Red Dead Online's new Naturalist role is just hunting with extra steps

Red Dead Online Naturalist
(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

I am slowly but surely filling Lake Owanjila with unconscious beavers. My role as an animal-friendly Naturalist in Red Dead Online requires me to track down and take photographs of wildlife, but also take blood samples from them, which means sedating them by firing round after round of non-lethal .22 caliber ammo into their fleeing bodies while they howl in pain and fear.

That's as close as you get to animal-friendly in Red Dead Online.

I've been tranquilizing beavers all morning and it's not going well. The issue is the sedatives don't work instantly—beavers and most other animals can and will continue running even when you've pumped their hides full of downers. These beavers I've been "studying" are found near Lake Owanjila, and when I start shooting that's invariably where they waddle to escape me.

After they swim into the lake they pass out and float away. The water is deep and I can't take their blood samples while swimming, so I need to get them back to shore to complete their humiliation. Trying to lasso their sleeping bodies doesn't seem to work, and swimming around trying to nudge them back to shore so I can steal their blood isn't working either. Right now there are three beavers floating unconscious in the middle of the lake and I'm lining up a shot at a potential fourth.

Finally, I manage to trank a beev and chase it away from the lake instead of toward it. It collapses and I fill a syringe with its blood, then wave smelling salts in its general direction and watch as it wakes up scurries away.

Mission accomplished. I'm done with beavers! But they're not done with me. As I stare out over the lake trying to decide what animal to humanely torture next, a beaver runs up and bites me on the foot. That feels fair.

Red Dead Online's Naturalist role is a pretty big disappointment so far. It sounds great at first: Find animals in the wild. Track them. Study them. Photograph them. Sedate them and draw blood in an effort to expand our knowledge of them. I thought for sure I'd enjoy it. I love RDO's animals, I appreciate the chance to not hurt them, and I love taking pictures. There's even a new camera!

But the Naturalist role is essentially the same thing as hunting. I enjoy hunting in Red Dead Online—I've done a ton of it for the Trader role. After such a long wait for a new frontier pursuit, I'm bummed it's so much like an existing one.

There was already animal tracking in Red Dead. There was photography. There was shooting animals repeatedly in the face. The only thing that's changed is the addition of some new animals and the fact that you take blood instead of ripping off their skin. Also, you can revive them afterwards, which is honestly pretty nice and gives you a chance to watch them from up close while they're still alive. Otherwise, being a Naturalist is just being a hunter.

I gave it a real shot. I decided I'd head into the desert and not come back until I'd drugged every single creature on the list. I tranked a couple lizards. I drugged a panther—I didn't even have to look for him, he just ran up and attacked me and I panic-fired enough sedatives into him to put a mammoth into hibernation. I even took down an armadillo. For science. But I'm not sure I'm going to go much further with the animal-friendly Naturalist role.

I wish it was more about actually studying these animals—tracking them to their dens. Examining their diets (poops) and behaviors. Spending real time in the wild and observing them. I feel like I'm just wandering around, spotting something, and going through my checklist. Hold the button that studies it. Hold the button that tracks it. Take a quick picture. Shoot it 10 times in the back as it screeches or howls. Syringe, smelling salts, onto the next victim.

I know it would probably be difficult to track and follow and legitimately study an animal in an online game where other players have a habit of riding up and lassoing you or shooting you in the face. And a long, slow expeditions into the wild don't get players racing back and forth to vendors to spend money and climb the ranks of season passes.

But with the Naturalist role I was hoping for something that wasn't just emptying a rifle into another elk or bear. I've been doing that since Red Dead Online started. I'm ready for something else.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.