Red Dead 2 Guide: Essential Tips For First-Time Players
Red Dead Redemption 2 has been out for over a year, but PC players will be jumping into it for the first time. If you're a brand new player ready to start your adventure with the Van der Linde gang, you've come to the right place. While Red Dead 2 does explain the majority of its gameplay systems over time, it's still a massive game, which means some of the information can be doled out over the course of multiple hours. This is a smart decision that means players aren't overwhelmed from the outset, but you may find yourself asking questions that the game isn't ready to answer yet or that you simply missed.
Just as you'd expect, the open-world game is overflowing with things you can do, as you can read about in our Red Dead 2 review. Should you choose, you can sink a huge number of hours into exploring the vast American wilderness and enjoying the beautiful environments it presents, hunting animals to provide for your friends and family, or robbing trains to--well, provide for your friends and family in a less wholesome way.
To help you hit the ground running we've put together a number of tips that that'll help you get along better earlier in the game. These should serve as a primer to jumping into the world of Red Dead Redemption 2, so we've included a bunch of some of smaller things that, once we realised them, made for smoother play sessions. Alongside those, there's information that the game tells you, but perhaps doesn't stress upon as much as it should. Crucially, this is all spoiler free, so you're in no danger of hearing about that moment where [REDACTED].
For more Red Dead Redemption 2 tips we've got spoiler-free guides on how the morality and honor systems work, the best way to make money, and some information on how weapon customization functions. If you're planning to spend a bunch of time fishing, we've got a guide for that too. If cowboy fashion is what you care about, we have you covered with our guide on where to find all the clothes in Red Dead Redemption 2.
You can also go back and listen to Quickdraw, our weekly Red Dead Redemption 2 video series from 2018. In the first episode we looked at previous Rockstar games that have influenced RDR2. The second episode, meanwhile, is a story recap of the original Red Dead Redemption.
Fit As A Fiddle
Red Dead Redemption 2 gets surprisingly in-depth with information on the health and well being of its main character, Arthur Morgan. And to really make the most of these you should head into the "Player" menu in the pause screen and select “Arthur.” You'll be presented with information cards that clue you into the state of your Health, Stamina, and Dead Eye cores, which dictate how quickly each of these attributes regenerates. To guarantee you're operating at peak performance you need to maintain your Cores by eating, resting, and generally keeping Arthur in good shape. You'll also get information on the actual numerical percentage of how much core you have remaining.
Temperature and weight impact stats for health and stamina respectively, so if you're layering up in the heat or walking around in the chillier parts of the world as if it's a warm summer's day, you'll see Arthur's health drain faster. Similarly, if your Arthur is thick with two Cs, stamina will take a hit but your health will be boosted slightly. However, if he's on the thinner side, health will be impacted negatively, but your stamina will improve a bit. All outlaws are beautiful in our eyes, but if you have a specific playstyle in mind it's important to watch your weight and manage it to suit you.
This is a very small quality of life improvement that has a big impact. You'll spend a whole lot of time going into and out of the map in Red Dead Redemption 2. Its world is vast and although there are key locations that you'll travel to, along with waypoints to guide you there, the game also cultivates a wanderlust. Sometimes, this may mean going out into the wild west to hunt, and if you're looking for a specific animals you'll need to head to particular spots. Other times you may just want to trot around to see what strange situations and scenarios present themselves to you. Initially, getting the map up can seem like a two-step process: pressing the start button to bring up the pause menu, then selecting the map option. However, you can expedite this by instead holding the start button down, which will take you straight to the map. This is a common thing in modern open-world games but it isn't explicitly mentioned so it can be an easy to miss detail.
Circle of Life
Hunting is a crucial part of Red Dead Redemption 2. It brings in resources for you and the rest of your gang to survive off, but also lets you build a deeper connection with the world around you through study and observation.
When you come across an animal to hunt, don't just go all Yosemite Sam on it. Instead, be more Elmer Fudd and take it slow. Be sure to use the study prompt as you'll get an entry in the "Animals" section of the Compendium that tells you a little more about it. This includes details on how they behave, the best weapons to use to bring them down cleanly (and thus increase their value), and what they can be used for.
Early in Red Dead Redemption 2 you're taken out on a hunt and given a runthrough of how it works. It's all fairly simple, but there are two main tricks that help considerably. The first is masking your own scent. Press in the analogue sticks to activate Eagle Eye and you'll see an aura emanating off you--that's your own body funk, don't be ashamed, you're a rough and ready outlaw living off the land and farting into the winds whenever it suits you--this is the good life.
You'll need to make sure those wisps of B.O. aren't being carried towards the animal, as they're super judgemental about odors and will bolt. If you're out on a tricky hunt we recommend heading to a vendor first, as they'll usually sell you an item to mask your smell, or you can craft one. Also hit the baths regularly; there's a limit to how much you can smell like sun baked horse poop.
The other tip is to attract the attention of an animal locking on to them and then pressing square (on PS4) or X (on Xbox One). This causes the animal to raise its head and leaves it in the perfect position to be brought down cleanly. We recommend trying to use a bow as often as possible when hunting, as it's quieter and better for getting clean kills. Don't forget to give your pelts to Pearson back at the camp, or one of the Trappers that appears. They will hold on to them them for you to come back and use for crafting later.
Hop The Fence
At a certain point in the game you'll complete a mission and meet a Fence. No, we're not talking about a wooden partition typically used to enclose outside areas and made of posts connected by either boards, rails, or wires, we're talking about the criminal variety of Fence. These folk will buy stolen goods from you, which is handy if you've just five-finger discounted a carriage or horses. However, they'll also more than happily take small ticket items off your hands, so if you're the robbing and heisting type, Fences will be your best buddies. However, if you're fresh off committing a crime and have a bounty on you, you'll need to first pay off this off at the Post Office, as Fences won't chat to you otherwise.
Pistols At Dawn
The basics of shooting in Red Dead Redemption 2 are familiar, simple, and intuitive. However, your gun has more uses than filling folks with lead. In fact, it can also be used to get what you want out of a person without killing them. The thundering clap of gunfire has a way of persuading people to be more compliant, so if you take out your gun, hold the aim button, and then press up on the directional pad, Arthur will point his gun into the air. When you fire, you may find people a little more deterred from acting out.
While many will usually comply for fear of losing their lives, others may ignore you. You can usually tell whether it's going to work based on the other person's demeanour. The cowardly types tend to stop dead in their tracks, but if you're robbing someone and they have a defiant attitude, you may be out of luck. Nevertheless, it's worth a shot into the sky.
For those after a gun-focused tip that's useful in combat, hit the square or X button while aiming to execute a dolphin dive. The game has a cover system to keep you safe when the bullets are flying, but the dive is a handy way of minimizing risk when moving point to point.
Wicky Wicky Wild Wild West
For those who enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of far-off virtual lands, Red Dead Redemption 2 provides plenty to uncover. One of the most immersive ways to experience it all is to turn off the in-game map and rely on your own sense of direction and navigational skills to get around. If you hold down on the directional pad and opt for turning off the minimap, characters that you ride with will be more forthcoming with directions, which makes for a more natural--and authentic--form of discovery. If you find yourself struggling, however, you can always just tap down again to briefly bring up the map to get your bearings.
While you're out and about, keep your eyes peeled for smoke in the sky; where there's smoke, there's usually a (camp)fire, and this more often than not will either lead to a side-mission or a memorable random encounter. Similarly, listen for things happening in your environment, as you may hear someone shouting for help or beckoning you to come over as you pass by.
Sometimes it's easier to just use public transport to get where you need to, and to make use of fast travel you can hop on a taxi coach or a train. These are usually only available in towns, but if you upgrade Dutch's quarters in the camp, you can then also purchase a map for Arthur that allows him to return to certain previously visited locations.
Gimmie The Loot, Gimmie The Loot
Money makes the world go round, and you'll need to keep a constant influx of cash to get by. While exploring the world and doing missions, it's common to come upon abandoned camps with lots of items up for picking. Sometimes you'll have to walk up to individual items and snatch them up, but you may also stumble upon a bunch of goodies in close proximity to each other. In these situations, simply hold down the loot button and Arthur will pocket the valuables as smoothly as one of Fagin's boys.
One of the most consistent sources of cash and goods is the bodies of your fallen enemies. Naturally, you'll be taking out a whole lot of people, and you should make it a point of stripping them of their valuables while you're at it. As with the previous game, enemies you've killed are marked on the map with a small 'x', so once battles have subsided, ensure you head over to all the corpses and recover your spoils.
As the saying that we just made up this second goes, "A cowboy is only as good as the horse he or she rides in on," so you'll want to spend time strengthening your bond with your noble steed. The easiest way to deepen your bond with your horse is through positive reinforcement. When you're moving at a *checks Google* "two-beat trot," press in the left analogue stick and Arthur will tell his horse how much he values it and how it's the bestest and bravest. From our experience, the cooldown on this is around 14 seconds, so you could min-max wholesome horse compliments to build your bond quicker.
As your bond grows, your horse's health and stamina will improve, you'll be able to whistle for it from further away, and it'll come to you even if you're in combat. It'll also cross deeper water and rougher terrain, and if someone tries to steal it, they'll have a much harder time. Other abilities such as rearing, skid turning or stopping, and even dressage also become available.
There's also some tricks to riding a horse properly, as well as best practices. If you tap the X or A buttons in time with your horse's gallops you'll reduce the rate at which it uses stamina, which means you can run faster for longer. Make sure to also give it regular breaks and feed it often. As the other saying we just made up goes, "A healthy horse is the wind beneath a gunslinger's feet."
When you're riding long distances you also have the option to use the cinematic camera. If you set a waypoint on the map and there's a direct line along a defined route there, then switch to the cinematic camera, your horse will stay true and all you've got to do is hold the run button down.
The Right To Bear Arms
Red Dead Redemption 2 has a diverse range of weaponry available for you to implement in your cowboying ways. For quite a few hours you'll find yourself limited to the basics: six-shooters, rifles, and shotguns--and the more basic versions of them at that. If you're the kind of person who finds themselves frequently staring down the barrel of a gun with another poor soul in your crosshairs, you may be tempted to save up some cash to try and get new, more powerful weapons. If that's what you want to do, go ahead; it's the wild west and you're an outlaw so be the master of your own destiny and all that.
However, if you want to save yourself a bit of cash and get your hands on some powerful weaponry, spend time focusing on doing the main story missions. Unsurprisingly, the game is very generous in giving you useful rewards when completing these missions, so if you follow the critical path you'll get showered with new guns, items, and equipment. Resisting the urge to ride out into the wild lands of America with nothing but a gun and your horse to make a name for yourself may be difficult, but stick with the gang for a bit in the early game and it'll be worth your while in the long run.
Wish You Were Here
Finally, here's a quick tip that will keep FOMO at bay. Make sure to do the missions that appear as white icons around your camp. These are usually activities that you undertake alongside other members of the Van der Linde gang, and provide some nice characterization moments. These will disappear after a while, either because they're time sensitive or because narrative advancements wipe them away. If one of these pops up, make sure to prioritize them over the yellow, core missions. Those will always be there, waiting for you.