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Red Dead Redemption 2 cores guide

Understanding your health, stamina and dead eye cores

Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

Red Dead Redemption 2’s cores system manages your health, stamina and dead eye.

When you start out, cores might feel like something you have to monitor constantly for fear of just up and dropping dead. Once you understand them, cores aren’t that complicated. It just takes a bit of work and a lot of experience to get comfortable with them. Lucky for you, this guide is here to give you everything you need to know about cores.

Cores versus rings (or bars)

The first thing we need to establish is some vocabulary. In Red Dead Redemption 2, core refers only to the circles with an icon. The rings around the cores (which the game calls bars) are different but related concepts.

The biggest difference between cores and rings is that rings passively refill over time, but you have to refill your cores on purpose (more on this below).


You have cores for Arthur’s health, stamina and dead eye, as well as cores for your horse’s stamina and health. For now, let’s focus on health and stamina. (Dead eye works a little differently, so we’ll break that one out below.)

Cores are like buckets with holes in them. You fill the cores (buckets), but they drain over time (because of the holes). For example, your health core fills when you eat, but it drains as you just move around the world getting hungry. So cores drain passively.

You don’t have to do a thing for your health core to drain. You can stand in a field staring at the sunset, and it’ll drain on its own. Cores take 90 minutes of real-world time to drain from 100 percent. You can check how long your core will last in your menu by going to Player > Arthur.

Certain things can make your cores drain faster. Have you eaten enough? Are you wearing summer clothes in 3 feet of snow? These have an effect on your cores, too.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur’s stats
You can see how long it will take for Arthur’s cores to drain on their own in the menu.
Rockstar Games via Polygon


If your health and stamina cores represent your overall, long-term heartiness and endurance, the rings that surround them are the energy you have access to right now — how much damage can you take in a short period of time, or how long you can sprint without getting winded. Rings drain actively when you use them. For example, you can see your stamina core drain when you sprint and your health core drain when you take damage.

How cores and their rings interact

Cores and their rings are distinct but related. Generally speaking, you’re going to be far more concerned about the state of your rings than you are about your cores. But they do interact in a couple of ways that matter.

The most obvious interaction is that you’ll start to drain your core when your ring runs out. This makes cores a kind of emergency reserve. If you’re sprinting for a long time, you’ll gradually drain the stamina ring, but when it’s empty and you continue sprinting, you’ll tap into your stamina core reserve and start draining that. When your core is empty, you’re out of options and need to take action to refill either your ring or your core.

The other interaction is a little more subtle. How full your core is — remember that cores are also meters (and draining buckets) — affects how quickly your health and stamina rings refill. A full core will recharge those rings faster than an empty core. (Again, your dead eye core and ring are different, and we’ll talk about them soon.)

So what does that mean while playing?

For the most part, this means you’re only going to worry about rings and not your cores. Don’t drain the rings too fast and let them recharge naturally, and you’ll be able to forget about your cores for long stretches of game.

Any time you tap into your core — from taking damage, using dead eye or while running away from danger — grab something to refill your core. If you’re not draining your rings or tapping into your core reserve, though, you can attend to your cores about once an hour without too much negative impact.

How do I refill cores and their rings?

Red Dead Redemption 2 - provisions in satchel
Classic Oatcakes: What’s good enough for you is good enough for your horse!
Rockstar Games via Polygon

You can refill your cores and rings at any time by using items in your satchel, but different items are used for each. Provisions are for cores, while tonics are for rings. Think of it like the difference between a balanced breakfast and a triple shot of espresso — breakfast provisions give you long-term energy (a full core that continuously refills your ring), and espresso tonic gives you a temporary boost that you can use right now (a full ring but no effect on your core).

And that’s how you should use them — tonics are an immediate, short-term refill of your ring, while provisions are a maintenance item for your core’s long-term well-being.

The other way to refill cores takes a little more time: sleeping. At the main camp, a campfire or any random bed you come across, you can have Arthur sleep for a while. Doing so will fully restore your cores.

Fortifying rings

Red Dead Redemption 2 - tonics in satchel
Yellow tonics fortify the ring they refill.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Certain tonics will fortify rings. You can see them as yellow items in your satchel. Any tonic that will fortify your ring will turn that ring yellow and make it a complete circle. Fortifying a ring basically means that ring won’t drain for a few moments. How long the ring remains fortified depends on the quality of your tonic. For example, horse stimulant will fully restore your horse’s stamina ring and fortify the ring slightly, while potent horse stimulant (a yellow tonic with a Roman numeral II on its icon) will fully restore horse stamina and fortify the ring moderately.

Increasing your rings

Unlike cores, your rings can expand.

As you do things in the world, you’ll see little icons pop up along the right side of your screen to indicate a sort of XP you’re earning toward each ring. (We should note that this isn’t an official, trackable XP mechanic, but more a way to see your growth happening.)

For example, if you run a lot, you’ll earn stamina “XP” and level up your stamina ring. You’ll unlock a new segment of the ring that you can fill, meaning you’ve got that much more stamina available (and can sprint that much farther).

Red Dead Redemption 2 - earning ‘XP’ for dead eye ring
As you earn these points, you’ll eventually unlock additional segments to the corresponding ring.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Just about anything you do can affect your rings. Hunting and skinning animals gives you points toward dead eye and health. Running and swimming get you points toward stamina. The best way to think about it is to just use or do what you want to improve.

Dead eye is active

Your dead eye core and ring control how often and how long you can use your bullet-time ability. Generally speaking, the core and ring work like your health and stamina cores and rings: Your dead eye core will drain over time or through use, and you can refill both with provisions like meat and tonics like chewing tobacco.

The major difference you’ll notice about the dead eye core and ring is that the ring doesn’t refill over time. You have to actively refill your dead eye ring just like you do the core. You’ll earn a chunk of ring back periodically when you kill animals or humans (but you won’t necessarily earn a chunk every time).

Horse cores and rings

Red Dead Redemption 2 - brushing your horse
Horses are good boys, too.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Horse cores and rings work almost exactly like your own cores and rings. You can see them above your minimap — they’re the two on the right with a horseshoe in the center. Using your stamina or health drains the ring just like yours, and those rings refill based on the status of the core.

Where they’re different is in how you maintain the cores and increase the rings. They’re more affected by your bond with your horse than by food or tonics (though you can still use food and tonics — look for effects that have a horseshoe in the icon). Riding your horse a lot, praising it while riding (by clicking the left thumbstick), and grooming it will all increase your bond and, in time, your horse’s stamina and health. Things like cleanliness will also affect your horse’s health core. Brushing (or riding your horse through water) will get rid of the dirt and restore your horse’s health.

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