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‘Red Dead Redemption 2’: A beginner’s guide to being a great cowboy, baby

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By Steven Petite

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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 more than 60 hours 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.

Before you read on, make sure to read our full review of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Understanding cores

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You have three main stats you need to worry about at all times: Health, stamina, and Dead Eye. With the HUD on, each our 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 is shot. 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 wrecks 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).

How to use Dead Eye

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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 that we found to work well was 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.

Horse care, bonding, and reviving

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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 overall 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

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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.

Dress appropriately and bring a spare outfit

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There are myriads 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

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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.

Looting takes time but do it

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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. Often times, 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.

Pay for your crimes

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When you do bad things, the law searches 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.

Don’t forget to eat

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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

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As mentioned, individuals rarely have a ton of money on them. Rarely. One of the quickest and most satisfying weighs 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.

Upgrade your camp

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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 and 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.

Make wise choices

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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. You’re free to be as good or bad as you want to be, but one thing we do recommend is to never turn down a mission. Certain story missions are technically optional, but every story mission is great. You should play them all.

Stop and take it all in

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This isn’t so much a tip, but it’s easy to get roped into the story missions, doing one after the other on loop. They are all great, so we don’t blame you if you want to keep plodding along. Ever so often, though, it’s really nice to just explore without an objective. Take a break and go make your own adventure. The world is beautiful and there’s much you can miss if you just go from mission to mission.

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