All the big shooter franchises are going free-to-play. Team Fortress, Battlefield, Tribes, there is even free-to-play version of Call of Duty announced for China. Even some of the smaller series have picked up on this trend with Blacklight entering the fray. Ghost Recon has been on a long, slow journey to the free market since its announcement last year, but with the recent release of Future Soldier, and Ghost Recon Online now in beta, we have the chance to see what this third-person, sci-fi shooter has to offer.
It’s a lot like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, for starters. That’s not a bad thing because we rather liked Future Soldier here at Explosion, and gamers who want to try the game without forking over money will be able to get a large piece of the Future Soldier pie.
Players have three classes to choose from, Assault, Specialist, and Recon which each have their own selection of weapons, equipment and abilities. These range from defensive buffs for the close-range Specialist to the invisibility power of the Recon class. The same sense of aesthetics is there too. The near-future high tech equipment and heavily customizable weapons are shown, as is the distinct augmented reality HUD.
As with all the modern shooters, players will level up to unlock new weapons and abilities, but as a free-to-play game there is also an economy, meaning that players have to pay to buy and upgrade equipment weapons and some one-time use items. This can be done with either in-game currency that is earned by playing well, but items can be bough with real-world money too.
This deviates from games like Team Fortress2 that focus on giving cosmetic upgrades to players who spend real-world cash on their imaginary hats. Ghost Recon Online lets players buy things that have very tangible gameplay effects. With this sort of game the danger is always that the players who pay more will get an advantage over skilled players who don’t want to pay for bonuses. Unfortunately, Ghost Recon: Online seems like it is edging in that direction.
The kinds of things that can be purchased include grenades (Which need to be replenished between rounds). If a player doesn’t earn enough over the course of a match, they might end up starting the next match without grenades or other vital items. There’s also special ammo that provides temporary bonuses, and this makes a wise investment for a wealthy Ghost looking for a leg up.
While all of these things can be bought using the in-game currency, players who drop a few bucks on better equipment will get a distinct advantage. This also means that newbies who start out will not only have to overcome their low level characters, but also their limited funding.
The beta test does offer some easy ways to earn money for new players and hopefully these will continue in the official release. These include achievements for trying the different classes, or making their first kill and other easy feats that will give players a boost if they’re looking for it. The more casual players will also find daily and weekly goals that provide some extra money, but once players have burned through the easy cash, they’ll find that the longer they play on a particular day, the more tempting it will be to buy upgrades with real money.
That of course, is the whole idea behind the game, and players will need to decide whether or not to spring a few dollars for these upgrades or to go all out and buy Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
Ghost Recon Online arrives for PC later this year with a Wii U version coming sometime after. Explosion.com will have more as it approaches release. Gamers looking to try it out now can apply for the beta at www.ghostrecononline.uk.ubi.com.