Needless to say, I am very bummed to have lost a character I have invested time and effort into. I've been pretty OK with the other problems plaguing the online launch, like periods where nobody can connect to the service, since those just stop progress. Actually losing progress, though, really stinks. I'll join my voice to the chorus of people recommending that you not start playing GTA Online until they finish fixing all their problems.
The whole situation is simultaneously familiar and absurd. There are always huge problems anytime a historically single-player franchise puts out an online component. The most obvious recent examples are Sim City and Diablo 3, but I still remember the howls of rage that accompanied BioWare's botched launch of Dragon Age: Origins.
At the same time, though... Rockstar waited a full two weeks after the game came out before enabling online mode. Even though the game sold better than expected, that should have been plenty of time to purchase additional hardware, run a closed beta test that could identify stresses on the system, and gotten stuff ready. Instead, they've been plagued by an array of problems, some their own, some the result of the Playstation Network or (less often) Xbox Live. (A recent theory I heard, which seems both like a tinfoil-hat theory and perfectly plausible, is that Rockstar deliberately postponed the online launch specifically to prevents review scores for GTA V from getting dinged by the online problems they knew would come. I can buy that.)
That said, in the time I may have wasted playing GTA Online, I did generally have fun. I've joined a small crew from a website I like; I don't know any members personally, but have run a few races with a couple of them and fooled around in the open world with another. I've always started up a private crew session, and I'm often the only person inside it, so I don't experience the full mayhem that a lot of folks are apparently experiencing.
Once the online game is worth playing, here are a few random tips from me:
- You can start your own solo instance of the game by launching into single player, then choosing Online -> Play Online, then picking either "Solo Game" or "Invite Only". This might be nice if you want to get the hang of the slightly different interface, or spend time shopping, or just explore for a bit without worrying about other players.
- Pressing "X" from the launch screen will put you in online mode, but this will always dump you into a public server. Not necessarily bad if you just want to tool around and have fun, just something to be aware of.
- By far the best and easiest way to level up and get money is to run Races or Jobs with other players. Once you find a group you like, you can keep picking additional ones so they stack back-to-back. You get additional bonus RP (kind of like XP) if you're playing with a Crew. When racing, you can pick from a selection of vehicles, so this is very viable even for a totally-fresh character.
- If you don't want to do Races or Jobs, then levels 1-5 will go rather slowly. You get a little RP from obtaining and then losing Wanted Stars, and more RP from robbing a store. Personally, I found robbing stores the most fun way to advance in solo mode. You get a decent payout for each (~$1k), plus some practice in working with disguises and evading cops.
- Before your robbery, go to Vespucci Masks and buy any mask. If you don't already have a hat or glasses, go to any clothing store and buy one. Park your car close to the store's door, ideally with the driver's seat facing the storefront. Put on your mask before entering the store. Walk over to the cashier, pull out your gun, and aim at him to start the robbery. He'll start putting money in a bag; to make him go faster, you can shoot around him, but be careful not to hit him (you'll get less money, an additional wanted star, and be a bad person). Once you have the money, run for the door (some owners will shoot at you). Hop in your car and peel out. Once you get out of sight of the cops (wanted stars start flashing), open your Inventory, and put on your hat or glasses. (There's currently a glitch in the interface that keeps you from removing a mask; you need to put on other equipment instead.) Exchanging your mask will make you lose a wanted star, so you might be down to just 1 now, which is much easier to evade. Congrats! You are a small-time hood!
- There's an option in Online Settings that lets you make your minimap an, er, maxi-map. It looks weird at first, but I really like it, mostly because it makes it much easier to see where the cops are. It also makes it easier to navigate without stopping to set a waypoint (again, there's no pause in online mode). One significant downside: the map draws over your health and armor bars, so it's very hard to tell how close you are to dying.
- A long press on Select (on PS3) will open up a new quick menu for online mode only. This lets you quickly access some very useful stuff: quickly set a Waypoint on the current mission objective or other common destinations (AmmuNation, Mod Shops, Clothing Stores); access your Inventory (for switching disguises or eating snacks, more on that below); split up Cash with your companions, etc.
- Unlike in single-player, where your character would immediately consume any food or beverages, in online mode you can purchase snacks or drinks and add them (up to a limit) into your inventory. Eating/drinking them will then restore a little bit of health. This is very useful if you're in the middle of a mission/job and want to get above the 50% auto-heal limit.
- One of the best ways to make money in the game, which also works in solo mode, is to steal a car and then sell it to a Mod Shop. You can't sell super-high-end cars like Banshees, but can sell entry-level sports cars like the Buffalo. I find that I generally get good results with a nice-looking SUV, which can net over $6k. Note, however, that you can only sell one vehicle during any in-game 24-hour period. So, it can be worthwhile to spend a bit of time finding a good one.
- Once you finally reach Rank 5, the pace of the game starts to pick up. You'll start getting Jobs from Simeon and, later, from Gerald. These jobs can all technically be done by 1 person, and that's how I do them, but I'm sure they go much faster in a team (plus you get more RP that way). You'll want a decent gun and armor for these jobs. The starting pistol is fine, but the Micro SMG that unlocks at Rank 6 is much better, so I'd save cash for that.
- Most of Simeon's missions suck, while Gerald's are good. If you ever have the choice between the two, pick Gerald's mission. I find it impossible to finish Simeon's missions that involve apprehending a moving vehicle; it might be more feasible if you had another player running shotgun and aiming at the tires, but if it's like any of his other missions, even if you did beat it you wouldn't get much money from it. Gerald's missions tend to be relatively straightforward: drive peacefully to X, kill the gang members, steal the drugs, deal with the reinforcements that arrive (I typically hunker down and shoot them, but you can also try outrunning them), then drive back to Gerald.
- One unfortunate thing I've noticed is that job payments don't appear to scale with your character's reputation level. You can run some jobs around rank 5-10 that pay out $5k apiece; I'm now (or, I was, before my character was deleted!) running different jobs at rank 13 that only pay $1k or $2k. Which is unfortunate, especially since you need to invest more in ammo and armor for higher-level missions.
- Speaking of which: I almost never go to AmmuNation, unless I want to buy a new weapon I've unlocked. Before starting any Job, you can buy ammo for your gun and armor. There doesn't seem to be any markup on either one.
- Ammo in general is much scarcer in Online than in single-player. You can pick up some in the world, but only up to a limit, while you can purchase a much higher amount.
- I haven't totally figured out Armor yet. You can see it in-game, where it appears over your character's clothing. It will still appear even after you die, though, so I think it's possible to technically be wearing armor and not have any protection from it?
- Most online guides will say to only spend money on certain weapons, and later on cars and property. I don't necessarily agree. Personally, part of what I (did) enjoy most about Online is the total customization you have over your character. It can be fun to check out new Clothing options that unlock as you play, as well as new hairstyles, etc. You don't want to go overboard, so pay attention to price tags - it's very easy to spend more than $1k on a single article of clothing, even at the start of the game - but in the big scheme of things, spending a bit of money on customization won't really hurt your long-term goals.
- When you die in Free Roam mode (i.e., if you aren't on an active Job), you'll drop some of the Cash you're carrying. Not a big deal if you're playing solo, but with other players around, they'll probably take it. Unlike in solo mode, in online there's both Cash and Bank Account money. You can use your Bank Account for practically everything; the only exceptions I've found so far are vending machines and taxi rides, both of which are useless. So, any time you have any cash, put it in your bank. The game will tell you to visit an ATM to deposit your Cash, but it's almost always quicker to open your Phone, visit the Internet, then pick Money & Services and Maze Bank. Here, you can deposit (good) and withdraw (kind of pointless) your money.
- You can also shop for properties and vehicles on your phone. For properties in particular, this is a great way to browse and see what's available. I haven't bought any vehicles yet, but this is the only way to hold on to a high-end premium car like a Banshee.
- In Single Player, properties generate income. In Online, they are safehouses. You can only own one apartment at a time. The cheapest is $80k, the most expensive is $400k. There are a LOT, which I approve of; they can give more variety between player choices. More expensive properties have bigger garages, better locations, better views, and nicer interiors. Personally, my starter apartment (which I really hope wasn't permanently deleted...) was a $99k 1-bedroom in the north central area of Los Santos. It looks like it should give pretty good access to much of the city, while also being very close to the edge for quicker travel to Blaine County. There are a bunch of little activities available in apartments, similar to what you can find in single player: in mine, you can drink beer, watch TV, smoke a bong, sleep (doesn't save), or change clothes. There's also a shower, which can be used to remove blood from your character. Neat! I haven't checked this out yet, but apparently you can also tune into CCTV to watch footage from police helicopters, which will let you see what kind of mischief other players on your server are getting into.
- Besides apartments, you can also buy garages. I haven't gotten any yet. They're much cheaper than apartments, but can only be used to store cars (and motorcycles and bicycles; garages can have an unadvertised number of bicycle slots in addition to the advertised car/motorcycle slots). Once you get a garage, either by itself or as part of an apartment, you gain access to a Mechanic Contact on your phone, who you can call to deliver a car to you. I think you can own multiple garages at the same time, but don't quote me on that.
One of the most pleasant surprises from playing GTA Online has been a noticeable increase in my skill at evading cops, which I'd complained about before. Partly this is because you never need to outrun them in a garbage truck, but there are other things I've picked up as well.
- As noted above, in the specific case of robbing a store, you can wear a mask during the crime and then ditch it after to lose a star. I don't think this works for any other type of crime, but haven't tried it yet.
- Helicopters only show up at level 3. If helicopters are in play, you may need to head underground to avoid being spotted. But, helicopters don't stay around forever; it'll eventually disappear, and possibly respawn later.
- Unless a cop car is actively chasing you, they will never leave the main roads. So, once they lose sight of you (stars are flashing), try to get far off the road. This is fairly easy to do if in Blaine County. Once you're far enough from a road that they can't spot you, just wait quietly for the stars to disappear. In some cases, I've swum out into the Pacific to get the distance I needed, which works fine.
- The Expanded Mini Map works wonders for seeing where the cops are. Keep an eye on their position and field of vision. If you're on the freeway together, it can be effective to creep along behind them; they can't easily turn around, so you might lose your stars before they spot you. Otherwise, just keep paying attention and cautiously move away from them.
- Speed can be helpful at first to get some separation from your pursuers, assuming you have a fast car. Once you're out of their sight, though, speed actually becomes a liability: if you move too quickly away from them, new cars will spawn that may be closer. I prefer to creep around while they're searching.
- Don't be afraid to leave your vehicle while they're searching. Some of the best hiding places are behind houses, or other areas that are close to the road but out of direct line of sight. This can be very handy in areas like Chumash where there are only a few north-south roads and thus it's difficult to evade via vehicle.
- I've heard that later on you can call a Contact who will remove your wanted stars for a bribe. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but love the idea!
Phew! Man, I was having so much fun with this before it stopped working. Argh. That'll teach me for trying to play an online game shortly after launch.