Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Spoiler-Free Guide

Our review isn’t up yet, but when I started writing this, I’d played Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for about 30 hours. Some of that was doubtless inflated by me Alt-Tabbing to do other stuff while leaving it open so that I can go back for just one more mission, but I’ve played it a lot. And now that I’ve finished this guide – and, indeed, the game – the hour count is over 70.

As you might expect I’ve also learned quite a lot about how the game works, as well as a few bits and bobs I wish I’d known a lot sooner. And now I’m imparting that knowledge onto you. Aren’t I lovely?

Before we get started, I just want to say now that there are no story or plot spoilers within. There are a few spoilers of game mechanics (and at the very end I’ll tell you how to access a rather important easter egg, although I won’t reveal what it actually is), but if you’ve ever watched a trailer or read a preview of the game, I daresay you know those mechanics exist anyway. Basically: if you want to play the game completely blind, don’t read this. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing to fear.

Quality of Life

MGS5 - binoculars
This screenshot brought to you by the power of everything not being ridiculously fucking blurry.

Before you even start playing properly, there are two things you should know. First: turn off Depth of Field.

Depth of Field is normally what I’d call a quality of life option – something that you may or may not like, but it’s unlikely to impact your gameplay experience any. In Metal Gear Solid V, though, I strongly suggest you switch it off as soon as possible.

The reason for this is that you’re going to be doing a lot of looking at things from a distance, and the game occasionally has problems discerning what, exactly, you want to focus on. You might be trying to get a look a soldier in a guard tower, but he’s totally blurred out because your binoculars are focusing on the railing instead. This is rubbish. Turn off Depth of Field and you can see everything in wonderful Clear-o-Vision.

It’s not hugely important early on, where you can just mark him and then look around elsewhere, but as the game progresses you can get an awful lot of information just by seeing a guard. What weapons does he have? Does he have body armour, or a helmet? All of these are pretty important to decision-making in terms of whether you should approach him, how you should approach him, and what you should do to take him down.

Also, disabling Depth of Field doesn’t appear to impact the cutscenes any, so you won’t miss out on any of the focus-shifting gubbins when it dramatically pans across from Snake to someone else.

MGS5 - Depth of Field
Sometimes, it’s so bad that you can’t see your hand in front of your face.

The second thing is this: consider disconnecting the game from Online Mode.

By now this might be safe to ignore, but it’s still something you should know about. Metal Gear Solid V phones home pretty regularly, and with the number of people playing it, the servers are getting slammed. This can massively increase loading times (even between menus!) as the game waits to get a response from the online servers; at one point, I counted it taking a full 20 seconds to go from pressing “Development” on the iDroid, to it actually loading the development menu.

If this is happening to you then hit Escape, press Disconnect, and enjoy considerably quicker loading. You can always reconnect later on without having to restart the game, if you need to do something that involves the online components.

The Basics of Stealth

MGS5 - Stealth
Important note: cardboard boxes do not make you invisible.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s either played a stealth game or has a functioning brain, but I figure the basic stealth mechanics are worth mentioning, especially if you skipped Ground Zeroes.

First up, make sure you recon a base before you actually go in. Use your binoculars to mark every enemy you can, and then circle around a little way and look again. You might spot an enemy through a doorway, or maybe you’ll see someone wandering along. Mark as many people as possible so that you know where everyone is at any given time.

Generally speaking, you’re going to be detected in one of two ways: enemies are going to see you, or enemies are going to hear you. Which of these you need to bear in mind at any given time is pretty key to remaining undetected.

You’re most hidden in “stealth mode”, activated by going prone, staying still, and pressing the Use key (default: E), causing Snake to press himself down further into the ground. If you’re reasonably camouflaged or are lying in foliage then you’re practically invisible at this point; flashlights and searchlights shouldn’t pick up on you unless enemies already know you’re there, and enemies can walk to within a couple of metres of you without spotting you. In fact, unless they stand on you, I’m pretty sure they won’t see you. If you see the little white indicator that means someone’s about to spot you and there’s no cover nearby, consider dropping to the ground and either crawling away, or hoping they decide it was nothing. The latter isn’t particularly likely if the base is on any sort of alert, though.

MGS5 - Stealth 3
Soviet soldiers love playing peek-a-boo.

If you want to sneak up behind someone to grab them and interrogate them, you need to be pretty careful. Crawling is the safest way of doing it, but it’s so unbelievably slow that they might just walk away from you or turn around before you reach them. Crouch-walking (performed by crouching and then pressing CTRL to move slowly) is a little faster, and is still quiet enough that they won’t hear you. Moving quickly while crouching (the same as above, only without the CTRL modifier) is pretty quiet, but once you get to within around six or seven metres, they’ll hear your approach. That’s still usually close enough that you can charge them and get them into a hold before they can raise the alarm, but it’s a bit risky if there’s any terrain in the way.

Weather and time of day also heavily factor into stealth. Night obviously makes you a lot harder to spot, in which case you need to think more about the noise you’re making than your visibility. Unfortunately, night also means that searchlights will get turned on, and enemies patrolling darkened areas are a hell of a lot harder for you to see. This is why we do our recon before going in.

MGS5 - Sandstorm
Good work Snake, you’ve re-conned some sand.

As for weather, the two most important conditions are sandstorms and rain. Sandstorms completely fuck your visibility, making it so that you can’t see more than couple of metres ahead, so it’s sort of like playing Turok again. Thankfully, it does the same for enemies, and it doesn’t remove any marked enemies or waypoints. If you’ve scouted out an outpost before a sandstorm hits, you can move through quickly and quietly without having to worry too much about being seen.

Rain does for noise what sandstorms do for visibility. If it’s raining, guards will have a much harder time hearing you, which means you can move an awful lot faster as long as you stay in the shadows. I think you can also get away with shooting unsilenced weapons as long as they’re not huge booming sniper rifles or rocket launchers, too (assuming other enemies are far enough away) but I haven’t tested that too thoroughly.

If you actually do get detected, time slows down as Reflex Mode triggers, giving you a few seconds to take out your would-be aggressor before they can raise the alarm. If they’re close, you’ve normally got time to grab them in CQC before they can do anything (assuming they’re alone, at least); in a group, or at a distance, you’ll have to shoot them as quickly as possible. For this reason, you should pretty much always have a silenced weapon selected if sneaking about. Your tranquiliser pistol is a good choice, but bear in mind that tranquilisers have absolutely no penetration, so if the enemy is wearing a helmet you’ll need to hit them directly in the face. The tranq pistol also has crap range, so if you’re spotted by a sniper or someone a good distance away, you’re in trouble. And if they’re wearing full body armour or are behind cover, then, well… I hope you’ve got something with high penetration.

Always consider both noise and visibility. If guards are facing the other way and it’s raining, feel free to move around at a fairly high speed. If people are looking your way, either stay behind cover or stay low, and as you get closer to enemies, start to slow down and move lower. It sounds obvious, I know, but if you consider whether you need to worry more about noise or visibility depending on the weather and the time of day, some difficult approaches become a lot simpler.

Making the most of Mother Base

MGS5 - Mother Base Aerial
Get used to views like this.

So you’ve done the first couple of missions and you’ve started up your new Mother Base. And maybe you’ve done a few more missions, and unlocked a few more possible struts to build. Choices!

You’ll want to put staff into every department, but early on you want to put your major focus on R&D, with (if memory serves) Support and Intel as your secondary lot. Combat isn’t hugely important at the very early stages, Medical doesn’t matter too much for a little while, and Base Development is mostly there to give you an occasional (but consistent) stream of resources. Upgrading your Command strut increases the number of staff you can have in every team, which is nice, too.

R&D, though, gives you lots and lots of fun new toys to play with, and some levels in Support and Intel are important to get the other bits and pieces you’ll want. Specifically, this combination of three should let you upgrade your tools – your Int-scope (binoculars), your Fulton Extractions, and your iDroid.

MGS5 - development
Oooh, look at all those shotguns…

No! Bad! Forget weapons for now. The aforementioned three tools are the most important things in the game, and they all work together beautifully. The Fulton is what lets you capture unconscious enemies, with higher levels letting you pick up bigger cargo, ranging from gun emplacements to tanks. I’d argue this is the single most important thing to focus on, to start with. The binoculars let you tag enemies, and as you research and purchase better versions, they can “scan” enemies, giving you an overview of that unit’s stats and abilities, helping you decide if they’re worth capturing. Considering some research requires you to have staff members with particular skills, this is tremendously useful.

Finally, the iDroid upgrades let you set more manual waypoints – which is quite important if you’re scouting out a base, and need to either mark some equipment you want to blow up, or some soldiers you particularly want to capture.

Alright, fine, now we’ll talk about the shooty things. You can pretty much focus on whatever you’d like, but you should at least try to have a couple in each category. You will need missile/rocket launchers fairly early on (although the game kindly warns you which missions recommend these), but upgrading assault rifles and sniper rifles to add silencers to both is also a really good idea.

Just don’t think you have to unlock everything. Upgrades start to get really expensive before long, so decide what you want to aim for – a silenced tranquiliser sniper rifle, maybe, or a fully-automatic shotgun – and focus most of your money and efforts towards that. Bear in mind that some weapons require your other teams to be at a certain level, too; tranquiliser weapons tend to need Medical staff, while a few long-range weapons rely on Intel.

While we’re at it…

MGS5 - Just kiss dammit
I have, like, 200 screenshots where it looks like these two are about to make out.

One thing you’ll probably want to do sooner rather than later is research a Speaker for your helicopter, and then add that Speaker to your helicopter via the Customize menu. Then go to your Cassette Tapes menu and set one of them to “Helicopter Music” by pressing G.

What you really want to do, though, is add Custom Music. You can do this by going to your Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain folder (“MGS_TPP” in your Steam Library, so for me it’s E:\SteamLibrary\SteamApps\common\MGS_TPP\), opening the folder marked CustomSoundtrack, and dumping any MP3s you like in there.

Setting this to Deception by Blackalicious made me laugh quite a lot, but you might prefer the Rocky theme or maybe the Nyancat song. So many choices.

Just don’t ever listen to anything from Hotline Miami. You will charge in and die. A lot.

Fulton fun

MGS5 - Funton 4
I can’t help but laugh whenever I Fulton extract an animal. I’m a bad person.

Going quickly back to the topic of Fulton extractions: extract bloody everybody. Early on, actual stats are pretty irrelevant, and making up the numbers matters a lot more. Later on you can afford to be choosier, but even by the end of the game when I was extracting A++ ranked soldiers regularly, a few of my teams still had people of B or even C rank in them.

When you level up a strut and can suddenly have more people in that strut, being able to instantly shove a full complement of people in there is preferable to having a single A-rank person you can push in. You can afford to be choosy about who gets into your Intel team when you have 130 people there, but when you’ve got space for 25 more, it pretty much doesn’t matter who goes in.

Extracting everybody also has the benefit of getting you a load of abilities and traits. Some of these are negative (which I’ll talk more about below), but others let you unlock new bits of research, or relax the requirements for certain weapon types. These are, obviously, great things to have.

There are also two more benefits to extraction which might not be apparent at first. One thing is that Fulton extractions remove the bodies from the battlefield, so nobody can going to stumble across the corpses and raise the alarm (although they might see the Fulton extraction and raise the alarm, so you do still have to take some care).

The other is that, once you can extract vehicles, you can extract vehicles that are in use. Is that tank worrying you? Are you afraid that APC is going to make a mess when you try to shoot the person standing near it? Sneak up to it and attach a balloon, and then laugh as it sails off into the sky and gets a trip back to base for your own use. Free vehicle removal, no explosives required.

Legen… wait for it…

MGS5 - Headshot
This headshot was made possible by weapon modification.

You can focus on whatever Side Ops you fancy, but I’d strongly suggest you start doing the “Extract the Legendary Gunsmith” ones as soon as they appear. Getting your hands on the Legendary Gunsmith opens up the ability to customise weapons, and this is a pretty big thing. Putting aside the fact that he’ll let you give your guns a pretty paint job, he lets you swap out bits and pieces of various weapons. Depending on what you’ve researched, you might be able to stick a barrel on your assault rifle which gives it longer range, or tighter grouping – albeit at the expense of some of its other stats.

More important, though, is that he can let you stick silencers onto guns long before you’ve unlocked a variant of that weapon which actually has a silencer. The big one with this is the tranquiliser sniper rifle. You can get that pretty early on, but the silenced variant will take a fair bit longer. Once you’ve got the Legendary Gunsmith on side, though, you can stick a silencer from your other sniper rifles onto it, giving you an excellent way of non-lethally incapacitating people at range.

Making the most of your time

MGS5 - mother base
Are you hanging off the side of a helicopter? Then this screen is your best friend.

If there is one thing I really, really hate about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it’s the game’s obsession with wasting my bloody time. Yes, okay, taking the helicopter in is pretty cool the first dozen times, and calling for an extraction and then exfiltrating via chopper is also kinda neat. But it gets really old, really fast, and there’s no way to skip it. It’s at its worst when Mother Base starts to get huge, and the chopper likes to take three-minute trips to take you from one strut to the other, occasionally passing the helipad and circling around the strut before finally dropping you off.

So, hooray: there are a few things you can do to mitigate this annoyance.

Firstly, plan for this shit. If you need to reorganise your staff, listen to some cassette tapes, or plan out your next few bits of research, do it while you’re waiting for the helicopter to drop you off. Make the most of your time, essentially: rather than waiting for a few minutes doing nothing, use that time to fiddle with your iDroid and deal with what you can.

Secondly, the helicopter is only one of the options you have for getting around, and this tip is particularly useful if you’re trying to knock off a bunch of Side Ops at once. Other than D-Horse and vehicles, you can find invoices at orange delivery zones, which look like this:

MGS5 - Box 1 MGS5 - Box 2

Hide in a cardboard box on one of these platforms and, as long as the base isn’t on alert, you can get yourself mailed to any delivery zone – as long as you’ve already pinched the invoice from your destination.

All of that said, I totally recommend taking a lengthy helicopter ride around Mother Base as dusk falls, at least once. It’s really quite beautiful

The experimental phase

MGS5 - Mortar
Mortars are fun and hilarious, and the sort of thing you really want to play around with in Side Ops.

Besides the fact that you can redo missions to better your score or complete sub-objectives, bear in mind that you aren’t scored on Side Ops. If you want to mess around with an automatic grenade launcher, or find out the effect an unsilenced anti-materiel rifle has on somebody’s exposed head, or call down an artillery strike on base, but don’t want to deliberately screw up your score… well, that’s what free roam and Side Ops are for.

Do note that scoring in Metal Gear Solid V is a bit different to older titles. As far as I can tell, stealth is the biggest thing – you can S-Rank missions while still murdering dozens of people, as long as you do it without being detected. And if you don’t care about score (or are trying to get different codenames in results) then hey, mess about with whatever you like.

Pound notes, loose change, bad cheques, anything

MGS5 - Money
“And a lot of money. So what if we have 200 combat-ready troops? Security’s expensive, you know.”

There are lots of ways of making money (or GMP) in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. You can send out your Combat unit on deployments, or complete some missions, or whatever. But if you need cash quickly, one of the best ways to get it is to sell Precious Metals.

As the name implies, the Resources tab keeps track of what resources you have in stock. Most, like Common Metals and Fuel Resources and so on, are needed for research or base expansion. Precious Metals, however, generally aren’t – and they sell for 1000GMP each.

From what I can tell, there are only two or three items that require Precious Metals as a development resource, and equally few that use Precious Metals as a deployment cost – and most of those items are very, very far down the tech tree. You shouldn’t really need more than about 4000 throughout the entire game, and that’s a pretty generous estimate; the only items I spotted that require them for research totalled far less than that, but I’m erring on the side of caution. As such, you can safely sell this stuff off and make yourself a tidy profit if you need a quick cash injection. And by “quick cash injection”, I mean that I had 8000 sitting around doing nothing, and selling off 4000 of those got me an instant four million GMP, which funded my base for quite some time.

Beating up your staff for fun and profit

MGS5 - Choke
His safeword is “apples.”

Mother Base staff are all masochists, which is good, because Big Boss refuses to salute them. He’s all about viciously punching them instead. Thankfully, they love it!

But you may not have noticed that you can also put them into a chokehold and interrogate them. Mother Base is full of Rough Diamonds (free GMP), as well as the occasional piece of emblem design. Grab your soldiers, put a knife to them, and order them to talk, and you might well make a profit.

Just don’t be too weirded out if they seem to get off on this.

Finally, that easter egg

MGS5 - Dismissed

One very last thing. I’m not going to tell you what this is, but it’s a big enough deal that you will want to check it out.

After you’ve built the Medical strut, and after you’ve completed at least one of the “Rescue a wandering soldier from the previous Mother Base” Side Ops (or whatever they’re called), go visit the Medical strut. Specifically, go up to the very top floor. There should be a door with a blue light there, which you can enter, leading to a little T-junction corridor. One side of that is blocked off, but at the other end is another door. Press the button beside the door, and… well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

It’s worth noting that you can (and probably should) head back there again every time you do another one of those aforementioned Side Ops.