I was pretty excited as I started the world of GTA Online. In a world where MMOs–or the variations of them that we have come to know over the last year such as shared world shooters, persistent world shooter, ect.–continue to be pushed out to capture the imagination of the video game fan base, GTA Online is just the latest of many attempts. That being said, GTA Online feels a little more genuine than other attempts. As far as Rockstar is concerned, GTA Online is simply the multiplayer element to their blockbuster game released earlier in September, not requiring high-price subscriptions or even additional downloading (aside from the 59MB patch). However, its shared servers still gives it that MMO feel, complete with a community of fanatics and trolls that completes any online gaming experience.
Of course, GTA Online dealt with-and continues to deal with–its fair share of growing pains. Long loading times, glitchy lobbies, and character deletion are just a few of the problems that have plagued the game’s multiplayer component. Time and time again, being dumped back into the single player game almost feels like a suggestion, as if Rockstar is saying, “Remember this awesome, open world game we built for you? Enjoy that while we get this multiplayer thing working.” There’s a decent point there. A couple months ago, you could have told people about Grand Theft Auto V, not mentioning the multiplayer component, and people would have jumped for joy. GTA Online is supposed to be icing on a giant cake, not the cake itself, but the ambitiousness of the project has undermined any hope of that.
I found Grand Theft Auto V disappointing for a myriad of reasons. The checkpointing still felt poor, the flying was still cumbersome, and I thought the story was the weakest in a long time. The game still had so many great things, that they outweighed the bad by far, but for a game that got such heavy praise from critics, I felt underwhelmed. Turning to GTA Online, I felt there was a chance that the game would be the definitive way to play Grand Theft Auto. A silent protagonist would not bother me, especially if it meant I got to customize my player to my liking. I was excited for another rise to power story, I was excited to find new property and clothing, to discover new characters and storylines. GTA Online fulfills a decent amount of these expectations, but it fails to create any sort of dynamic atmosphere.
While the world is fully accessible in GTA Online, most of your purchases are not. Guns, clothing, tattoos, cars, hair, missions, activities, multiplayer, and many other parts of the game are locked to certain levels. While on its surface, this is a good way to keep the player experiencing new things, they are unlocked so slowly that they can actually take away some of the magic GTA has to offer. The best part of Grand Theft Auto V was the ability to go anywhere and do anything. So many activities and so many side missions that Grand Theft Auto V almost felt like a feast of variety. GTA Online rolls these options out in an almost mechanical fashion, whic takes away some of the discovery that made the game so great. In place of running around, finding things to enjoy, players are forced to grind through levels to open up more options. This grind can turn on you quickly, stealing away your fun and leaving you with an empty feeling of, “Been there, done that”.
If you like a game, you might have to wait around in a lobby for far too long, stealing away time that could be used for leveling up. Changing your character’s clothes feels stupid when you’re going to need ammo, new guns, and garages, but it makes the player-characters populating the world feel bland and uninteresting. I spent the first fifteen levels running jobs for Gerald and Simeon, hearing their stock phrases after completing job so often I could speak them in unison. After taking in nearly twelve hours of the GTA Online world, I felt like all the fun had been milked out of it already.
GTA Online isn’t an MMO, it doesn’t really capture any of the other terms used earlier. GTA Online is a giant, playable lobby that allows players to race and compete in death matches. There’s a social aspect to be sure, but it lacks the dynamic events that really make an MMO what it is. The missions feel the same, the games feel repetitive; in the end, the whole thing feels like a grind to try and make money to spend on frivolous things like clothes and apartments that don’t actually affect your character.
It is important to preface this with the fact that I am not the target demographic for GTA Online. While I enjoy World of WarCraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and other massive multiplayer experiences, I generally fall out of love with them pretty quick. Thus, it is important to state that I don’t think GTA Online is a bad game, or bad part of a game. To the contrary, when you look at it as simply a piece of the Grand Theft Auto V puzzle, it is impressive. I have enjoyed plenty of hours with GTA Online, there are wonderful stories that can emerge organically when you are rolling through the streets of Los Santos, shooting up gang members with your friends.
Where I think my disappointment comes from is that I hoped a multiplayer persistent-world would finally grab me. That I could get so addicted to something that I would crawl down a rabbit hole of drug deals, heists, and stick ups with no return. Instead, I found something that would be a fun distraction for an hour, before I would get stuck in a lobby or in a boring mission. Were my expectations too high? Sure. I can admit when I might have placed too much on the shoulders of a developer, but Rockstar deserves high expectations after years of setting the bar for the open-world action game.
GTA Online felt like something new, something exciting. I was ready to discover a world that I would never want to leave, instead I enjoyed a nice vacation and hopped a flight back to reality. Rockstar should definitely be proud of what they created, but I’ll have to wait until Elder Scrolls Online to give these large multiplayer worlds another shot.