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    At the time of writing, GTA Online has been live for almost a month — and what a month it has been. Despite the great success of the single-player, GTA Online has been plagued with problems since day one, even though Rockstar Games decided to delay it so they could have more time to iron out the bugs. There is a lot of fun to be had outside of some real teething problems, however.

    We were all massively excited for GTA Online to go live. Gamers were eager to see what was in store when it came to online multiplayer after enjoying the fantastic single-player experience. The fact that Rockstar had opted to release it two weeks after the single-player meant that, when it did go live, millions of gamers would all log on at once. Of course, these sorts of numbers are impossible to really prepare for and I was not surprised when I heard people were having trouble logging in or were finding that the servers would crash.

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    After a few failed log-ins, I managed to access the online mode where I was asked to create my in-game character. This is where I encountered one of my biggest gripes with GTA Online and it’s unfortunately not a glitch or bug that will likely be patched: the character creator itself. This really is a case of “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Character creators are usually pretty hard to mess up — sure, some are better than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one as baffling and needlessly complicated as GTA V‘s.

    Rather than just giving you a typical male or female you can customize and tweak to your liking, Rockstar have you choose what your character’s grandparents and parents looked like, which changes your avatar’s appearance. I can appreciate that Rockstar was trying to make things a little different, but frankly, I wish they hadn’t. People don’t care about their avatar’s family history and this feature simply makes creating your character unnecessarily restrictive and confusing.

    I ended up with an avatar that kind of looks like Thom Yorke if he’d turned to a life of gangs and crime rather than Radiohead. I can’t say I really had anything specific in mind when I created my character, but I certainly wasn’t picturing that, as much as I do love The Bends. Compared to some of the dodgy avatars I’ve seen on GTA Online, mine actually turned out pretty good. If you’re willing to put the time in, you can create a character that suits you, but don’t expect it to be as simple and easy as the likes of Skyrim or Saints Row.

    After confirming my character, I entered the world of GTA Online. A cool, sleek cutscene played as it showed my avatar looking down from a passenger jet on San Andreas below. Eventually, he stepped off the plane and was greeted by some friends who gave him some contacts, his first gun, and suggested the first thing he should do was go enter a local race. I was quite impressed that Rockstar had created a story mode that intertwines with the multiplayer and even features some familiar faces from the single-player.

    As you level up, you will gain new contacts who can provide different services for you. Upon reaching level 20, I gained a contact who could bribe the cops to lower my wanted level if I got too much heat, and upon level 40, I could ring up a helicopter to come give me some air support during a fight. These sort of rewards, plus unlocking new weapons and equipment, provided a lot of incentive to keep playing.

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    You start off roaming with other players on the map and, from there, you can either drive to your chosen multiplayer pastime or access it quickly via your phone.  You can simply dive into the online missions against other players and ignore the story. You will only be able to play a few different types of matches when you first start, but as you level up, you unlock more and more. At first, I thought this makes the multiplayer seem a bit empty to new players but in hindsight, I realise this was a good call by Rockstar.

    Letting the player access everything from level 1 would have been overwhelming and it’s good to play some of the simpler game modes to get to know how things work rather than entering a match dominated by GTA veterans. More and more game modes will open up to you and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Team Death Match, Racing, Missions, Base Jumping, Heists and much more are all featured.

    If you get tired of all the action, you can always grab a buddy and play a friendly game of darts or tennis. Almost every multiplayer mode will reward you with money, respect points and XP. Obviously, the players that do well get more than the losers, but it’s all pretty fair. You can use money to buy the standard stuff, like weapons, ammo and cars, but if you save for a while, you can buy your own properties, like houses and garages.

    The online modes themselves can be absurdly fun. You have your standard modes, like Team Death Match and Racing, which are great, but Rockstar has gone out of its way to take things up a notch. One game had my team piloting fighter jets whilst we were tasked to take out the other team, who were fleeing in their cars. There’s another equally crazy racing mode where, like some kind of Mario racing game, you can pick up upgrades, like boosts or missiles, to help you get ahead or blow up your rivals. These sort of missions usually end in complete chaos but they’re hugely fun.

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    Another new game mode that’s sure to become a classic is Survival, Rockstar’s take on Gears of Wars Horde mode that pits players against ten waves of enemies. It’s easy enough at first, but by the later stages, the enemies become more formidable and are backed up by choppers that will easily take down any players that are dumb enough to stand out in the open. Luckily, the weapons you can pick up also improve with each stage and by level 10, you and your teammates will be armed to the teeth with automatic shotguns, body armour and…oh yeah, freaking mini guns.

    I must have played online nearly every day since its release and whilst it’s been a lot of fun — for the most part — I am finding I’m getting a bit familiar with it now. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still fun to play, but I feel as though I’ve reached a point where there’s not much else for me to play for. When you start playing, you’re poor and the enticement of earning enough money to pimp your vehicle or buy the best apartment makes you want to keep playing and join the folks on the hill.

    At level 40, I’ve bought the most expensive apartment, pimped out my car, bought some heavy weaponry and got my avatar some new clothes. The problem is that the level cap is nine hundred and ninety nine. Yes, you read that right: nine hundred and ninety nine. 999. There’s not much I’m that excited to get anymore and there’s not much I can spend all my cash on at level 40. The last thing you unlock is the minigun, which is done at level 120.

    Now I’m sure Rockstar is aware of this and it wouldn’t surprise me if they release some sizable DLC to give us a reason to keep playing past level 40-50, but at the moment, you’ll have achieved most of your goals by then. There’s still a lot of fun to be had, of course, but it’s even better when you know all the fun is earning you cash and XP, which you can then put towards that sports car you’ve had your eye on.

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    What of the teething problems, though? I will be the first to agree that GTA V Online had some serious issues upon release. Whilst I didn’t encounter any significant problems other than failing to get online, there were many who had it much worse. I heard several complaints from gamers saying they couldn’t login for over 24 hours after the online’s release. Others were able to log in, but found themselves stuck in infinite loading loops whenever they tried to attempt a mission.

    Things got even worse when many players found that their characters, along with all their progress, had been wiped. Connection problems are one thing, but losing all your hard-earned progress is inexcusable. The glitches even affected the single-player, as many gamers (including myself) found that you could no longer switch between Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Luckily, this was righted for most people by switching off the console and trying again, but it was still worrying to see how deep these glitches were. For the first few days, GTA Online was damn near unplayable. We all expected some issues, but the fact that Rockstar had delayed the online release to avoid this exact scenario only added salt to the wound.

    In their defence, however, Rockstar worked diligently from day one to iron out the bugs. They heeded fans’ complaints and responded almost daily with new reports on their progress and with advice for players who were experiencing difficulties. They also gave half a million in game dollars to everyone who played during its first few weeks as a way of helping those who had lost their progress get a head start on a new character. Almost a month after its launch, I can happily report that after a large patch, GTA V is running a lot smoother. It seems to be improving every day and I feel confident that, within another month or so, this will all be forgotten.

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    Trying to give GTA V Online a score is frankly impossible and pointless. It strikes me that the online is something long-term that Rockstar intend to develop and expand over time. As it stands right now, the online experience is immensely fun and definitely worth checking out. Some players might feel they’ve done it all by level 40-50 at the moment, but Rockstar could easily make this an online experience we’re still playing for years to come. GTA Online is a constantly evolving experience that only adds to the sense that you’re in a living, breathing world.

    -By Thom Edwards

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