Not too far back, there were rumors among the Red Dead Online community that the next update was likely to feature not one but two new Frontier Pursuit roles. Considering the eight-month wait between updates, fans like myself were hungry for as much new content as we could possibly get. So when I learned that Update 1.20 was only going to feature a single new role — contrary to what the rumors had been stating — I was initially disappointed.
However, after having invested a great deal of time into the new update (my estimate is 10 hours or so), I have to say that the Naturalist role is actually an enormous shift for the game, and it adds to the gameplay of Red Dead Online in some really big ways.
Here are just some of the things that were added to Red Dead Online thanks to the Naturalist update.
Along with the Naturalist comes a whole heap of Legendary Animals. This was a core feature of Story Mode, and its absence in Red Dead Online has always seemed strange.
Well, now that Update 1.20 is here, I think it’s pretty clear why Legendary Animals were missing. A feature like this doesn’t stand on its own; it needs a gameplay justification, and the Naturalist adds some fantastic context to make this feature feel like a part of the game rather than just an item on Rockstar’s development checklist.
As you discover Legendary Animals in the game, you have the option to either sedate the critter to take a sample (blood, I think), or you can kill the animal and exchange its pelt for new gear.
The dual nature of these activities adds some depth to the game, forcing you to make a choice with every single animal you hunt. If you’re a completionist, you’ll have to do every single Legendary hunt (of which there are 42, according to the Field Guide) not once but at least twice.
This alone is a meaty new feature that will surely consume Red Dead Online players for dozens of hours.
The trapper is another feature that was oddly missing from Red Dead Online. In Red Dead Redemption 2‘s Story Mode, you could trade pelts for badass duds for Arthur Morgan (or John Marston). I admit that finding all of the right animal parts was an activity that sidetracked me for probably ten or more hours in Story Mode. It seemed like such an obvious feature to bring into Red Dead Online.
Now it’s finally here. Well, sort of. In Red Dead Online, we now have Gus, who basically fulfills the same role, only he seems to possess fewer scruples than the good-natured trapper of Story Mode. The trapper always struck me as a guy who had respect for the animals he killed, seeing himself as part of nature’s unending cycle. Gus, on the other hand, wants to make money, and he doesn’t care if he drives these animals to extinction. He loves to live a glamourous life, and skins are his business.
This means I always feel a little dirty by trading with him. I know I’m going to get some really cool clothing in return, but at what cost? Gus adds this ethical angle to the whole hunting animals thing, and I find that to be kind of interesting.
On the opposite side of the morality spectrum, we have Harriet Davenport. Harriet doesn’t want you to kill animals at all, but she does want to study them. This means you now have a nonlethal way to take down animals (and you can also revive them when you’re done and watch them scamper off).
This is really interesting to me, because it forces me to play the game in a completely new way. While I’ve said elsewhere that I really enjoy the Trader role in Red Dead Online because it rewards me for playing the game the exact way that I was already playing it, the Naturalist does the opposite. The Naturalist forces me out of my comfort zone, making me rethink some of the old strategies that had become second nature.
So why would I be into that?
I’m going to be real for a second. According to the Rockstar Social Club page, I have 516 hours invested in Red Dead Online. When I was new to Red Dead Online, the Trader role — which played to my natural tendencies — was really appealing to me. But 500-plus hours deep? I need a change. The Naturalist is just the thing to make the game feel fresh again.
Trinkets are little knick knacks that give you permanent bonuses. In Red Dead Redemption 2‘s Story Mode, these could be purchased from the fence once you acquired the right items. In Red Dead Online, it’s Gus who holds the keys to your trinket empire.
Who am I kidding? There are only five trinkets in Red Dead Online currently. However, the fact that they’re in the game’s online mode now gives me hope that the selection will expand over time. For now, I’m just thrilled that my beloved Buck Antler Trinket is finally available in Red Dead Online.
For me, the Compendium was one of the most addictive parts of Red Dead Redemption 2 — especially the Animals component. I spent hours and hours tracking down every single creature so I could make sure I completed the Compendium. It was always strange to me that this was not a part of Red Dead Online.
Well, now Red Dead Online has the Field Guide, which is basically the same thing, and I couldn’t be happier. This one has fewer animals than Story Mode’s (I’m hoping birds and fish get added at some point), but there are more tasks to complete for each creature. Unlike Story Mode, here you’ll have to sedate and sample every animal, as well as snap a photo of each one.
Speaking of photos, a new camera was added to the game. The Advanced Camera allows you to move around while holding it, which means you can get better photos. You can also apply different filters, and you can take selfies too! Plus, because there’s a photography element to the Field Guide, you have motivation to actually use the camera now.
There are also new daily challenges involving photography, creating even more incentive to plunk down the $540 to get the Advanced Camera.
And that brings us to…
New Daily Challenges
A bunch of new daily challenges were added to the rotation (and the challenge menu was rearranged a bit as well). On top of photography challenges, which were mentioned above, there are also challenges for doing quests for specific NPCs as well as challenges specifically related to the Naturalist role.
This is maybe a small thing, but it’s actually really nice to have daily challenges that seem interesting again. After 500 hours, I’m pretty sure I’ve done every single one of the old challenges multiple times (except the challenge for turning in a player bounty; I’ve only successfully done this one time and the challenge never counted because Bounty Hunter challenges seem permanently bugged — oh well, I guess).
Now I have new challenges to look forward to every day.
Animals Are Spawning Again
Let’s face it, for a good long while Red Dead Online had a habit of plopping players into worlds that were completely devoid of wildlife. This could have kneecapped the Naturalist role (just as it kneecapped the Trader role), but it appears to have been fixed. In fact, ever since Update 1.20, my Red Dead Online worlds are just as wildlife-populated as my Story Mode world. No, that’s not even an exaggeration; there’s wildlife everywhere now.
I can barely find the words to express how huge this is. Seriously, this is enormous on its own.
All of These Features Work Together
Independently, each of the above features is pretty cool. However, what makes this update so great is how all of these features work together to create a gameplay experience that feels both cohesive and coherent. In fact, it’s already getting kind of hard to imagine the game without them (my memory is clearly not all that great).
Far too often, I jump into a game after a brand-new update, only to experience the new features within an hour or two and find myself returning to my old routine. That quickly grows boring, so I end up bouncing off, only to return several months down the road when a new update comes out and I repeat the process all over again. With Red Dead Online‘s Naturalist update, the game genuinely feels interesting again — and I say that as someone who is 10 hours deep into the latest update.
What this means, I think, is that this update is more than just a checklist of new features. There are plenty of new features, for sure, but the features have a surprising amount of depth to them.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait eight months for the next big Red Dead Online update.