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.

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