When I think of free-to-play games, games like Farmville immediately come to mind: monotonous, derivative, and decidedly low-fi. Free-to-play games thrive on microtransactions which generally give the player an advantage of some sort. Now imagine a free-to-play game that you would actually want to play: A game whose multiplayer rivals that of triple A titles like Call of Duty. Ghost Recon Online has the potential to be that game.
The Ghost Recon Online Beta I recently took part in showed great promise, and brought back some very fond memories of the Advanced Warfighter series. The action takes place from a third person perspective, and cover is a big part of the action. Fortunately, the cover system is pretty intuitive, as are the rest of the controls. Aiming feels natural, and rarely did I feel like the controls prevented me from doing what I wanted. The pace of the action is methodical, and team communication is key to success. Flanking your enemy and timing your attack is almost always the difference between success and defeat.
The game features three character classes, each of which is has a unique role. The Assault class is your basic grunt, Recon is a lightly armored sniper, and Support is the machine gun wielding tank. As each class levels up, new weapons and abilities are unlocked. I won’t spoil the skill progression, but suffice to say there are a variety of game changing abilities, like optic camouflage, on tap here.
In what I have to assume is a nod to the free-to-play nature of the game, your character doesn’t start out with a sidearm. Of course, you can use in-game currency (earned by playing) or real money to buy one, but it seems strange that you aren’t given a basic starter model. In any case, simply playing the game will eventually allow access to all the content (without paying real money). Also in the ‘strange design choices’ column is the inability to change your class during a match. Being locked in definitely forces you to be more strategic about things, but sometimes things start to feel a little stagnant during matches. Here’s hoping that this is revisited before the release date.
Aesthetically, the game nails the ‘near future’ feel. Enemies you’ve detected are marked in red, and teammates nearby are connected to your character by a blue line. I really thought this was a nice touch, as you can easily keep track of the rest of the squad while still focusing on the enemy. The audio quality is top notch too. The weapon sound effects particular struck me as being excellent, and a step above many shooters out there.
In short, Ghost Recon Online doesn’t feel like a free game. It’s polished, smooth, generally well thought out, and fun to play. In fact, the mechanics rival most any other online multiplayer on any platform. Not all the design decisions make perfect sense, but there is certainly enough depth here to warrant a good hard look.