There was a lot I liked about the recent unveiling of Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Ubisoft’s upcoming title looks like it will take everything that was great about its predecessor, 2017’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, and make it even better. However, there was one Breakpoint feature in particular that made me perk up immediately when I heard it: cross-mode player progression.
Like Wildlands, Breakpoint will offer a trifecta of solo, co-op, and PvP gameplay modes, and any character progress made in one mode (like unlocking new weapons or abilities) will carry over to the others. The reason why the cross-mode progression feature caught my attention is because it’s something I’ve actually wanted from an entirely different shooter franchise for many years now, and yet as of this writing said franchise has yet to deliver.
I’m talking, of course, about Call of Duty.
Playing Your Way
Call of Duty is a franchise which has built a strong reputation (and a vast fanbase) on providing players with multiple “gameplay pillars.” The exact nature of these pillars can change from game to game, but there’s usually three of them, and they usually cover competitive multiplayer, cooperative multiplayer, and a story campaign which can be single-player or co-op.
In most cases, each Call of Duty game’s competitive multiplayer component has gotten the lion’s share of post-launch support from its respective developer, and it’s easy to see why. The average Call of Duty player will likely only play the story campaign once (if that) and never touch it again. The franchise’s co-op community, which mostly consists of Zombies fans, has slowly risen in prominence as well, but it’s often the multiplayer that keeps players coming back for months and sometimes even years after the game’s initial launch.
Since competitive multiplayer is what keeps players coming back, each Call of Duty developer has in turn made the franchise’s various multiplayer iterations the most lucrative. It’s true that Zombies and other co-op modes have been gradually getting features like XP-based progression and unlockables (two things which Call of Duty’s multiplayer has pretty much always had), but they’re never quite as robust or appealing as what’s found in the multiplayer.
Worse, not one single Call of Duty developer has ever thought to incentivize the average Call of Duty player to explore outside of their chosen comfort zone through cross-mode progression. Whatever progress you make or rewards you unlock in one game mode, you only benefit from them in that specific mode. If you’re not already interested in giving the other modes a try, there’s really no point since you’ll be starting at the very bottom despite the time you’ve already poured into the game.
I don’t mean to suggest that Call of Duty players should be able to unlock multiplayer guns by playing Zombies (though I wouldn’t be opposed to it). What I *am* suggesting is that it’s high time Call of Duty’s developers considered implementing a more seamless and cohesive progression system that wasn’t segmented into pre-defined lanes with no crossover. Ubisoft has technically beaten them to the punch, and if Breakpoint ends up being a success then 2019’s Call of Duty might not look so appealing by comparison.
In fact, given the current perception of the most current Call of Duty game, Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, I’d be willing to bet that more than a few Call of Duty fans are considering Breakpoint as a worthy alternative as well.
Misreading The Room
I don’t mean to pick on Black Ops 4 since I’m sure there are a lot of players who genuinely enjoy it, but if you casually browse the game’s official subreddit you’ll soon get a sense that the community is teetering somewhere between utter bafflement and outright frustration. In many ways, Black Ops 4 was an experiment, and I want to give props to Treyarch for veering so sharply outside the established Call of Duty norm.
Of course, I also suspect that, in a different light, much of Black Ops 4’s “experimentation” could also be seen as trend-chasing. Treyarch’s latest is the very first Call of Duty game to forego a traditional story campaign. In place of said campaign is the Blackout battle royale mode, a mode which has been getting a massive amount of Treyarch attention when compared to Black Ops 4’s multiplayer and Zombies modes.
Again, Blackout, multiplayer, and Zombies each have their own progression systems and segregated rewards, with no cross-pollination between them. The one minor exception is the game’s contraband stream (basically Black Ops 4’s version of Fortnite’s Battle Pass). Players can technically progress the contraband stream by playing any of Black Ops 4’s modes, but there’s no semblance of balance involved. The most efficient way to earn contraband stream progress is to play multiplayer, end of story.
The point I’m trying to make with all this Call of Duty harping is that, no matter how much developers like Treyarch may claim otherwise, the Call of Duty franchise has always been much more about restricting player choice than encouraging it. Paid map packs, loot boxes, grindy content streams, pre-made Zombies characters, tiered weapon unlocks, and, yes, segregated progression have and will likely continue to define Call of Duty as a whole.
Meanwhile, with one simple promise, Ubisoft has avoided one of Call of Duty’s biggest pitfalls with Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
Hope For The Future
I’m not saying Ubisoft is perfect or that Ghost Recon Breakpoint is guaranteed to be a great game just because it has cross-mode character progression. Lord knows Ubisoft has had its share of blunders, and its hands are far from clean when it comes to anti-consumer practices like loot boxes and exorbitantly-priced DLC. Heck, Breakpoint is still several months from launch and it’s already stirring up a few minor controversies of its own, so believe me when I say I’m not entirely sold on it just yet.
No matter what, though, I’m guessing Breakpoint’s cross-mode progression will be a change for the better. It will be nice knowing that I’m being equally rewarded (at least in terms of character customization and progress) no matter which mode I feel like playing.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s cross-mode progression proves at least that Ubisoft respects the time that fans put into its games. I wish Activision and Call of Duty would get the memo.