Ghost Recon Online is a third-person cover shooter, not dissimilar to the superlative Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, which was released to critical acclaim earlier this year. The similarities don't end there, as you would expect, but there's enough here to make sure GRO maintains its own identity when compared to its sibling.
For starters, if you strip it down to its component parts, GRO is completely free. Gratis. The maps, the three classes, and all the weapons are available to everyone, with the latter unlocked as you move up through the tech tree.
Whilst you can spend hard cash on XP buffs, armour inserts and essential kit (such as grenades), you don't have to, if you don't wish. Everything can be obtained through graft. It really is free-to-play, and because weapons only unlock as you level up, money will only accelerate your progress. Skill always prevails, and so there's no unfair advantage on the battlefield.
Speaking of battlefields, there are six at the moment, though hopefully this number will expand sooner rather than later. These are also free, and if Ubisoft continues with that trend and can keep the community together, there is no reason why Ghost Recon Online won't flourish.
The premise is simple. Two evenly matched teams scrap it out, chasing a range of objectives across some very well designed maps. Objectives tend to focus on capture points, and combat funnels into carefully positioned bottlenecks, and carnage inevitably ensues.
Controlling your Ghost Recon takes a little time to master, but the controls quickly become intuitive, and whilst not as robust as Future Soldier's, they're fit for purpose and there's very little to complain about. Snapping in and out of cover quickly becomes second nature, and it needs to be, because cover is every Ghost's best friend. Regular movement in the open is quickly rewarded with a swift and unceremonious death.
The brevity of early life leads to a quick change of tact, and Call of Duty-esque charges into the breach are seldom seen, and are always gratefully received by opposing teams.
Ghost Recon Online isn't rocking the best looks in the shooter genre (allowing it to work on a variety of machines), but there's still plenty to admire. Each of the arenas is distinctive and each offers a variety of different environments to fight over. Spawn points shift as objectives are taken, meaning combat never stays static for too long: action is always shifting.
There are three classes to choose from, and each offers distinctive options to sift through. I spent most of my time as a Recon class, hanging back with a sniper rifle, taking headshots and avoiding being flanked. Different perks buff the stats of those around you, so playing as a sniper and sticking close to your team offers them increased tactical knowledge by detecting sprinting enemies and those in combat, and relaying that information to nearby squad members. There's also a Cloak that renders the Recon near-invisible and Oracle is a scanning device that can identify hostile troops; tactical recon that can once again be transmitted to local allies.
Assault's carry two over their own special devices. Blitz is a bullet proof combat shied that reflects projectiles, and it's used as a battering ram of sorts. It makes them daunting close-quarters adversaries: just one charging in behind enemy lines can prove disastrous for the defensive team. A co-ordinated attack can see well positioned soldiers knocked to floor with a shove from the heavy shield, only for long and midrange support to hoover up the kills as troops fly out of cover. The second device is called Heat, and it allows you to, effectively, cook your opponents from range. This class can also help their nearby teammates by boosting armour and health regeneration.
The Specialist class brings Blackout and Aegis to the battlefield. Aegis is a mobile energy device that emits a defensive plasma shield, and Blackout sends out a disorientating pulse that knocks out nearby electronics. Teammates are boosted by ammunition and energy resupply. This boost, like the others, makes sticking together and working as a team more rewarding, and ultimately, doing so makes winning easier.
There are two game modes at the moment. Onslaught is a game of cat and mouse, with teams taking turns to attack and defend different objectives across the map. As objectives are overrun, spawn points are moved, meaning battle is refocussed throughout. The other mode is Conquest, and here the aim of the game is to capture as many strategic points as possible before the timer runs out (it can end if one team has captured all points).
Weapons, armour and equipment can be upgraded throughout. As you level up each class new unlocks become available, and the weapons and devices you already have become more potent. It means you constantly have something to strive towards as you seek to mould the perfect soldier. The three distinct classes also allow for specialisation and experimentation as you tweak and improve your various builds.
All in all, Ghost Recon Online is pretty impressive. I've enjoyed my time with the game so far, and I'll continue playing, which is about as good an endorsement as I can give right now. There's plenty of different ways to specialise, and make the game feel like your own, and the action is intense and competitive. Throw in the gratis price tag and you've got several compelling reasons to get stuck into the beta. See you in there.
We'll be keeping an eye on Ghost Recon Online as the beta progresses, and eventually we'll post a definitive review. But in the meantime, for more information, or to sign up for the open beta, head this way.
Loading next content