When gamers think of free-to-play games, they typically think of a limited experience that will only be expanded by how much money they invest into it. Recently however, developers have been taking this 'freemium' idea and have been incorporating it into gaming through an array of different ways. Ubisoft are taking a much more consumer friendly approach, shortcuts and advantages can be purchased but are not essential for the game's intended experience.
In fact, the game itself hardly pressures consumers into buying anything at all, except for a small window on the character screen advertising particular items. Of course, everything has a price, but much in the way of other free-to-play games these can be bought with RP (Requisition Points) that are earned over time, or GC (Ghost Coins) which can be purchased with real money. Both of these can then be used to purchase guns, gun upgrades, armour, abilities and helmets, most of which will provide some sort of advantage to players, others being nothing more than decoration. Fortunately, every item in the store is accompanied by a description that lets players know exactly what they are buying, this of course being most useful when their own money is on the line.
However, with all that being said, it is the gameplay that decides the fate of a game and I am glad to say that Ghost Recon Online does not disappoint. Though the game may be lacking in new ideas, it is providing a solid experience that players new to the series can try out for free. Players have access to three classes, Assualt, Recon and Specialist. Like most games, these three classes grant players access to different weapons and abilities from their counterparts. Assault classes steer towards offensive tactics as Specialist players support them, the Recon class is primarily for campers who occasionally help by using the 'Oracle' ability to highlight enemies. All kidding aside, sometimes even the choice of class can be advantageous or a hindrance towards the team. In the end, it's all about tactics.
After choosing from a wide range of weapons, abilities and equipment, players will be thrust into matches consisting of five player teams all fighting for the same objective. The beta only contained matches set on an oil rig and a subway station, and involved the capture of five areas with the first beginning in the middle. As these are taken in sequence they are lost permanently and the battle becomes an attack and defend objective for each contested area leading up to a team's spawn point. Once that is taken the game is over, unless of course the defending team can hold out until the timer counts down.
It sounds complicated but a few matches in makes everything clear, including the control scheme and tactics players can use to help their team. As a console owner, the change from controller to keyboard was surprisingly fluid, the game obviously helped me with on-screen prompts to perform various actions and hot key prompts next to my abilities. I was also fortunate enough to play alongside a team that genuinely cared about working together, but in the online space where this is rare, the experience may be far from fun and the match will simply turn into a competition for kill counts and kill-to-death ratios.
Overall my experience with Ghost Recon Online was fun, I didn't have to spend any money to enjoy the game's 'free' content and for a free-to-play game, the impressive visuals and smooth online experience was a welcoming surprise. The only real complaints I could make was that small pockets of lag led me to my death a few times more than I would have liked, and that campers should be banned from every game ever. I realize the contradiction between 'smooth online experience' and then mentioning 'lag' but no game is perfect, but a free game with minor complaints could be argued as being pretty close.
Free-to-play games are often looked down upon by the gaming community, but I urge gamers to at least try Ghost Recon Online when it becomes available. After all, it's free.