Heists, casinos, new islands, flying cars, new music, ray guns, more heists: Grand Theft Auto Online has had a radical transformation since it first released in 2013. And now, it is getting another facelift as it releases on a new generation of consoles in Xbox Series X|S and PS5. Some things haven’t changed though: Before anything else I still have to head to The Diamond Casino & Resort for my daily spin.
Another item of clothing. Result.
This is the third iteration of GTA Online, following the Xbox 360 version and the Xbox One version. It comes with all the standard resolution updates you would expect: HDR, 4K and 60fps. Graphics have been improved slightly but bearing in mind the framework is a game from 2013, it does show signs of ageing. Character models especially.
There is a new main menu for the Xbox Series X|S version that allows you to jump into what you want easier. There is still a long load time for online activities, but it is a lot better than the Xbox One.
For the 99.9% of the world’s gamers that have previously played GTA Online, character migration is possible. Providing you have a Rockstar Social Club account, you can migrate your online character to the new version for the first time. This isn’t limited to Xbox-to-Xbox either; cross platform is available too.
Doing so will give you some new items: a new car and an outfit from the guys at Hao’s Special Works. This is also a new bit of content released alongside the Xbox Series X|S, but more on that later.
A word of warning though; your character migration is a one-way thing. You cannot then return to them on the previous generation of consoles as they will no longer exist there.
For the remaining 0.1% yet to try GTA Online, there is a new introduction that takes into account the 8+ years of content added in. No longer are you thrust into a world chock full of griefers with nought but a pistol. It now feels much more structured thanks to the Career Builder. Taking a leaf out of Red Dead Online’s starting tutorial, you can choose from: Executive, Gunrunner, Nightclub Owner and Biker. These were already career paths available to play through, but access has now been granted to them from the off. Creating a new character gives you a starting paycheck of GTA$4000000 and you use this to create your new criminal enterprise. You may think that initial cash boost is substantial, but unfortunately you have to spend at least GTA$3000000 of it on your chosen career path before you can enter the world of GTA Online.
This only ties you down in the opening hours as it attempts to give you a grounding in what can be an intimidating sandbox for newcomers. After the tutorial, you are free to do as you wish within the limitations of your level.
The heists however are still the best thing about GTA Online. There really is nothing else like working together with friends on these multi-layered missions. Even now, many years on, the initial heists are still great fun to play; but we could do with a few more coming soon.
As well as the Career Builder, a new section has been added to the Los Santos Car Meet. Known as Hao’s Special Works, it can be found towards the Southeast of Los Santos, set in the same abandoned factory as the car-meet. After completing an introductory time trial for Hao, you can head inside. From here, you can view other pimped out rides, take part in races, pimp your own ride or even get a tattoo.
The car meet itself features a host of new races and a new reputation system. As you move up through the ranks in the car meet, you can unlock new rewards and discounts for Hao to make your modded car stand out. Unfortunately, considering the large number of cars available in GTA Online, the actual number that can be modded here in Hao’s Special Works is very small. Whether more will be added later on remains to be seen.
It would be remiss to also not bring up the latest feature to GTA Online. Soon after the third release, Rockstar announced a new subscription service called GTA+, exclusive to Xbox Series X|S and PS5. For $5.99 a month – or regional equivalent – players receive a monthly payment of GTA$500000 alongside a variety of other bonuses. For the first month, players can get early access to upgrades in Hao’s Special Works, plus their Car Meet Membership of GTA$50000 reimbursed. Other free upgrades are open to yacht owners, there will be new threads and liveries added to player inventory, plus exclusive GTA$ and RP boosters.
Now, I haven’t sunk thousands of hours into GTA Online like many others have, but even I know that earning GTA$500000 isn’t a difficult proposition. If anything, isn’t this the whole point of playing the online portion? The Cayo Perico heist can be turned around fairly quickly if you need a quick cash boost, even if it isn’t the most fun heist on the market.
Arguments can be made though that with this subscription service being announced, it shows just how far away Grand Theft Auto VI is. It really does feel like GTA Online is going nowhere, and any subsequent release would be detrimental to it, even now, some eight years later.
As for everything else, it is as you were for GTA Online. If you haven’t picked up the behemoth that is Grand Theft Auto V by now – or indeed have no interest – then there will not be anything new here to convince you. Likewise, if you have spent many hours heisting and griefing/being griefed online there isn’t anything here to tempt you back in. But maybe these players aren’t the target of this third iteration of GTA Online; maybe it is for the hardcore players that still play this religiously. Fair play to them.