With the debate raging about microtransactions in AAA gaming, I’m surprised I haven’t seen a ton about GTA Online. Maybe it’s just that players have accepted that the game has some of the more egregious use of microtransactions on the market, or perhaps it’s that the microtransactions are a bit more abstracted than some titles (though not by much). GTA Online has always favored players who spend more money on Shark Cards, and with the recent Doomsday Heist update, Rockstar and Take-Two went ahead and added an option that makes the game literally pay-to-win: the Orbital Cannon.
GTA Online is all about the grind. You grind activities so you can make cash to buy properties that allow you access to new activities so you can make more money. What keeps GTA Online alive is that for the most part, the races, VIP missions, and other events you grind to get cash are actually fun. Just the racing missions alone can soak up hours of your time, and the whole while you’re leveling up and winning cash. Sure, it’s not a ton of dough, but you’re still getting it.
San Andreas is a huge map, and part of the fun of GTA Online is just exploring with friends. It’s a blast to load up a car with four people and just go offroading or driving through the country, but the addition of the Orbital Cannon makes the prospect of leaving the safety of your safehouse a risky one.
The Orbital Cannon can kill you anywhere, at any time outside of your safe house. It can find players anywhere on the map and has enough explosive force to one shot almost any vehicle. The only upside is that the price barrier to gain access to the Orbital Cannon in GTA Online is quite high.
To use the Orbital Cannon, you first have to purchase a Facility for anywhere from 1.2 million to 2.95 million GTA$. Once you own a Facility, you then need to spend another $900,000 to add the Orbital Cannon weapon system to it. After that, you can either use the cannon for free surveillance of the whole map, pay $500,000 for a manually-fired shot, or $750,000 for a guided shot. There’s also a cool-down of 48 minutes between shots.
However, this price barrier doesn’t apply to players who use glitches to spawn tens of millions of dollars (especially on PC). Hackers and glitchers already tend to griefers, so Rockstar has given them the perfect tool to cover up the fact that they’re hacking. Used to, if you spontaneously exploded it was for sure a hacker, but now it’s a gameplay mechanic. Given that it can take days to grind a million GTA$, griefers using the Orbital Cannon can destroy hours of work a player has done with absolutely no way to avoid it. That shiny new vehicle you saved up for, gone, and you’re left respawning it and trying to start whatever you were doing over.
The Orbital Cannon is one of the most unbalanced additions to an online game I’ve ever seen. Given that GTA Online whales who spend hundreds on Shark cards and hackers already make the game miserable, it’s astounding that Rockstar and Take-Two decided to introduce a weapon that moves the game in the opposite direction of where fans wanted to see it go. Maybe they’re soaking in the extra money before they debut Red Dead Redemption 2, which is sure to be riddled with microtransactions. In any case, GTA Online has genuinely become the definition of pay-to-win.