How to earn XP fast in Red Dead Online

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Rockstar’s rambunctiously big open-world title Red Dead Redemption 2 has recently received a beta phase for it’s multiplayer component, Red Dead Online. This new mode allows players to team up in posses to explore, excavate, execute, and much more across the Old West to level up their custom cowboys into outlaw legends.

It sounds like a dream, but anyone who’s made it past the tutorial and been kicked out into the cold will most likely have come to grips with the crushing grind you have to deal with to rank up. Income and XP are both laborious to earn, and just playing normally can feel like busywork, especially when essential items, quality weapons, and even horses are locked off in the early stages.

It certainly needs a few tweaks before full release, but for now, we’re going to go over a range of tips that should help speed up the process and make your playtime far more efficient and fun as you move up the ranks. This is how to earn XP fast in Red Dead Online.

Prioritize your golden belt buckles

One lucrative aspect of Red Dead Online that isn’t made obvious to players is the ‘Awards’ system. These function similarly to the single-player awards, but have multiple levels and result in little boosts of XP that build into a roughly 500 XP crescendo and a golden belt buckle which you can wear with pride. 

Luckily, there are a tonne of awards (425) in Red Dead Online compared to single-player, to the point where you can mostly just play the game naturally and stumble into more XP. However, it’s often very useful to keep tabs on your awards and work to secure gold buckles early. 

There are some fairly easy ones available from the start, like selling items to the three different shop types, tasting herbs, increasing your horse bonding and shooting a flying bird with an arrow. That’s around 2000 XP just there, and if you keep at it you’ll be ranking up in no time. For more information, we have a further guide to the easiest Red Dead Online gold buckles.

Posse Up

Everything in Red Dead Online is a little bit more efficient if you’re part of a posse. Grab some friends and join up together as part of a temporary squadron whilst you’re roaming and completing missions - if you’ve got a dedicated set of friends, it might even be worth shelling out for a permanent posse.

If you don’t have any pals who play, just choose ‘Posse Up’ from the online menu and the game will match you in with a group of strangers. It’s hit or miss whether communication will be worth it depending on who you match up with, but by just merely being in a posse you’re opening yourself up to more XP.

Being part of a posse lets you invade other events and turn the tides depending on your honor, and in general, more activities are available if you’re running with a group of outlaws. Even if you just want to explore and hunt on your own, it can’t hurt to be part of a posse and reap the benefits of it whilst you're playing.

For a start, there is an entire section of awards catered to players who are posse partial. As we know, awards mean more than just fancy gold belt buckles - they net you valuable XP, with 500 for full completion. Reviving and assisting your posse pals, hell, even just spending hours in a posse means awards and level ups for you and your gang, so you might as well do it together. Remember folks, camaraderie is a good way to mitigate the crushing grind!

Finish the story (and then replay it)

Fairly self explanatory, but it’s worth knowing that finishing the story mode is the best way to level up easily when you’re starting out. Replaying said missions after the fact is also a very reliable means to grind XP. Story missions ply you with a decent wad of points each time, plus a number of perks like treasure maps and money that you can use to make other XP grinding methods easier.

The final mission ‘Kill Them, Each And Every One’ is particularly lucrative. It’s full of enemies to farm and pays dividends on your first attempt, with a similarly solid amount available to those who choose to return. Only one member of your Posse will have to have completed it for everyone to benefit. Simply navigate to the ‘Story Mission’ section of the progress tab in the main menu and select the mission you want to replay.

If you’ve managed to wrangle a posse of friends together, make sure to communicate properly and figure out the kinks in each mission, much like you would with GTA Online’s heists. Less deaths, quicker pace and clean kills net everybody more XP, so work together for the greater good!

The experimental online honor system factors into your XP too, so being a good egg is worth 100-300 more points during the arbitrary choice sections of the story missions. Sure, it’s a good laugh to let the train plow into the hogtied criminals, but think of the Litchfield Repeater coming in your next level up, would you?

Weapons and methodology

A lot of XP can be earned outside of main missions, but you have to know how to make this as efficient as possible. Regular kills will net you 5 XP, but there are a lot of extra factors and ‘kill types’ that you can use to bolster that number.

Always aim for the head. Headshots net you double XP, so get used to pulling up the right stick just a tad whenever you’re in a shootout. We picked up the passive ability that paints targets on foes in Dead Eye to make this easier. Simply click in the right stick and let the targeting do the work for you.

As well as headshots, if you pick up a bow and arrow from the handheld catalogue, this particular weapon will afford you extra XP just for using it. It’s a little bit trickier to pull off in PVP, but it’s good to keep one on you at all times for story mission to double your output on the more predictable enemies. The same is the case for Split Point ammo, which you receive in the final mission of the story mode. Make sure to switch to it when you receive it for consistent extra XP.

On a more grim note, Red Dead Online actually offers a decent amount of XP for slaughtering animals, so throw your moral code aside and shoot those birds out of the sky for 10-15 XP a pop. It’s also worthwhile to kill alligators and bucks in the wilderness. Typically, if you’re riding to the next location on horseback, it’s not a bad idea just to shoot any wildlife you see for a little boost.

Clear out Gang Hideouts

Once you’ve had your fill of the story mode, the best way to reliably farm XP is by putting the aforementioned methodology into practice at gang hideouts. Hideouts appear randomly on the map and are vaguely related by geography to the hideouts found in the single player story mode. You receive around 150 XP for completing a hideout, but far more from kills.

Head to these busy compounds and wipe out all of the enemies with executions, headshots and arrows to receive stacks of XP. Make sure to leave the gang leader for last, too. It’s not clear whether you get more XP for killing or sparing the head honcho, but we found that sparing him might lead you to a treasure map, and if not, you can find one on the body of his henchman. Loot everybody for extra items and cash whilst you’re at it.

More cash and items means better, upgraded weapons and more efficient runs through hideouts. You can also tackle hideouts with your posse to speed up the process. We recommend storming a compound with just one other squadmate to ensure that the difficulty feels right and the XP split isn’t so lacklustre.

We found that once you figure out where the hideouts are, you can make a route through the map to clear out multiple compounds in one session if you’re lucky. Experiment and map out the locations to build a solid grinding route that may incorporate other XP-building activities and rinse and repeat until you’re climbing the level ladder.

Conquer the Showdown Series

Red Dead Online’s multiplayer PVP modes are a lot of fun. From the controller-rumbling, heart-thumping battle royale mode Make It Count to the exhilarating pace of the Race Series, there’s a lot to love. However, they don’t yet reward the player very well for their efforts unless they perform.

You have to win or at least rank in the top 4 to receive a deserving amount of XP, and this is easier said than done. The lower lobby count the better in our experience, especially for Make It Count, so steer away from Showdown Series Large to keep the number of opponents limited.

In a six-person lobby ranking fourth will still net you around 350-500 XP, and is totally worth the 5-10 minutes spent skulking around a forest with naught but a throwing knife. For modes like Most Wanted and other more traditional PVP game types, you want to figure out what weapons best suit your playstyle so you can perform at the top of your game.

Tinker with your loadout and your in-game control scheme to find the best sensitivity and arsenal that will give you the edge against other outlaws. Use Dead Eye as much as possible and find clever cover. The spawning system is very rudimentary and can be gamed easily if you find a good location. A rifle with improved iron sights and rifling range is also a very worthwhile investment, as it’s incredible at picking off foes from far away, who may still be dealing with a crappy Carbine Repeater.

Made some bad moral choices while you level up? Here's how to switch your morality in Red Dead Online.