I’ve spent the last week playing through the multiplayer portion of Metal Gear Solid V—and I gotta say, despite the initial launch hiccups, I’m pretty sure I like it better than the base game.

Let me explain.

Metal Gear Online is everything that makes Metal Gear Solid V so damn good—the wonderful tension of sneaking around (and getting caught); the smart, tactical usage of fancy equipment; the sexy gear and leather; the quiet, peaceful joy of hiding in a box. The difference is, you’re playing with other people. Real human beings. People who who have more will and smarts than any guard AI could.

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Metal Gear Solid V was great at making you feel like a badass infiltrator; Metal Gear Online is exactly that, except a thousand times more intense. Nothing in Metal Gear Solid V can match the high of maneuvering around a walker—manned by a real person—without being seen, or successfully concealing yourself against an enemy team—of real people—using nothing more than a cardboard box. It’s the other people that make successfully pulling something off such a delight; you’re doing it against living, breathing humans who are also trying to win. Being successful feels like an actual achievement.

There’s a flip-side to all of that, of course. The frustration ceiling is much higher in Metal Gear Solid Online. You can always recover from a mistake in the single-player, either by running away, letting time pass, or just shooting your way out of it. Eventually, the guards will stop looking for you and the alert status will lower. In Metal Gear Online, if you fuck up, that’s it. You’re gonna die. Everyone around you has spent hours learning how to become the legend that is Big Boss, which means you will be matched against terrifying masters of covert operations. While I was starting out out, I found myself repeatedly getting destroyed by ghosts who managed to sneak up on me without ever been seen. I was really frustrated at first, but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel wonder at how the other players pulled it all off in the first place. I got wrecked by maneuvers that would have made Big Boss proud. How could I stay mad?

[A snippet of a Metal Gear Online match.]

That, big picture, is why I like Metal Gear Online so much. But let’s talk more specifics, shall we? There are three major game modes: Bounty Hunter, Cloak and Dagger, and Comm Control.

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Bounty Hunter is a mode where each team has a certain number of tickets/lives, and every death reduces tickets for the respective team. The exception are Fultons: if you strap someone to a balloon and kidnap them, your team actually recovers tickets. This mechanic alone distinguishes Bounty Hunter from being a mere Team Deathmatch-type mode, as you’re encouraged to keep enemies alive. That, in combination with the Bounty system, make Bounty Hunter interesting: skilled players cannot rest on their laurels, as the game incentivizes everyone else to target them. Players with a hot streak truly have to earn their perseverance.

Bounty Hunter has built a feedback system that affects entire teams: you can get into situations where players become so valuable, the entire squad decides to become that player’s bodyguard—all in the hopes of preserving as many tickets as they can. The enemy team, meanwhile, all become obsessed with one particular player. It’s great.

Cloak and Dagger is a mode where you are tasked with stealing “data discs” which are located on certain points of the map. These discs must then be delivered to evacuation points. The catch? You only get non-lethal weapons, and a single life. This mode was my least favorite—the no respawns thing made the mode a little too hardcore for my taste. Being an attacker who has to steal the data discs sucks, and it’s very difficult to stay alive, nevermind win an actual match. Being a defender, by contrast, feels like a breeze.

Often my experience in Cloak and Dagger was that my entire team would die save for a single badass player. This player would then, against all odds, actually steal the data discs despite having an entire team hunting them. It was like watching Big Boss at work—often awe-inspiring. I seriously can’t give enough props to good Cloak and Dagger players: y’all are amazing. I wish I were as good as you. :(

Comm Control is definitely my favorite mode. As an attacker, you are tasked with taking and controlling certain “Comm Links” on the map. It’s basically King of The Hill, which means there’s a good mix of objective-based gameplay and murder. Matches have a good rhythm to them, as players juggle attacking and defending specific points on the map.

My favorite moments in Comm Control so far: 1) setting down a cat plushie, which distracted a defender long enough for me to capture a point. 2) The time a sniper was laying down suppressing fire on our team, so somebody decided to equip a box and book it across the open field—they knew that the box would shield them from at least one sniper shot. 3) And finally, the time a teammate did this:

What a badass.

Other MGSO thoughts, in no particular order…

  • I appreciate that Metal Gear Online means the character creation I spent FOREVER on in Metal Gear Solid V didn’t go to waste. I’m running around as this guy:

  • Yes I know he looks like Channing Tatum had a child with Matt Damon. Look at my scarf tho.
  • I like that you load into a personal base where you can free-roam, because it means you can easily test out your gear or practice your technique without having to go into a private lobby. Nice.
  • I appreciate that gear is purely cosmetic. It means I can dress in whatever I think looks good without worrying about how it will influence matches. This might seem like a small detail, but for comparison’s sake, Splatoon, a game entirely about fashion, doesn’t have this feature!
  • Your loadout arsenal is almost exactly what you have access to in the single-player, which is great. You can go in already knowing how to use the equipment, such as decoys and night vision goggles. I’m impressed by how well these things translate to multiplayer, too, considering how well they suit MGSV’s single-player. I find myself using everything I would in the single player to scope things out and execute an attack, which gives Metal Gear Online a lot of depth and freedom.
  • I like the idea of equipping abilities that alter my character in small ways, but I’m early enough in the leveling process that they don’t seem to make a huge difference just yet.
  • There have been a lot of complaints about microtransactions in Metal Gear of late...and yet, despite all that, I find myself wishing there were more cosmetic items I could purchase. I know, I know. I’m the problem, right here. Sorry not sorry.
  • Using your monocular to survey maps is great. Not only does it mesh well with what Metal Gear is all “about,” you also get free points for identifying enemies, and bonus points if they die. I just wish more people remembered to spot enemies, it makes teamwork so much easier.
  • I still hate being fultoned; it’s still embarrassing. But damn does it feel great to fulton someone else.
  • I love that you can choose the background music for your matches. They’re sorted by the different eras of Metal Gear.
  • I had to look up how to actually play with a friend, because the matchmaking system is so weird. Once I figured it out, though, it was a blast to play with someone else. Having a buddy meant I could better coordinate attacks: I could start next to someone trusted, I could get personal back-up, and, best of all, I could get a wake-up kick to the head on demand. (Damn you tranq guns!) Anyway, I highly recommend playing with someone else if you can.
  • I love that weather matters as much in multiplayer as it does in singleplayer. Sandstorms make everything more frantic. Rain makes things more pensive. And the day/night cycle changes matches in subtle ways, most notably in how visible everything is. At least a third of Metal Gear Online is surveillance, as you try to spot crouched enemies buzzing about the map: Ambient light makes a huge difference.
  • The density of the maps is fantastic. Every map comes with a ton of verticality, thanks to high buildings, pipes, underground lairs, and vents—not to mention the dozens of little walkways, shortcuts, and hidden nooks. I’m constantly finding new ways to get around, and new ways to use the map to my advantage. These include mortars, walkers and machine guns, all of which can be useful in different ways.
  • In the main game, I constantly feel pressured to be sneaky. It’s an all-consuming thing; the second that I get spotted and the enemy starts shooting, I feel like a failure. “That’s not how I’m supposed to play a game with the subtitle that include the words TACTICAL ESPIONAGE” I think to myself. It’s different in Metal Gear Online. Being aggressive and shooting people is just something you have to do. Most matches are about finding the right balance between being furtive and being violent. I like it.

I’m about 35 hours into Metal Gear Solid V, but I feel little incentive to go back—especially knowing how crappy the ending is. I’m too busy obsessing over Metal Gear Online—thinking of all the things I haven’t tried, the things I haven’t unlocked, and the classes I haven’t used. I just hope I don’t end up spending too much money on scarfs or squid hats along the way. #pray4bigboss