With almost five years under its belt (and the recent revelation that “Grand Theft Auto V” is the highest grossing entertainment release — but not franchise — in human history), it should be no surprise that “Grand Theft Auto Online” is replete with things to do.
In fact, the sheer volume of activities and diversions now available is a bit overwhelming, and navigating those options with “GTA’s” weird hybrid of in-game phone and deep menus can get a bit clumsy, borderline arcane. To help curate some of this cornucopia, I took a deep, methodical dive back into Los Santos’ war-torn streets and meth-addled byways to try to pry out some of the best stuff to do in modern GTA Online.
Ocean’s 11 Online
Those familiar with the single-player campaign will know that the heists are easily the best part, and that trend carries over into the online offering. Heists represent one of the most structured and rewarding activities, not just monetarily but in terms of pure gangster satisfaction. After a series of setup operations, which typically involve gathering vehicles or special weapons specific to the target, a finale brings all the disparate preparations together in one harmonious climax, usually to great effect.
The heists kick off with the Fleeca Job, which doubles as both a tutorial for how the heists work online as well as nice injection of much needed cash for early players (Heists don’t become available, to host at least, until a player hits rank 12 and owns a high-end apartment). A relatively straightforward bank heist, it familiarizes players with the basic mechanics of heists and serves as a counterpart to the later, much more complicated (and more lucrative) Pacific Standard robbery, which is easily the best heist in the game.
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Pacific Standard sees players stealing equipment to hack dye packs, lifting a hacking rig from a rival crew, and carjacking armored trucks to grab thermal charges powerful enough to penetrate the central bank vault’s heavy security doors. After robbing GTA’s go-to biker gang, the Lost Motorcycle Club, of some high-end sports bikes, the heist culminates with a bank job reminiscent of the tensest moments of “Heat,” with some of the crew watching the hostages while others crack the vault, before the whole crew mounts the purloined bikes and makes away with one of the highest payouts in the game.
Heists elaborate setup phases and the necessity of playing them with others adds real tension to the finales, which are inevitably explosive and frenetic even when everything goes right. And the game does an excellent job of managing your progress in a heist, something that can be challenging as a solo player who can’t ensure you’ll always be playing with the same crew. They also, by virtue of their replayability, let players experiment with different roles and see completely different content as a result. For instance, there’s a prison break heist that involves a crew infiltrating a prison and extracting a convict while another player secures a plane to provide an airborne getaway. Playing as the pilot, dodging hostile fighter jets and coordinating a pick-up point with the ground crew is a totally different experience than playing as part of the crew sneaking into the prison, but both provide excellent moments of white knuckled tension.
Heists are also a great way to get a comprehensive tour of Los Santos and Blaine County, especially the new Doomsday Heist content added at the end of last year, which ramp up the heist formula in spectacular fashion. Aimed at preventing a doomsday scenario that would engulf the entire country, the heists involve activities, novel for a GTA game, like intercepting spies and preventing data leaks.
Transform and roll out
I’ve never been a fan of racing in open-world games: races tend to be rote matters of bashing your way to the front and then driving like a cautious grandmother to the checkered flag. And while the vanilla offerings in “GTA Online” failed to inspire, the transform races added in the Smuggler’s Run update morphed what was a tedious chore into a riotous delight.
It’s a lesson that the entire game, even the entire franchise, has learned through its various iterations: variety is the passport to fun. Taking wild stunt races and breaking them into discrete chunks in which you play as various vehicles is even more fun than it sounds, particularly in cases like the Halloween Race, where you changed from supercars and gliders into a lightning fast, building-leaping werewolf.
Transform races are a badly needed injection of novel thinking into a game mode that’s been withering on the vine since its introduction, and achieve the incredible feat of taking one of the most boring activities in the game and, appropriately, metamorphosing it into one of the most fun.
Get a job
Like the heists, the missions in “GTA Online” benefit greatly from the addition of structure and well-defined objectives. They’re also great for solo players looking to make a quick buck, as the vast majority of them can be played alone (a good thing, since matchmaking for most of them is dicey at best) and several of them provide a decent payout before you have access to heists.
Some of the standouts are the Los Santos Connection, which sees you breaking up a rival drug operation by means of violent mayhem, Satellite Connection, which involves jacking a semi full of meth from a gang of bikers holed up behind the Vinewood sign, and Effin’ Lazers, which tasks players with blowing a bunch of planes and helicopters out of the sky in souped-up jet fighters. Because missions tend to be short, bite-sized affairs, they’re a lot easier to bop through than heists for players short on time or who want to jump around and try a lot of different content in quick succession. Sampling different missions almost feels more akin to playing a series of minigames than an open world crime game, and is a great way to spend to an evening.
Become a crime lord
With the introduction of CEO privileges in the Finance and Felony update, “GTA Online” finally gives players the opportunity to get off the streets and into the boardroom, and to properly build a lucrative criminal empire. After accumulating your first million, you’ll have access to the cheapest office property, Maze Bank West, which will put you on the path to kingpin. As a CEO, you’ll be able to buy and sell special cargo, which opens up a new tier of profit potential. You’ll buy warehouses, recruit associates to help defend and mule the goods, and move special cargo and rare items via missions to reap increasingly lucrative paydays.
Playing as a CEO online is something “GTA” fans have been craving for years, to see what happens after the credits roll when the players have completed their bloody rags-to-riches narrative and gone from small-time to high roller. While it’s already a fairly robust mode for wealthy players looking for a high profit end game, messing around with it fills the mind with potential future expansions, like an NPC crime hierarchy of capos and lieutenants who can be customized and leveled up, or the possibility of funneling some of that dirty money into legitimate businesses.
While those are some of the standouts, it’s far from a comprehensive list of the choicest stuff available. For those looking for quick rundown of some the best of the rest, here’s a bullet list of some of fun content:
- Treasure hunts
- Tank battles
- Gang attacks
- The Vespucci Job adversary mode
- Juggernaut deathmatch
- Bounty hunting
- Motor Wars
- Tiny Racers
- Last Team Standing