Tips For Playing Red Dead Online [Updated]

Red Dead Online has been out for over a year. It’s a big game and still getting updates, with plenty to do, explore, and ways to make money. I’ve been playing the game solo and with friends since it launched in beta and have some tips for those just starting out or looking for ways to make some money, earn some gold, have some fun and kill some outlaws.

[Update 1/13/20: This piece originally appeared 12/6/18, when Red Dead Online was in beta. We’ve updated the post with new tips to account for changes made to the game since release.]

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You Don’t Need To Have Finished Red Dead Redemption II Before Jumping Into Red Dead Online

Some players might worry about RDO spoiling Red Dead Redemption II’s narrative or that the online narrative will be confusing without finishing the main game. Red Dead Online is a prequel to the main game, though it’s not entirely clear how early. Random characters you encounter won’t be dropping major spoilers about the end of RDR2. Random players might, though, so be careful.

But You Should Play SOME Red Dead Redemption II Before Jumping In

Spending some time in RDR2 will help you out tremendously in Red Dead Online. While RDO has a tutorial, it isn’t as in-depth or detailed as the tutorials in RDR2. The controls in RDR2 and RDO can take some time to get the hang of, and practicing them in single-player is a good idea. There are also a lot of systems to manage, like warmth, hunger and cleaning guns. Red Dead Online uses all of these systems, so learning how they work in single-player is highly advised.

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Take Your Time In the Character Creator

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You can now change your looks after the opening character creation screen. The first time you change your looks it won’t cost you anything, which is nice. However, every time you want to change after that will cost you 10 gold bars.

I recommend taking your time and making sure you’re satisfied with your character before you finish and start the tutorial. You can always change your teeth, hair and beard options at barbershops in-game, for small amounts of cash, but make sure you’re happy with your character’s race, sex, and facial features before jumping into the game.

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First, Focus On The Story Missions

You might be tempted to start exploring in Red Dead Online the moment you finish the tutorial, but all that stuff will be waiting for you. Instead, focus first on the seven or so main story missions. These can be played with friends and also pay out decent amounts of cash and XP. The final mission currently available in Red Dead Online pays between $100-$250, which is a sizable amount of money in this game.

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To Make Some Money, Find Some Treasure Maps

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I avoided treasure maps for some time in Red Dead Online because the first treasure you open during the tutorial doesn’t reward you with much. Later on I tried finding some treasure and found an empty chest, which I figured was a bug. So I gave up on treasure maps. Don’t do this.

You earn treasure maps when you reach certain levels, like level 10. But another great way to find maps is to finish gang hideouts that spawn on the map in different areas. After killing everyone in the hideout, take some time to loot all the bodies, and you might find a treasure map.

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Each chest I’ve found has contained between $40 to $150 and usually has some gold nuggets in it too. Unlike in single-player, treasures are much easier to find in Red Dead Online. They show up in Eagle Eye, your controller vibrates as you get close and the search area is automatically marked in the world after reading the treasure map. If you find an empty chest, keep looking. Treasures can spawn in a few different locations in each search area, and sometimes two chests will spawn, but only one chest has the treasure. Once you find your treasure chest and loot it, the map is removed from your inventory.

Check Out The Outlaw Pass

The Outlaw Pass is Red Dead Online’s version of a Battle Pass. Just like the pass found in Fortnite, players level up the Outlaw Pass by earning XP. Basically everything you do in RDO will level up your Outlaw Pass, like killing animals, fighting outlaws, racing horses, picking plants and find collectibles.

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You can buy the premium pass for 40 gold bars to unlock all the rewards, but there’s also a free pass that provides fewer rewards as you level up. If you buy the premium pass after leveling up your free Outlaw Pass, you will retroactively earn all the rewards you would have already unlocked.

As of this writing, there is a pass available, but when you log in that might not be the case. The passes are only available for a limited time and there are gaps of time between passes. Keep an eye on the Rockstar Newswire to see when the next pass is coming.

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Pick A Pursuit (Or Two) And Get Started

Over the last few months, Rockstar has added different Frontier Pursuits to the game. These are various roles and careers players can choose. Currently, there are four roles available:

  • Bounty Hunter - Bounty Hunters specialize in capturing criminals. This role offers a lot of fun missions and some decent payouts for bringing in targets dead or alive. You can choose the Bounty Hunter role by talking to the legendary bounty hunter in the town of Rhodes. After a short cutscene, you’ll be asked if you want to buy a bounty hunting license for 15 gold.
  • Collector - Collectors do find rare items and plants, then sell them for money. It’s not the most action-packed role, but it is the easiest role for solo players and pays good money. To become a collector you need to open up your map and look for a yellow icon for the mission “To Become A Collector.” Head to that spot to find Madam Nazar. She will sell you a collector bag for 15 gold. (Currently, Twitch Prime members can link their Rockstar account and get the bag for free.)
  • Trader - This name is technically accurate, but a lot of people also call this the “hunter” role because a lot of what you actually do as a trader is hunt animals. To become a Trader check your mail, either at a post office or at your camp’s lockbox. You’ll get a letter with further instructions. Eventually, you will have to pay 15 gold bars to unlock this role.
  • Moonshiner - Probably my favorite role in the game, and also the newest one in Red Dead Online. Moonshiners create moonshine, outrun the police and get access to story missions about a legendary moonshiner who needs your help getting revenge. To unlock this role you first need to be a Trader and either reach level 5 or complete one sell mission. Once you’ve done that you will need to pay only 5 gold bars to unlock the Moonshiner role.
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Each role can be leveled by completing role-specific missions, challenges, tasks, and events. As you level up these roles you unlock new gear and equipment as well as some other rewards.

You can focus on only one role at first and unlock more later, or unlock all of them (assuming you have the gold) and level them up at the same time.

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If you don’t have enough gold and can only unlock one, for now, I’d suggest solo players start with the Collector role. Players with groups or who want some action should go with Bounty Hunter. Players who are patient should try their hand at being a Trader. Also if you want to eventually make your own moonshine you first need to be a Trader anyway.

Earning Gold And Doing Challenges

Gold is harder to earn than cash in Red Dead Online. A few ways to earn gold include finding treasure using treasure maps, completing daily challenges and playing online PVP game modes.

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None of these will earn you a lot of gold quickly, but for new players, I recommend daily challenges. These are relatively easy to complete, involving activities like selling animal hides, killing birds, jumping off your horse or just changing your clothes. As you unlock roles, you will also earn access to specific daily challenges tied to different careers. As long as you complete one challenge every day, you can build up a streak. Building a long enough streak will earn you much more gold per completed challenge.

If you don’t have the time or patience to grind away at gold, you can always buy it. For many, it will be the best way to see some of the new content in RDO, most of which are locked behind small gold paywalls. If you plan on playing a lot of the game, spending a bit of cash on gold might be a good investment.

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Do Bounty Hunter Legendary Missions

When you get access to the Bounty Hunter role, head to a bounty board and start taking on some legendary targets. These might be too hard for players just starting out, but they are a ton of fun and offer decent amounts of cash and experience. Completing a mission lets you play a harder version, completing that version unlocks an even harder version and so on. If you have a group of players, these missions can be a great way to level up and earn some cash.

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Use Online Guides As A Collector

The Collector is one of the best roles for solo players because you can max out your entire role in a few days or weeks without help. I did this myself with the help of online guides. The Red Dead Collector subreddit is incredibly useful. Fans have built interactive maps showing where all collectibles are and how to get them. Even as Rockstar updates the game and changes the locations of collectibles, the players over at the subreddit are quick to update the maps and provide useful tips.

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You Can Change Your Outfits

Once you are in the world of Red Dead Online, you might want to change your clothes, buy some new outfits or maybe just roll up your sleeves. To do this you can visit your camp, but you can also access your wardrobe at most general stores and tailors. Head towards the back of the store and you’ll find a locked door that will bring up a prompt asking if you want to enter the wardrobe.

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Also keep a winter outfit on your horse. You can do this from either a shop or your tent. This will be useful when you find yourself up in the colder parts of the map. Without winter clothes your character will have less stamina.

Use Your Personal Catalogue To Save Some Time

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You can buy guns, ammo, gun oil and much more in your personal catalogue, which you always carry on you. Once you buy something from the handheld catalogue it is delivered to your camp or can be picked up at any post office in the game.

Guns are the exception. When you buy these from the catalogue they go directly to your horse. Even hours into Red Dead Online I still have to remind myself to buy stuff using the catalogue, instead of riding out to the nearest shop.

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Go Hunting To Get Free Food

As you travel around the map, keep an eye out for animals you can kill. Hunting is a great way to stock up on meat without buying food, which you’ll need to survive in Red Dead Online. You’ll have to cook any meat you collect, but that can easily be done at your camp or at most random campfires you find the world. Hunting also rewards you with pelts, which can be sold or, if you are a Trader, turned in for XP. Even a lower quality pelt is worth selling or trading in when you are first starting out.

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You can also pick plants and herbs (use eagle eye to highlight them, just like in the main game). Some plants, including carrots and berries, can be fed to your horse, which needs to eat as well. Others can be used to season food, making it more effective.

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Anything hanging on or draped over your horse can disappear if you are kicked from the server. (This has happened to me multiple times in a single session.) Don’t ride around too long without selling or trading what you killed.

Animals Might Be Missing

If you ride around the world of RDO and find no animals anywhere, don’t think you did something wrong or that you are a bad hunter. This is a common bug or glitch players are encountering often. I run into it at least once or twice a week when I’m playing regularly. At the moment there isn’t a perfect, guaranteed way to bring life back to the woods. I’ve had some luck leaving online and returning, but not always.

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Don’t Worry About Getting Horse Insurance Right Away

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Unlike in the main game, horses in Red Dead Online don’t really seem to die. Your first horse will have insurance, but any horses you buy after that will cost five gold bars to insure, which for most players will be too expensive. But while insurance does make the process of getting your horse to return faster, horses without insurance will also respawn. The timer for a non-insured horse to return seems to be about two minutes, and the vet costs are around $2 to $4.

Even if your horse dies, you can always call the scrawny nag. It isn’t a great horse, but it’s still faster than walking, and it can also carry pelts or people. Eventually, once you have some extra cash and gold, horse insurance is useful to have.

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Also, Get A New Horse Sooner Rather Than Later

You are going to be riding around RDO a lot. A slow horse with bad stamina is going to make the game slower and less enjoyable. When you get some cash and gold, check out your nearest horse stable, which can be spotted on the map. (It has a horseshoe icon.)

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Here you can buy insurance, horse food and take care of your horse. But you can also buy a whole new horse too. Look at what is available and plan to get a new ride soon. (Also, depending on when you play, what accounts you have linked and other factors, you might have a free or cheap horse waiting for you.)

Change Your Horse Permissions

The default for who can ride and lead your horse is all players. This means I had a player jump onto my horse and ride it off a cliff, killing it. To stop this from happening, change who is allowed to ride your horse in the player menu. Hit left on the d-pad go to the stables option, and from there you can edit who can ride your horse.

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When Returning to Multiplayer, Choose Where You Want To Spawn

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The Netflix-looking-menu for RDO has a few useful features. One of the most useful is that you can actually tell the game where you want to spawn. The map is big, and getting around it can take some time. If you know you want to be near Blackwater, choose to spawn in West Elizabeth instead of somewhere farther away.

Fast Travel is Available, But It Isn’t Free

You can fast travel in RDO, but the costs can be a bit high for players first starting out. If you really need to get somewhere fast and are willing to spend $4-$11, then look for fast travel markers on the map.

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These markers look like signposts and can be found in towns and near some train stations. Prices can vary depending on how far away your destination is. One free way to sort of fast travel is to back out of the game and use the menu to spawn somewhere else in the world. Sell any big pelts or game you have on your horse before doing this, as they will disappear once you leave the session.

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The More The Merrier

Posses in Red Dead Online are easy to set up and allow you and three friends to quickly group and start tackling missions and free roam events. To start a posse, hit left on the d-pad to open your player menu and then pick posse and form a posse. You can invite anyone, including random players. To accept an invite to a posse or a session, open your player menu, use left on the d-pad and check the invites tab.

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RDO does support up to seven players in a posse, but it costs $200 in-game dollars. While there are some benefits to a bigger group, don’t feel rushed to set up a big permanent posse. If you and your friends do want to set one up, coordinate with each other so only one player has to spend all that money, not everyone. For example, I’ve been playing a lot more RDO than my friends, so I had more money and could easily afford to start a permanent posse, saving my friends $200. Don’t spend money you don’t need to spend if your friends already have a permanent posse set up.

Don’t Be Too Worried About Your Honor Meter

Red Dead Online includes the morality-measuring honor meter from the main game, allowing players to be honest cowpokes or dastardly thieves. A year into RDO and it still doesn’t matter that much. If you do care, or at some point in the future it starts to matter more, here are a few tips:

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  • Many stranger missions will offer you good or bad morality points, which can be seen by holding the left trigger while near the stranger. In the bottom right corner of your screen, you will sometimes see either a white hat, representing an honorable mission, or a red hat, representing a dishonorable mission.
You can see the honor indicator in the bottom right corner.
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  • Even if you do something bad or good, it takes a lot to affect your bar. I maxed my honor out very early into my online experience, and after killing some random NPCs, getting into a fistfight with friends and doing some bad missions it still hadn’t dropped.
  • A good way to earn honor is through feeding and caring for your horse. You can do this by simply feeding your horse some hay or by calming if it is scared.
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Most Stranger Missions Can Be Done Solo or With Only a Partner

Many stranger missions in Red Dead Online are easier with other players, but they are totally doable solo. I’ve done nearly every type of side mission this game has to offer, and there was really only one mission that felt like it needed a posse to complete.

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If you encounter a mission about delivering mail, just be warned that this will need at least one or two other players to finish completely. There just isn’t enough time to grab a bag, hit all your checkpoints and then come back for the other bags. If you are solo and come across this side mission, you can still partially complete and still receive some cash and XP.

Wave To Folks

My time in Red Dead Online has been mostly troll and asshole free. Players, at least right now, seem more relaxed and nice than in GTA Online. One key to this is players waving. Waving seems to have become the universal way of saying “Hey, I’m cool!” To wave and do other emotes, hold the left trigger and hit R1 or RB and you will be given a list of emotes.

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Try Out The Showdown Series and Horse Racing Modes

While you might be tempted to stick to the open world of Red Dead Online, you should eventually try out the other modes available in the beta. These can be accessed by opening up your player menu and clicking “Quick Join.” My personal favorites are the horse racing modes. They feel almost like Mario Kart, with weapon pickups, powerups, and last-second comeback victories. Just remember you can hit circle on PS4 or B on Xbox One to melee other riders while racing.

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The Showdown Series is a collection of different deathmatch and team deathmatch modes. They range from a territory control mode to a straight-up free-for-all deathmatch mode. Thankfully matchmaking times are much faster than GTA Online, and after finishing these modes you are rewarded with gold nuggets, cash, and XP. After winning one match I was awarded nearly $20. But if you don’t win, most payouts are around $4-$9.

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Don’t Spam The Trigger

During firefights with other players, you might feel the desire to rapidly mash the trigger button, but this is a mistake. While you can get lucky and get some kills by shooting as fast as possible, the better method is to be patient between shots. The smaller the reticule the more accurate your shot. Move slow, use cover and space your shots out more. And headshots are very deadly.

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Dive! Dive! Dive!

A very useful move to learn in PvP is the dodge. While holding the left trigger and aiming a weapon, you can hit the jump/climb button to dive out of the way of bullets or horses. Mastering the dive can really help you jump up the leaderboard. And if someone dives while you are shooting at them, stop shooting while they jump and refocus your aim on them as they get up. This is when they are vulnerable and can’t shoot back.

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Loot Bodies

When RDO first came out, looting took a long time and rarely was worth it. Now, after a series of updates in 2019, looting is faster. You can loot a dozen corpses in the time it used to take to loot one. And you are likely to find a few collectibles on bodies, as well as cash, gold and maps.

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Don’t Forget About Your Ability Cards

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When first writing this list I actually forgot about my ability cards, which just goes to show how easy it is to forget about these additions to Red Dead Online. Ability cards grant you new abilities, many of which are passive. You unlock new cards as you level up, and you can also buy these cards with in-game cash.

They aren’t cheap, but some of them sound very useful. I currently have a card equipped that lets me do more damage when low on health, which is useful in deathmatches. Other cards regenerate health while using dead eye or make cover more effective. Once you equip an ability card, it will level up as you play. Once it levels up you can pay cash to upgrade it, making it more powerful. Early on you won’t be able to buy most cards or afford upgrades, but don’t forget to check on your cards periodically as you continue playing.

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Check Your Rewards Screen

Added in an update in 2019, there is a new area of your pause menu called Rewards. Here you can find all the various rewards and goodies you have earned while leveling up, playing missions or doing other things. Check here every so often. I had gold bars, free XP and store coupons sitting here. Some of these even expire after a few weeks or months. So check every time you log on and before you log off.

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Zack Zwiezen is a a writer living in Kansas City, Missouri. He has written for Gamecritics, Killscreen and Entertainment Fuse.

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