Editor’s note: I am revising this article to reflect my updated thoughts and criticism after having spent more time with Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
Ubisoft Paris’ sequel to 2017’s Wildlands packs many highs but is ultimately weighed down by the lows that make it a truly great sequel. The combat system, above all else, is where the game shines. When played cooperatively, Breakpoint faithfully nails its “spec-ops sim” philosophy. Unfortunately, the mission designs, mundane traversal, and the many technical errors inhibit the game from standing as a full sequel, but rather a large-scale DLC package.
Becoming A Ghost
Ghost Recon Breakpoint picks up a few years after Wildlands, in the not so distant future. You’re once again placed in the boots of Nomad, who along with his fireteam have found themselves stranded on the fictional island of Auroa. Upon arrival, Nomad’s helicopter is shot down by a swarm of drones. Nomad travels through the forests and backroads to gain assistance from a group of rebels. The island of Auroa is a hub for advanced technology in both consumer goods and military weaponry, developed by a resident company Skell Technology. Run by the brilliant Jace Skell, his company has been taken over by a private militia under the name of Sentinel.
Players of Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Operation Oracle DLC were introduced to Cole D. Walker. Played by Jon Bernthal, Walker has since gone rogue, forming Sentinel and a working fireteam of his own under the codename “Wolves”. Walker is the puppet master, orchestrating the control of Auroa. Ubisoft has the gift of creating enthralling antagonists. Walker is another prime example of this. Attributing a lot of the character’s success to the Bernthal’s portrayal, anytime Walker appears in a cutscene, he steals the show. If you’re familiar with his work in The Walking Dead and The Punisher, you’ll know how impactful his monologues can be. Walker’s personality is cold-blooded and his mannerisms pull you in. Furthermore, the use of his character (so far) is just enough to not make his presence wear thin.
Like Ghost Recon Wildlands, Breakpoint functions as an open-world game that can be played solo, but encourages you to party up with up to three other friends. Ghost Recon Breakpoint focuses on roleplaying elements, with each party member taking on a different role ie: Field Medic, Panther, Assault, and Sharpshooter. Panther players, for instance, will want to invest skill points in stealth techniques, while Sharpshooters would be wise to utilize long-range tactics and sniper rifles. The more I played, the more I grew to appreciate the advantages you gain from playing within your class. If you’re building a stealth-based operative, the game gives you many exceptional tools to do so. When striking at night, you can equip a silencer, don your night-vision goggles and satisfyingly clear out a base while disabling light sources to remain hidden. Roleplaying is entirely optional as the broad skill tree lets you unlock all skills and you’ll be able to swap between each role at your bivouac.
Bivouacs are new to Ghost Recon. These act as fast travel locations found across the map. Once travelling to a bivouac, you can change between roles, craft new items, and request a vehicle. Adding to the roleplay, survival elements have been introduced to keep you on your toes. In Breakpoint, you’ll have a stamina meter that will deplete when running or vaulting and your maximum stamina will slowly run out unless you return to your bivouac to rest. You can also gain boosts by eating and drinking before heading out on your next mission. The survival and roleplay aspects can be pretty deep but aren’t compulsory to enjoy the game. Some aspects, like the bivouac perks, act as small distractions. The advantages you gain from hitting a bivouac before a mission aren’t that substantial. For instance, doing a weapon review will grant you +20 accuracy for an hour. While that may seem like an attractive perk, the gameplay is still gratifying if you choose to ignore those aspects.
In many ways, the game wants you to play it seriously. Nomad himself is a stoic, no-nonsense character, yet the game gives you the choice to play as you wish. This freedom is liberating, although some gameplay elements can contrast with the “spec-ops sim” theme. You can be a coordinated operative, meticulously taking out each enemy base seriously, but you can also loosely play Breakpoint. There’s no right or wrong way to play. It’s up to you to determine how immersed you want to be in the role of Nomad. At the end of the day, you’ll kill a lot of baddies. There’s no disadvantage to playing the game in a more arcadey way.
Levelling your character up and grinding for loot is satisfying. You can complete class-specific objectives to earn more new items and perks ie: “Kill X amount of drones as a medic”. Akin to Destiny or The Division, the hook is to not only level your character to gain more abilities, but to also reach a higher gear score. Unlike many other games, Breakpoint doesn’t block out chunks of the map due to level restrictions. Instead, high-level enemy bases are scattered throughout. My party met this unfortunate realization as one of our main objectives laid right outside the door of a 150+ gear score base. Suffice to say we did not survive. I find this method to be more natural than placing stop signs on the map. As you progress, you’ll find munitions chests with new items, and armour. Just like any other game within this sub-genre, there’s a lot of item swapping and stat comparisons as you’re constantly rotating through your gear. You’ll also notice a consistent gear score progression when picking up loot. Ghost Recon Breakpoint‘s hook of always making you feel like you’re progressing is spot on. Almost every item you find will advance your gear score. There’s a clear progression system in place so you never feel stagnant.
An Island Under Seige
Auroa is a massive island, with hundreds and hundreds of locations big and small. Even while flying a helicopter, going from one section of the map to the next can be quite a trek. While Auroa is an ambitious size, there’s no incentive to explore outside of your mission destinations. Small encampments and ruined houses little the map, but don’t offer anything to do outside of opening up an item crate. Small patrol units will regularly walk along the roads. You’ll also come across convoys and surveillance drones, and for the first few hours it’s fun to flank them and disable them, but you’ll eventually realize the rewards of doing so isn’t enough to justify the time spent. Which is too bad as Ubisoft Paris put a lot of thought into how your character moves across different environments. You can see the struggle when crossing an ankle-deep river, and see the weight shift as you descend a muddy slope, which may often result in your character tumbling down, causing minor injuries. Unfortunately, there just not enough satisfaction from exploring the world. You’re better off fast-travelling to a bivouac, spawning a helicopter and bee-lining it to your next destination.
There are your traditional side missions and collectibles to hunt down, padding out the narrative stretch in the game. The non-linear direction the game takes is quite strong. If you’ve played any Ubisoft game, the loop is exactly as you’d expect. Obtain a mission, travel to the destination, kill the baddies, loot, and repeat. For me, this loop began to wear exceptionally thin as the story isn’t overtly interesting when it doesn’t directly involve Cole D. Walker. More often than not, the missions string you from one fetch quest to another and without offering a satisfying conclusion to the story beat. You can jump between narrative threads haphazardly because, in the end, they’ll all tie back together. Even if you join a friend’s game and complete a few missions, your game will recognize this and allow you to skip it upon return. You can also locate blueprints to craft new guns and attachments. Ghost Recon Breakpoint takes a page from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by way of giving you the choice to play on Guided mode or Exploration. Guided mode will pinpoint your next objective, while Exploration will give you rough descriptions of where to go. Regardless of your choice, many of the missions unfold by locating and piecing together clues to paint a bigger picture. This becomes a bit tedious as it’s very common that you’ll complete a mission objective, but have to go into the menus, select and read the intel you just picked up to advance the mission further.
Mud In The Tracks
The aforementioned is one example of my main gripe regarding the game. You’re always navigating a menu or popup screen. In the game’s beginning hours, you might feel overwhelmed as the game constantly spams your screen with new tutorials to read through to get an idea of the new mechanics. There a few cool additions to the game, like Prone Camo, which when prone, you’re able to cover yourself in mud or sand to blend in with the environment. Rather than introduce this mechanic in a mission, the game offers a stagnant screen, tells you what button to press and shuffles you along. Even when you’re organizing your loot, you’re spending too much time on a menu. Weapons and armour that you no longer want can be broken down into crafting materials or sold at any of the shops. The game has you break down or sell each item one by one, drawing out what should be a quick transaction. It becomes a monotonous chore to clear your inventory. There’s an odd design choice Ubisoft Paris made regarding the button to hold your breath. Pulling the left trigger halfway, you’ll aim down your sights and momentarily hold your breath before shooting. To my knowledge, the game never communicates this function. I only discovered it when navigating the controls and opted to switch it to clicking the left thumbstick.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint has many rough edges. The character models are shallow and lifeless, with little texture on their skin and hair. Dialogue cutscenes can be frustrating to watch as the camera is often zoomed in too much, cutting off your character or the person you are speaking to. Upon the game’s official launch, Ubisoft Paris released a day one patch. This patch rectified many issues in terms of texture pop-ins, framerate drops, and game crashes. However, the game remains to lack that certain polish you’d expect from a current Ubisoft title. There’s also a frustrating bug (or perhaps design choice) in the game causing respawns to place you way too far from your destination. This causes all momentum to halt when one party member dies and has to run for three minutes to get back into the action. Also, it’s worth noting that Ubisoft has removed boosters and select microtransactions from the game for the time being. Players had the option of purchasing XP boosters to cut progression time. These have since been removed for launch but may return in the future.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint offers a few supplemental modes to dive into as well. Ghost War, the game’s PVP mode brings your character and your weapons into a 4v4 tactical match. You’ll have the option of playing either Elimination, which is your standard deathmatch or Sabotage, your traditional S&D match type. Elimination implements a bit of battle royale into the game in the form of a late-game circle closing in on the map. Since Breakpoint and it’s multiplayer are so tactical, the circle helps speed things up a bit. All your weapons and armour from singleplayer are brought over to PVP, although, everything is balanced for an even playing field.
Despite the technical issues and problems I have with the UI, I’ve enjoyed the combat Ghost Recon Breakpoint offers. There’s something special about grouping up with friends, taking on different roles and hitting an enemy base hard and fast. The problem is, if you’re playing alone, you’ll begin to notice how empty and shallow the game can be. Without the banter of your friends, traversal can become a chore and the repeated mission structure can detract from your overall enjoyment. The satisfying combat and gear score progression are saving graces. When you are engaging in combat and using the game’s tools in the middle of a mission, you may find enough there to distract you from the feeling of exploring an empty world. The level progression is deep enough to invest time in upgrading your character and prepare yourself for the post-game content. Although, you may have to ask yourself if that grind is worth the investment. As someone who thoroughly enjoys that hook, I’ve been able to lean on the positives as I explore the island of Auroa.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]