Red Dead Online has been updated with a new role, after a long period of silence from Rockstar Games. This should be a time of great merriment, and some players are having a blast with the new Naturalist role. But there’s one drawback that no one expected: This patch has turned the western frontier from an idyllic place to ride a nice horse into a murder zone where cougars and bears will find you and promptly rip you apart.
A pain point in Red Dead Online over the past year has been animal spawns. The wilderness is meant to be full of deer, elk, bears, foxes, beavers, and other animals that the player can hunt and skin. This is one of the core gameplay loops, and an important part of the Trader profession. Hunting animals is also a good way for the player to make a tidy profit. But despite all these benefits, the game would often glitch and spawn far fewer animals than necessary. It would be common to summon the trader’s hunting wagon, and then ride around fruitlessly, desperately looking for any kind of prey.
But the new Naturalist role is heavily reliant on animals, and so they are once again spawning in plentiful numbers. The Naturalist has two quest-givers: the murderous hunter Gus, and the kind-hearted scientist Harriet. Players have to track, tranquilize, and study animals for Harriet, or kill them and take their pelts for Gus.
On the first day of the update, as soon as they jumped into the world, players happily sniped deer and hunted elk, collecting three-star pelts to sell or trade. But the fix also means there are more cougars and bears roaming about, too, and they absolutely will destroy you the second you leave Armadillo or head into Tall Trees.
“I’ve definitely noticed it and it’s scary as hell,” says Alex, a player I spoke to through a Red Dead Online Discord community. “I got jumped by a cougar near Tumbleweed and screamed during one of my girlfriend’s Zoom meetings, so I’m in the doghouse.”
If you manage to kill the animals first, it’s not always to your benefit. Harriet, one of the quest-givers, has strong principles. She reacts to the player’s actions; for instance, if they wear Legendary pelts near her, she makes snide comments about the player’s moral character, given their willingness to skin innocent animals and turn them into fashion.
harriet got mad because we were k wording animals on rdo. WE GOT A TRADER TO FILL WTF DO YOU THINK WERE GONNA DO. I'M GONNA GO WORK FOR GUS— Justin platinumed part 2 (@tIoulev) July 29, 2020
Harriet seems to have a sixth sense about animal murder, too. If the player has killed an animal recently, Harriet sprays them in the face with drugs. I’m not even sure how she knows what I’ve been up to, though she sometimes vaguely alludes to “word spreading fast in the forest.”
Making her weird aggression worse, she doesn’t just attack you over animals that are killed and skinned for Gus; it’s seemingly any animal for any reason. She doesn’t care if you had to fend off a pack of wolves in self-defense, if a rodent jumped in front of your wagon, or if you only killed that cougar so you didn’t get your face ripped off! She’s furious regardless.
Before long, it’s easy for your average Red Dead Online cowboy to feel like Sideshow Bob stepping on an endless field of rakes. Except instead of rakes, it’s giant murder cats.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that to many Red Dead Online players, peace no longer feels like an option. The involved process of carefully tranquilizing and studying an animal isn’t easy in these early days, if a player can just blow the creature away and eventually earn an elephant gun for their trouble. So far, the update is chaotic, and it doesn’t necessarily feed into the fantasy of being an outlaw... but that’s because cowboys are too busy fending off murderous animals, or an angry Harriet and her tear gas.