If you had gone to PAXEast, you’d probably think that the latest North American fashion-craze involves wearing skull-head emblazoned chin scarfs. Well, those scarfs at PAX weren’t fashion statements — they were signals…signals that a sea change was taking place. You see, the scarfs were a giveaway piece of swag by the folks at Ubisoft Singapore for their new Ghost Recon Online (GRO) game and their popularity with PAX participants let everyone there know that free-to-play had its first bona-fide Triple-A shooter.
Ok die-hard TF2 fans, I know you are going to belt me for saying that, I know TF2’s been a F2P for a while now and your game is great…so I will be a bit more specific so you all won’t feel too bad: GRO is the first “AAA, photo-real shooter” to be released into the Free-to-Play (FTP) arena.
I’ve been playing the Closed Beta for a few weeks now and given that the devs have lifted the NDA on GRO, I can now bring you some details about the game.
My name is Jock and I’m a GRO addict
Wow, it’s been quite some time that I’ve played a shooter, be it for-pay, triple-AAA, triple-BBB or otherwise, that tightened my sphincter as much as this game did. Sorry for the mental picture by the way; however, not only is GRO officially the best looking shooter in F2P (easily trouncing Blacklight Retribution for this title), it also is the most compelling.
Think Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six meets Modern Warfare.
I’ve been playing GRO to death and I’ve really grown to admire its core gameplay. While I admit to being prejudiced against Ghost Recon franchise due to the fact that it billed itself as a Tactical Shooter — they tend to attract too many anal-retentive players — this game is fast-paced and has many run’n’gun elements. Overall, I think it really appeals to competitive players who like team-play.
GRO advertises itself as a TPS (Third-person shooter) — yet another reason why many FPS gamers might give it a pass. Don’t make that mistake. The TPS feature is super-immersive and actually grows on you. Of course, when you zoom in (ADS) the game goes into full blown FPS mode.
GRO’s gameplay simply rocks and I must confess, I’ve become addicted to this game.
What blew me away
- The Sound. Easily the best sound since Battlefield. It’s loud and proud. The sound effects really enhances the weaponry used in the game. Missed shots crackle as though they were searingly hot as they brush by. Grenades explode like nuclear bombs and stun you with an overwhelming thud. Your assault gun or sniper rifle pounds out a rat-tat-tat that only Neil Peart can match. And tell me you don’t feel the screams of agony ripple up your spine when you are being roasted by the microwave energies emitted from the Assault class’s Heat device. Crank the audio up as high as your neighbors will allow you before calling the cops. The only downside I found was that directionality was only adequate and found it difficult to determine where an enemy was simply by his footfalls.
- Graphics. Fantabulous. On par with CoD’s MW2…possibly, less than MW3. Lack of rim-lighting makes it very difficult to pick up enemy targets…but as I said, picking up targets is why they use the word “Ghost” in this game. By the way, enemy targets are rim-lit in red when you put them in your crosshair and stay lit up for a few seconds.
- Movement. I felt completely connected to my avatar. Movement is superb and fluid. The way you move through the game…crawling, rolling, hopping over obstacles, is truly awesome. Very natural, very realistic. GRO has its own mechanics and unlike many run’n’gun games, you can’t simply move and shoot. The game delays your ability to draw on a target — just as moving in real-life would. As an ex-CoD player, this little delay caused me some initial difficulty as I was darting into the open well before I had my gun ready. Once I compensated for this, it was great!
- Cover. The Cover system is a winner. By pressing a key, you can tuck yourself into a corner and easily cover both approaches. The movement is fluid and realistic.
- TPS. While the game is officially a third-person shooter, when you scope in, your view becomes a traditional first person game. While the game may be a TPS, it feels like an FPS and the view does not detract in any way. Being able to see body position and stance in the game gives you the sense of being there.
- Guns. Guns feel good and are fun to shoot. The early Level guns have massive recoil and take a lot of skill to use. The early level guns are barely usable due to this recoil, but level-up and the guns get much better. A Level 5 gun was much better than the Level 1 I started with, for example. Early in the beta I noticed that the noobish Shotties were seriously OP. I tested to see how I’d do with an As Val (early tier assault rifle) versus a Pentagun (an early tier shottie), for example and found that the shottie gave me a huge advantage (same map, same enemies), nearly doubling my score and kill ratio.
- Maps. Maps are narrow, linear and have only moderate flanking allowance. Overall, I think they are excellent and really fit my play style. Well lit, their collision points guarantee a suspenseful and thrilling contest.
- Snipers. Sniping is reasonably good in this game, after all, by its very name, this game is supposed to appeal to our camping, ground-humping, ghillie-covered friends. Snipers are not overwhelmingly strong and can easily be neutralized by other classes (an Assaulter with a 3-1/2 zoom scope will do nicely).
- Abilities. Each class in this game has special abilities that are truly unique and special. While I hated the much ballyhooed CoD perk system, the GRO system, which is somewhat similar on paper, actually grew on me. Why? The abilities, like the
- Specialists’ protective umbrella-like Aegis or the
- Assaulter’s Berzerker-like shield charge
- or the Sniper’s Oracle scan which detects enemies
can actually be useful in a game and are quite unique.
- Team-play. GRO stresses team-play, without hitting you over the head with the idea.
Not so much…
- Too fast. Game speed was a bit too high for a tactical shooter. In close, I felt a bit overwhelmed as the draw speeds were just not keeping up with player speeds.
- Mouse Sensitivity. Aiming was difficult. The mouse sensitivity does not seem to differentiate between the ADS and the non-ADS mode. This should be reviewed by the devs.
- Shotties are OP. OK, I’m whining, but really…shotties are way too OP in this game — as it currently stands (hopefully they’ll be dialed back when the open beta begins).
- Min Specs. The minimum specs are a bit high for a F2P game:
- Core2Duo 2Ghz or higher
- 3GB of RAM or above
- 250GB HDD or above
- X850 XT 256MB 500Mhz (or higher)
- Hud Clutter. Yet another game where the devs just fill the screen with so much clutter that most time you can’t even see the enemy through all the waypoints and targeting information being displayed.
A closeup of HudClutter:
Onslaught: Maps contain three strategic points. Attackers must capture the first two points before unlocking and then proceeding to the last point. Lost ground cannot be retaken.
Conquest: There are five strategic points that have to be captured sequentially. These points can be lost back to the enemy. Conquest is kinda similar to BF’s RUSH mode.
As a new-comer to the Ghost Recon franchise, I’m finding all the maps to be challenging. They are typically long and thin and perfectly suited for the gametypes being played. All are reasonably well lit, they are well thought out and offer really good challenges defensively and offensively. There are stages in each map that favor certain classes (recon, assaulters and specialists will all have their fave spots), but all-in-all, they produce great in-your-face, nail-biting action.
Onslaught map. Wide open vistas, but lots of cover opportunities.
Onslaught mode. This is one of the most chaotic maps currently available. It has wide fields of fire and you literally need to keep a 360 degree watch on things. Lots of flanking and sneaky ninja action. Map is somewhat dark, but visibility isn’t as bad as you would think.
Chertanovo LZ (formerly Moscow City)
This is a Conquest map. Probably one of my fave maps. Great lighting. Awesome chokepoint at A. Great flanking opportunities.
Markov Station (formerly Moscow Metro Station)
This is a great conquest map. The action is very challenging – also highly recommended.
There are three classes in-game. Each have their own set of weaponry and special capabilities. Special capabilities differ by what they can select for their “Device” and “Squad Support” hardware.
The Assault (soldier) class: High health, Medium damage
This is both a heavily armed and a heavily armored beast. This class specializes in frontal assault on hardened enemy positions. Their armor is heavy and their weapon types are assault rifles and shotties.
Assaulters by their very nature are found at the pointy-end of any attack. They’re usually the ones who try and capture or defend objectives. The good Assaulters participate in flanking action and derail enemy pushes, before they start.
The Assault class initially comes with the default HEAT device, this is a directed microwave energy transmitter that can incapacitate an enemy soldier by literally baking them like Orville Redenbacher popcorn. As you level up through the game you’ll eventually get BLITZ. This is a shield device which Assaulters hide behind and launch “blitz” attacks on lone enemies. The BLITZ offers ballistic protection and provides the user with a significant speed boost. With the shield protecting you, you can run up on an enemy and knock them down. This disables them and allowing you to switch to your firearm and fill them with lead. BLITZ is typically used to clear log-jams at objectives. While BLITZ looks cool, it is ineffective given that you are susceptible to being shot at while you are blitzing. The HEAT device is my choice for Assaulters.
On the Squad Support side, early hardware configurations allow you to use HARDEN. Harden improves your armor and that of your nearby allies. Another configuration allows you to select REGEN, which provides in-combat regeneration for you to aid nearby allies.
The Recon (sniper) class: Low health, High damage
This class is what gives the game its name. This class specializes in gathering battlefield intelligence and in removing enemy personnel at extended distances. Armor is light and Weapon types are Sniper rifle and SMG.
Recons have some very effective sniper weapons to pick from and have ninja-like capabilities they can choose to buy. They can be nearly invisible for short periods of time, for example. The device that pulls off this trick for them is the CLOAK. Using advanced metamaterials, the Recons CLOAK bends light rendering them nearly invisible for a short while. At the best of times, Recons are very irritating given that you can prone in-game. This makes them hard to detect at the best of times…imagine if they can make themselves quasi-invisible! Early in the game however, the main “trick” up a Recon’s sleeve is the ORACLE. The ORACLE collates all IFF tags in an area and marks enemy forces on Allies’ HUDs on the fly. This device allows Recons to see through walls and find enemy combatants for a short period of time. The enemy show up for teammates as well, so anyone daring to leave their cover or hidey-hole, will get sniped, naded and generally, shot-to-pieces. When you hear the distinctive “ORACLE” audio-cue, you generally will want to keep your head down.
Squad Support hardware is also available to the Sniper. Early hardware that can be purchased in the VECTOR DETECTOR, which detects sprinting enemies and highlights them to you and nearby allies. You can also get a GUNSHOT DETECTOR which detects shooting enemies and highlights them to you and nearby allies.
The Specialist (Engineer) class: Medium health, Medium damage
This is an advanced class that specializes in the use of ruggedized electronics. Armor is medium and their weapon choices are LMG’s and Shotguns. The Specialist’s main Device is the AEGIS. The Aegis disrupts the gyroscopic flight of incoming rounds with high speed kinteic impulses. Essentially, a specialist can erect a dome around him where enemy rounds cannot penetrate; however, outgoing fire can! As teammates can use this protective dome to shield them from enemy fire as well, the AEGIS can sway the outcome of a battle. Specialists can also use BLACKOUT, a man-portable EMP generator capable of blacking out all electornics within its radius. Their Squad-support capability allows them to use AMMO SUPPLY, which restores spent ammunition to you and nearby allies. As well, they can use DEVICE RECHARGE, which increases energy regeneration for you and nearby allies.
Rock Paper Scissor
This game really takes the rock-paper-scissor approach seriously to balancing.
For example, take DEVICE balancing…though the Specialists’ AEGIS appears extremely effective – perhaps over-powered, it can be totally negated by an Assaulter on the other team firing up HEAT, which is unaffected by AEGIS.
What about weapon balance? Sniper weapons are incredibly powerful and given the map layouts, you would think that Recons would completely dominate; however, Assaulters can put 3.5x scopes on their rifles and countersnipe with incredible efficiency.
Gameplay balance is also kept in check…while you would think this game would be a camp-fest (and it does have some of that tendency), counters to camping can consist of HE grenades which will literally blow campers away from their protective lair. Missed with the nades? How about highlighting the campers with ORACLE and getting everyone on your team to fire at them?
For every move there is a counter-move in this game.
There are two in-game currencies: XP and RP. Experience points are given post-game and are used to rank up through the ranks. As well, you get Requisition Points for in-game prowess and RP is used for purchasing in-game goods.
GRO is meant for teamplay. Each class has a specific purpose and working together, a team with average skills working together can overcome a team with above-average skills working as lone-wolves. One of the great ways the GRO devs convey the sense of team in this game is by the virtual tethers (see pic) that are shown connecting teammates that are close by. The appearance of these lines is initially off-putting, but once you get used to them, you quickly know where your support is situated. In fact, you don’t even need the mini-map (below and to the left on the pic) to help you spot your mates.
The Menu system is full-featured and contains social functions like add friend, emailing and IM’ing.
You can chat in the game Lobby, Match Lobby or just whisper to your buddies. The concept of gathering a large “fireteam” is easy as clicking on your friends’ names.
There are Daily Missions in game which reward you bonus in-game money or hardware. First-Victory, for example, rewards you with 300 RP. There are Solo missions, e.g. Kill 15 enemies with an Assault rifle and there are Fireteam missions e.g. Win 3 rounds with a fireteam size of at least 4.
You can customize your character as follows:
Loadout – Contains your equipment. There are finite slots within the loadout screen. By default you get enough to slots to have a Primary Gun, Secondary Gun, Body Armor, Helmet, Device, Squad Support and Frags.
Storage – Excess equipment can be kept in storage. By default, you get 18 slots.
Weapons – You can buy weapons with RP or with real-world money (Ghost Coins). Just head to the GRO Store. Most of the early guns have so much kick to them, you could swear that they’re firing rounds the size of bowling balls. The assault rifles, at least the ones I tried (< level 30) had the most recoil of any weapon I’ve ever used in shooters. To say that you will need some skillz in their proper use, is an understatement. Here are some of the guns you will have access to:
M27C 1350 RP Level 1
M27D10RS 1350 RP Level 5
M27 D20 2000 RP Level 1
As Val 2500 RP Level 5
As Val C 2000 RP Level 5
VSS 2500 RP Level 5
MK16 CQC 3000 RP Level 10
MK 16 SV 4500 RP Level 10
MK 16 3750 RP Level 10
Sar 21 6500 RP Level 15
Sar 21C 8000 RP Level 15
Sar 21 SD 6500 RP Level 15
ACR 13250 RP Level 20
ACR C 13250 RP Level 20
ACR SV 16000 RP Level 20
AR-21 18500 RP Level 25
AR-21C 23000 RP Level 25
AR-21SV 27500 RP LEvel 25
F2000 32000 RP Level 30
F2000 SP 40000 RP Level 30
F2000 SD 48700 RP Level 30
Mk3SP 2000 RP Level 1
Mk4C 1350 RP Level 1
Mk5 1675 RP Level 1
M96 2000 RP Level 5
M96C 3000 RP Level 5
M96SV 3000 RP Level 5
M249 3750 RP Level 10
MK46 Mod 0 3750 RP Level 10
M249 Para 4500 RP Level 10
L86 SV 6500 RP Level 15
L86A1 1W 5250 RP Level 15
L86A1 LSW 8000 RP Level 15
MG4 13250 RP Level 20
MG4 C 13250 RP Level 20
MG4 SP 16000 RP Level 20
MG36K 25000 RP Level 25
MG36KV 23000 RP Level 25
MG36 23600 RP Level 25
6P41 32000 RP Level 30
6P41SP 48700 RP Level 30
6P41SV 40000 RP Level 30
MP5A2 1675 RP Level 1
MP5K 1350 RP Level 1
MP5SD-NZ 2000 RP Level 1
OC-14 4A01 2500 RP Level 5
OC-14 4A02 2000 RP Level 5
OC-14 4A03 3000 RP Level 5
PP2000 4500 RP Level 10
PP2000C 3000 RP Level 10
PP2000 SD 3750 RP Level 10
MP7 5250 RP Level 15
MP7C 6500 RP Level 15
MP7SD 6500 RP Level 15
PP-19 13250 Level 20
PP-19 SD 10500 RP Level 20
PP-19 SP 13250 RP Level 20
MP9 23000 RP Level 25
MP9C 18500 RP Level 25
MP9 SD 23000 RP Level 25
P90 40000 RP Level 30
P90C 32000 RP Level 30
P90 SD 32000 RP Level 30
M24A2 1675 RP Level 1
M24 SV 2000 RP Level 1
M24 C 1350 RP Level 5
SRS 2500 RP Level 5
SRS C 2000 RP Level 5
SRS SD 3000 RP Level 5
Sentinel SR-1 3750 RP Level 10
Sentinel SR-1 SV 4500 RP Level 10
Sentinel SR-1 SD 3000 RP Level 10
SR-25 5250 RP Level 15
SR-25 SD 8000 RP Level 15
SR-25 SP 6500 RP Level 15
MSR 13250 RP Level 20
MSR C 10500 RP Level 20
MSR SD 16000 RP Level 20
M-200 18500 RP Level 25
M-200 SD 23000 RP Level 25
M-200 SV 27500 RP Level 25
SVD 40000 RP Level 30
SVD SV 48700 RP Level 30
SVDS 40000 RP Level 30
M500 1675 RP Level 1
M500C 1675 RO Level 1
M500 SV 2000 RP Level 1
Pentagun 2000 RP Level 5
Pentagun SP 3000 RP Level 5
Pentagun SD 2000 RP Level 5
PM5 3750 RP Level 10
PM5 SP 3750 RP Level 10
PM5-350 3000 RP LEvel 10
M104 6500 RP Level 15
M1014C 5250 RP Level 15
M1014 SD 7000 RP Level 15
NS2000 13250 RP Level 20
NS2000C 13250 RP Level 20
NS2000 SP 13250 RP Level 20
Model 10a 23000 RP Level 25
Model 10c 23000 RP Level 25
Model 10a SP 23000 RP Level 25
KPS-12 40000 RP Level 30
KPS-12C 40000 RP Level 30
KPS-12 SD 40000 RP LEvel 30
P250 1350 RP Level 1
USP 45 1350 RP Level 4
TR-1 1350 RP Level 9
FiveSeven 8950 RP Level 14
P-45 8950 RP Level 19
Redhawk 9999 RP Level 24
PX4 17900 RP Level 29
In addition you can buy Devices, Armor and Consumables.
Conclusion and Rating
I highly recommend this game. I’m going to give the Closed Beta a rating of 8.5 out of 10…once it goes Open Beta and then releases, my score should go up. I think it is a great game and on par with anything I’ve seen come out of AAA-franchises. Heck, not only is GRO much, much better than any of EA’s free-to-play offerings (by a long shot), it even rivals its top-dog BF franchise shooter. In fact, I think the suits at Activision or at EA should start worrying about what games like this will do to their cash cows.
What will CoD or BF do in light of games like GRO? Personally, I see them going more and more towards the direction of story-telling. That’s one thing that F2P games are currently avoiding and if GRO is any indication of the trend in gaming, multiplayer will be a F2P-only arena within a few years — maybe sooner.
Ghost Recon Online is currently in Closed Beta and has recently gone 24hrs round-the-clock. The Closed Beta will end soon and I’m guessing that by next month, the Open Beta will begin. Download this beast!