After a series of quick losses, I'm on another squad. My previous squad didn't talk or coordinate, with everyone just sort of feeling out what the rest of the team was doing in real-time. My new team is on voice chat, calling out plans, strategies, and locations. Class choices are made with purpose. The difference is night and day, with my new team cleaning up quickly and efficiently. That's the point of Ghost War.
Ghost War is the long-awaited free player-vs-player (PVP) update for Ghost Recon: Wildlands. It's a surprising move, as Ubisoft could've thrown together a team deathmatch mode or copied the latest zeitgeist, Battle Royale. Instead, the studio decided to craft something that's distinctly Ghost Recon.
Ghost War is a 4v4 last man standing competition: two teams enter and the team without any players left at the end loses the match. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is about infiltration and planning, knowing exactly when to engage on your target. The issue ahead of Ubisoft was how to translate that over to PVP, which required a few tweaks to the existing system.
There's Marking, which was an ever-present system in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, allowing you to tag enemies so you could see them anywhere. In Ghost War, Marking can still be done via a drone, but it also happens automatically when you take aim or shoot at a visible target. What's different is the mark disappears from your target if they evade line of sight for 5 seconds.
To help you find opponents, there's a sound indicator. When you take a shot, Ghost Recon: Wildlands leaves an orange ping for the opposing team in the vicinity of your current location. The indicator isn't perfect, but it gives your enemies a rough idea of where you were when you took a shot, which can give away your position. That's a quick way to get a bullet in the head, though getting killed during a match isn't the end as you can be revived by one of your team members.
Ubisoft also added a system called Suppression, where if you're taking heavy fire, your vision is blurred. This prevents you from having pinpoint aim and forces you to find cover and hide for a bit. The suppression mechanic allows one enemy to box you in, while another sneaks around to flank you. These mechanics keep the feel of Ghost Recon intact, while allowing for interesting actions in PVP.
Another major change is the addition of Classes and limited Loadouts to Ghost Recon. Wildlands proper has a free form system, where players are freely encouraged to put points into various abilities in order customize their Ghost for their playstyle. Ghost War keeps the general idea of unlocking abilities via points, but switches to a class-based system.
There are 12 different classes within three different categories: Assault, Marksman, and Support. Assault includes all of your frontline fighters, offering close-to-mid-range soldiers with better firepower than the rest. Marksman classes are all about long-range attack and control of the battlefield. Support classes can help their teammates with subterfuge or healing via drones. The last class is the Recruit, a basic multiclass character you can grab when you first jump into Ghost War. Classes determine what your primary weapon is, in addition to what bonuses you can access.
Within each category, you'll have an option of four different classes and the class restrictions allow Ubisoft to get a bit creative. Under Assault, you'll find the Pointman, Tank, Tech, and Assassin. The Tank gets heavy armor, additional health, and a machine gun for suppression, but also has a special ability that clears all marks and makes your team immune to marking. An Assassin is about sneaking behind enemies and can only be marked from close range, while the Tech can jam drones to shut down Support characters. Finally, the Pointman is the jack-of-all-trades, offering a basic loadout, but being immune to suppression and flash grenades.
With the Marksman school, there are the Sniper, Ranger, Enforcer, and Sentinel classes. The Sniper offers a sniper rifle (shock!) and piercing round that can hit targets through cover. While every other class gets a primary weapon and a handgun, the Ranger gets two primary weapons to handle long and medium range fights. The Enforcer has enhanced suppression, being key in keeping enemies locked down in a single position. The Sentinel can place a Satcom tracker at a position, automatically marking enemies that enter its radius, which is great for preventing pesky flankers like the Assassin.
The Support section includes classes that all avoid direct fire, using drones to attack in interesting ways or help their team. This group includes the Scout, Artillery, Diversionist, and Medic. The Scout can detect any enemy movement within its scan range with the use of its drone. Artillery has a mortar drone, allowing the class to mark a section of the battlefield and lay down explosive pain. The Diversionist uses their drone to cause false-positive sound indicators on the battlefield; if an enemy gets a sound ping in the wrong direction, they'll be looking one way, while you're coming from another. The Medic is the only class that can revive teammates are range, while other classes have to run into the line of fire.
Bonuses and Perks are specific to categories. Bonuses are straight additional boosts to every class within a category, like offering more stable aim for Marksman classes or increasing the drone range of Support classes. There are four Bonuses per school and once they're unlocked, they're always active.
Perks are more interesting tweaks to a category of soldier. For example, Marksmen can pick up Mirrored Mark, which automatically marks whoever marks you. The Assault category offers up Fighting Spirit, which regenerates health when you're not marked or suppressed. Perks are actually selected in your class loadout, meaning you can only have one equipped at a time.
Each class can be visually customized ahead of time, so your Sniper, Medic, of Tank will look different from everyone else's. It also helps you visually differentiate the classes, as your customized looks are per class.
Putting together the right combination of classes is key in Ghost War. Loading up on a squad of all Pointmen might feel good, but it doesn't give your squad a solid spread of abilities. A Tank, Assassin, Sniper, and Diversionist squad can keep the team unmarked, as the Tank draws fire and the Assassin and Sniper clean up the opposing team. A Pointman, Ranger, Enforcer, and Medic group is a mobile hammer, moving as a tight group and bringing the pain to any enemy they come across.
One thing I did forget since the last time I played Ghost Recon: Wildlands, is how good this game can look. Matches take place on discrete maps that funnel boths teams towards a central area. You can choose the match time limit, time of day, and weather pattern; the latter two options can dramatically change the game. Wandering through the jungle at night in a rainstorm just looks stunning, but it also makes it far harder to see and hear opponents, even when you're right on top of them. The scrub and foliage animate well in your wake, but their subtle movement also clues your opponent in to where you might be.
Far more so than any other game I've played recently, Ghost War is a game that relies on having a solid, consistent squad. (With PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, I find I can be thrown in with anyone, as long as we can talk.) You need to synergize your class choices and team combos. You need to communicate about your in-game position and that of your enemies. In the matches I played, the clear winners were the squads that talked and had a firm understanding of each other's capabilities. Ubisoft added a Quickplay option to Ghost War, but I can't see myself using it. It's much better to have friends.
Once you have a solid team, Ghost War is a surprisingly fun PVP mode. Ubisoft could've just copied PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and called it a day, but there's a sense that the studio tried to make something that's distinctly Ghost Recon for its first PVP mode. I think once fans have dived in and gotten a feel for all the classes, this mode will be a favorite of the Ghost Recon community. And honestly, I look forward to seeing the professional-level competitive play on this game, because some of the folks I was playing with are absolutely amazing. Ghost War is a cool cat-and-mouse experience, without feeling like there are long stretches when nothing is happening. (*cough*PUBG*cough*)
Ghost War will be available to all players of Ghost Recon: Wildlands tomorrow, October 10, 2017.