GTA Online – Smugglers Run Review

GTA Online, Smuggler’s Run, Shark Cards, Oh my…

We are trying a new review format on GO30 this week.  JBreeze and I will both be tackling this review/summary.  Our hope is this “twin perspective” will help you, the reader, understand the good and not-so-good parts of Rockstar’s most recent update to GTA V / GTA Online.  This review will also be a bit more “conversational” than out other articles.  So…kick back and enjoy!

Summary

JoeThreeZero:

It should be no surprise that Smuggler’s Run is the exact same format as every other major piece of GTA Online content from the past couple years:

  1. Buy a very expensive piece of property (airplane hangar)
  2. Run dozens of supply collection missions, using various “free” vehicles
  3. Sell supplies in a grandiose delivery mission (usually with a big payout)
  4. Repeat (The owner of the hanger must be a CEO or Motorcycle Club president.)

What makes Smuggler’s run a bit different is that it takes GTA Online into the skies more than ever before.  Most of the missions involve some type of aircraft or helicopter and it’s a welcome change of pace to the typical vehicle oriented mission of the previous content packs.  I always loved the aircraft in GTA Online and I’ve told our gaming group (on numerous occasions) how much I wanted a flight oriented expansion.

Rockstar must have heard me because they delivered.  They also made it expensive (in every sense of the term).  In our gaming group I elected to be the person to buy the aircraft hangar and it simply wasn’t possible without a Shark Card (the real cash purchases that will supply your in-game account with money).  Let me get this out of the way now: If you don’t play GTA Online like a second job (multiple nights a week running multiple heists), then you’ll need a Shark Card because – like most other GTA Online expansions – Smuggler’s Run feels like it was designed to sell Shark Cards.  It’s $!&@*# expensive if you want everything.

GTA Online Warstock Store
The new planes from Warstock are very expensive (as usual).

That said…

…only one person needs to bear that burden for a group of people to enjoy the new content (and this is some great new content).  Fortunately or unfortunately that person was me.

JBreeze:

Contrary to promotional material and articles, this is not a free expansion – it’s freaking expensive. Yes, you are automatically part of the expansion, but you can’t meaningfully participate or enjoy the promoted content without significant expense.

Personal Aircraft Hangar: The average hangar is $2.1 million. Want to modify your aircraft as advertised? The workshop will cost you another $1.2 million. Living Quarters to allow you to spawn there? That’s another quarter million dollars.

New Aircraft Vehicles: What’s the point of a hangar if you don’t store any vehicles in it? Too bad the average air vehicle is $2.5 million. Getting all the new vehicles will run you between $15 to $20 million. And that’s without the customization costs.

Bottom line: Enjoying the promoted content expansion (with a hangar, a plane or two, and some customization) will cost you around $8 million of in-game currency. That equates to $100 in real-world currency for a “free” expansion to a game you already spent $60 on (or more).  Sure, you get access to sourcing missions which can eventually earn profits, but the break-even point is reached only after many, many hours of grinding missions and sales.  And if you want to enjoy the new Adversary Mode: Motor Wars, spend $30 for the better experience and quality of PUBG, without the pervasive hacking.

Shark Cards are an option, but I have some significant opposition to further funding Rockstar and their peer-to-peer, hacker-laden, slow-loading environment.  Show me that the effort to invest in the necessary infrastructure to run a cash cow game like GTA Online, and I’ll be willing to shell out a bit more cash for an enriched experience.  I understand that Rockstar is in the business to make money, and incentivizing Shark Card purchases is critical to that model.  However, the costs of the expansion items are beyond prohibitive.

Gameplay

JoeThreeZero:

The basic gameplay loop in Smuggler’s run doesn’t change the formula much (see summary above) but what sets this content apart is the mission design and vehicles.  Our very first supply mission (after buying the hanger) involved bombing a targeted location and then taking supplies back to base.  The “mini bomber” that we were given was a blast to fly and there is just something extremely satisfying about bombing a junk yard into oblivion.   As with most GTA Online content, it’s better with friends.  All hangar missions provide the appropriate plane/jet/helicopter and will spawn the appropriate amount to accommodate the number of people in the group (max of four vehicles, I believe).  A few missions use multi-crew planes and we found those to be very entertaining.  It is important to note that this is online only content and the minute you start running supplies back to base, the rest of the lobby is alerted and other players may try to stop you.  [The owner of the hangar always takes the big payout. The other party members are paid in small amounts every time a collection mission is completed.]

GTA Online Hangar
Standing in my new hangar, admiring my newly purchased airplanes.

Smuggler’s Run has some of the best missions design I’ve seen in GTA Online and that’s due to the chaotic and dynamic nature of air based missions.  There are definitely some [missions] that need work but most offer an experience that feels new and fresh.  Unfortunately, the delivery missions (the big payout) are surprisingly inconsistent.  I wish Rockstar would stop making stunt based payout missions because they aren’t fun.  Blowing %$&# up is fun.  Trying to fly a helicopter through a barn door is not.  Being online only, your team will have to deal with the lobby as well.  Other players in the lobby can attack or grief you at any time and it can lead to a lot of frustration, especially if you are stuck in a lobby with a lot of hackers.  [Hackers/Injectors are still a very big issue in GTA Online.  Don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.]

GTA Online has started to feel “recycled” with the last few content packs.  Smuggler’s Run shakes up the gameplay enough to make it fun again (at least for a while, nothing lasts forever).

JBreeze:

I have always enjoyed and preferred air vehicles in GTA Online, so the increase in available vehicles is very exciting to me. With more air vehicles available to more people, you really need to watch the skies when running lobby missions. It’s both frustrating and exhilarating to dodge bombs and rocket fire while attempting to deliver cargo back to your warehouse and it certainly adds to the cinematic experience of the game.

The hangar missions are challenging and fun (from my experience as an associate) and while it’s new and interesting to use the mission vehicles, they’re much easier to complete with a Buzzard Attack Chopper. Rooftop targets and junkyard crates are much easier to destroy with homing missiles and hovering machine guns than multiple attempts at bombing runs, and I had a much easier time flying under bridges with a Buzzard than the mission-assigned planes my group was using.

Pictured: Easy Mode

Overall gameplay is fun… until you get destroyed mid-mission by a hacker who causes you to spontaneously combust. Seriously, how does Rockstar not automatically investigate a Rank 8000 player for potential hacking?

Conclusion

JoeThreeZero:

It’s tough to make a call on Smuggler’s Run without talking about the two virtual elephants in the room: Shark Cards and hackers.  Let’s start with Shark Cards:

I’m not going to jump out and just start bemoaning Shark Cards.  I’m going to look at them objectively and apply some common business & market logic to them. Let’s call a spade, a spade, and admit what we all know: GTA Online is a framework for Shark Cards.  Let’s stop pretending that it isn’t.  It’s not logical to expect someone (especially those with limited time) to grind out in-game cash to buy all the content in GTA Online.  So Shark Cards are just pure video game publisher corruption designed to fleece the customer of every nickel and dime?  No.  Not necessarily.  It depends on your perspective and expectations when it comes to GTA.

Most content in GTA Online really only requires one person in the group to “buy” the content.  For example: If your friend buys the multi-million dollar hangar, you can run all the missions with them at zero cost to you (except buying GTA V obviously).  If you are a person that doesn’t care about owning every vehicle or airplane, and you just want to run some co-op missions for the sheer joy of gaming, you can do that with next to no cost.  It’s essentially “free” for you (assuming you have a group to play with).  Shark Cards enable Rockstar/T2 to charge some customers for content and let the rest play “free”.  That’s the reality of the Shark Card design.

For clarification: GTA Online expansions should not be completely free of monetization; development and support costs need to be covered.  I get frustrated with the Shark Card market as much as the next person but in some ways it’s a smart decision.  It allows everyone to enjoy GTA Online without adding paywalls everywhere.  Rockstar doesn’t have to cut out some of the market.  If you own GTA V you can play GTA Online “for free” while other people cover the cost.  Is this design problematic if you want everything you see in front of you?  Yes. Grinding out in-game cash in GTA Online is fun at first but it wears out after the 100th time you’ve run the same mission.

Shark Cards also set a dangerous precedent for the industry.  They are working (as a revenue tool) so don’t expect Rockstar to back off in terms of “monetization.”  Because the market responded so well to Shark Cards (you can hate them all you want but people are buying them), they will appear in other games, in some form.  The long term impact on this will likely be negative for consumers as more and more pieces of future games are hidden behind paywalls.  At the end of the day consumers have to make a choice.  People are buying Shark Cards (I am just as guilty) and until the market as a whole says “no”, the practice will continue.  Remember, consumers are at fault for supporting these practices just as much as Rockstar/T2 is for implementing it.

Hacking is still a massive issue with GTA Online.  Rockstar’s utterly lazy and cheap decision (and I mean that in those exact terms) to make GTA Online a peer to peer game has fueled a hacker paradise.  There is no central authority server in GTA Online that controls gameplay thus hackers can inject whatever they want into the session.  If you have played even a few hours of GTA Online you will have run into a hacker/injector who spawns whatever they want or blows up other players on a whim.  It doesn’t matter how many people Rockstar bans since they can’t keep up with the number of hackers and the architecture of the system pretty much allows for free hacking & injecting.

After those two largely negative points, if you can find a solid gaming group who enjoys GTA Online, you will find a lot of fun moments in Smuggler’s Run.  It is still the most dynamic and interesting content that Rockstar has added to the game in a while and I recommend it.

JBreeze:

What he said.  It’s a great game with friends, especially those that have the GTA$ for the content, but it’s not for the light-of-wallet.

JBreeze can be found flying in his attack chopper and looking for hacker-free sessions.  

JoeThreeZero can be found waiting for JBreeze to get in his attack chopper instead of the mission vehicle.

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