Why GTA Online Is (and Isn’t) Worth Starting in 2022

Is GTA Online still the best way to kill some time until GTA 6, or are you better off waiting for the next chapter in Rockstar's blockbuster franchise?

GTA Online
Photo: Rockstar Games

While Rockstar has finally started talking about GTA 6 a little more than they’ve talked about that project in recent years, the fact remains that you likely won’t be able to play the next GTA game for quite some time. That being the case, it seems like a lot more people are suddenly wondering if now is the time to finally start playing GTA Online.

Despite the fact that GTA Online can rightfully lay claim to being one of the most successful online multiplayer experiences ever, there are times when it is remarkably easy to forget it even exists. That’s hardly a surprise given that so many fans are still wondering how we’ve gone nearly a decade (nine years) without a proper new GTA game. During all that time, though, GTA Online has promised to offer a nearly infinite GTA experience.

Is that what you’ll actually find if you start playing the game now, though? After all this time, is there still room in GTA Online for those who are about a decade late to the party? To be very honest, the answers to those questions really depend on what kind of gamer you are, what your expectations are, and how much you’re willing to put up with for new GTA content in 2022.

GTA Online Features an Absurd Amount of Diverse Content

I really wanted to find a way to narrow this topic down to a more specific point, but there’s really no reason to beat around the bush. The best reason to play GTA Online in 2022 is the fact that the game offers an absurd amount of content that very few (if any) online games could ever dream of equaling or topping.

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Actually, the sheer amount of content that GTA Online offers may be less significant than the diversity of content the online game offers. Vehicle races, deathmatches, heists, casino trips, running a criminal enterprise, buying homes, going to flight school, stealing exotic cars, running around the city in free-roam mode…all of that only scratches the surface of what you can do in GTA Online. It’s essentially several full-sized games in one, and each of them offers something slightly different. It dwarves every other GTA game in terms of things to do, and it even rivals some of the biggest MMORPGs in terms of keeping you engaged with new activities over a very long period of time.

On top of all that, GTA Online is practically built around a kind of Animal Crossing/Stardew Valley-like persistent content system that is designed to keep you coming back so that you can manage what you left behind. We’ll get to the notable drawbacks of that approach in a second, but it has to be said there’s something oddly peaceful about that style of game design. There comes a point when you’ll simply feel at home in the little slice of GTA Online you’ll eventually carve out for yourself. For all the guns, gore, and, let’s face it, immaturity we often associate with GTA, it’s strangely amusing that the real draw of GTA Online might be its almost Sims-style embrace of the seemingly mundane. However you look at it, this is a game you can easily lose yourself in. 

GTA Online Is the Closest We’ll Ever Get To a Story-Driven GTA 5 Expansion

To be very honest with you, I probably would have personally taken two big GTA 4-style story expansions over a lot of the story-focused GTA Online updates we got instead. That being said, I don’t know if GTA Online’s story-driven content gets enough credit for basically offering more than a traditional expansion’s worth of narrative-driven content and wrapping the whole thing up in the rest of the GTA Online experience.

GTA Online’s story missions and related narrative content sometimes lack the polish and flavor of single-player GTA campaigns, but they often scratch that itch many have felt since they put down GTA 5’s campaign and never looked back. That’s especially true of GTA Online’s heists, which (after a somewhat rocky start) have grown to offer more of what was arguably the GTA 5 campaign’s best feature

It would be disingenuous to simply refer to GTA Online as a kind of MMORPG version of GTA 5, but the game is honestly closer to that ambitious goal than it is further away from it. While I’d like to see the GTA 6’s online mode push a little further in that direction, it’s genuinely impressive that GTA Online features more story-driven content than we likely would have ever gotten from single-player GTA expansions.

GTA Online Is An Incredible Game to Play With Friends

Again, only you know how much this point means to you, but it has to be said that GTA Online really is one of the best online multiplayer games to play with a group of friends. 

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Try not to be shocked, but it turns out that sharing the world of GTA with your buddies is a pretty good time. The thrill of simply causing chaos in that game with the right group of friends is matched only by the joy of sharing GTA Online’s more curated content with a little help from those who will help get you through it. Furthermore, GTA Online offers a robust in-game socialization system that lets you and your friends build an elaborate criminal network. If you’re not into all of that, you can, again, just keep hopping into the game from time and time and simply doing whatever sounds fun at that moment. 

GTA Online often combines the bonding experience of an MMORPG with the pure joy of match-based competitive online multiplayer mayhem. As a digital space for real-life friends, it’s truly one of the great accomplishments in online game design. 

GTA Online’s Role-Playing and Content Creation Scenes Have Greatly Expanded the Game’s Lifespan

GTA Online has remained one of the most popular games across Twitch, YouTube, and pretty much every other content creation platform since its debut (it’s up there with Minecraft as far as that goes). The game’s historic success in that area has given rise to not only quite a few new ideas about how to spend your time in the game but the emergence of a fascinating role-playing scene as well. 

If you’re not familiar with GTA Online’s “RP” scene, you’re missing out on one of the most incredible organic movements we’ve seen in an online game in quite some time. It may sound a bit silly to start playing GTA Online as if you are your in-game character, but that approach really helps you appreciate how much of GTA Online is really built to support proper role-playing. Seriously, it’s shockingly easy to lose yourself in the world of GTA Online role-playing even if you’re not streaming to a wide audience or regularly participating in a large GTA RP community. 

Generally speaking, GTA Online’s massive content creation scene has been a blessing for the game. Even those who don’t actively create content can benefit from the ways content creators have uncovered the shocking amount of ways you can play the game even after you’ve exhausted its narrative-driven content.

GTA Online’s New Player Experience Has Historically Been Pretty Bad

For as welcome as so much of GTA Online’s content is, the fact of the matter is that the game’s size is kind of a double-edged sword at this point. If you’re just now starting your GTA Online journey, you may quickly feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things there are to do as well as the things that you’ll start to feel you simply have to do. 

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Call it a case of “analysis paralysis,” but I think it goes beyond that. GTA Online lacks the new player experience that is often so crucial to games of this size. There is a tutorial, and you can usually score some decent new player rewards and bonuses, but once the game throws you into the wild, you will almost certainly feel the pain of all those years you haven’t spent playing it up until that point. Unlike other large online games that gradually ramp into the late game, GTA Online really hopes you’ll find the joy in just kind of figuring it out as you go along. If you’re not someone who is willing to “take their lumps” and overcome a lot of progression hurdles, you will almost certainly have a rough time.

Taken on its own, that might not be a deal-breaking arrangement. However, that problem is soon amplified by some bigger issues. 

GTA Online Strongly Encourages Grinding and/or Spending Money

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that any online multiplayer game that offers microtransactions also requires you to grind through a ton of gameplay if you’re not willing to spend money on those microtransactions. However, GTA Online really takes that dynamic to a whole new level. 

It comes down to the differences between the haves and have-nots. GTA Online obviously offers elaborate in-game items for absurd price tags, but the game has gradually evolved to ensure that the “whales,” gameplay grinders, and long-term fans are basically playing a different game by this point. As noted above, though, you’re not necessarily isolated from those players once you start the game. In World of Warcraft, seeing a level 60 player in raid-quality armor makes you say “Wow, I want to have what they have.” Seeing a GTA Online player flying a harrier jet to their private yacht where they run their criminal enterprise may spark a similar feeling, but once you realize both the size of the gap between you and them and the many ways crossing that gap will not be cheap, quick, or always enjoyable, you may lose interest in bothering to keep trying.

Even worse, there will be times when those who already have it all will directly impact your experience in negative ways…

The GTA Online Community is Still Filled With Hackers, Griefers, and Generally Toxic Players

I don’t know if GTA Online has the most toxic community of any online game. What I do know is that few games will feel more like “home” to toxic players than GTA Online

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There are things you can do to avoid being griefed in GTA Online, but nearly all of them force you to play the game as if your primary purpose in GTA Online is to avoid getting killed by another player whose good time is almost entirely based on ruining yours. On top of that, those other players will almost certainly have access to weapons, items, and options you won’t be able to access until you’ve played for many more hours or spent a ton of money (see above). Manage to avoid, live with, or simply kill those players, and you’ll still have to deal with the hackers. GTA Online’s hacker problem isn’t quite as bad as it once was, but the game is still plagued with invincible killing machines that can instantly negate whatever progress you’ve made. 

Again, there are things you can do to avoid griefers, whales, and hackers in GTA Online and enjoy the game at your own pace. However, part of embracing what the game has to offer means accepting that the game is weirdly designed to be just as accommodating (arguably more accommodating) to them as it is to anyone else. If you’re not willing to accept that, you probably won’t get the GTA Online experience you’re really looking for. 

Is GTA Online Worth Playing in 2022?

If you own a version of GTA 5 that can still access the GTA Online servers, there’s really no reason not to give the online mode a shot. It’s a free-to-access part of that game’s package, and you’ll at least be able to tell if the game offers enough of a hook to keep you going. 

Generally speaking, though, I think GTA Online will appeal most to the following kinds of new players. 

  1. Anyone who has a group of friends they can regularly play the game with.
  2. Anyone who isn’t afraid to spend a sizeable amount of time or money on the game. 
  3. Anyone who genuinely enjoys the PvP and griefing processes.
  4. Anyone who just can’t wait for GTA 6 and are willing to put up with pretty much anything just to experience some new GTA content. 

If you don’t fall into one of those groups, I would advise going into GTA Online with managed expectations. For as brilliant, big, and bountiful as the GTA Online experience is, it’s hard to argue against the many ways it is simply not designed to accommodate those who are just now starting to play it. There is a considerable curve in this game that is based less on learning it and more on tolerating it. Whether you call it “paying your dues” or simply learning to love the process, your earliest days with GTA Online may very well be your least enjoyable (unless you happen to fall into one of the categories noted above). 

Recommending GTA Online is like recommending that single-player RPG that doesn’t get good until about 20 hours in. I think that there are a lot of people out there who would actually love GTA Online if they gave it a shot and stuck with it a bit longer than they may have in the past. At the same time, it’s a bit of a shame that your ability to enjoy this game is still so closely related to how much of it you’re willing to put up with. 

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