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Grand Theft Auto 5 was a seminal game in more ways than one. It pushed the seventh generation systems to their absolute limits, and it set a new bar for what open-world gaming could be.
Most of those accolades are attributed to its single-player mode, but the unparalleled success of Grand Theft Auto: Online the multiplayer open-world experience that has managed to keep the game alive a full nine years after its initial release is most certainly deserving of its own topic.
Since its release, I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the game. I’ve seen it through its best and worst months and years, so I’m in a great position to provide new players with a GTA Online overview to ease the beginner experience. We’ll start with a brief look at the history of the game, and then I’ll move on to getting you acquainted with the basics.
Bottom Line Up Front
As is often the case for many online games, GTA Online can be a bewildering place for newcomers. While relatively easy to understand, it does throw a lot at you at once — your phone continually ringing with requests to start new missions, game modes, and to buy new items.
This guide aims to get you clued up on the essential components so that you can go in without an overwhelming sense of ambiguity.
I’ve covered the Social Club, the vast variety of missions, currency, leveling up, reputation, and main GTA Online characters: these six aspects cover the foundational knowledge you need to acquire. As such, this guide is most helpful if you read it before going in for your first time.
Having done so, bare these aspects in mind:
Ignore your money for a while, and focus on getting to grips with taking jobs and completing missions: money will be tight in the beginning, and you won’t have unlocked enough items to buy anything decent anyway.
Keep your eye on your wallet, but don’t fall into the trap of endlessly grinding for cash so you can buy a specific item. Learn and practice the basics and the cash will come in time.
Focus on jobs like races and deathmatches in the beginning: learning to shoot other players is much more difficult than fighting NPCs in the base game, and a real player’s driving skills will be notably better, too. These are two quick game modes that can give you the practice you need!
Pay attention to your level: your reputation level is the barometer for most aspects of the game, so make sure your main goal, in the beginning, is leveling up! Doing so will allow you to access more missions and unlock new gear quickly.
A Rocky Start
Rockstar’s smash success is positively booming nearly a decade after it launched, but it wasn’t always like this. In fact, the game was fraught with multiple delays and an onslaught of game-breaking bugs when it finally launched on October 1st 2013.
For a significant amount of time and despite a substantial patch the game would often fail to load missions, freeze in menus, and even wipe player save data. The issues were so prolific that Rockstar offered every player who had signed up for the service a free $500,000 in in-game currency.
Even when the game was finally running smoothly, the company came under fire for what was deemed an early shutdown of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 servers. Rockstar announced that they would be stopping all further updates for these versions of the game in 2015.
This was only two years after launch, with Rockstar stating that the older consoles would not be capable of running the latest updates. After a brief extension, the servers for these consoles were officially shut down in 2021.
Since then, however, Rockstar has had a very successful run with the game, and it only continues to grow larger. Thus far, there have been a total of 40 update packages to the title, making the experience vastly expanded from what was available at launch.
New vehicles, weapons, clothes, game modes, stories, and missions have blossomed the service into a multiplayer juggernaut, and there’s no sign of it slowing down any time soon. The game is currently playable on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC.
Interesting Read: Compehensive Guide to GTA Online Vehicles.
How to Use this Guide
In this article, I’ll be providing a rundown of everything you need to know to get started with the game.
There are several other aspects to consider beyond what is discussed here, but once you have the following basics down, those smaller areas will be easily understood; these mostly include character creation and the purchasing system for the property, vehicles, weapons, and clothing all of which is mostly self-explanatory.
For some aspects such as these, I think there’s a potential of adding further confusion by explaining them — it’s best you just have a play.
I’ve done my best to layout each component in a modular, cohesive fashion. The game is comprised of many layers that all work together.
View each aspect as a cog in the system that you’ll need to learn to function as a skilled player. GTA Online can be as much about micromanaging your character as it is about playing through jobs and missions, so take the time to solidify the information below to become a well-rounded player.
The Rock Star Social Club and ‘Crews’
The Rock Star Social Club has been around since 2008. It’s the first screen you’ll be greeted with after installing the game, and you’ll need an account to play GTA Online (and also the single-player for that matter).
The social club is essentially a hub for your activity within Rockstar games. Signing up is free, and in regards to GTA online specifically, this is where you’ll create or join a ‘crew’.
This is an organized group you’ll play with perhaps a group of friends or some people you’ve met during your initial time with the game. You’ll assign specific roles to each member (Representatives, Lieutenants, Commissioners, or Muscle), as well as a leader.
With much of the game’s missions and jobs being geared around cooperation with others, joining a crew certainly enriches the experience. The Social Club walks you through this process before jumping into the game if you so desire.
Importantly, joining a crew offers substantial bonuses so far as leveling up and earning money, and you’ll also gain access to unique cosmetic upgrades.
Having signed up for Social Club and potentially nailed down a crew, you’re ready to start playing. Let’s delve into the multilayered gameplay elements that spell your success in this huge multiplayer sandbox!
Jobs, Missions, Adversary Mode, Free Play, and Hanging Out
The initial distinction you’ll need to make when you start the game is between the different styles of play. It can be confusing at first, so here is a compartmentalization of the main elements.
Some notes on free play: This is your typical, open-world, GTA experience, but with the addition of other players. You’re free to traverse the city of Los Santos as you please, but be aware of other players. Some will try to join you, others will try to kill you. As such, this isn’t the one-man-army the single-player mode was.
You could be driving along innocently and get blown to smithereens in an instant by a player on a jet bike, or you could meet some new friends along the way. It’s a volatile environment and something that can take time to navigate.
Thankfully, there’s an option to avoid your inevitable death in this dangerous online arena. Pacifist mode makes you immune to the nefarious, murderous intentions of other players, and you’re provided with the steps to activate it following your first untimely death.
It’s also worth noting that this is a significantly different world than you’re used to in the base game. As the years have gone on, the game’s items, vehicles, and ultimately, the player’s abilities, have come to resemble the likes of the off-the-wall antics of the Saints Row series.
From flying cars to jet packs, the variety of ‘stuff’ has been vastly expanded upon.
The difference between jobs, story missions, and other missions: GTA Online isn’t simply an extended variant of the base game played over the internet: the elements that add depth to the experience are the unique, varied ways you can play.
The first are standard game modes like team deathmatch, races, and a host of smaller, self-contained activities (referred to collectively as ‘jobs‘).
Anyone familiar with Rockstar’s previous online attempts will know these well: you search for a game in the mode of your choosing using your phone, and you’ll be placed in a lobby to join other people and start playing.
Your phone will be constantly blowing up with invites to these sorts of missions, and there are specific playlists set up enabling players to cycle through a variety of different jobs sequentially.
These playlists are a great opportunity for trying everything that’s on offer over the course of an hour or so, so I’d recommend trying a playlist out first.
The second important feature of GTA Online is its traditional Story missions. These present as brand new scripted pieces complete with both new and familiar characters, cutscenes, and a proper narrative arc.
They are accessed in the same way you’d approach story events in the base game: the player travels to the newly indicated location on the world map and triggers the start of the mission. You can also receive invites from other players on your phone and join that way.
Beyond Story missions, there’s the distinction between Adversary missions and regular Missions to consider. Adverasy missions are competitive and usually consist of pitting teams against each other in creative, novel game modes.
The regular missions, on the other hand, follow the type you’ll most likely be used to from the main story mode. They first involve being contacted by a character via call or text.
You’ll then be required to fulfill whatever objective that character has asked of you, whether it be sabotaging something, assassinating someone, or the plethora of other GTA-style missions you’d expect.
Heists also come under the missions category, and there are currently eight in total. They allow the player to participate in the same degree of meticulous planning and execution as is found in the base game. Fittingly, they offer a larger payout both in money and RP than standard missions do.
The crucially cool thing about heists in GTA Online, as opposed to those in the base game, is, of course, the fact that you can complete them with friends rather than NPCs. This way, if you have a crew, you can discuss each other’s roles in the job for a more authentic and more fulfilling experience.
Hanging out: Los Santos is brimming with activities for you and your friends to engage in, from playing tennis or darts to climbing and sky diving.
Compared to the other styles of play, these features are more relaxed; you can experience the city at a leisurely pace in your downtime from high-speed chases and tense shootouts. They function to enrich the playspace beyond the core experience, serving to make the game feel more ‘alive’, so to speak.
The game’s online currency, and for many players, their own real-world money, form a large part of the GTA Online experience. Your in-game currency determines what you can buy in this world be it new vehicles, property, guns, clothing, and more.
The currency system is built to be a rough approximation of real-life (if, in real life, you were venturing into a career to become the ultimate crime boss).
Completing jobs and excelling in those jobs earns you money. You’ll get bonuses for doing particularly well in a mission which can encompass not dying, racking up lots of kills, or completing a mission on your own, to name but a few avenues. You’ll also get a flat pay bonus simply for completing the activity.
Like any online game whereby the player functions in a similarly competitive arena, your wealth will increase depending on how skilled you become and how much you work for the grind.
There’s also the option to purchase upgrades with real-world money: this cuts out the need to complete jobs and participate in game modes to earn the same amount of in-game cash.
This is accomplished through purchasing Shark Cards. There are six options in total which range from providing the player with $100,000 up to $8,000,000.
The Leveling System
As well as earning money for each activity completed, the player will also advance their in-game rank over time. Achieving an increasingly higher rank allows for a richer experience: more missions, characters, apparel, vehicles, and weapons will unlock the further you progress.
Thankfully, even if you get killed during a mission you’ll still get a small RP (reputation points this game’s version of traditional experience points). You will have unlocked everything by rank 135, but the maximum level is 8000.
How much you earn through a given mission or activity isn’t static, either. Weekly bonuses are very frequent, so there’s always ample opportunity to rack up large amounts of RP if you routinely seek out those events and plan ahead.
Good Sports, Bad Sports, and Bounties
Once a player reaches rank 10, they’re able to assign a bounty to a specific player in the game. They achieve this by calling Lester and selecting the player they want to kill, setting a price for the job. This fee will come out of the bounty setter’s pocket.
If the wanted player manages to survive, they get to keep the bounty money for themselves. If they leave the game while the bounty is active, the bounty will be activated when they next play the game.
Given that you’ll no doubt be killed several times as you traverse the world in free roam, and because bounties are a thing, many first-time players are confused about the rules surrounding the killing of other players.
GTA Online works on a loosely implemented reputation system: those who don’t routinely kill other players, destroy vehicles, or drop out of in-session game modes and lobbies are considered Good sports. Players who do the opposite are, appropriately, Bad sports.
Rather cleverly, Rockstar banishes Bad sports to their own servers: here, they’ll only be able to play the game amongst similarly devious players. Good Sports receive occasional cash bonuses as well as discounts in a variety of in-game stores, so there’s an incentive to not go around killing everyone you see.
The way GTA Online’s story works has been integrated in a way never approached before. Characters from the single-player game consistently make important appearances, but there’s no one overarching plot. Rather, the player is free to dip in and out of a web of connected narratives as they choose.
While the game introduces a ton of characters both new and returning the following people are most intimately involved with the player.
Lamar Davis: Lamar, first encountered in GTA V’s story mode, sets the player off on their journey in GTA Online. After picking you up from the airport, he introduces you to your first few missions.
Simeon Yetarian: Simeon Yetearian is another acquaintance the player will meet thanks to Lemar. You’re able to accept vehicle repossession and sabotage jobs from him.
Gerald: Known only by his forename, Gerald is the first character to give you a job in the game. He’s introduced to you through Lemar and tasks the player with an array of minor drug-running missions which serve to get them acquainted with the core systems of GTA Online.
Lester Crest: Another main game character carried over, Lester is instrumental in procuring a number of new jobs for the player to participate in. Once the player reaches level 10, they’ll also be contacted by Lester who imparts information regarding the aforementioned bounty system.
Trevor Philips: While the player character does not directly meet Trevor, he is contacted by him through Ron Jakowski once they reach level 14. His missions always involve attacking The Lost MC biker gang whom Trevor also had dealings within the base game.
Ron Jakowski: Most of Trevor’s missions in GTA Online are organized by Ron Jakowski: his best friend and business partner. The player will mostly be dealing with him when taking on Trevor’s missions.
Franklin Clinton: Since the events of GTA V, Franklin has set up his own business under the name “Celebrity Solutions Agency”: an organization catering to the rich and famous and their high society problems. The player character becomes involved in a series of new missions surrounding the celebrity appearance of rapper Dr. Dre in Los Santos.
Interesting Read: Comprehensive Guide to GTA Online Businesses.
Closing Tips for Getting the Most Out of GTA Online
Even after you’ve read most of the information above, entering the game for the first time might seem a bit overwhelming. We’ve covered a lot, but the best way to learn is to just get playing. You’ll find your feet in no time, but here are a few extra tips beyond what’s been discussed.
For your initial foray into the game, turn on pacifist mode: Many people are put off the game during their first few hours because they keep getting killed by other players.
As a beginner, GTA Online can feel like a death trap your player character spinning fifty feet into the air a common occurrence simply by the error of venturing down the wrong street.
Do yourself a favor and turn on pacifist mode when you first start; this way, you’ll be free to find your footing with the game’s world, mechanics, and game modes without fear of being blasted to smithereens.
Make friends or go in initially with some: It’s highly recommended you find yourself a crew (which you can set up through the social club) or at least make some friends to play with regularly.
While there’s a lot of fun to be had with the game on your own, you’ll no doubt have an infinitely better time if you play with friends.
Considering the popularity of the game, even if you don’t initially have any friends to play with, you’ll be able to find some in no time as you venture into lobbies to play game modes.
Random people are always blowing up your phone and inviting you to play, so find yourself some buddies to role through the city with.
Be mindful of your money: As we’ve discussed, the game’s online currency system is important to get to grips with as it forms part of the core mechanic.
Crucially, it’s important to keep a close eye on what you’re spending. While making money in GTA Online is relatively easy, it’s similarly easy to blow everything you earned on a particularly cool car or lavish apartment.
Endlessly grinding for money so you can enjoy yourself isn’t fun in any game, so try to resist the urge to blow all your cash on a single item.
This tip also has a double meaning: It’s no secret that the bulk of GTA Online’s criticism comes from its approach to microtransactions, and if you’re not careful, you can spend a substantial amount of real-world money on buying digital items.
The same goes for the majority of online games today, but it’s something to be mindful of.
Question: I’ve Heard GTA Online isn’t Worth Playing if You don’t Use Your Own Money to Buy Items. To what Extent is this True?
Answer: As I touched on above, microtransactions, as they are in all of gaming, are a contentious issue. That said, I don’t think the issue is as black and white as people make it out to be.
While it’s true that it would take an obscene amount of real-world money to purchase all the in-game items, and while it would take a substantial amount of time to purchase everything solely through earring in-game money, procuring items isn’t everybody’s main aim.
I, personally, haven’t spent a penny of my own money on in-game items, and my friends and I still have a great time.
I’m not so much interested in buying the latest gear as I am playing the missions with my friends, so where you fall on the spectrum of the game being ‘worth it’ will depend on what you want out of it.
Question: I’ve Heard Mods are Very Popular. How do they Work?
Answer: For brevities sake, I haven’t discussed Grand Theft Auto mods in this overview — but they are indeed a big part of the game these days. So far as using mods online, though, that will get you banned. You’re only allowed to use mods in single-player, and I highly recommend you try some out as they’re great fun!
Question: Should I Play in Third or First-Person?
Answer: Since players were given this option with the new console updates to the game, whether you should use first or third-person mode has been a hot topic of debate in the GTA Online community.
It’s mostly up to personal preference: get good at one modality and you’ll be fine. I prefer playing in first-person, but several of my friends would rather third. Whichever camera you choose, it shouldn’t impede your ability to play effectively against other players.
I hope this guide has provided you with everything you need to know to enjoy GTA Online to the full. I’ve done my best to layout each section as simply as I can so that it’s easy to refer back to, so jump into the game and pop back here if you get stuck.
For more information, I recommend visiting the GTA Online board on Reddit. You can ask questions there to get a deeper understanding, and there’s also a lot of great beginner information in the ‘posts worth reading’ tab on the right-hand side of the main page. Most importantly, Have fun!