Red Dead Redemption 2: A beginner’s guide to being a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a truly superb open-world game. Spend a bit of time in its world, and you may not ever want to leave it. Simply riding around and seeing what you find can lead to unexpected fun. At the same time, it helps to have some direction to make sure you live the outlaw life to the fullest. We’ve spent a lot of time in the heartland of Rockstar’s latest open-world romp and have come away with a bounty of tips to get you on the right track.

Recommended reading:

Understanding cores

You have three main stats you need to worry about at all times: Health, stamina, and Dead Eye. With the HUD on, each is represented as a circle, with a white outline showing how much you have left of each. Get shot? Your health meter drops. Hoof it up a mountain? Your stamina will deplete. Slow down time for lengthy stretches? Your Dead Eye depletes. When low, the meters turn red.

What you really need to pay attention to are the cores. In the center of each circle are icons (heart for health, lightning bolt for stamina, eye for Dead Eye) that also can be filled in white. The cores directly affect stat regeneration. If they are empty, regeneration is very slow.

The way you keep these from depleting is two-fold. First, don’t be reckless. Taking excessive damage, continuously running, and hanging out in Dead Eye for too long will wreck your cores. If you want to maintain your cores naturally, here’s how:

  • Health: Pretty simple. Stay in cover and don’t take damage.
  • Stamina: Walk, don’t run. Remain stationary if necessary.
  • Dead Eye: Recharges as you rack up kills.

Trust us, your cores will run out. It’s inevitable. So you should always have some tonics with you (for health and stamina) and tobacco products (for Dead Eye). It’s recommended to grab a few tonics each time you’re near a store. If you make a habit out of buying a few tonics each time you’re in town, you’ll be way less likely to run out. Nothing is worse than being stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no resources.

Aside from grabbing tonics from stores, you can also find them in the environment. For example, wild vegetables serve as a great source of health, like the wild carrot. Always keep your eyes peeled for resources you can find in the wild.

How to use Dead Eye

If you played Red Dead Redemption, you’re familiar with Dead Eye, the mechanic that slows down time to let you mark and kill enemies in quick succession. In Red Dead Redemption 2, Dead Eye is a very important mechanic that comes in handy often. For this reason, you should use it strategically. If you’re only facing off against a couple enemies, you probably don’t need to waste it. After all, in many missions, the floodgates open after you’ve taken out the initial few.

Dead Eye in RDR2 can be used in two ways. You can either tag multiple targets for shots or aim and shoot manually. The latter helps conserve Dead Eye if you’re quick. One strategy we found to work well is lining up our shots in the general vicinity (usually around the head) before activating Dead Eye. That way you only have to adjust your aim slightly before taking your shot. Dead Eye also becomes key when on horseback. Many missions have chase scenes. Riding and aiming in real time can be challenging, but Dead Eye makes it a cinch.

Keep in mind, you can level up your Dead Eye ability, making it more powerful and useful. Dead Eye can be leveled up by completing specific missions within the game’s story. Once you’ve reached chapter 6, you’ll have fully upgraded Dead Eye.

Just like health and stamina, you’ll want to keep tonics on hand to replenish your Dead Eye meter. Things like valerian root, chewing tobacco, or Miracle Tonics will keep your Dead Eye full.

Horse care, bonding, and reviving

Early on in Red Dead Redemption 2, you go on a mission to buy a new horse who you can then name. It’s not just an opportunity to pick a cute name, though. In RDR2, your horse really is your best friend. You go everywhere with Huey. (My horse’s name is Huey. He’s the best.) But unlike other games before it, the way you treat your animal friend matters.

On a basic level, your horse has a health and stamina core just like you. Allow your horse to take too much damage, whether from enemy fire or from running into or off things, and well, your horse can die. Forever. That’s right. RDR2 has horse permadeath, and you don’t want that to happen.

Thankfully, you can avoid this by bringing Horse Revivers along with you. These can be purchased in general stores. They are a bit pricey, but you need them on you at all times. If your horse goes down, you will be given the option to revive them or put them down. If you don’t have a horse reviver, you’ll simply have to leave them there or do the unthinkable.

On a more general level, Arthur and his horse bond over time, which leads to better trust and more horse skills (drifting, running, jumping, etc.). To help with bonding, make sure to tell to pat your horse from time to time (we’re serious) and feed them regularly. You can purchase horse provisions in the general store.

Don’t forget to take guns from your horse

Your horse also acts as an extra satchel. Your guns, specifically rifles and shotguns, are often stowed on your horse. Don’t forget to retrieve the guns you want before dismounting. It doesn’t happen automatically. What’s great about RDR2 is that you can grab your items from your horse without having to get on. Simply activate the item wheel while standing next to the horse to retrieve your belongings.

Dress appropriately and bring a spare outfit

There is a myriad of spiffy outfits. Any and all of them look good on Arthur, but remember to dress for the elements. Each outfit is graded for either cold, average, or hot temperatures. You’ll know if you’re wearing an outfit that negatively affects Arthur’s stats from an on-screen prompt. That said, it helps to bring spare outfits with you on the road. You can change outfits at camp in your tent and buy new ones at the tailor. While changing, you can choose to stow two outfits in your horse’s satchel. So you can bring one for each weather type with you.

Plan your moves ahead in firefights

You cannot take a lot of damage in Red Dead Redemption 2. In the spirit of being somewhat realistic in this regard, if you take a rash of bullets, the screen will get darker to note you’re pretty much on life support. One more shot and you’re dead. This is why you should always stay behind cover, and before you move, know where you’re headed next. It’s not meant to be played as a run-and-gun game. This is very much a cover shooter, and you should keep that in mind when in the thick of firefights if you want to succeed.

With that in mind, it’s best to stay still when pulling off your shots, especially at long range. You’ll find that aimlessly shooting while running will result in missed shots and wasted ammo. Stop, take aim, and shoot with intent.

Looting takes time, but do it

Every bandit, lawman, and innocent you kill can be looted. People don’t often have much cash on them, but that’s not the point. Oftentimes, you’ll pick up useful tonics for your health and stamina or tobacco/alcohol for Dead Eye (and sometimes health/stamina).

Looting is a great way to make sure you don’t have to make excess trips to the general store. The looting animation itself takes a couple seconds, and beware, you are vulnerable during that time. Exercise caution before looting, but don’t forget to do it. If sometimes you simply don’t have time, still make sure you walk near bodies, as you’ll automatically pick up ammo.

Experiment with the controls and settings

One of the great things about RDR2 is how in-depth you can get with the customization within the settings. You can alter the sensitivity, turn off aim assist, and other important settings you’ll want to look into. Rockstar games are notorious for making you have to continuously tap a button to keep sprinting, but in RDR2, you can turn this off. Or perhaps you want to play in first-person while on foot but stick to third-person while riding. There’s a setting to automatically switch to third-person when you jump on your horse. Make sure your settings are all to your liking before going out to explore and take on missions.

Pay for your crimes

When you do bad things, the law comes for you. The Wanted system plays out somewhat similarly to other Rockstar open-world games. If you commit a crime in town and it’s reported or seen, the police will come after you. When actively Wanted, you cannot enter missions in the area. You can flee or hide and the police will stop searching for you eventually, but the bounty on your head will still be there when you return to the area.

The map is separated into regions, and it’s possible, and likely, that you will have bounties on your head in multiple areas at one time. Some Wanted scenarios happen automatically during missions. Others you bring on yourself. What’s important to remember is that if you have a bounty on your head in a region, you never know when a group of bounty hunters will show up. For us, they tended to arrive when Arthur was alone with no support. This can create problems if you’re in the middle of a mission. So sometimes you may just want to pay off your bounties by heading over to the post office in any town.

Walk up to the Clerk and pay your bounties. You can pay all or just in one area if you so choose. Doing so will negate any bounty hunters from coming after you and stop the law from interrupting you as you go about your business.

Don’t forget to eat

Provisions can be anything from food to liquor to cigarettes, but it’s the food kind that you need to stay healthy. No, seriously, you need to eat somewhat regularly to maintain your weight. This means shoveling down dry crackers or eating meat cooked over the fire. If you don’t eat, Arthur will lose weight and be more vulnerable. On the flip side, if you eat too much, it’s like adding weight to his cowboy boots. He’ll run out of energy quicker. We found that eating at the start of a mission kept Arthur happy and healthy. You can acquire food from all sorts of processes. You can loot it off enemies, rummage through cupboards, buy a stockpile at the general store, or hunt/fish and cook your finds over a fire.

How to fast travel

While we encourage you to take scenic horseback rides across the countryside, you can fast travel in a couple different ways. From the jump, you have to purchase a train ticket or stagecoach ticket, which is capable of taking you to various towns. These tickets can be bought at post offices. As you save up money, though, you can unlock a better means for fast travel at camp.

First, you have to buy an upgrade to Dutch’s tent. After purchasing Dutch’s upgrade, you can then buy a special map for Arthur. With the new map, you can fast travel to specific areas such as towns and settlements from camp. Since these upgrades cost around 500 bucks, you won’t be able to unlock them right away. You’ll still have to do a lot of riding (not such a bad thing), but fast travel certainly helps. Your horse will automatically travel to your new location, too.

Rob trains and thank us later

As mentioned, individuals rarely have a ton of money on them. Rarely. One of the quickest and most satisfying ways to fill your money bag is by robbing a train full of people. The train tracks weave all throughout the map. The unmistakable rattling and horns will help guide the way to a passing train. You can ride up alongside it and jump from your horse to get on. From there, you can rob individual passengers as well as the cargo. You’ll often find trinkets of great value and some stuffed money clips.

Beware of folks asking for help

We’re all for helping out our fellow travelers, but you should know that not everyone you come across is exactly savory. Sometimes you’ll be asked for help, only to have them turn on you. While this shouldn’t deter you from raising your Honor — the moral system that dictates how the world treats you — you should be ready to flip the switch and fight back at all times. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a sure-fire way to know if someone has something up their sleeve. You’ll need to act fast and be prepared to be double-crossed.

Upgrade your camp

In each camp, there’s a contribution bin that represents the gang’s funds. Next to it is a ledger that lets you purchase camp upgrades. These upgrades include tents for supplies, cooking, crafting, and even useful means of travel like a boat (and the aforementioned fast travel map). 

At first, these upgrades may seem as if they cost a lot of money, but before long, they will be nothing more than a drop in the bucket. And they help keep your satchel full when you’re set up far away from a town. 

Bonus Tip: Try to get the Leather Working Tools first to access more upgrades.

Make wise choices

One of the coolest aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2 is that all of your choices really do matter. We don’t want to spoil anything, but you should make careful decisions, because every decision has consequences that affect the rest of your gameplay. 

You’re free to play as a good guy or become a villain, but we advise against turning down missions. You can finish the game without playing through every single mission, but you would be missing out on some great content. 

All of your choices are going to influence your honor rating, for good or bad. No matter if you’re playing as a good guy or a villain, you’ll want to take advantage of these opportunities to increase your rating.

Besides, playing all of the stories opens up the possibility of otherwise-missable narrative beats. You might also find them a great opportunity to earn some much-needed cash.

Stop and take it all in

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a fantastic game with incredible graphics and compelling storylines. It can be tempting to get in a hurry to complete the missions as quickly as possible. Just know there’s a lot to take in, so we don’t blame you if you take some time to enjoy the side quests.

We heartily recommend taking the occasional break from the main storyline to explore the vast world of Red Dead Redemption 2. There is a huge map to discover, as well as some amazing landscapes to enjoy. There you can create your own unique adventures, which is part of what makes the game so fun and immersive in the first place.

Editors' Recommendations