Grand Theft Auto V updated somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 hours ago. It fixed a few lingering issues including the garage bug, but it mostly added the multiplayer component of the humongous and massively successful open world game called Grand Theft Auto Online. I hung around on basically zero sleep to catch it the moment it went live and jumped in.
Correction: I tried to jump in. Even as of last night, getting into an online session was largely an impossibility. Getting bumped, erroring out, dropping back to single player, etc. while being met with enigmatic messages like “Failed to join Job or Activity” or “There has been an error.” In total, I’ve played perhaps 30 or so minutes of Grand Theft Auto Online and, for the most part, it’s worth the wait.
But first, to address the connectivity issues, it is quite the bummer. It’s quite the horrible experience and trying to connect to overloaded servers is never fun. (Hell, even parts of Rockstar’s website are down.) The obvious comparison is to Diablo III and SimCity, both games which require online connectivity to function and both had similarly overwhelmed servers upon launch.
The difference, of course, is that Grand Theft Auto V still functions just as well without the online component. You still have an entire 30-hour game to play and an open world to futz around in without multiplayer. Not only that, but Rockstar’s handling of the situation is worlds better than EA’s response with SimCity—that is to say they are actually acknowledging the problem and keeping players up to date on the solution.
We were, however, promised a working online world of other players from all over the world, and what we have is that but one that only works like five percent of the time, so of course that’s still an issue. But seeing as how out of the many other people I know itching to play this, I’m the only one with the whacked out sleep schedule permitting attempts at the most actionable hours, I would still like to tell you what you’ve got to look forward to.
In Grand Theft Auto Online, you’ll be creating your own character from scratch. This includes picking a name, messing around with the appearance, and, most notably, choosing a gender and mother and father (for hereditary reasons). Yes, you can now play as a female character in GTA V, albeit not in the same capacity as Michael, Franklin, or Trevor are characters. You can also allot skill points, which can be further upgraded through use like with the three main story fellas.
You won’t, however, be seeing little vignettes of your character doing odd little one-off things when you switch to him or her (your person will take the fourth slot on your character selection wheel). Instead, you just join up with them where you left them last.
When you start, though, you get a little introductory cutscene that sets the stage for the whole online portion. The setup is that everything you do takes place a few months before the events of GTA V, and you’ll be going about executing a microcosm of the traditional Grand Theft Auto narrative with other players.
I chose to play as a female and was picked up by Franklin’s buddy Lamar Davis from the airport. He tried to woo me with a rose, and I, well, rebuffed. But talking with other people, this is already a divergent experience among those that chose to be a dude, so I’m glad to see that the choices you make do have an impact on the less substantial multiplayer story.
While less substantial, the missions are still quite fun, especially when you’re rolling with a few other players (they usually take one to four players). The one that stuck out the most to me was an attack on some sort of compound. We all kind of, I dunno, bullied our way in, but after the initial chaos failed to tickle anyone’s pickle, we organized into an ad hoc team of people who had watched too many military action movies.
We moved as a semi-effective blob, covering corners and sweeping sectors. It felt radical in comparison to offline GTA V where you generally do all the dirty deeds yourself, moving quickly (sometimes too quickly) ahead of your AI cohorts so you can operate without interference. In this instance of being online, it felt like a totally different and much improved experience. Even the slightly slow shooting mechanics felt at home with a more deliberate pace to our pseudo-trained tactics.
There are a bunch of other missions you can take on that progress the familiar story, taking on bigger and bigger tasks from bigger and bigger names. I don’t know the end game, but you do at various points still encounter the three main characters in your little retro online bubble. It’s neat and seems ambitious as it definitely expands the feel of Los Santos and the lives of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor to a scope I wasn’t expecting.
Aside from that, though, you also get the usual multiplayer offerings: races, deathmatch, those little side shenanigans like base jumping and whatnot. Everything is accessed through blips on the map, so just roll on up and you can start playing on streamlined versions of locations from the original map.
For the most part, though, they all feel too big. Or rather, the number of people never felt big enough, which is a problem with Grand Theft Auto IV‘s multiplayer, too, though the other side of this mountain of server issues could be the solution. I pretty much only like the missions in that game as well, but the overall improved gameplay mechanics of GTA V have at least made this meat more tasty. (Much like in GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, though, competitive shooting via lock-on targeting makes it less than compelling in terms of skill.)
The cool thing, though, is that there’s an overarching sense of progression in GTA Online. You have to play to earn Reputation Points, and as you accrue those, you earn new ranks. These ranks unlock guns, cars, tattoos, and pretty much everything else. You can then spend your hard-earned money on those goodies and properties, but you should know that earning money in GTA Online isn’t as easy as it is in offline.
You’ll have to pull a bunch of jobs and win quite a few matches to afford new weapons. An easy way to get cash fast is to hold up a store (you just have to escape the police afterwards), but carry around all your cash on you and you’re liable to go broke. When you die, everything just drops, so one of the other 15 out-of-mission players could easily just off you and collect your money. It makes it a much tenser affair when you are loaded with cash and you can’t find an ATM, but it also seems like stalking and griefing folk could become a common thing.
However, Rockstar is making a good attempt to rally around the friendly players of GTA Online. If you manage to not be an asshole online, you are rewarded with straight up money. And if you are an asshole online, you are rewarded with a “bad sport” reputation which plays into their matchmaking system where dicks play with dicks and cool people play with cool people.
Or, for $100, you can enable Passive Mode where you are invulnerable to gunfire so long as you are unarmed. If you bust out a gun, though, and start firing back at whoever is harassing you, then Passive Mode is disabled and you are back to being fair game. Rockstar is making some good moves towards those that enjoy interacting with other players but not for reasons involving violence, griefing, or being twats.
Oh, and if you’re looking forward to using that Content Creator tool where you author missions and whatnot, then you’re going to have to wait. That’s coming, uh, later, I guess?
But you’ve currently got over 500 things to do and thousands upon thousands of other people to do them with. I haven’t really gotten that massive open world feel from Grand Theft Auto Online yet, but I’ve also only put in half an hour due to those smoking, crying servers. There will probably be much more to write about once it gets off the ground and people are kicked off every zero to two minutes, but so far I like what I’ve seen. The unpredictable nature of people combined with the unpredictable combination of systems in the game make for a whole lot of interesting, messy, fun chaos.