Red Dead Redemption 2 is already one helluva big game. But its multiplayer component, the aptly named Red Dead Online, might be even bigger. It’s full of new activities, upgrades, and characters not found in the main game. And while there is a “story,” Red Dead Online is more about letting loose in the wild west. So we’ve compiled a quick guide to what’s different (and a few things that are the same) between the two modes.
You Level Up and Unlock New Skills
One big difference between Red Dead 2 and other open-world games is how it doles out persistent upgrades. The single-player campaign doesn’t have traditional levels or skill trees. Not so in Red Dead Online; you earn experience points and unlock abilities over time.
Leveling up serves several purposes. You unlock cosmetics and access to better gear. You can also equip one active “Dead Eye” skill and three passives. The game introduces you to the first skill right away, but it takes a while to unlock the next three slots. You’re also given a choice of three Dead Eye abilities at first.
Whichever one you choose is free, and you can unlock the other two options immediately, but the new skills will cost in-game cash. So pick wisely. Personally, I don’t love the target painting skill, “Paint it Black,” as a first choice. It’s basically a worse version of the normal Dead Eye system (since it doesn’t slow down time) from the single-player story. The regenerating health and damage boosts might be more useful.
You Can’t Pause
This should go without saying. Red Dead Online is, well, an online game. Bringing up the menu or opening your map won’t pause time anymore. That’s important to note, though, because of cores. Your health, stamina, and Dead Eye cores all drain in real-time. So just leaving your game idle, without the ability to pause, will cost you some stats.
There is an upside, though. Horse technology hasn’t improved much between the single-player and multiplayer modes. That is to say, your trusty steed sometimes has trouble reaching you after you whistle for it. The ability to browse your map and items while waiting for your horse—or perhaps friendly posse members—is a nice way to multitask.
Oh, and you can buy items from anywhere now, thanks to a portable catalog. Use that to buy plenty of provisions. Never pausing means your player character is going to get hungry sooner, rather than later.
You Can’t Play Story Missions Alone
At least for now, it seems like Red Dead Online story missions are multiplayer-only. “Start matchmaking” is the only option when you try to start one. Although you can set the game to prioritize friends and friendly posses.
You can also wander around freely (and alone) when not playing a scripted mission. The western world of Red Dead Online is full of ambient activities, like bandit camps, that you can engage at any time. They just don’t usually yield the same level of rewards as larger content.
On that note, here are a few friendly tips for matchmaking. First, you can set the game to prioritize friends when looking for groups from your camp. Second, you can’t skip cutscenes without your allies’ consent. Trying to do so will just put it to a vote—which requires a unanimous decision. And finally, you need to ready up once you’ve found a group. That’s not super obvious on-screen, so just remember to hit it when you’re good to go.
Dying Works Differently
This is definitely one of the biggest differences between single-player and multiplayer Red Dead Redemption 2. Death works in two completely different ways, depending on what you’re doing.
Maybe you’ve died in the main campaign while just moseying your way to a new mission. If so, you probably noticed that expiring deletes some of your cash. That’s par for the course in Rockstar games. As are the checkpoints you get in story missions, instead.
Red Dead Online doesn’t charge you for dying. In fact, death while free roaming doesn’t seem to have much effect at all. You just respawn close to where you were, almost immediately, with no progress lost. I was halfway through clearing out a bandit camp when I first bit the dust. The baddies didn’t even respawn while I was out.
That’s not the case when you’re on scripted missions with other players, however. If you are, death appears to be a limited commodity. You have a certain number of “team lives” to burn per mission. And they’re immediately visible at the top-right of the screen.
If you die, or if a teammate dies without you or another ally pulling them back up, you lose one team life. It’s a lot like the system in Monster Hunter: World, of all things, if you’re familiar with that. Similarly, once you burn through your team lives, that’s it.
The good news is that Red Dead Online has a very generous window to revive fallen friends. The bad news is that this is a multiplayer online game. So teammates can and will run past your bleeding body without a care. Don’t be that person.
Camps Are More Customizable
Camps in Red Dead 2 let you chill with NPC friends and occasionally grab a snack. Red Dead Online camps are more utilitarian. You can rest there to recover health and craft items. You can even upgrade camps to provide faster recovery—since the game never pauses and you have to wait for the regeneration to take effect.
Your camp is also portable. Well, it is in the single-player story, as well, but you don’t get to control it. Red Dead Online lets you pick up your camp and resettle nearly anywhere in the game world. The tutorial will only let you pick one location, but relocating unlocks after completing the first mission (where you get your first real horse).
The biggest bummer is that fast travel from camp unlocks much later in Red Dead Online than in the campaign. You need to reach level 65 before it’s even an option. That’s not unobtainable, but it will take some doing. So you better get to robbing, riding, and rollicking as soon as possible.
Horses Are More Convenient
Speaking of which… This one is a straight-up godsend. You can now call a horse from anywhere. You no longer need to hoof it back to wherever you abandoned poor Nelly to make sure you’re in whistle range.
Notice I said “a” horse, however. Your main steeds are still locked according to location. They won’t come for you unless you’re standing in the same general area as them. However, the game will always give you a default “scrawny nag” to ride when you’re out of range.
These appropriately named horses… stink. They have low health and abysmal stamina. They are, however, better than nothing. At least you can ride them into range of your “real” mount wherever it is in the world.
And those are the biggest differences we’ve found so far! Fanbyte will load up with more Red Dead Online coverage and guides as the beta rolls on—and as the full version of the game releases. In the meantime, check out our review-in-progress for our thoughts about the single-player campaign. Later!