If you've just got GTA 5 for free from the Epic Games Store and you're jumping into GTA Online for the first time, get ready for some big differences. GTA Online is a packed multiplayer experience with almost seven years' worth of updates. It's a big, complicated game with an absolutely dizzying array of vehicles, businesses and activities to check out.
Crucially, too, you're sharing the world with up to 29 other players, which takes a big of getting used to. GTA Online will eat as many hours as you want to put into it, with deep progression systems, loads of expensive properties to buy and tons of vehicles to collect. Sadly, you'll have to earn all your money legitimately, rather than through GTA 5 cheats.
Over the years, we've spent a fair few hours with GTA Online, and wanted to share our advice for how newcomers can play the game without having a bad time. Hopefully you'll find this useful.
1. Find some friends, get used to the game and increase your rank
The key with GTA Online is finding friends you can regularly enjoy playing with. This makes so many activities in the game easier, more lucrative and more fun. Playing GTA Online solo is possible, but it's half the experience in a lot of ways.
When you start GTA Online, you create a character, do a tutorial and are unleashed into Los Santos. Epic's giveaway of GTA 5 comes with the Criminal Enterprise Starter pack, a bumper selection of goodies to get you started in GTA Online. This gives you a number of free items, including a suite of weapons and vehicles to use. Rockstar Games explains what comes with the pack here. Note, though, that we played GTA Online long before this pack existed, and can't completely vouch for how this affects the early part of the online experience.
You also get an executive office, a gunrunning bunker and a biker gang hideout, all of which offer various ways to make you more money from the start. You can access activities in each of these locations from the laptop you'll find inside each building.
Epic's free edition of GTA will also grant you a million dollars of free in-game currency, though it'll take a week or so to appear in your account. We think you should spend $200,000 of that on an in-game apartment which has the ability to initiate heists, and we'll explain why below.
In terms of aspirational vehicles, military chopper the Buzzard is a good one to aim for. That costs $1.75 million, so you'll need to save up a bit, but it'll quickly get you around the map and provide firepower from the sky.
There are reasons you'll want to increase your rank (that is, your level) quickly when starting GTA Online. Going up a few ranks will lead to characters like Simeon and Lamar contacting you with missions via your phone, giving you more ways to unlock money and RP, GTA's version of experience points.
Weapon purchases are also tied to your rank. If you want to buy a Micro SMG from a weapon store, for example, you need to be rank 5 first. So it's worth trying to get through those early levels quickly.
2. GTA Online heists are a good way to make money, and the most fun part of the game
GTA has five heists (including a tutorial heist), and if you're new to the game, you owe it to yourself to check them out. They're like the heists in GTA 5's main story, only they involve four players taking part in one mission simultaneously. They still represent the best GTA experiences you can have in any game in the series.
To access heists, you either need to join another player's heist, or reach level 12 in-game and host your own. Crucially, you'll want three other friends to play the heists with (you can matchmake, but it's precarious, and playing all four heists with the same crew nets you a bonus payout). That hopefully won't be too much of a challenge if you know other people who have grabbed the game for free and have half-decent PCs.
One of your group of four will need what's called a High-End apartment in GTA Online, which apparently doesn't come with the Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack. This is how you host a heist. You can buy this by bringing up your phone in-game, going to the internet browser and clicking on Money and Services. Dynasty 8 is the online store that sells apartments in-game.
The cheapest apartment to feature a heist room is Del Perro Heights, which is $200,000, easily covered by the free money gifted by Rockstar with this version of the game. Again, to host a heist, you need to be rank 12 or higher. It's not a bad idea for all players involved to at least reach rank 12, to ensure everyone is up to the challenge of these large-scale missions.
With three other players in your crew, you can enter the heist room in your new apartment and begin these missions strands. Each heist is divided into separate setup stages with a finale, and you get a first-time bonus payout for finishing them all (and another for finishing them in order). Note that each heist has a setup cost, which you'll easily be able to afford if you haven't blown all your free million dollars of in-game currency at once.
You'll easily make this setup money back from completing each one. When you get deeper into the game, you can think about taking on the Doomsday and Diamond Casino Heists, too, but for now tackling the basic heists is all you need to worry about. Repeating them on higher difficulties earns you bigger payouts.
If you're a solo player, heists are a less dependable source of income, and you might want to try this excellent Reddit guide on playing GTA alone.
3. Don't bother with competitive modes unless they're paying double experience and cash
GTA Online has so many online competitive modes (called Adversary Modes), but they're rarely as fun as doing activities in the open world with friends. Still, there are reasons you'll want to play them, especially if you're new to the game.
Each week, Rockstar usually highlights a certain Adversary Mode with double the rewards (not this week, though, as the double bonus is for gunrunning sell missions). This will allow you to quickly increase your rank and make a bit of cash while you take part. Look out for messages on your phone that invite you to adversary modes, and click on them to enter a matchmaking screen.
Again, they're only really worth focusing on when the payout is doubled. Don't burn yourself out on PvP, because it's not the best part of GTA Online, even though some of the modes can be pretty fun.
4. You can have your cars delivered at any time
This is far from a headline feature, but it's handy to know in case you miss the game's explanation of how it works. Bring up your phone, click on the Mechanic name in your contacts, call him and you can have any of your stored vehicles brought to you, usually a short walk from where you're standing. You'll use this countless times as you play GTA to save time, and it's worth knowing.
5. Strangers will try and grief you, so turn on Passive Mode
Griefing is almost baked into the design of GTA Online. If you want to explore Los Santos without other players being able to ruin it for you, press 'M' on your keyboard to bring up what's called the Interactions menu. From here, scroll down to Passive Mode and turn it on. This will stop players from being able to shoot you. Note, though, that a whole bunch of GTA Online activities require you to play in a public server and switch Passive Mode off.
Interrupting other players' fun is the lifeblood of GTA Online, and you will end up doing it yourself, too. It's why it's such a relief on those rare occasions when you find an empty server, so you can make a bit of money without the threat of someone airstriking you mid-mission.
It's a temporary solution, then, but it will make the act of exploring the world a bit less irritating in your first hours with the game.
6. Resist buying Shark Cards unless you get deep into the game
Everything in GTA Online can be paid for with in-game currency, but earning money is time-consuming in this game, especially if you want to buy some of the fancier vehicles that cost millions of in-game dollars. Rockstar sells in-game currency in the form of Shark Cards, giving you a quick cash injection to get you the thing you want. You don't need to buy these to have a good time in GTA Online, though.
If you throw hours upon hours at GTA Online, you can maybe justify spending a little every now and then for that car, business or apartment you want, especially since you got the game for free from Epic. Ultimately, though, buying digital currency is unlikely to enhance your experience with the game unless you're playing it all the time.
7. Focus on the activities you enjoy
When you start GTA Online, it can take some adjustment to the new status quo. There's so much to do on the map and you're constantly pinged with new activities on your phone. Not everything in the game is great, but you don't have to play all of it to have a good time.
Owning a nightclub isn't as fun as it should be, for example, even if the real DJs that play there are a cool touch. Owning a hangar is really neat, especially with some of the cool customizable aircraft available, but it's a very expensive pursuit that shouldn't be your priority early on. Some of the vehicles you can buy look awesome, but earning enough currency to unlock them can take hours and hours.
The heists are the clear standout in GTA Online in terms of actual early game fun stuff. Some of the different businesses you can buy do have fun activities associated with them depending on what they are (and this free edition should give you plenty of businesses to sample), but there's also a hell of a lot of driving from one side of the map to the other for so many of the missions in the game.
Try not to fall into a pattern where you feel like you're stuck in a grind.
8. Keep an eye out for free GTA money promotions
Over the past few years, Rockstar has become more and more generous in giving out free GTA money, just for logging on during a certain period. At the start of this year it gave away $2 million just for turning the game on twice in two weeks. Keep an eye on Rockstar Games' social channels for any similar promotions. They're not that regular, but they'll usually occur a few times a year, and if you're new to the game, it'll be enough cash to make a serious difference. You can let these build up and buy a silly vehicle that you really want.
Rockstar is currently giving away $500,000 to all players who log in during May 2020.
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Samuel is a PR Manager at game developer Frontier. Formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, he's an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. Before his stint at TechRadar, he spent six years at PC Gamer. Samuel is also the co-host of the popular Back Page podcast, in which he details the trials and tribulations of being a games magazine editor – and attempts to justify his impulsive eBay games buying binges.