Red Dead Online.
Rockstar Games

Call to Arms is a waved-based PvE survival mode for Red Dead Online. Up to four players fight through 10 waves of enemies on one of five partitioned areas of the Red Dead Online map. You’ll use your custom loadouts and ability cards along with ground loot weapons and equipment.

To access Call to Arms, head to any mailbox to receive the Call to Arms telegram. Open your satchel, and find the telegram inside. Reading it will prompt you to choose one of five Call to Arms games to play solo or with a posse. Choosing to play solo will result in a matchmaking process. However, once complete, you’ll have to wait 40 minutes to play again. There is a way to get around this cooldown that we’ll discuss later on.

Call to Arms games are long; however, the payout is well worth it. Call to Arms awards players one gold bar upon completing all 10 rounds or 10 gold nuggets per wave (100 nuggets make a gold bar). Without the triple payout from launch week, surviving all 10 waves will net you $300. However, coming up short of 10 waves will see a significant decrease in cash earned. Furthermore, you’ll earn upwards of 2,300 XP points, making Call to Arms a frustrating but effective way to level up for new players.

Why is it frustrating? Because unless you’re playing with some high-level Red Dead Online friends, you won’t have the weapons, ability cards, or skills needed to survive Call to Arms on your own.

Call to Arms works like any other wave-based survival game. Like Zombie mode in Call of Duty, enemies get stronger with each passing wave. Eventually, they’ll start riding in on horseback and piloting armored carriages with Western-era mounted machineguns. The number of enemies per wave does not scale with the number of players. You’ll have to kill the same amount of enemies whether you’re by yourself or fighting with a four-person posse.

Tips and tricks

Prepare for battle

A female player crafts by a fire in Red Dead Online.

Success in Call to Arms begins before you even start the game. Here are some necessary preparations to make before starting a Call to Arms game in Red Dead Online.

Clean your weapons

The importance of clean weapons is stressed early on in the Red Dead Redemption 2 campaign, and it’s equally important in Red Dead Online. Cleaning your guns increases damage, fire rate, and reload speed, all crucial components to surviving Call to Arms. You will need some gun oil to clean each of your guns, so stock up at a gunsmith, general store, or trapper.

Cooking food and tonics

While there are means to heal scattered around each Call to Arms map, you’ll want to head into the game with full cores and items to keep them full. That means crafting the most potent tonics and cooking the best food. Here’s what you should be eating and drinking in Red Dead Online.

Potent Miracle Tonic will max out your health, stamina, and dead eye core with one swig. Craft Potent Miricle Tonics over a fire with Indian Tobacco, Sage, and Ginseng. Keep a few of these on hand, and drink them in between rounds of call to Arms. Drink one before the first wave starts, but don’t drink another until you notice the difficulty increasing around waves 4 or 5. Then, make sure you have plenty on hand for the endgame.

Minty Big Game is the food of choice as it will further boost your health cores. Combining Minty Big Game with health tonics will make you near invincible. Farm big game from large animals like alligators and cougars.

Crafting special ammo

Once you’ve stocked up on food, it’s time to stock up on special ammo, notably explosive ammo. As rounds progress, you’ll learn just how valuable this special ammo can be.

Reset your awards

Tab over to the Awards menu and find the Sharpshooter category. Reset any awards you’ve completed (the ones marked by a gold symbol) to complete them again for another reward. Resetting awards is a great way to farm extra gold during long Call to Arms games. The sharpshooter challenges are the easiest to complete in Call to Arms, as you’ll be killing NPCs in droves.

Place friendly NPCs

Once you’ve loaded into a Call to Arms game, you’ll have a five-minute preparation period to gather ammo. However, you can also place NPCs strategically around the map to hold choke points and cover rooftops. To get an NPC to follow you, interact with them, and select the Follow Me option. Once you’ve got them in place, interact again, and tell them to stop following you.

NPCs are pretty helpful in Call to Arms. You can rely on them to kill their fair share of enemies. However, don’t expect them to last past round 8. You will not be penalized if all the friendly NPCs die. Placing them near cover or on rooftops will increase their chances of survival, which in turn increases yours. Otherwise, friendly NPCs will stay where they spawn. They’ll take cover, but it won’t be the most advantageous cover. If you plan on camping on a rooftop, it’s wise to take one or two NPCs up there with you.

Best abilities cards for Call to Arms

An outlaw wields a shotgun in Red Dead Online.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ability cards are like the perks on your Call of Duty loadout. They give you passive bonuses that work with your playstyle, but choosing the right ones for Call to Arms is crucial. Since Call to Arms is all about survivability, you’ll want to focus on Ability cards that boost health regeneration and decrease damage taken. Remember, you can only choose one Dead Eye card and any combination of three passives. Here are some good ones to use.

Dead Eye ability cards

Paint it Black: “While Dead Eye is active, you can paint targets onto enemies. Fire your weapon to shoot all marked targets. Each shot drains Dead Eye.” Just like when Dead Eye is active in the campaign, you’ll queue up shots on an enemy by marking them with a tiny black X.

Quite an Inspiration: “While Dead Eye is active, you and your allies regenerate health. If more than one member of your team has this ability active, the effects do not stack.” Because the abilities do not stack, it is best to coordinate with your posse on who’s using this card. It might technically be a waste when matchmaking, but you’d rather have it and not need it, right?

Passive ability cards

Gunslingers Choice (yellow): “While dual-wielding, you deal more damage and are more accurate.” Because you’ll 100% be dual-wielding pistols in Call to Arms mode, this card makes them way better than most other guns in the game. It’s borderline broken.

Sharpshooter (yellow): “While using a scope, you deal more damage and take less damage.” Other than dual pistols, Sniper Rifles are your best friend on most Call to Arms maps.

Iron Lung (green): “Your Stamina regenerates faster, and you take less damage depending on your current Stamina level.” Because you’ll be heading into Call to Arms with plenty of Tonics, this card will keep you from drinking too many of them by boosting your overall damage resistance. As long as you aren’t sprinting around like a mad man, your stamina will stay near full at all times.

Strange Medicine (green): “You regain a little health whenever you inflict damage. Your health will otherwise regenerate at half the normal rate.” You’re always inflicting damage, therefore always recovering health. Call to Arms is more about survivability than it is damage output.

Fool Me Once (blue): “You take less damage each consecutive time you are shot. This effect ends if you are not shot for 10 seconds.” Once again, we’re trying to mitigate the damage taken. This card comes in handy when trying to snipe the gunner out of a carriage machine gun, especially when paired with the Sharpshooter card.

The Unblinking Eye (blue): “Dead Eye and Eagle Eye drain slower.” This one barely made the list and is good if you’re a new player that doesn’t have access to the best tonics. Keeping your Dead Eye full will save you in a pinch.

Special enemy units

Arthur Morgan mounts a machine gun in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As mentioned, Call to Arms gets harder as the waves progress. Enemies get spongier, and special units begin appearing. Deal with the specials first before focusing on the normal enemies.

Whenever your mini-map pulses, you know there’s a sniper nearby. They’re marked on the map, so you have a general idea of where they are. They’ll also give off a sniper glint, and NPCs will alert you to their presence with voice lines. Finally, you’ll hear your heartbeat when one has their sights on you. You’ve got all the warnings in the world, so don’t let one sniper ruin your Call to Arms game.

Machete-wielding enemies will charge you with — well — machetes. While they sound scary on paper, they’re lackluster and easy to kill. If you’re killed by one, it probably means you weren’t paying much attention.

Heavy armor enemies are denoted by their steel bucket hats. They look like the Black Knight from Monty Python or the Vanguard Class in Chivalry 2. However, they are a huge bullet sink and carry a deadly shotgun. Don’t let them get too close for any reason. Thankfully, all that armor weighs them down, making them an easy target in the open field.

Enemies will eventually ride in on horseback, but they’re no harder to kill. Snap to and headshot them off their horses. However, three enemies start riding in on carriages, so aim for the drivers to stop them in their tracks. Those carriages eventually come equipped with mounted machine guns. Now, the gunner is your primary target, as they’ll make mincemeat of you and your teammates. A well-placed sniper shot or stick of dynamite will do the trick.

Map specific enemies and events

Other than armored enemies on horseback, there are a few map-specific special enemies you’ll have to be careful of. Dogs will attack you in Strawberry, and a train carrying machine gunners will drive by on MacFarlane’s Ranch. Perhaps the deadliest map-specific enemies are the cannon operators on Fort Mercer. They can one-shot you with a well-placed cannon ball, so be sure to snipe them before they have the chance.

Map strategies

A cowboy takes cover in Red Dead Online.
Rockstar Games

Call to Arms is available on five maps across Red Dead Online. They are Strawberry, Blackwater, MacFarlane’s Ranch, Valentine, and Fort Mercer. In general, you can play each of these maps the same way. Get on a rooftop or piece of high ground, and snipe your way to victory. However, the tight alleyways of Valentine and Strawberry will leave you hoping for a Shotgun if an enemy rounds the corner.

Some horses spawn around each map, so use them to make quick work of the early rounds. Like any other waved-based game, the first three rounds are a little boring. The quicker they go, the better. However, ditch the horse once armed enemies show up. Get on a rooftop instead.

Go for headshots

It should go without saying, but headshots are the most important aspect of Call to Arms. Your ammo supply will dwindle faster than you realize. As enemies get stronger, they’ll take four of five body shots to kill. However, headshots will deal far more damage, killing most enemies in one shot.

Keep track of ammo boxes

Ammo crates are scattered around each Call to Arms map. While they replenish between rounds, they only drop standard ammo. Don’t waste any special ammo on the early rounds. Burn through your normal ammo, and then run around picking up more before the next wave begins.

It’s helpful to save one enemy at the end of each round so you and your posse can have more time to get ammo. However, there’s nothing you can do about an NPC killing that final enemy. This trick works, but it doesn’t work all the time.

Cooldown work-around

There is a way to ignore the 40-minute cooldown in Call to Arms, but you’ll need a few friends to pull it off. The cooldown only applies to the posse leader. So, once the game is over, have one of your friends start a new posse. They’ll be able to invite you to a Call to Arms game, and you can all jump right back in. Once you’ve all been a posse leader, you’ll have to wait for the original leader’s cooldown to run out. However, since Call to Arms games take 20 to 30 minutes anyway, you should be able to keep running them with this strategy. Three friends work well. For the best results, get four people involved.

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Mike Colucci
Michael Colucci is a lifelong video game fan based out of the greater Boston area. He's the one insistent on searching every…
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