Being a multiplayer title you will encounter other players in Grand Theft Auto Online on a constant basis. Doing any activity that doesn't take place in Freemode guarantees interaction with others, and even in Freemode you'll be bumping into other players time and again.
And since this is GTA we're talking about, the overwhelming majority of player encounters will result in a firefight.
Whether you're fighting in a controlled Deathmatch, or some mook is giving you a hard time in Freemode, honing your PvP skills is essential for victory and survival. Most of GTA Online's systems are combat related, and knowing your way around these mechanics is worth almost as much as raw skill when it comes to aiming - though actually hitting your targets is also essential.
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We're going to assume you're coming into this knowing the control layout of GTA Online, so we can get down to business.
First of all, PvP encounters in Freemode will be very different to controlled circumstances like in a deathmatch as the latter restricts the tools at your disposal and puts you on even ground with your opponents.
In deathmatch, PvP is more reliant on skill, while in Freemode it's all about who got the jump on who, who has the bigger guns and who is flying the Hydra.
Head or Body?
Knowing your current proficiency in aiming is useful. While practice always helps, if you know you can't reliably flick those headshots in the heat of battle, instead of raking up miss after miss in the hopes of that damage modifier, try shooting at your opponent's body. The increased damage of headshots counts for nothing if you don't actually hit.
Like any other shooter, GTA will be filled with those "we started shooting at the same time but he killed me, not the other way around!" moments. Your shots only matter if they connect, so only start automatically aiming for heads when you've practiced aim.
GTA Online features a range of weapons with various stats, however in practice those stats matter a whole lot less than in most other games. Obviously, weapons in different classes will be hugely different (like a shotgun and a sniper rifle), but within the same category they're mostly interchangeable - or, at least they were until Gunrunning brought in Mk II. weapon mods, which give their users significant advantages.
It should go without saying to keep your snacks and armor filled. Other general tips include being wary of personal vehicles left unattended, getting a feel for the map so wherever you're attacked you'll know where to go for cover, and always assuming that you'll be attacked by other players in any situation. You should always eat snacks to replenish health when you are in cover, as this skips the long animation. This can be sped up even more by binding snacks to your quick action button.
Making use of your contacts is a key tactic when it comes to combat. One of the easiest way to get the advantage is to call a mugger on your target from Lamar, or by utilizing one of Lester's many services such as Off the Radar, or Bounty which can win you some allies. Calling in Merryweather mercs is another way to tip the scales.
PvP in Freemode is a chaotic, lawless business where everything goes. Of course, you can just activate passive mode, but some activities are not available when you're passive, and sometimes you yourself might want to get into a tussle for fun.
When it comes to picking an ideal weapon for Freemode, you can go with either the Heavy Sniper, or basically anything else. Make sure your cash is always deposited, and your vehicle is tracked and insured.
At long range, GTA Online players love picking each other off with the Heavy Sniper. Now, doing this unprovoked is a colossally prickish thing to do, but if you get sniped, sometimes the best approach is to snipe back if you're in for a bit of a duel - if not, go passive.
When it comes to encounters where sniper rifles are not involved however, the turnout will much more depend on reaction time and who gets in the critical first hit.
The volatility of PvP in Freemode is another thing to consider. You're basically unrestricted with regards to which weapons from your arsenal you use, what vehicles you pick, and so on. Sometimes someone might leave an explosive surprise in your car, at other times they'll come after you with a Hydra or Oppressor. They'll bring weaponized vehicles, any kind of weapon, they'll come at you when you least expect it. Since The Doomsday Heist was added to the game, people can literally blow your ass up with an orbital cannon that automatically targets you.
While in deathmatch you know you'll be up against someone trying to off you, meaning both parties are prepared and ready, in Freemode your ability to react to a sudden situation counts for as much, if not more, as how good you actually are at PvP in the game. The average player that goes around attacking others is used to their surprise attacks throwing their victims off guard, so if you're not taken aback that will surprise them in turn. Shoot where you're confident you'll hit, and be mindful of nearby cover.
The fact that item use in Freemode is unrestricted doesn't only help your opponents, and you shouldn't forget this. Make use of what you have, break out the specialized vehicles when the need arises. Use those explosives, call in help from contacts if need be.
In an organized environment like Deathmatch, or a number of Adversary Modes the special rules of which don't negate these suggestions, things are quite different than in Freemode. Depending on the settings of the given match, your pool of resources is significantly smaller. Your weapon choices get restricted, and you no longer have access to vehicles.
However, this is also true of the opponent(s), and another key difference is that you know there will be combat and are prepared for this. The element of surprise is no longer as big a factor (though getting the drop on someone is still tactically significant).
Weapons and Upgrades
Here, weapon selection and weapon upgrades are much more important than they are in Freemode. In a controlled combat situation, minor stat differences may be the difference between getting a kill and getting killed.
Aim is equally important in the two situations, though arguably moreso here without all the additional vehicles and tools being available. That said, Deathmatches are a great way to practice your aim. For a general guide about weapons in GTA Online, click here.
Know the Map
Knowledge of the maps is crucial. You need to know what routes are available to you, where the best cover is, and what path your opponent is most likely to take. If the match isn't locked to a single weapon, then your choice of gun should also be influenced by the map - is it tight, small, with a lot of cover, or more spread out, with large open spaces and high ground?
You can also enlarge the minimap by pressing Z or down on the D-Pad twice, which allows you to see much more of your immediate surroundings. The tactical advantage is clear.
Have a Plan
The mentality of players entering PvP is much different than in Freemode. In Freemode, you're usually just faffing about and killing other players for the kicks, while in Deathmatches players are much more goal-oriented, focused on victory. Since there is a given objective, they're a lot more driven and thoughtful about their approach. In these situations, people actually try to plan.
When it comes to the myriad Adversary Modes available in the game, we've written up a number of guides for them individually. If you need more help with GTA Online, you can always check out our money-making guide, our RP guide and our Heists guide.