Whether we like it or not, microtransactions are a permanent mainstay of contemporary gaming. Publishers big and small now have no apprehensions about charging full price for a product, only to ask for a little more on top of it - bringing to mind Jim Sterling's infamous "fee-to-pay" term. But it's a little easier to deal with when the nickel-and-diming amounts to a few skins or profile pictures. It's a different deal entirely, however, when paying a premium puts a player at a competitive advantage over others.
From the headline, you can probably guess what category Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint falls under.
Spend Money To Buy Money That... Buys Money
Starting out at the ground floor, Breakpoint's monetization scheme is totally borked. The currency seems simple enough at first, with two types accounted for - Skell Credits and Ghost Coins. Skell Credits can be earned in-game, and are fairly easy to come by with exploration and diligent killing. Ghost Coins, on the other hand, are purely premium.
However, things are complicated by the fact you can actually buy Skell Credits with Ghost Coins. This means that you can spend money to get money that buys money. That ancient Xzibit meme comes to mind here, as players are essentially working through three different layers of currency.
How this translates to purchasing things in the store is equally as convoluted. Essentially, players spend money on Ghost Coins, which can then be used to unlock a blueprint for an item. A notification then pops up, telling the player to have enough Skell Credits to buy the item from the store, meaning they're essentially just buying an unlock. Don't have enough Skell Credits? No problem! Buy more Ghost Coins, then funnel those into Skell Credits! Spend more money on money for money!
But what does that money get you?
Getting Good For Fun - With Profit
Ghost Coins can be used to buy blueprints for guns, which are unlocked in the in-world shop. When a player visits that shop, they find the blueprints menu, which allows them to buy the gun they just purchased with Skell Credits.
Upfront, the game lets you essentially buy your way to the best weapons in the game. In-game descriptors even denote which guns are the good ones, so all you have to do is read a pithy advertisement and pick the one you want. Guns purchased with IRL money start out, from my experience, with a Blue rarity - placing them firmly in the "Rare" category, which means that they're more likely to have certain perks. This means that you can effectively dumpster any white or green weapon you have for resources. There are two more rarities above Blue - Purple and Orange, or Epic and Legendary, respectively. So far, I haven't seen any chances to buy those... yet.
Essentially, though, players are given free reign to spend as much money as they want to unlock whatever they want. For their money, siphoned through two currencies, they're given a decent gun upfront that can easily smoke its way through the campaign. If it were just the campaign, however, that would almost be okay. I'm not one to spend money on timesavers, unless it's for research purposes, but some people are. That's fine! More power to them.
What's not fine, though, is that your weapon loadout carries over into PvP. Yikes.
Money Is Power
Ghost War is Breakpoint's centerpiece PvP mode, and it's a whole bunch of fun. It takes a Rainbow Six Siege approach in terms of its elimination-based lives system and objectives, and adds an extra layer of stealth that's very compelling. I could see myself spending a lot of time with this mode... if Ubisoft's greed didn't muck everything up.
See, with your PvE weapons carrying over into PvP, Breakpoint's multiplayer component becomes inherently broken. People can buy their way to a good inventory, kit out their weapons, then hop online and smoke people who might not want to pay to win. Gradually unlocking things and working towards progress with diligent and skilled play is a thing of the past. The future is now, old man, and it's all about paying your way to victory.
Granted, you can't buy talent, and I would know - I'm not the greatest at Breakpoint yet, only averaging around a handful of kills per game. But for research purposes, I went ahead and sunk ten bucks into an assault rifles pack, then dumpstered most of my previous stash to upgrade a gun with particularly good handling and stopping power. I noticed that my mediocre play reaped faster kills than it had prior, thanks to my new gun. Enemies went down faster than before. It felt gross. Objectively speaking, my performance per game improved based on spending money - and that's terrible.
The only saving grace, then, is that higher tiers of weapons are locked behind skill tree walls. You can't buy those with any type of currency.
Skills Paid With Bills
Just kidding! You totally can... at least, that's what some players have reported.
According to Redditor u/Blinkk8704, the earliest copies of Breakpoint allowed players to spend around $20 USD to get 2800 Ghost Coins, which they could then spend 2400 of to buy 60 skill points. Considering most of the early-to-mid-game skills cost between 1-4 skill points to unlock, this would put a player at an absurd advantage. It would allow them a speedy through-line to some of the best perks in the game, and unlock the ability to kit out their weapons to their fullest potential.
Translation? If you spend a ton of money, you can curbstomp the game into oblivion.
Now, these listings have disappeared from the game at press time. The reason for this is simple: Ubisoft likely didn't want bad press during the review period. This is a practice that numerous publishers have adopted at this point - currying critical favor before launch, only to stab the player base in the back when the servers go online. The game gets a good MetaCritic score, the publisher gets their money, and everybody goes home happy.
Except for the gamers who paid sixty of their hard-earned dollars for the game at launch. They're boned.
Time will tell if these features get added back to the game, but considering how lousy Far Cry: New Dawn was with its pay-to-win gimmickry, don't hold out hope for Ubisoft to do the right thing.
Not Worth The Price?
I don't dislike Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Sure, it's not as compelling as Wildlands, but I've had a decent enough time with it so far, and am having a real blast exploring the game's vibrant, beautiful world.
But this doesn't sit right with me, nor should it anybody else. By integrating its single-player and multiplayer modes into a game where players with the deepest pockets get access to the best gear, Ubisoft is sending a clear message: they don't care. They're willing to completely ruin a game's balance if it means milking players for everything they're worth. Breakpoint is a game with loads of potential and heaps of great ideas, but all of it's buried under a mountain of downright scummy practices.
Is that potential and are those ideas worth sixty dollars when so much of the game actively funnels players towards parting with their money? That's something you'll have to see in my full review, later this week.