Rockstar has a really great game on its hands -- perhaps its best multiplayer offering to date by a mile. The company just really needs to get all of the crippling online issues out of the way as soon as possible.
Grand Theft Auto Online (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Take Two
Released: October 1, 2013
MSRP: [included with Grand Theft Auto V]
Without sugarcoating it, GTA Online has had a messy launch -- really, really messy. During the first few days of release, thousands of players weren't even able to log into the game, and many more reported multiple glitches with their single-player campaign, as well as deleted online characters and progress. Rockstar recently pushed a "fix" over the weekend for both versions of the game to attempt to rectify the issue -- the only problem is, this made it worse.
After downloading the update, hundreds of players are reporting that their characters have been deleted (again) -- some of which have been playing for days on end. To combat all of the complaints of players paying for real-life money and having it glitched away, microtransactions have been disabled, but that still didn't stop servers from randomly erasing bits of data.
It also boggles the mind that the game doesn't have a proper main menu, and tosses you into the single-player portion first (the quick shortcut to the online mode during the initial loading screen still doesn't always work correctly) before you can trek to the online portion. Rockstar may have warned us about a few of these problems prior to launch, but to not have tested extensively for data corruption and other related deletion issues before going live is not acceptable. GTA Online clearly should have been delayed past its October 1 release date.
Beyond those issues, you also have to deal with the terrible character creation system that I talked about at length in my initial impressions piece. In short, it's one of the worst avatar mechanics I've ever seen in a game, and Rockstar isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is, having players choose their maternal and paternal grandparents to loosely design a character for a game they're going to be playing for hours on end. Thankfully there are a ton of clothing, accessory, and mask options for your avatar -- otherwise, I would have to look at my revolting character for much longer than I would want to (a skull mask hides his shame).
Microtransacations (cash cards that allow you to buy in-game money) are a thing, and they're a double-edged sword for sure. On one hand, you can't actually use cash to buy anything you haven't earned. So if you aren't the proper rank (online level) and haven't put in the right amount of time, you can't buy a minigun and a massive apartment complex right after you plopped down real-world cash. On the other hand, it does provide shortcuts for players to buy everything once they have ranked up, and it does give other players a small advantage.
In other words, all you have to do is put in the time, pay a little money, and you can unlock every item and weapon in the game that other players may otherwise not be able to afford. This gives you a slight edge in racing and shootouts, given that you have more tools at your disposal, and it allows you to buy more consumables time and time again without worrying about drying up your bank account. It's definitely not game-breaking -- especially if you mostly play with tight-knit crews where you create your own rules -- but it could be a problem long term in regards to the in-game economy.
Despite all of those issues, I can't help but fall in love with the vast majority of GTA Online. I mentioned in my original article that I had created tons of stories on my own outside of the confines of the game. Since that initial impressions period, I've created many, many more great memories -- a testament to the sheer amount of variety on offer. For instance, I created a makeshift mountain biker gang with a few fellow online players, and committed crimes in the hills for hours on end. I had many more intense shootouts in the game's deathmatch modes, as well as a few great races that came down to the wire.
Another group and I grabbed a bunch of planes, and had a three-leg race that involved flying them to a destination, parachuting out, and racing cars to another fixed location. You can rob convenience stores and choose to betray one of your friends, while the cashier shoots another one down right in front of your eyes. Sometimes, I'll just log into GTA Online and cruise Los Santos on my own, enjoying the sights in a brand new way with new missions and races to extend my gameplay past the campaign.
Truly, I can see myself doing this for months on end, as Los Santos' brilliance shines through in GTA Online just as brightly as it does in GTA V proper. You can really tell that Rockstar has learned from every online launch it's ever done from a pure content perspective -- there is an unparallelled amount of variety to engage in, and there was hardly a dull moment for me while playing online in an actual, functioning setting.
To help augment the concept of separation from the campaign, it's great that GTA Online offers up a few cameos from the core story but doesn't go overboard. It really gives you a sense that you're still in that same great piece of Los Santos you know and love. By not retreading too much, Online ends up feeling like you're creating your own story devoid of Michael, Franklin and Trevor's influences.
Rockstar also has grand plans for the game, and I have faith that it'll follow through with pretty much all of its promises: complex multiplayer heists, extra races and playlists, and of course the biggest feature of them all, the map creation tool. All of it is coming at a later date, and provided that Rockstar can iron out all of the technical issues, I think that GTA V's online portion will be one of the biggest online games in recent memory.
Before it gets there, GTA Online needs a lot of work. It's one of the most fun online games I've ever played, but the rampant issues including the mass deletion of character data is something that really should have been worked out before the game launched. One day GTA Online will reach its true potential with a massive map creation tool and more playable content than pretty much every genre outside of MMOs -- of this I have no doubt, given how deep Rockstar's coffers are. But for now, it's best to tread lightly until all of the kinks are worked out.
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