So after jumping through about a thousand hoops to get the game to work I finally got into the Ghost Recon Online closed beta. In spite of the downright impossible process you have to go through (at the time of writing) to get into the game if you aren't in Europe I'm really having a great time with it. I love how it endeavors to step away from the other online shooters out there. With it's relatively fresh take on an existing setting, distinct classes, great use of teamwork centric abilities and well designed customizer I think the game could really stand out when it launches. Even in spite of it's relatively shallow depth.
When you join up with the game you'll have your choice of three classes. The most versatile of these three is the Assault. Perhaps predictably the standard weapon for the assault is an assault rifle but you'll also be able to equip one of many shotguns. The Specialist can use light machine guns and shotguns and specializes in supporting team members. While my personal favorite, the Recon, can use a sniper rifle or a sub machine gun specializing in long-range support fire or ambushing respectively.
GRO sidesteps a problem that plagues a lot of online shooters. That being that mostly all of the weapons seem to function in the same way. War Inc. suffered from this in a big way as almost all of the weapons felt the same and there was almost no difference between submachine guns and assault rifles. Not so with GRO, all of the weapon classes function in their own unique way and damage, as well as other stats, are clearly labelled so you know exactly how an upgrade is going to effect you in-game.
You also command one of two abilities available to your class. Assault troopers can have a riot shield they can used to bull rush the enemy or a microwave field projector for disorienting your enemy. The Recon class can use a personal cloak or the oracle device that can look through walls to see all your enemies. Lastly the Specialist can use his Aegis shield to block incoming fire or the rather too obviously named Blackout to overload your enemy's electronics, disorienting them.
Between all those abilities and the three classes there is actually a huge amount of depth to the combat. What I like best about it is that the abilities are all built to be used for teamwork. After playing a few rounds it's easy to see that if you don't work as a team you will lose, and working as a team leads to a few really great moments. Moments like this: As a sniper, I'm pinned down by another sniper on the second floor of a building. I know if I stick my head up it'll get blown off so instead I use my Oracle device to show my team where the over-watching sharp shooter is for another sniper to take him out. Or as a Specialist I use my Aegis shield to protect my team from the enemy's fire so they can all advance. Abilities like this make you feel like your part of the team. Compare that with abilities in games like Call of Duty where they're only really affective for killing and more killing and you have, in my opinion, a more gratifying experience.
The game is far from perfect however, something to be expected from a game at this early stage in its release. The damage is more often than not delayed so after you pop back into cover you to tend to die from the sniper round you took a second ago. The cover itself is a little bit clunky and sometimes it feels like you're super clued to the wall. The weapon's don't sound quite right and your abilities and health recharge too slowly. The biggest problem that I have with the game however is that you can't change your class during a match. I find it really annoying when I can't change it up when my current tactics just aren't working or when I just get bored with playing that class.
These are all minor bits of gristle on what is basically a flawless steak. The game looks great and plays great, things that a lot of games in early closed beta can't boast. Things like more different kinds of ammunition, a better inventory system and more options for customization will give the game more staying power in a market badly in need of just that. GRO is a game that has great potential but still has quite a way to go if it wants to challenge the free to play market.