gta-v

GTA Online is a playground. It may not be a welcoming one if you don’t have the stomach for Rockstar Games’ unique blend of murder, mischief, and mayhem, but the city of Los Santos and the countryside that surrounds it exists entirely for the amusement of you and your friends in the online portion of Grand Theft Auto V. It’s closer to the anything-goes lobbies of Red Dead Redemption‘s open world multiplayer than it is to the “Party Mode” of Grand Theft Auto IV, which was essentially a pre-match lobby writ large across Liberty City. There’s a lot to do in Los Santos, and any number of dangling carrots to grasp at as you fight alongside – or against – your friends in an endless pursuit of wealth and power. 

It can be daunting to a newcomer thanks to a plodding tutorial that puts more emphasis on re-teaching basic Grand Theft Auto skills than it does on showing you how to get started in your virtual life of online crime. Fortunately for you, we’ve got a strong grasp on criminal sensibilities here at Digital Trends. We’ve spent time on Los Santos’ mean streets, learning how to lie and cheat, steal and kill. And we’re going to share with you the benefit of our experiences so you know where to go and what to do once you’re set loose in the online face of GTA V.

It’s worth noting before you read any further that GTA Online continues to be a developing product. The game launched on October 1, 2013 and is subject to frequent updates. With those updates come various changes to the user experience. We’ve seen a lot since launch, and there are certainly more to come. Given the fluid nature of GTA Online right now and at least for the foreseeable future, you should check out this guide frequently for updates and additions as new features are added and old ones are tweaked.

If connectivity continues to be an issue and you are forced back in to the single player, check out our guide for some tips on surviving the GTAV campaign. 

Learning the basics

GTA Online‘s tutorial serves a purpose, but it serves the story more than the gameplay. In truth, you’re not going to learn much during the required series of mini-missions that you didn’t already pick up from playing through GTA V‘s single player mode. What the tutorial does do, however, is set up your reason for being in Los Santos. It starts with your character landing at the city’s airport and meeting up with his or her first contact in this new place. Contacts are key in GTA Online. While you can participate in all manner of competitive and cooperative tasks, both in the open world and in discrete lobbies dedicated to things like racing or deathmatches, the meatiest jobs – and most rewarding ones, from a cash and Reputation Points perspective – come from your contacts via text messages.

We’ll get into that more below, but for the tutorial, just try to stay tuned in. Pay attention to what people are saying to you. GTA Online is not welcoming for a beginner, but you’re getting useful advice here along with glimpses of what some of the online missions look like. The only step you can safely skip is the last one. The tutorial ends with a mission marker that brings you to a Last Team Standing match, which is GTA Online‘s one-life-per-player Team Deathmatch variant. You don’t actually have to participate in a match to end the tutorial, but you do have to go to the mission marker. Once that’s done, you can simply back out of the match menu and head off into the wild open world of Los Santos.

Crew up

Being that GTA Online is… well, an online game, it helps to have some accomplices along with you. Maybe you’ve got a group of friends that you play with regularly. Maybe you don’t, but you’d like to find some folks to raise hell with. In either case, you’ll want to link up with a “Crew.” While much of this functionality is accessible in-game via the pause menu, the easiest way to get yourself set up is through a web browser. Head to Rockstar Games Social Club, sign in (or create a new account if you don’t have one), and head to the Crews page. If you’re not planning on forming one with your friends, check out the “Find a Crew” tab to search for one that you’d like to join.

There are several advantages to linking up with and playing alongside crew members. The big one is a Reputation Point bonus – RPs are GTA Online‘s equivalent of experience points – for completing missions and other tasks with fellow members. You’ll also be able to add your Crew’s custom emblem to vehicles when you respray them and participate in rivalries with other Crews. Much of this is still coming together on Rockstar’s end, but even now there’s value in joining and playing frequently with a Crew for the RP boost alone.

Petty crimes

Right from the start, you’ve got a few options for making some quick, easy cash. These methods are less useful once you’re more established, but they’re vital during your early hours in GTA Online. Mowing down pedestrians is always an option, but not a very good one. They drop only a small amount of money, and mass murder sprees draw police attention rather quickly. Shocker, right? A better bet is stealing cars and selling them at Los Santos Customs. This only works with low-end and mid-range rides, and only once per in-game day; high-end sports cars are deemed too “hot” to be sold. You can’t add the pricey rides to your garage either. To “keep” a car, you have to buy a tracker (which allows you to find your lost or impounded car), and insure your vehicle (you can pay a small fee to get a new car when yours is destroyed). This requires bringing the car to a Los Santos Customs shop; since you can’t bring them a stolen high-end ride, the only way to own one of the fancy sports cars is to buy it off of the Los Santos Customs in-game website, accessible from your phone.

Your other route to quick cash in the early going is petty theft. Gas stations and convenience stores can both be held up. Simply walk in, point your gun at the store clerk and hold it there, grab the bag of cash he drops for you, and flee the scene so you can lose the wanted level that your robbery generates. You can shoot your weapon near the clerk – but not at him – or, alternatively, scream loudly into your headset (in game chat only; party won’t work) – to make him fill the cash bag faster. Alternatively, you can shoot him and fill the bag yourself by walking up to the register and holding right on the D-pad when the prompt appears. The downside to that is you’ll leave with three wanted stars instead of two; that’s true whenever you shoot the clerk, even if he draws a gun on you as you leave.

There’s a few things you can do to help yourself when you pull off these robberies. First off, buy yourself some masks from the store near Vespucci Beach and make sure you’re wearing one when you walk into the store. This ensures that the clerk won’t recognize you on future visits. Also be sure to have a fast car parked right outside. A helicopter is an even better bet, since it’s easy to evade a two-star wanted level in the air. If you’ve got a friend handy, get him or her to serve as your getaway driver. Just make sure you remember to split your take from the job after it’s over. To do this, hold down the Back button (Xbox 360 controller) to bring up the Interaction menu. Select the “Inventory” option, then the “Cash” option. From here, you’re able to split the take from your last job by assigning different percentages to whomever you want to share the cash with (everyone in your current lobby is listed).

Of course, you can also choose to screw over your friend and keep everything for yourself. Them’s the breaks when you live the life of an irredeemable criminal.

Bigger jobs

Ultimately, stealing cars and holding up stores isn’t going to do much for you. They’re fun diversions, and the quick cash that you earn is good for replenishing your ammo and fixing your ride, but you’re eventually going to want to buy more expensive items: Guns and mods, an apartment, a garage, etc. All of these are significant investments and they’re going to require more capital than you can effectively earn doing small-time jobs… unless you’ve got a lot of patience.

This is where GTA Online‘s bigger jobs come in. Occasionally, you’ll receive a text message from one of your contacts detailing some task or another that they want you to complete; you can also call any of these job-givers and request one from them. The text always gives you the name of the job, the number of players allowed, and a brief description of what you’re expected to do. Accepting the job takes you immediately to a lobby and from there you can invite friends, ammo up, and tweak various match settings. Once you’ve completed a job from one of your contacts for the first time, the cash reward on any subsequent attempt is halved. The replay option is locked for these jobs as well, so it’s often best to vote your way back into freemode after a job is finished and ring your contacts again for some new assignments.

Leveling up brings some huge advantages in GTA Online. In truth, it’s the heart of the mode. Want some better guns to play with? A swanky apartment? Armor that will keep you alive longer? All of this requires you to level up. Even missions and diversions come with level requirements attached to them. The open world offers plenty of fun if you want to just mess around, but the good stuff doesn’t start appearing until you hit certain levels. 

Real estate mogul

Property is a big deal in GTA Online. It’s not something you’ll have to worry about early on (unless you bought the Collector’s Edition and got a free garage), but it’s something you’ll want to get in on as soon as you can. Garages, simply, let you own more than one car. Store any car in your garage, and a tracker is added to it for free (though you’ll still have to insure it to truly keep it). The same rules for “hot” cars that apply to Los Santos Customs apply to your garage as well; you’ll have to buy a high-end sports car if you want to keep it forever. You can also buy apartments to get yourself a little escape from the open world. They all comes with garages as well. Our advice is to go for one of the apartments in the $200K range; those are the cheapest to include a 10-car garage. Their only difference from the most expensive apartments is cosmetic. What’s more, the cheaper 10-car garage apartments are better situated in the heart of the city.

You’ve got to be at least level 5 in order to buy property, and even then you won’t be able to start until the character Simeon calls and tells you about the benefits of owning a garage. To buy, simply browse to the “Dynasty 8 Real Estate” website on your in-game phone and find the property you want. Alternatively, you can visit the physical location and purchase via the real estate sign, much like you would in the single player portion of the game. An added note for Collector’s Edition owners: you’ll still have to “buy” your free garage off the Dynasty 8 website (it’s free) once you’ve unlocked the ability to own property. You can also find your free car on the Los Santos Customs website, and your free weapons in any Ammu-nation that you visit.

Menu play

There are two special menus that you’ll be accessing often in GTA Online. The first is your phone, which serves a number of purposes. The most important of these is using its Internet app to access the Maze Bank website and deposit any cash you have on hand in your bank account. Any cash you walk around with in your pocket could potentially be lost if someone sics a mugger on you (an ability that unlocks at level 50), so it’s important to remain vigilant when it comes to depositing cash in the bank. You can also do this from any ATM, but your phone is always at hand and the process is relatively quick and straightforward. You can also use your phone to quickly jump into a random multiplayer job and ring your contacts. As you level up, you’ll have characters like Lester calling to tell you that they can provide some new service; to take advantage of this, you call that contact and then select the desired service from the menu that pops up after they answer.

There’s also the Interaction menu, accessed by pressing and holding the Back button on an Xbox 360 controller. This is where you go to split the cash from a job or gift cash to friends if you’re feeling generous. Simply call up the menu, choose “Inventory,” followed by “Cash.” You’re also able to quickly change in and out of masks, hats, and glasses here.

Inventory is only part of what makes the Interaction menu useful. You can use it to quickly set GPS markers for key locations, including the nearest vendors (Ammu-nation, mod shop, etc.) as well as notable mission objectives, when applicable. You’re also able to “Request personal vehicle” if you suddenly find yourself a great distance from your owned car. You’ll need to be near a road to take advantage of this feature, but it’s invaluable. No less so than “Passive Mode,” an optional setting that costs $100 per use to activate. While Passive Mode is on, no one can shoot you, though you can still be run over or blown up. You also won’t be able to shoot anyone or take on missions while Passive is on, but at least you can’t be gunned down!

The art of griefing

You may have heard about GTA Online‘s ”Bad Sport” designation, which exists to ensure that jerk players are stuck together in lobbies so they can only be jerks to one another. What you might not realize is you can’t earn a Bad Sport rep simply for gunning down other players. That’s just part of the GTA Online experience. You don’t have to shoot at every human player you see, but you’ll definitely want to be on guard when the white blips representing them get close on your radar.

To earn the Bad Sport designation, you’ve got to destroy a lot of personal vehicles. Owned cars may be insured, but it still costs money to get a lost ride back… and it’s a lot of money if you’ve got a high-end, heavily modded speedster. The Bad Sport threat is meant to discourage people from abusing other players until they’re penniless. If you happen to be labeled a Bad Sport – cars explode, and sometimes you just can’t help that – take heart in the knowledge that it’s not a permanent situation. You’re effectively banned from non-Bad Sport lobbies (even private ones) for a 48-hour period, though you can cut that time down by having other players “commend” your in-game behavior. To do so, you go into the pause menu, bring up the list of players in the lobby (you can only commend people in your lobby),  and choose the name you want to commend. The idea here is to encourage communication and cooperation, since all Bad Sports are lumped in together.

Think we missed something?  Got any tips of your own you’d like to pass on? Sound off in the comments below.