I Tried Living Honorably in Red Dead Online

What makes a person “good?” Is it the adoption of an unfaltering set of rules, a categorical imperative that cannot be disobeyed no matter what hardships we face? Or is it simply the attempt to resist the allure of profiting at another’s expense? These are the thoughts that tumble through my mind as I’m dragged behind another player’s horse in Red Dead Online

Ever since breaking out of Sisika Penitentiary, I’ve been attempting to turn over a new leaf. But living honorably has proven more difficult than anticipated. Red Dead Online functions on an honor system, a set of guiding principles that distinguishes between the good and bad. Killing other players, murdering NPCs, and stealing, for instance, reduces your honor rating, while positive interactions such as helping out strangers or taking good care of your horse will have the opposite effect. Pretty simple, right? Well, as I would discover, the righteous road is not an easy one.

A Simple Job

Everywhere I go, it’s the same old story — Thieves Landing, Rhodes, Saint Denis — the only work I’m offered seems fit for thieves and hired killers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted, but I’m committed to this new life and that means finding some honest work that doesn’t end up with a heap of bodies and a dishonorable reputation.

Eventually, in Blackwater, I find a man named Hector who offers me a delivery route — a legitimate way of earning some cash. Deliveries in Red Dead Online work like so: a stranger will give you a cart with some cargo and ask you to deliver it to a specific location on the map. Bandits will try to ambush you along the road, and other players can also intercept or destroy your cart, if they so wish. Normally, these obstacles wouldn’t be so intimidating, considering most players have the option to fight back. But in my situation, if anyone attacks, all I can do is try to apprehend them with a lasso or knock them unconscious. This leaves me especially vulnerable to griefing.

On one journey, for instance, I’m accompanying two drivers in a caravan, when out of nowhere a player emerges with molotov cocktails and razes the the cargo before my eyes. As soon as they appeared, they vanish, leaving me with nothing but a blazing wreck and some charred NPCs. 

Hector offers me some more work, perhaps unaware of what became of the cargo he’d previously tasked me with delivering. This time, he asks me to repossess a stolen wagon from a group of bandits near Tall Trees. Rather than using guns, though, I have to individually pull each outlaw off their horse in order to disarm them. I manage to subdue the first rider simply enough. However, the second lands awkwardly and falls beneath the horse’s hooves. A dreaded X appears on the mini map — he’s dead. To make matters worse, I lose control of the wagon and it careens into a heap of rocks. The mission ends in failure. 

Good Deeds

At this point Hector’s had enough of me, so I try my hand at hunting instead. While chasing deer and jackrabbits, I encounter the odd stranger on the road: a woman separated from her friends in Thieves Landing, a man whose horse has bucked him off and ran, and a kidnapping victim flung over the side of a saddle. I help out where I can and try to do the right thing, bringing them back to safety. But it isn’t exactly the most profitable venture — it and comes with a few risks.

One day, while travelling up near Thieves Landing, I encounter a dog on the side of the road. He barks at me and runs away as if to tell me to follow. I chase him all the way to a body at the bottom of a cliff — presumably his owner. As I jump off my horse to examine the corpse, the dog begins to growl and the dead man makes a miraculous recovery. I don‘t wait around to see what happens next. Instead, I get straight back on my horse and hope that the bumpy terrain will give cover against the volley of shots that ring out behind me. That’ll teach me to be so trusting.

A couple of days pass and disaster strikes again. I hear a woman scream to the side of the road while hunting up near Riggs Station. Checking to see what the commotion is all about, I arrive at the source of the sound to find a woman hunched over on a rock with three coyotes snapping at her feet. I pull out my gun and climb up beside her. But as I fire, my aim is thrown off — perhaps rusty from my steadfast avoidance of firearms — and the bullet tears through the woman’s chest. She collapses, dead, and the coyotes scatter into the woods. You better believe that’s a dishonoring.

Standing over the body, I have a decision to make. Do I leave the body in the woods and hide my crime? Or do I admit to my offense and try to deliver it to a cemetery? The game won’t recognize my good deed if I do, but at least I’ll have a somewhat clearer conscience. I pick up the body and put it on the back of my horse, then head in the direction of Blackwater cemetery. On the way, my horse gets tired and I feed it some food to replenish its stamina. It’s a trivial action, but in the moral universe of Red Dead Online, it somehow cancels out the manslaughter. 

Before I know it, I’m in Blackwater and — having been unable to locate the entrance — trying to chuck the body over the spiked fence of the cemetery. Two townsfolk deem the sight “a public disturbance,” and sound the alarm, so I ditch the body, then pay the 8 cents bounty I’d accrued. I’m beginning to feel like the world doesn’t want me to be honorable.

More of Jack’s Adventures:

Going Legit

My luck begins to change with the introduction of Frontier Pursuits in the Red Dead Online latest update, which provides three consistent career paths for players to undertake. A man named Cripps, a trader, sends me a letter about a new business venture he’s starting up, and I decide to help him out, gathering up the necessary materials to start producing goods. 

The workload is split like this: I’ll get the provisions and deposit materials from the wildlife that I hunt, while he maintains the camp and packages everything up. I’ll then deliver the items to different stations in the world, evading the bandits on the road. There are two types of deliveries: local and distant. Local deliveries mean that you will only have to contend with NPCs, while distant deliveries will take longer, fetch more money, and expose you to threat of other online players. It’s not necessarily the most exciting work, usually comprised of just travelling in a single direction for ten minutes, but our business booms, affording me luxuries like a fishing rod, a hunting rifle, and a sweet new jacket. 

If, like me, your idea of having fun is setting a bunch of extreme and challenging moral stipulations on your actions, then the Frontier Pursuits are a godsend. These activities also aren’t limited to one per in-game day, unlike stranger missions, which means there’s always something to do in free-roam that doesn’t necessarily involve executing people in cold blood.

Red Dead Online is a cruel sandbox where everything is out to kill you: from the uneven terrain to its aggressive players and assortment of wildlife. Not only that, but there’s about fifty different options for killing that all rely on players entering the exact same inputs as they would when taking a picture or catching a fish. All this makes playing as an honorable fella a bit of struggle. But for me, it’s definitely worth it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, this package isn’t going to deliver itself.