GTA Online Week 2: Finally Works, Barely Justifies Existence
It’s A Boring Version Of GTA
Causing chaos in an open world is a fun way to pass the time in between real missions. Racing, activities or plain old mayhem are part of what makes a GTA game replayable after you’ve finished the story. But the thing is, it’s the story, or at least, the more focused aspects of living a pretend criminal life which move the plot along that brought you there in the first place. Heists, assassinations, even random encounters, not to mention the actual plot these things propel you through, they’re what make the open world feel like a world in the first place. And they’re almost entirely absent from GTA Online.
Though billed as a kind of hybrid version of an MMO, as it currently exists GTAO is essentially a standard-issue online multiplayer with tons more irrelevant space. When you begin the game, you’re introduced to GTA V supporting character Lamar, who shepherds your entrance into the Los Santos underworld via an underground race and an introduction to what is presented as a mission generating character. Later, you’ll meet another such character. These characters, so far anyway, have done nothing but deliver missions via text that are exclusively fetch quests or capture the flag. At least for the 15 hours or so I’ve been able to play GTA Online, that’s about it.
Meanwhile, there are “missions” scattered throughout the world, but they’re all variations on deathmatches, races, or fetch quests and capture the flag. There are also diversions, but they’re the same boring activities (unless you liked them) from GTA V. The result is you spend a lot of time feeling like you’re just going from one tedious thing to another without advancing whatever the story of GTA Online is supposed to be. It’s basically GTA V with all the cool stuff taken out of it.
GTA Online needs more than just filler to justify itself. We could have had deathmatches and races in the same multiplayer GTA IV had. I’m thinking heists for sure, but also some real mission-quest type things, reasons for the scripted characters to be there besides continuity nods to GTA V. This will surely change as Rockstar begins to roll out heists, but as it currently exists, it’s nothing more than a buffed up version of what a single-player GTA game is like after you’ve beaten it.
This is you for what feels like 25% of the game.
It Takes Too Long To Get Good
UPDATE Friday, October 11: Rockstar announced this morning that to make up for the technical problems plaguing GTA Online, all GTAO players who’ve logged in during the month of October will receive $500,000 in GTA money for their character to play with. This will go a long way to mitigating the game’s tedious grind. Read more about it here.
I’ve mentioned tedium a lot in this piece, for good reason. At so many points GTA Online seems to suck all the fun out of playing a GTA game. Races, deathmatches, what passes for missions, even something as simple as visiting a store to buy power-up snacks, all feel like chores rather than entertainment. And this is in large part because it takes so damned long to get your character remotely leveled up enough to be competitive against anyone but other noobs.
Obviously, providing access to all weapons or a fully leveled character too early would break an MMO, so it makes sense locking a lot of this content until you’ve leveled up enough. That’s fine, but the system needs a serious tweak. It currently takes what feels like an ice age to improve stats like stamina and strength. I’ve put in at least 15 hours and my character still begins to suffer health problems if I run for more than a couple of minutes. Likewise, no matter how many shootouts I’ve been in or races I’ve run, my shooting and driving stats have barely improved.
Even light armor is locked out for early level characters (you can buy it at the start of some missions), putting you at a serious disadvantage when you find yourself in a server full of people who’ve already reached levels approaching 20. It’s bad enough when you’re coming out of a store or just walking around. But it’s especially maddening in-mission, when you’ll unload an entire clip into an enemy who survives, and are then swiss-cheesed up because the other players have machine guns.
Making things worse, earning enough money to actually do anything is a Sisyphean undertaking. If you wish, you could keep doing races or death matches or petty robbery and, assuming you don’t end up smoked by higher-level players, grind your way to prosperity. But emphasis on “grind,” because the missions currently available – races, deathmatches, capture the flag, fetch quests and petty robbery – tend to dole out around $1000-$2,000 payouts. That isn’t so bad in the early stages of GTA V, where the three playable characters all start out with a safehouse and a a garage. But your GTA Online character starts the game with nothing, and must earn a minimum of $35,000 just to buy the cheapest two car garage available.
Clothing is also far more expensive in GTA Online, making the decision to customize your character beyond the painfully limited options at character creation suicidal. Not that price matters. So much purchasable content is locked for lower leveled characters that you’re faced with the tedious prospect of barely earning any money, and having nothing to spend what little you have on. There’s also the fact that you have to manually visit an ATM and deposit your GTA cash into your character’s bank account. NOTE: an astute reader has pointed out you can also deposit from your phone. This is still needlessly complicated, but better. Otherwise, you’re carrying all your cash on you, which can be stolen if you’re killed. Yes, slightly bigger payouts eventually start to pop up, but only after many long hours spent playing. All of this turns an open world crime fantasy into a chore on par with mowing the lawn.
The expectation going into GTA Online was that players would experience a constant sense of “Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.” It’s actually more like “dammit, being a gangsta is boring.” If you’re a serious fan of competitive multiplayer as a thing by itself, then you’ll probably have a lot of fun in GTA Online as it currently exists. And we know that eventually, it’s probably going to be very good. But if you’re expecting Grand Theft Auto: The MMO, you’re going to be very disappointed. Best keep waiting until Rockstar finally rolls out real content.