Red Dead Redemption 2’s main story is hard to put down, but the game tries its best to distract you with activities, side quests and random strangers that are just as captivating.
The sheer volume of optional extras, and the detail Rockstar has packed into them, means you can roleplay any type of outlaw you want without ever touching the main quest. Whether you want to be a hunter-gatherer, a vicious bandit or a Wild West explorer, Red Dead 2 gives you ways to make it happen.
If you don’t fancy the main quest but you still want to make Arthur feel like a consistent character, then we’ve come up with five fun play styles to get stuck into. We’d recommend you complete some of the Chapter 2 quests first so that you have a good grip on all the mechanics. And remember, your version of Arthur is personal to you, so feel free to add your own flair whenever you want.
1. A ruthless bandit
Arthur Morgan is a bad, bad man—and Red Dead Redemption 2’s world gives you plenty of ways to show it. If you want to play a bandit, then load up on ammo and keep a mask handy to hide your identity, because you’re going to make plenty of enemies.
It helps to have a loose plan for your wrongdoing, but you don’t really need one: just riding around the world, visiting towns and waiting for strangers to pop up gives you plenty of chances for mischief. Look out for plumes of smoke, signalling a camp that’s ripe for robbing, and be sure you try to hold up at least one train—ride alongside one with your horse and jump aboard.
If you turn over every shack and threaten the odd well-to-do traveller then you’ll soon have a mountain of stolen items. To sell them, learn the locations of Fences, who will happily take them off your hands. Before long you’ll be sitting on a mountain of gold (which you may well need to pay off some bounties).
To get you started, there’s a fence in the east of Saint Denis, who will also sell you a lock breaker for breaking into lock boxes quietly. Also look out for fleeing prisoners in the wild: unlock their chains and they might tip you off about lucrative home robberies.
In towns, keep your eyes out for dodgy businesses in the back of shops. If you spot one, threaten the shop owner and they’ll let you in. Make sure you visit the general store to pick out the most badass outfit you can find, and if you get bored just head in to a tavern and give someone a nudge. Fists will be flying before long.
Again, make sure you keep your mask handy and buy new ones when you can. Also, avoid the law immediately after your crime—otherwise the whole of New Hanover will be after you.
2. Arthur the explorer
The Wild West is full of wonder, and there’s nothing stopping you trekking off into the wilderness near the start of the game. Red Dead Redemption 2’s world is truly stunning, from the icy gorges of the north west to the sun-baked plains of its lower reaches, and trotting through them on your horse is screenshot heaven. Don’t forget to hold down the trackpad/view button to switch to cinematic camera for some spectacular snaps.
Thanks to hunting and portable camps you can cope perfectly well out on your own without ever having to see civilisation. And don’t worry about your friends back at base—they’ll do just fine without you. As you travel, soak in the setting and talk to the many strangers you meet. If you spot an abandoned building, poke around in it, because they hide lots of interesting mini stories.
Keep your eye out for treasure—there are various maps that tell you where to look. To get you started, visit the building near the frozen Cairn Lake in the north west corner of the map, and the stranger just west of Flathead Station.
To combat the cold, hunt some legendary animals and then visit a Trapper to craft some ridiculous clothes from the carcasses, like a hat made from a fox’s face.
3. The master gambler
Red Dead 2’s gambling minigames — Poker, Blackjack, Five Finger Fillet and Dominoes — are fun and challenging, and once you’ve sat down at your table of choice, it’s easy to lose an hour without realising. You can make decent money doing it, too.
So, why not make it your business to become the best gambler in the West? Whenever you get into a town, head straight for the nearest minigame, and don’t stop playing until you’ve cleared up. Then, move onto the next table: most places have multiple games on offer, and you can find them in smaller places like train stations, too.
Slowly amass a fortune to spend on the best gambling hat you can find, and grow some fearsome facial hair to hide that poker face.
4. Carry on camping
Ensuring the Van der Linde Gang’s base of operations runs smoothly is a full-time job, and the care that Rockstar put into the busywork around the camp makes completing chores surprisingly fun. Spending your morning chopping wood for the fire, hauling bags of grain and fetching hay for the horses is a rewarding, oddly hypnotic experience.
For lunch grab some stew, some coffee, and shoot the breeze with your fellow outlaws. You’ll stumble into plenty of unique conversations, and those chats helps flesh out the background of the folk you ride with.
Making that stew requires meat, and that means going out into the Wild West to hunt. Grab your bow and some scent lotion to mask that ripe hard-work smell you’ve built up and go catch some deer, hauling it back on your horse. Or head down to the river with your rod to snag a salmon.
Then, as sunset comes and you dump the carcass at the edge of camp, join a game of poker, winning all the money your gang have lied, stolen or cheated their way to throughout the day.
We could do this for weeks of in-game time, getting into a routine of working, hunting, chatting and beating our gang mates at cards. Eventually you’ll want to venture out, or complete some story quests, but you’ll be surprised at how much time you can happily sink into camp life.
5. A man about town
We love how believable Red Dead Redemption 2’s towns and cities are. None of them are particularly huge, but they feel alive, and they’re a joy to spend time in. You’ll find eccentric strangers to talk to, fist fights to break up, blackjack tables to beat, and plenty of hot meals to gorge on.
If you fancy a shot at the city life, just drop everything and ride—or take a train—to the nearest town. Spend a day exploring, stopping for quests or activities that will naturally pop up. We don’t want to spoil anything, so we’ll just say that you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to everyone and listen in on any conversations you hear, which will lead to some of the game’s best moments.
Of course, every man about town needs to look the part, so make sure you’re visiting stores to shop for new clothes—a fancy paisley vest and a crusher hat adds a touch of distinction—and regularly going to the barber for a new trim.
When you’re done in one town, take the train to the next, and don’t restart the story until you’ve visited every one (trust us, that will take a while).