Saturday, 30 May 2015

GTA Online is Pay to Win! Only, just kinda... but not really at all...

So today I learned GTA Online can be seen as pay to win. How? Well, you can buy in game money with real money. How did I not know this? It's not really advertised! Never once have I had a pop up or message tell me "Hey, why haven't you given us more money for these things yet?"

How much does this anger me? Not by much actually, because it's not really pay to win. Sure you can buy money, but most things regarded to as 'power' are actually restricted by level. Want the (nothing mini about it) minigun? Well you need to be level 120 to buy it. Right now the only boost you can get for experience is applied by playing with friends and/or your crew (guild)

Money isn't exactly hard to earn either. Set up missions for the third heist pay crewmen $20,000 upon completion. The set up missions, not the big heist itself. The average set up mission length is 10-15 minutes and even winning a 1 minute long race can earn you $3000. Earning money that quickly, the $575,000 bullet proof car doesn't look so far off. I'd know because I got the bullet proof car and the high end apartment without feeling the need to spend any real money on it.

Upgrades for vehicles aren't even locked by level, but by achievements. Want a better engine for your sports car? Then you need to win races in a sports car, which unlocks only the sports car related upgrades. If you want to upgrade your motorcycles then you better start winning races with motorcycles! So regardless of buying money and trying to power grind xp, you still can't just buy the best parts for you cars without work earning it.

I'm sure there are some loopholes somewhere, but GTA Online continues to prove to me that progression comes from playing rather then playing being about progression. The Warcraft devs have always said that progression is important in an MMO, I believe it. I just don't believe it needs to the point. For now, I'm going to continue my ride in GTA Online.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

GTA Online: Don't buy guns you don't need! (At least not at first)

I've been good about my money in GTA Online up until this point, honest! To be able to start heist missions, you need to be level 12 and own a large enough apartment to have a planning room. The cheapest of these apartments is $217,000. All my friends were buying these so it's not like I needed to buy one myself, I can still be hired to work in other's heists without. I bought myself a little middle level apartment with a 4 car garage and that served me quite well. (pictured below)

Being a simple crewman is/was quite profitable. As everyone is trying to get through all the set up for the big payoff at the end, I'm making money on each mission. I've even been working some jobs for randoms and they seemed to like my driving skill. I saved up and bought something more expensive than the most luxurious pieces of property. A bullet proof car for $575,000. Now 'bullet proof' seems to be separate from other 'tough' vehicles. I will declare I've driven this thing into the middle of a gang war of 30 guns shooting and never saw it take damage. That being said, explosives can still end the car and a really well aimed shot into a window slot can end the driver. It's not god mode, but it has become an invaluable asset that has helped considerably in completing heist missions.  Car pictured below complete with Time Stalker crew logo.

Making money as a crewman helped me save up for my own high end apartment afterwards. I won't lie, for no reason or benefit what so ever I got the most expensive property for $500,000 that has the exact same perks as the one for $217,000. That wasn't the trap though, after that I was still making quite a bit of money.

The issue arrived when I bought guns. GUNS were the trap. My carbine was working well, but I felt like some options would be nice. Got a sniper for long range, a rocket launcher for taking out helicopters quick, a nice machine pistol for when I'm in a vehicle and then said 'what the hey' and bought more. This is not why I am broke so often now.

GTA Online has this nice button, an excellent quality of life button. While setting up for a mission you can buy ammo for specific guns or hit the button "BUY ALL AMMO". Your shooting skill determines how much ammo you can carry (as well as general accuracy and recoil.) Every time my shooting skill raises a bit, "BUY ALL AMMO" equates to a few thousand dollars, by few I mean in the 6-9 thousand dollar range.

The answer SHOULD be easy. Don't hit the button right? Here's where it's a bit more complicated than that. That first portion of the mission set-up screen doesn't have a ready button, when playing with randoms it's buy all ammo or nothing because the host nine times out of ten will hit go as soon as the last person loads in. Secondly, when you fail and vote whether or not to reload at the checkpoint, buy all ammo is the only option. You can't say 'just refill on the gun I used'.

It's seriously draining my funds, but thankfully will not last forever. My shooting skill is now somewhere in the 80's, with the max being 100. Once I hit max shooting skill, "BUY ALL AMMO" should only replenish bullets I have used or fill ammo for guns recently acquired.

The moral is to only buy the guns you need in GTA Online until you get to max shooting skill. If you have that need to 'collect them all', divert that to clothing or vehicles, or you'll end up homeless, living on the roof of a tower at a water treatment facility huddling next to the roof's ventilation system for warmth in the rain. (To my knowledge you can't actually loose your house)

Below are some extra screenshots that I'm fond of

Sneaking into the golf course without paying for club membership.

Checking for survivors in a freak accident involving a miss-aimed homing rocket launcher.

This was apparently appropriate attire for what ended up being a mission largely about gun fights.

Waiting outside a friend's apartment for non-nefarious reasons.

Stunning countryside.

Stranded in said countryside.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Is GTA Online the MMO I've been looking for?

It sounds ridiculous, how could GTA 5 be the MMO someone like me has been looking for? More and more I find myself hanging out in GTA 5's online mode in the same way I used to hang around Paragon City in City of Heroes or even Vanilla WoW! Note, I am playing the PC version which only released about a month ago. 

1. World
The map of GTA 5 is large and sprawling. Driving from end to end doesn't take as long as say, driving from Tanaris to Winterspring in WoW, but Azeroth does not have highway infrastructure or sports cars.

A good world is one where there's non-goal oriented reasons to be places you've been before. In many games, once you finish an area and then... well... that's it for that area. 45 hours into GTA Online and I'm not 'done' with anything.

2. Character Creation/ Stats
Character creation is not standard, you don't click through a bunch of face types to find one you like. Instead, you cycle through presets for your parents, and on a slider, decide whom you most resemble. After that there are some basic sliders to customize a bit more. Brow size, cheek bone depth, it's serviceable. My only real gripe is the complete lack of customization for body sizes, everyone is the same stocky build. But, again, that's a bit of a staple of the genre, few online games go that in depth.

What did impress me is the stats. You are given a basic spread of stats and are free to remove/add from each stat to a point. There are restrictions on that, I was not allowed to bring my flying stat any lower than 10, and there was an upper limit to where I could set my stealth. While many may have gone for all around balanced sets, I ended up with a character that had set strengths and weaknesses. To a degree, your beginning stats are irrelevant, as everyone can raise every stat to max. They increase in an Elder Scrolls fashion as you use them, however, stats actually decrease as you're offline or don't use them. I'm not sure how fast the degradation is, but the idea that a person's higher stats are the ones they actually use is one I like. Never fly planes? Well you're not going to keep a max flying skill then. I think the hope is that the stats would balance out based on someone's activities.

Stats have a tangible effect that in no way limit you. There's nothing in the game telling you "You're flying skill is not high enough for this." Your skill won't even have an affect on the abilities of any vehicle. A driver with 0 stats and a driver with 100 stats in the same car will have the same max speed. The cars will even have the same turning and breaking ability. But the player with high stats won't spin out as easily. A low flying skill means cross winds are incredibly powerful and force you to constantly adjust your bearing whereas someone with max flying will basically have no crosswind interference.

3. Playing Solo
I've had a surprising amount of fun playing alone when my friends aren't on and I don't feel like playing with the randoms. (There's been a few instances of being stuck in a match with exploiters.) Just touring around has been very enjoyable. I've been trying to complete the missions/lessons from the flying school to help raise flying skill, robbing stores, parachuting and sometimes just taking a bike and going across the beach.

4. Playing with others
The online races are best done with more players. Some races support up to 30 vehicles, and before you think that must just turn into one massive pile up, you may turn off collisions and turn everyone into a transparent ghost. Having other players around on the map has been rather entertaining. There can be 30 players in any 'instance' of the map. Few enough to not be constantly bothered, enough that you still run into players naturally. If someone is being a dick, their 'mental state' raises. The color of their marker on the map changes as this raises and, once they've been a dick long enough, they become worth more experience to kill. Players can even place bounties on others if they become fed up with each others dickedness. Bounty hunting has actually become a bit of hobby of mine now.

5. Playing with friends
Now here is where the game shines for me. I've actually got some friends and roommates into the game and I started a crew (guild) called the Time Stalkers. Co-operative missions are a blast with the others as are the races. The real gem of the game however, are the heists.

Heists are a string of missions started by a player. The leading player needs to 'buy into' it, they pay the cost of all the set up. There are then NUMEROUS 'set-up' missions. 5-6 depending on which heist you're trying to do. We tend to do all of these as one group but the leading player can hire anyone to do these. The catch is that the leading player actually doesn't earn anything from these set up missions, for him, it's all about the set up. The participating players earn money, so you don't need to worry about asking others to do missions for free. Many missions actually split the players into separate roles. It seems odd, but the splitting of players into these roles creates a greater feeling of teamwork than in Payday 2. After all the set up is done, it's HEIST TIME! The leading play can decide how big everyone's cut is here. In our group, we normally agree the leading player gets the biggest cut as they paid for the buy in and earned nothing in the set up.

The most satisfying thing however, has been how challenging these have been. Giving multiple tries to get through a mission, trying different strategies. Should we start to find these easy, we can even turn up the difficulty.

6. Endless content
Some may ask "But won't you run out of races, missions heists?" Maybe official ones, but the game has player created content! An entire creator inside to make missions and races yourselves. So long as I continue to find the act of racing fun, theoretically there is no end.

7. Summing it up.
Overall my time in game has been spent well... just enjoying being in game! I'm not overly worried about goals, progression, or numbers. I just go around doing things while progression happens, and well.... that's how I like it.