GTA V is an amazing heist game held hostage by its heritage and fans.
Rockstar has given players everything they want in a Grand Theft Auto game - which is why this installment might have been exceptional if it hadn't been limited to self-imposed series expectations.
Grand Theft Auto V is a natural progression from the diamonds plot device of GTA IV, in which the stories of three protagonists over the course of the main game and DLC intersect. GTA V takes this plot device and expands it into the focal feature of the game: the ability to (nearly) instantaneously switch between three-player controlled protagonists both in the open world and during some missions. Open world switching can be entertaining - you could switch to Michael in the middle of him yelling at a cop, Franklin leaving a strip club, or Trevor waking up from a drunken stupor in his underwear in the posh Vinewood Hills. Mission switching works really well - you no longer have to pull out of cover with little health to try to find that one annoying baddie sniping you from above; you can simply switch to a protagonist with a different sight line to get the clear shot. This makes combat much more enjoyable and yet, most of the time enemies are still just running toward your reticle.
This switching mechanic becomes fully realized in the incredible set of heists that your protagonists attempt to pull off. You are often asked to make choices on how you want the heist to go down. You can go in stealthy, in disguise and hope no one is the wiser, or go in guns blazing, taking your loot by force. You then get to choose your crew members - hired henchmen that can be your gunman, driver, or hacker with stats that can be leveled up the more you use them. Once you've set your plan, you go out into the open world and grab whatever items are needed to conduct the heist. This is an incredible system that sadly is sorely underutilized, comprising maybe a fifth of the game.
The rest of GTA V feels like a retread of past games in the series. The mission structure too often is drive to the mini-map icon, cutscene, drive to yellow dot, cutscene, shoot some people briefly, drive to yellow dot. The missions are oddly ordered - too often you have to drive to the other side of the city to get the next mission rather than having missions be clustered in one area. There's no structure establishing a sense of who lives in which neighborhood of the city and what those particular resident's concerns and needs might be. Also, I found myself switching characters just to see who was closest to a mission and after the first quarter of the game, there was no guarantee the character would be near their safe house. There are, predictably, a lot of minigames and side activities that are mostly terrible and maybe tolerable because it's just ridiculous that they're there. There are some side missions that are little vignettes with supporting characters who are caricatures rather than actual characters. There's also the not so subtle and tired satire on the radio and in cutscene dialogue.
The story is mostly okay but is a steep downgrade from the compelling narrative and characters of Niko's story. Michael and Franklin's motivations are never fully realized. Franklin's story, in particular, barely touches the depths of CJ's from GTA: San Andreas and is extremely cliched and disappointing. Trevor can act inconsistently and seemingly for the hell of it, which is fine, but we aren't given a chance to find out what led him to be this way or why certain emotions arise around women. The tone fluctuates wildly at times, mostly landing on silly and absurd.
Grand Theft Auto V did not need to be a GTA game. Rockstar's failure to focus on the heists in favor of the same old missions, minigames, and desire to insult every race, gender, and stereotype felt more like a need to appeal to what fans expect from the series rather than surprising them with what they didn't know they wanted. The story and tone felt forced to appease fans who expressed disgust with the seriousness of GTA IV. The game never seemed to have a direction or a reason for why we were following these three protagonists. But the switching mechanics and heist missions are just that awesome that I would still recommend this game to others even if the Grand Theft Auto series formula may be showing its age.