Grand Theft Auto has always been about being over the top and GTA Online’s latest DLC, The Doomsday Heist, is a masterclass in over the top.
The city’s most dangerous criminal teams up with a billionaire and an AI to save the world from nuclear apocalypse, launching missions from a flying fortress? Pretty extreme – but even that doesn’t top one of the less central, but extremely bothersome additions of this particular DLC.
When players buy their Facility properties, they unlock the possibility to buy an orbital cannon, because the next step after corrupt CEO is probably Bond Villain. The cannon itself costs GTA$ 900,000, which on its own isn’t much of a paywall.
However every single manually aimed shot costs GTA$ 500,000, and if you want it to auto-aim on a concrete target, you’ll have to shell out GTA$ 750,000.
Add to that price a timer of 48 in-game hours (48 real-time minutes) between shots, and you’d think the weapon is fairly well regulated – I mean, who has that kind of money, right?
Well, hackers, is who. But then, that’s what the cooldown is for… although apparently there are a host of glitches which can be exploited to cheat that cooldown, and reset it immediately after a shot.
The orbital cannon’s shot is, basically, an area-of-effect attack which automatically destroys all vehicles and destructible props, and kills all players within its blast radius, regardless of cover or armor. Nothing in the game exists which isn’t destroyed in a single shot. Its also a completely binary effect, so there’s no lower-damage area on the edge.
You’re either in the radius, or not.
If you happen to be inside a building, but fall into the radius, you still die. If you’re flying above the shot’s impact at the time of firing, you die (presumably the shot goes through you. Ouch). If you’re in your yacht with defenses on, you die. If you have several floors of parking garage above you, you die. This thing may as well etch a huge middle finger into the ground wherever it is fired.
Currently, the only two ways to not get blasted from orbit is to have passive mode turned on or be in an instanced property, like an apartment, Bunker, Office, etc. Beyond these, players have discovered some interesting tidbits about the orbital cannon.
The camera trigger point for aiming regular shots is fixed in the same physical space as the game world, floating in mid-air but not at the top of it. In spite of this being an “orbital” cannon, players can fly over the aiming camera, and thus not be targeted manually. Auto-targeting does not rely on this camera, so that can still kill you.
Certain methods can help you hide your blip on the orbital cannon map, but if you happen to be in the blast radius it still gets you. Apparently going into tunnels masks your blip, as does “off the radar” and “ghost organization”. Stealth vehicles, however, will not.
Between a horde of hacked accounts having billions of in-game cash and the glitches (we won’t detail them for the greater good, if you’re really interested the vast information highways of the internet shall guide you) this has become the perfect griefing tool. Instant kill in any situation and the victim cannot do anything about it. They can’t fight back since you’re in a facility, they can’t run or hide – it is guaranteed bother.
So why, after finally sort-of equipping players with decent ways to fend off Hydras, would Rockstar go back and give such a powerful weapon to griefers? There are multiple theories about this, and they pain the developers in different ways.
Less favorable theories involve the cooldown glitches being deliberate, thus essentially giving players quick ways to repeatedly spend GTA$ 500,000 or GTA$ 750,000. With such a rapid money sink, presumably microtransactions become more appealing. Now, there are a few things wrong with this – who in their right mind would buy Shark Cards just to use the orbital? And this plays right into the hands of hackers, a group to which Rockstar would never pander.
Another theory is that the orbital cannon is geared to appeal to hackers very intentionally, and it’s kind of a cheat detector in disguise. Maybe shots are tracked with hidden stats – one of the older anti-cheat methods the game used – and folk who are firing off countless shots in quick succession get their accounts looked at closer.
While this seems like an overly complicated and contrived method to achieve hacker detection, and is thus very likely also a dud, it would certainly be a creative approach. Whatever players may think of Rockstar, everyone can agree that they always go after the hackers.
Most likely it was assumed that the cooldown of the orbital cannon would regulate its use sufficiently and the glitches slipped by quality assurance.
Even in the current state, orbital griefing isn’t as widespread as Hydra griefing, but over the months this may change for the worse. Hopefully something will be done about the cooldown glitches, but in the meantime… well, I don’t know, fly high?