Tips, tricks, and suggestions for the novice Red Dead Redemption 2 cowboy

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Red Dead Redemption 2 will talk you through most of what you need to know. For the most part, it’s not a challenging game and it’s not trying to be. It just wants you to spend time with it while it tells you a story. But sometimes, you’ll find yourself wrestling with the controls or not quite understanding how something is supposed to work. You might accidentally shoot someone because you mixed up your L2 and your R2. You might then find a town full of folks shooting at you. You might then hitch your horse when you meant to get up on it. You might then die and now you’ve lost your favorite Appaloosa. All this is theoretical, of course. I’m not saying it happened to me. But I’m not saying it didn’t.

So here are a few helpful things that I had to figure them out on my own. And since none of them are spoilers, I pass them on for you to use as you start playing.

Tapping is not holding!

You’ll be told early enough that tapping and holding a button can do different things. But this is an important part of the controls across the board. It applies in a lot of places you might not expect or get accustomed to. For instance, a fundamental part of horse management is the difference between a tap and a hold. Tap the triangle button to dismount your horse, but hold it to hitch your horse, even in soft ground. Tap the X button to kick your horse so he’ll go a little faster, but hold it to match speed with a companion. If you’re having trouble with something, make sure you’re not tapping instead of holding, or vice versa.

Back to the game quickly

When you’re several layers deep in places like the compendium or challenges, you don’t have to laboriously exit out one screen at a time. Just hold down the circle button to get straight back into the game.

Get up close and personal with loot

Of course you’ll want to play Red Dead Redemption from the third-person perspective, because otherwise you won’t be able to admire your fancy clothes. But when it comes time to gather loot, whether it’s opening cupboards, looking into drawers, or collecting the spoils of a shoot-out, switch to first-person mode. It will make it much easier to see what you’re looking at. Also, using eagle vision will highlight anything interactive.

Know your animals

Tracking animals down and then studying them is an important part of hunting. And not just the animals you intend to hunt. Because when it comes time to hunt something exotic, the last thing you want is not knowing whether you’re looking at grizzly tracks or squirrel tracks. Study the various squirrels, rabbits, and deer not necessarily because you want to track them, but because you want to be able to distinguish their tracks from the more important and exotic stuff. That way, when you see “unknown tracks”, they won’t be quite so unknown. Also, Arthur’s journal will look much prettier with more illustrations.

Grinding for holsters?

The challenges are mostly cosmetic. They unlock craftable bits of equipment that give you small bonuses, including unlocking the ninth and tenth points of your stats. But for the most part, you’ll level up your stats — health, stamina, and dead-eye — by just playing the game. Don’t feel the need to sweat the challenges to progress through the game. They’re entirely optional. That said, they’re way cooler than mere Playstation trophies. And once you meet the trapper, you’ll probably see something you want, which will give you a specific idea for what challenges to chase.

Hands at 10 and 2

The inventory wheel can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t appreciate its structure. For the item wheel, health, stamina, and dead-eye recovery are at the 10, 12, and 2 o’clock positions of the wheel, respectively. They’re in the same order, from left to right, as the icons on your HUD. Health, stamina, then dead-eye. These are for instant recovery, but they won’t restore your cores! To do that, you’ll need to goodies at the 9 o’clock position.

Putting your back and shoulders into it

Similarly, on the weapon wheel, the 10, 12, and 2 o’clock positions are obviously for your offhand weapon, dual wield, and main weapon respectively. But the position of your two long arms is based on whether they’re carried on your left shoulder or your back. Rockstar obviously intended a kind of kinesthetic sensibility to holding L1 and then quickly flicking the stick to the left to take something off your shoulder, or flicking it down to take something off your back. It’ll become habit soon enough, much like “L1, R1, flick right” turns into shorthand for flipping open your satchel and fishing out your binoculars. It really feels right when you learn it.

Biscuits are not dinner

Food you’ve cooked, which is the main way to refill your cores, is only accessible from your satchel. The 9 o’clock position on the items inventory is just snack food, liquor, and cigarettes. Speaking of, don’t forget to eat meals! Although the adjustments are minor, Arthur gets a health boost and stamina penalty as he gets overweight. Conversely, he gets a stamina boost and health penalty as he loses weight. When the bullets are flying, you’ll probably want a fatter Arthur. Keep him well fed.

Gentlemen don’t brandish

Having your weapon drawn can have an effect on how characters react to you. If you don’t believe me, hang out in a saloon with your guns out. Tapping L1 will draw and holster your selected weapon.

Horses travel free

After years of Rockstar maliciously despawning the car you wanted to leave parked somewhere, they’ve relented now that you’re going to get really attached to a horse. They make every effort not to take your horse away. If you ride the stagecoach or take the train or use a map, your horse will be with you at the destination. In fact, when you take the stagecoach, you can see your horse trotting alongside as the stagecoach departs. Don’t ask how your horse keeps up with the train. He just does. I’m not sure how much hitching your horse matters, but to paraphrase an old saying, trust in Rockstar, but hitch your horse tight.

My kingdom for a cube of animal fat!

You’ll want animal fat at some point. Trust me. You will definitely want animal fat. But you can only find it in boars, bears, and certain birds. Good luck. And once you get it, have fun!

Next checkpoint already!

If you get frustrated with part of a story mission, remember that Rockstar will let you skip past checkpoints after a few failures. A “skip checkpoint” option will appear, but you might not notice it if you’re mashing the X to continue option out of frustration.

Ranged horse management

If you hold down L2 while you’re next to your horse, you obviously have options to lead or brush her. But if you hold down L2 at a short distance from your horse, you can give her commands to stay, follow you, or flee.

Blinking your dead-eye

Early in the game, don’t feel like you need to spend dead-eye to cue up a bunch of shots. Use it for short bursts of slow motion to line up single shots. You’ll be able to afford fancy-pants gunslinger moves later on, after you’ve built up larger reserves of dead-eye juice.

It’s not the economy, stupid

Don’t worry about money. Seriously, don’t. This simply isn’t that kind of game.

Do you have your own tips for starting out? Post them in the comments section!