Red Dead Online is upon us, now available to every player rather than just the early adopters, and it is quite predictably opaque.
The multiplayer portion of Red Dead Redemption 2 is still in its beta phase, and you can tell, with plenty of systems still sitting somewhat awkwardly half-implemented, like the whole split between money and gold, but nonetheless it is here, and it is still pleasingly chaotic.
To help you through the chaos, here are some handy tips for getting started, that we've picked up from our time with Red Dead Online so far.
Get good at gunslinging
Combat is, understandably, central to Red Dead Online, even more so than it is in the main story thanks to the heavily combat-focused missions and multiplayer playlists (and the fact that most people quite like trying to shoot you in the head the moment they see you in Free Roam).
It's worth taking some time to perfect it then. Remember that button mashing won't make you shoot faster, unless you're hip-firing a pistol. The key is in your timing, managing the little 'cooldown' time it takes to cock a weapon before you can shoot it. With most weapons, you tap R2 / RT immediately after firing to ready them for the next shot, and need to wait for the faint circle around your reticule to close in before you can fire again.
Headshots are always lethal, too, and most players will land them pretty effectively. Perfecting your aim with minimal time to react, as well as your timing itself, is key.
Master the dodge-roll
Another combat one, while we're on the topic: the dodge-roll is often the difference between life and death, especially in the PvP multiplayer playlists.
If you've forgotten, you perform it by tapping Square / X and pointing the left stick in a direction, whilst you're aiming your weapon. The best way to use it is in tandem with you cocking your weapon: when you see an enemy, fire a shot as quick as possible, then dodge roll, then fire another. There's a rhythm to it that is very much worth learning, beause it completely throws off your opponent's auto-aim and can buy you some crucial time for a second shot if you missed with your first.
The Online story missions are replayable, with a catch
There's nothing to stop you clearing out all of the Red Dead Online's story missions as soon as you clear the initial bit of tutorial, and doing so is a decent way to earn some XP and money to get you off to a good start for the grind.
The catch though is that, whilst they're replayable, you can only get money from them just the once. After that first playthrough of a mission all you'll get is XP and any items you pick up or loot along the way.
Hunting is one of the best ways to earn money
What was a relatively slow and cumbersome way of earning cash in the single-player story is now one of the very best ways to do it Online.
That's because, in Red Dead Online, the amount of money you earn from all sources is incredibly low. Four or five dollars for a PvP match, for instance, and one or two dollars for selling a piece of gold jewllery. But hunting's stayed largely the same, with good or perfect pelts netting you well into the tens of dollars, for far less investment in terms of time.
We have a very detailed page on hunting and how to get perfect pelts already, which is well worth a look, as well as a dedicated guide on how to make money fast in Red Dead Online, too, but one key thing to remember when hunting online: you sell your pelts at the Butcher, instead of the Trapper that you used in single-player!
Oh, and you won't unlock the bow until you hit Rank 10, so you might need to do a bit of grinding, first.
Your Free Roam weapons and Ammo carry over into PvP
Some PvP sessions, like the Battle Royale-style Make it Count, will give you set weapons to use, but most of them will use your current loadout from Free Roam.
This means that, if you don't stock up early on, you'll very quickly run down your reserves of ammunition. Thankfully there's an easy way to stock up before you load into another round. In the pre-game lobby, the menu on the left has an option for you to see your weapons and buy any ammo that you need. You'll need to be quick - often that menu gets quite inexplicably blocked off after a few seconds of waiting in the lobby - and you'll still need to spend money on it, but it's the easiest way to stay topped up.
Otherwise, use your Handbook (Left on the D-pad) in Free Roam to buy ammo in bulk, and then collect it in phases from a Post Office or your Camp. You're limited to your standard carry capacity for it though, so even if you buy hundreds of rounds you'll still need to keep schlepping back to the nearest Post Office to add more.
Take your time in the character creator, because cosmetic upgrades are rarely worth the money
There's a standard character creator at the start of your Red Dead Online experience, and shortly after a chance to set yourself up with a nice starting outfit for your playthrough.
We recommend you take your time to make sure you're happy with it, because once you get playing it'll cost you a small fortune (in Red Dead Online's very measly terms) to change your appearance, when money is often better spent elsewhere.
Fast Travel is pricey and awkward, but there's a workaround
You can fast travel from standard Fast Travel Posts that you see dotted around the game, like in single-player, but it'll cost you ten dollars a pop - which is not at all cheap in Red Dead Online, at least as things stand.
At much higher Ranks you can stick a Fast Travel Post in your own Camp, which helps, but even then it's some grind away, so the best way to get around fast if you need to go from the bottom of Tumbleweed to the top of Annesburg is to use the Free Roam: Area function in the menu.
Press pause and bring up the standard menu, and select Online. From there you'll be presented with a load of options, like Free Roam, or Posse Up, but also the option to Free Roam in a specific area, like Ambarino or Lemoyne. Selecting one of these will load you into a new instance of Red Dead Online, in a random spot in that area, but at least it'll get you over there much faster than travelling on foot, and for free!
Your horse doesn't properly die
You'll be relieved to know that your horse, even after that tumble off a cliff, is absolutely fine. Even if it 'dies' in Free Roam or an Online mission, when you next load back in it'll return.
Tonics for reviving your horse then are mostly useful for reviging it in that moment - say you're on a time-sensitive mission to chase someone down - and aren't really as necessary for actually keeping it alive in the long run. If in doubt, load into another part of Red Dead Online, like a PvP playlist, and then back into Free Roam and try whisling for it, or checking a stable just in case.
Either way, we've (accidentally) killed our horse in all manner of ways already, and it's always come back. Which is nice.
There's no way to jump straight into the battle royale mode, Make It Count
Unlike just about any other game with a battle royale mode, currently you can only access it by chance in the Red Dead Online Beta.
Select either type of PvP Playlist - Showdown Series or Showdown Series Large - and cross your fingers if you want to try it out. We've played a few rounds of the smaller version - just six players in a couple of them - and it's restricted to either just Bows and Arrows or just Throwing Knives for weapons for now, with no looting involved.
What we haven't been able to find, which is worth noting, is the 32-player version confirmed in a leak earlier this week. The highest player count we've seen so far for Make It Count is 16, but that could just be our bad lack with the random mode selection. Either way, it may well take you a while to get into a large player-count version of it, so bear that in mind when you're hopping online!
Try to spare Bandit Leaders when you can
Every now and then, as you ride around the Free Roam world of Red Dead Online, you'll find a Bandit Camp on the edge of your rader, marked by a little red house and some red enemy dots around it.
They're totally optional, but worth doing: they're one of the best ways to find Treaure Maps. These work differently to the Treasure Maps of single-player - the location is marked on your actual map as soon as you look at them, and then it's just a case of heading to the marked area and searching for the loot with your Dead Eye detective vision, but they're still one of the best sources of income in the game.
They can be found from looting dead bandits' bodies, but the most reliable way to get them is to kill everyone but the Bandit Leader - they're marked on your mini-map as a little red man rather than a just a red dot - and then wait for them to surrender once all their allies are vanquished.
Head over and talk to them and you'll be given the option to kill them or spare them. Spare them, and they'll often offer you a Treasure Map in return, or at the very least something semi-valuable! It's worth taking the honorable route... sometimes.
Like most things, Red Dead Online is much easier, and much more fun, in a group
Finally, it's worth gathering a squad together to play Red Dead Online.
As fun as it can be to roam the world alone, all strong and silent-like, Red Dead Online is really built around playing with someone else. Story missions will matchmake you into a squad with three other players, for instance, and it's a lot more fun to roleplay as a posse of guns for hire when you know who you're playing with.
You don't have to, of course. Sometimes the magic is in the randomness of playing with strangers, but we reckon you'll have a lot more success when you can coordinate and pony up together.