To say that Grand Theft Auto V's release was a success would be a gross understatement. It not only easily beat the first-day sales record set by Call of Duty: Black Ops II, it also reached $1 billion in sales over a three day period. This incredible mark made it the fastest selling entertainment property in history. With all that in mind, a successful launch for Grand Theft Auto Online, which was released two weeks after Grand Theft Auto V, seemed all but assured. What ensued however, was anything but. For about four days players were only able to sporadically connect at best. Many were unable to access the game at all. Now that the most serious problems have been fixed, the quality of Grand Theft Auto Online will dictate whether this was just a bump in the road or an ominous sign of things to come.
While Rockstar Games has included a multiplayer mode in most of its recent titles, Grand Theft Auto Online feels the most ambitious. To take Grand Theft Auto V, which already stretches what current consoles are capable of, and add 16 players to the mix is very impressive on Rockstar Games' part. It is not only technically ambitious though. The wide variety of activities in a persistent open world is equally impressive. You can just roam the huge open world of Los Santos, or get into a race or deathmatch. There is also the option of playing co-op type missions with friends that range from simple repossession jobs to heists that will net the player a small fortune. Some games feel like their online component is a tacked on afterthought, but Grand Theft Auto Online has all the content to be just as robust as Grand Theft Auto V.
A lot of Grand Theft Auto Online's gameplay will feel familiar to anyone that has played a 3D Grand Theft Auto, but it requires something that the franchise never has before, grinding. To most MMORPG players, its a familiar term. To reach the high level content that is the backbone of such games, spending countless hours building your character's stats is a necessity. In the Grand Theft Auto series, you don't necessarily start with a huge bankroll, but Rockstar Games knows their audience and it isn't long before you can buy whatever the game has to offer. In Grand Theft Auto Online though, money is precious. Unlike Grand Theft Auto V, the payout for missions and other activities is usually fairly small, especially considering how much garages and apartments cost. These properties are essential to establishing yourself in Grand Theft Auto Online's world. Weapons are equally as important to your success and they too require a big dedication of time to acquire, as do car modifications, and almost anything else the player can think of. As a result, every item unlocked and every dollar in your pocket feels like an accomplishment, but it also can be a detriment. Low level players will find themselves easily outmatched and with a long and painful grind ahead of them.
Grand Theft Auto Online has a fairly steep learning curve as well. Just like the grind, with the large number of game modes and control schemes to learn, it can take a while to get into the swing of things. This would not be such a challenge, but similar to Grand Theft Auto V, much of this is not explained to you. Small, emphasis on small, pop-up windows at the loading screens and during gameplay will give a broad idea of the game's mechanics, but much is left for you to figure out for yourself. A lack of tutorials can be liberating, but with the level of grind Grand Theft Auto Online requires and with how much just a few deaths can set you back, support feels lacking.
Grand Theft Auto Online has its issues, but there are moments where everything clicks. Completing a mission with some AI teammates in Grand Theft Auto V just does not compare to pulling off a job with all your crew members in sync. It's possible to create havoc in Grand Theft Auto V, but nothing on the scale of what 16 motivated player's can do. You will never find yourself being hooked to a random helicopter and shooting up into the sky in single player. The potential is constantly there for a great moment to occur.
Unfortunately, despite the recent patches Rockstar Games has released, there are still reports of player losing characters and being unable to access the game altogether. Rockstar Games seem dedicated to keep Grand Theft Auto Online alive though. While it comes on Grand Theft Auto V's disc, Rockstar Games consider it a standalone title that they will still be building off of years into the future, so there is good reason to believe that they are vigorously pursuing these issues. Subtracting the rough edges, you have a game that has many of the positives of a Grand Theft Auto game, with the problems endemic to MMORPGs.