General Tips for Beginners
Before we dive into details, here are some tips I think every beginner to GTA Online should be aware of before they start diving into the game.
Play Some Story Mode Missions First
GTA Online, although advertised as a separate title, is included in GTA V, a.k.a. the Story Mode. They are bundled in any package of the game you will purchase, and they share similar UI and game controls.
When you launch GTA V for the first time, you are forced to play through the Story Mode’s Prologue before joining GTA Online. The Prologue, along with many Missions at the story line’s beginning, will teach you some basic controls and mechanisms in the game, so playing them is a good way to familiarize yourself with how things work.
On the other hand, the GTA Online Tutorial has nothing about the game’s control; it only tells you some special things about the online mode. Of course, the GTA Online Tutorial was designed for people who have already played through some part of the Story Mode. Furthermore, no Missions in GTA Online contain guides for mastering controls.
Thus, it is a good idea to play some Story Mode Missions before diving into GTA Online. If you are too excited about GTA Online to play Story Mode first, I would suggest you hold your horses just for a moment until you have unlocked the Flight School and completed most of the lessons. At that point, you should have learned the bulk of this game’s controls and be able to drive a plane, fly a helicopter, and use a parachute. Learning controls with instructions instead of trial-and-errors save you time and effort, and mastering flying skills makes your teammates never blame you in a Mission involving flying an aircraft.
Expect Overpowered Players and Know How to Avoid Them
If you choose to do the GTA Online Tutorial and have completed the “Learning the Ropes” Mission, or you skip the Tutorial, you will be put into a game lobby, referred to as a “session” in game, which may consist of other players.
GTA Online’s session matching mechanism does not consider the player’s game progress at all, meaning that as a player who has not even reached Rank 10, you might be put into a session with players who have reached Rank 100+, 200+, or even 500+. These players usually own more powerful weapons and vehicles than you do, so if they choose to attack you, they can keep killing you and give you no opportunity to strike back. Imagine taking out someone who has possibly better skills, flying motorcycles with missles, fighter jets, or automatic weapons, using only the pistol given to every new player for free, which has slow fire rate and no more than 100 rounds of ammo. You’d better avoid a must-lose duel with them.
In GTA Online, it is important to learn how to steer clear of other players' disruptions and attacks. Please consult this article for how to protect yourself from unwanted attacks from other players.
Keep a Minimal Collection of Weapons
In Story Mode, when you open up the Weapon Wheel, the game slows down, so you can safely switch to another weapon without worrying about being killed by an NPC meanwhile. To other NPCs, it is like you instantly draw out another weapon from your pocket.
In GTA Online, it is not possible to slow down the game just for you to change weapon, so bringing out the Weapon Wheel has no effect on game speed, even if you are the only player in a session. When you own a large arsenal and need to scroll through multiple weapons to find the one you need, the game progresses as normal. You might get killed by an NPC if you are doing a Mission involving a lot of attackers, have not taken cover properly, and idling for too long, just to find an item in a large inventory. If you can just keep essential weapons only in your arsenal, then such tragedy will occur less likely.
Avoiding unnecessary weapons is even more important if you play on PC because once you purchase a weapon, you can never get rid of it permanently. You can throw it away, but after you join a new session, it just comes back. If you have heard of gun lockers, which are claimed by Rockstar to be able to hide your weapons, you might think that they can solve this problem. In general, the design of gun lockers’ weapon hiding mechanism is flawed and prevents successful removal of weapons in some situations. There are things you must pay attention to in order to make gun lockers work, as described in this article.
I heard that on PS4 and Xbox One, you can permanently throw away a weapon. I can’t test this because I don’t own a console. But still, considering the fatal overhead of finding a weapon in a large arsenal, keeping a minimal number of weapons is important.
I will introduce a good minimal collection of weapons I use here.
Claim Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack Items Judiciously
If you have purchased GTA V after January 2021 on Steam, Epic Games, PlayStation Store or Microsoft Store, your game comes with the Criminal Enterprise Starter Pack. The Starter Pack allows you to claim some in-game items for free; however, it is not wise to claim everything in it. For example, the Paleto Forest Bunker is something you must avoid under all possible conditions. Some of the weapons included in the pack have alternatives with better performance; once you claim them, you might never be able to get rid of them based on the reasons discussed in the section above.
For more comments on items included in the Starter Pack, you can read other articles in this collection discussing itself in more details and properties in general.
Ignore Lamar Missions for Now
Soon after you complete the GTA Online Tutorial, or after you have played a while if you skipped it, you will reach Rank 5. Lamar will call you and ask you to meet him:
Hey man, y’all ain’t the first person I come into, or the second, or the sixth. But opportunity’s knocking right now, and opportunity’s name is LD. Come on over to Benny’s Original Motor Works, and I’ll lay it out for you.
Because in the Tutorial, Lamar was the homie met up with you at the airport, gave you the pistol, raced with you, and invited you to complete a job, it is common and understandable that new players believe this phone call, along with the Mission they will join after meeting Lamar at Benny’s Original Motor Works, are a continuation of the Tutorial.
Surprisingly, it isn’t. The phone call and the Mission are just components of a content update which was not intended to do anything with the Tutorial. That Mission, plus all consequent Missions you would unlock after completing it, require intensive fights against lots of enemies, which would be hard to do with the only pistol you might have at this point.
So, please consider ignoring that phone call and the series of Missions given by Lamar until you have made a good progress in GTA Online.
Refer to GTA Online’s History
When understanding any tips listed in this collection or thinking about what to do, it might be helpful to take the history of GTA Online into your account. This might help you understand why the tips are suggested.
For example, consider the tip about playing some Story Mode Missions before starting GTA Online. GTA V, the Story Mode itself, was initially launched on September 17, 2013; GTA Online was not available until October 1 of the same year. When GTA Online was released, most players had played through some Story Mode Missions so they were already familiar with the controls. What’s the point of teaching the same thing they have learned again in the GTA Online Tutorial? Therefore, although now we can opt to jump right into Online on day 1, it is still helpful to play some part of the Story Mode first.
In addition, if you know that the Lamar Missions were added to the game two years after the release, then you will realize that they are not a part of the GTA Online Tutorial. Lamar Missions are part of the Lowriders update, which was released on October 20, 2015. The mission designers at Rockstar probably expected players to have larger arsenals and better skills after playing the game for two years, so these missions typically require powerful weapons and strong team collaboration; they are not intended to be done by a whole lobby of beginners. Considering this fact, you would probably choose to skip them until you acquire some better hardware.
A brief history of GTA Online that covers the major content updates will be presented in the next section.