GTA Online's new Criminal Career Builder is a pretty brilliant tool
Magnus quit GTA Online a long time ago, but now he's back - and quite happy with it.
I had a few harsh words for Rockstar's latest launch, a re-release of Grand Theft Auto V that adds three core graphics options, shorter load times and more, but is offered without any so-called "upgrade path" for existing owners. It seems rather greedy - even though a myriad of consumers will no doubt buy the game again - and especially so considering developers like CD Projekt RED and Techland are offering something akin to these as a free update. But not Rockstar, here it'll cost you.
But what about GTA Online? Well, the immensely popular online section benefits from the same graphical advantages, of course, but the big, central draw here is Criminal Career, which should act as an incentive to new players and to those looking to start over.
When you start GTA Online for the first time, you get the opportunity, to create a new character who is then handed $4,000,000 "to kick-start your Criminal Career" in the game, but there are some rules on how this is to be spent. You can't get these benefits on an existing character, it's new characters only, and not just that, only the PS5/Xbox Series edition of GTA Online offers this feature, apparently to create a fairer balance in the open world between veterans and novices.
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You can choose from Executive, Gunrunner, Nightclub Owner and Biker, and each of these offers unique opportunities for the further expansion of your criminal empire. The titles themselves actually explain quite effectively what it's all about, and as such you won't be "locked in" to anything. Rather, it's to establish a starting point.
I chose Nightclub Owner, of which it was then time to get my spending pants on, because via the subsequent submenus you'll need to spend your $4,000,000 on various upgrades. You then select a nightclub, vehicles and weapons and that's pretty much it. You can only choose one from each category (apart from the weapons), so you end up with a solid base, a cool car, and several weapons. Again; the idea is that you can now fight back against the big boys in the schoolyard. As you probably won't spend more the full $4,000,000 on these upgrades, you'll even finish with a bit of pocket change - I myself ended up with $378,000 left over.
You then arrive at the same character creation screen as before, where you get the chance to put your own stamp on the character, but after that there's actually a new designed introduction to your empire, and to GTA Online in general. Instead of the relatively cluttered introduction of the game's past, here you get a much more streamlined first impression. Gone is the plethora of calls, texts and missions that seem to both reinforce a single-player-oriented narrative introduction, only to clutter it all up with lobbies and waiting. Instead, you get one text message at a time, introducing you to your chosen vehicle, how combat works, and how to control and profit from your chosen property. Perhaps it's because, just over a year and a half ago, I had a wildly bad impression of GTA Online, which I picked up with my brother, but these first 45 minutes are almost from a different planet, and are so immensely more effective in terms of the gradual expansion of the player's horizons. It has to be said that I haven't played hundreds of hours of GTA Online before, so I don't really know if some of these sequences, such as the arrival at my nightclub with Lazlow, Gay Tony and other familiar characters are new. I can say, however, that the remix I've experienced works downright brilliantly.
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In fact, the game insists more emphatically on this gradual introduction, and it may well be that many will find this frustrating, as it's not entirely clear whether or not very experienced players will have to go through this again. However, you can of course opt out of the Career Builder segment altogether. But for me, watching the map unfold bit by bit was a pretty transformative experience, where, even sitting still in a car for 50 minutes (while at a meeting), I didn't get a single text or call rushing me for features, modes and content. The game's framework has been tightened up, and it works tremendously effectively for both new players, and for those who have previously given it a shot but are now trying again.
It's still too early to tell if GTA Online will once again be one big mess, as I believe it has been in the past, where disparate ideas, content types, single and multiplayer features and poor technical coherence come together in one gigantic, ambitious and ultimately clunky mess. What I do know, however, is that the introduction, and Career Builder, makes it that much more tempting to try and give it a go, and that in itself is pretty exciting. I spent several hours following this path, and overall felt better equipped to explore other modes and revenue streams after fiddling with my nightclub.
Furthermore, the shortened loading times, and especially Performance RT mode, make quite a difference to the overall impression of the GTA Online world. There are a few more NPCs on the streets, a little more life around the player, and thanks to increased draw distance, the world seems to invite a little more exploration, just like in Story Mode.
GTA Online's new Career Builder may not be reason enough alone to buy the game again. But what I can say is that if you've wanted to either try it for the first time, or ditched it a number of years ago, this streamlined and graphical improvement, means you can now easily and elegantly give it another shot.