In recent years, the question of value in video games has shifted. Developers still face the challenge of earning players’ money, yes, but to an equal, maybe tantamount extent, they’re also vying for players’ time. And with so many games focused on weekly missions and daily rewards, that time pool is becoming more scarce with each passing month.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint‘s answer to that conundrum is both elegant and simple: cross-mode character progression.
In Ubisoft’s previous title, Ghost Recon Wildlands, progression was split into separate camps. There was that of the cooperative campaign and that of the player vs. player mode Ghost War. But progression was siloed, so while playing one you weren’t earning weapons, gear, or experience for the other.
I myself almost completely avoided Ghost War for the exact reason mentioned above: why spend time shooting other human players when there were hundreds of hours of campaign missions to complete?
After a recent demo of Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s PvP mode, I’m convinced Ubisoft Paris understands how limited players’ time has become. And by combining the progression pools of its disparate modes–single-player, cooperative, and PvP–it’s respecting that time with tangible rewards, no matter how you might choose to enjoy the tactical shooter.
Ghost War itself is relatively simple: four players square off against another four, in single-elimination with no respawns. The first team that wins two rounds, wins the match. Both maps I saw (one on an industrial dock, the other in an alpine outpost) encouraged communication, callouts, and excited exclamations from all four members of my team.
Taking a cue from the recent rise of battle royale modes, Breakpoint’s PvP also features a shrinking, ethereal ring that forces players closer together over the course of each round. What’s more, a computer console near the center of each map allows players to reveal their enemies’ positions, creating a risk/reward dynamic for hackers who don’t mind sprinting into more exposed areas.
Breakpoint also features character classes, running the usual gamut from assault, to demolitions, to sniper, to the stealth-oriented Panther option. With individual loadouts for each of the player’s classes, strategizing my team composition with my allies was crucial to each round.
Which is all to say that Breakpoint’s PvP is fun. It can be intense. It facilitates communication in a way that Ghost Recon fans expect. Were it confined to its own progression pool, it’s something I might play for a few weeks before focussing completely on the campaign. But of course, that’s not the case. At the end of each match, I earned loot of the usual rarities, from blue-tinted unique items to the more coveted purple rewards. These included weapons, armor, boots, and gloves, to name a few. Winners receive more (and usually better) rewards, but losers don’t walk away empty-handed.
And my brain, wired as it is in recent years to value loot and progression unlocks, loved it. I don’t know whether Ghost War is exciting enough to hold my attention in the long run, but a large part of me felt assured knowing these few multiplayer matches would also improve my character elsewhere.
The developers have taken pains to account for the balancing issues this cross-mode progression produces. Certain weapons will be nerfed in Ghost War, while others might receive buffs–all in the interest of maintaining that singular loot pool for every player. I suspect future updates will be needed to keep that balance intact as Breakpoint evolves.
But that’s the point, really: Ubisoft Paris wants players to stick around. It’s why the team made sure to have Ghost War ready at launch, as opposed to the six-month delay that Wildlands had. It’s why they’re setting the game in a fictional archipelago, which they can add islands to whenever they see fit. It’s why they implemented cross-mode progression to begin with.
As more studios shift toward the “games as service” model we’ve become so acquainted with, the number of games we can feasibly complete shrinks every week. Games such as The Division 2 are packed to the brim with (mostly) meaningful things to do, while games like Anthem stumble out of the gate. Others such as Destiny 2 struggle for months to right the ship, contending with player feedback and community backlash before nailing that Holy Grail of time well spent.
I can’t yet say whether Breakpoint’s PvP will remain enticing in the long run. But I do know this cross-mode progression is a promising start.