The new Red Dead Online Naturalist role has completely changed the way I play the game. My outlaw, once the scourge of the plains, has turned into a vegetarian pig-spotter with a heart of gold. Forget hunting and killing, now you can find me crouched in the undergrowth, snacking on my 672nd can of beans, and trying to hit muskrat with a tranquilizer bullet so I can take some samples back to the new love of my life.
There are two paths you can follow in the new role, and working for conservationist Harriet Davenport is the only sane one. She's interested in studying and protecting the wildlife of the sprawling, online world, and will supply you with sedative bullets and a sample kit. You get XP for studying, photographing, and sampling everything from badgers to Legendary predators, and she'll give you Legendary Animal missions once you hit level 5. Kill anything though, and she gets bloody furious. Keep killing, and she'll come at you with a perfume atomizer full of some crazy blend of chemicals that will knock you out. Goddamit, I love her.
The other path, one that seems reserved for sociopaths and sadists, is to work for big game hunter Gus Macmillan. He wants you to do a lot of the above too, but also to kill and skin everything. The man is a PETA campaign waiting to happen, offering fancy outfits in return for the sort of behavior that gets people canceled after an Instagram post about their big safari hunt.
You can try and live in the old moral grey area and please both masters, sampling animals for Harriet and killing them for Gus, but be careful you don't get splinters from sitting on that fence.
Home on the range
Morality aside, the new role has completely rekindled my love for Red Dead Online, and perfectly delivers what I need from the game right now. A reason to wander the world, discovering new corners in the hope of spotting a sunbathing iguana I can sample, and a chance to do it quietly, to take my time, and forget about the gunfire I can hear just over the ridge. The quiet moments when Arthur was just sat by a lake, trying to catch a Legendary fish, were some of my favorite in Red Dead Redemption 2, and this new mode brings that same sense of calm to Red Dead Online.
Not that the new role is boring, have you ever tried to sedate a cougar that's coming full speed at you out of the trees? Or slipped down a mountain because you were trying to get the right shot of a Gila monster? Because of these new missions, I've traveled to parts of the map I'd barely registered before, and found new strangers to help as a result. Although the guy caught in his own snare trap and being bothered by coyotes was a tough call to save. I also got my first samples from a Legendary Boar because me and other virtual vegetarian took him down together. I say together, I provided the human bait for the charging porcine that enabled him to pump it full of sedative shot. But hey, we were both winners. It was fun, we emoted happily at each other afterward, and it was one of those rare online moments when two randoms come together without shooting each other in the face.
Red Dead's road ahead
It's been a while since Red Dead Online had an update, but honestly, if this strange, wonderful addition is one of the results of Rockstar taking a little extra time to come up with something new, I don't mind waiting. It strikes the balance of a little weird – Harriet and her perfume bottle in full swing are a sight to behold – and still fitting in perfectly with the Red Dead Online world. I don't even mind my new all bean diet – so nervous am I of upsetting Harriet with a venison dinner – even though AFK I'm basically a carnivore. I like that the new mode has changed my character's behavior in unexpected ways. And without wanting to resort to the 2020 cliche, anything that has me out in the wild and the trees, no matter if they're made of pixels, is a welcome distraction from these urban apartment walls. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go and try and sedate a squirrel.