Ghost Recon Breakpoint has the potential to be a solid co-op shooter but a lot of its RPG mechanics get in the way and too often turn the game into a slogfest.
Ghost Recon: Breakpoint was near the top of my most anticipated titles releasing this fall. I’ve spent countless hours in Ghost Recon: Wildlands enjoying some of the best co-op shooter gameplay available. And while Breakpoint carries on a lot of the successes from its predecessor, a significant number of new features, design choices, and inexplicable steps backward result in a far less satisfying experience.
Ghosts, Meet Auroa
I get the sense that every Ubisoft game has to start with a helicopter crash scene these days. Frankly, I’m expecting the next entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise to begin with a Viking ship crashing on the shores of England, but only because they didn’t have helicopters. In Breakpoint, you play as Nomad, a somewhat customizable character reprising his or her role from Wildlands, albeit several years in the future.
After the island of Auroa, a tech haven owned by Jace Skell, future Zuckerberg/Musk gazillionaire with a penchant for drones, goes dark, and a US Navy ship is sunk off its coast, a team of special forces Ghost Recon soldiers is sent to investigate. As your helicopters approach the island, the predictable happens, and you find yourself alone and hurt and ready to begin your journey. You’re going to want to head to the island’s social hub as fast as possible so you can join your friends because, unfortunately, the single-player experience that Ubisoft has created is one the most questionable decisions they made.
While co-op is absolutely the way to play this game, as was the case with Wildlands, AI teammates are not an option in Breakpoint. This will be addressed in the near future, but that’s not going to help solo players right now. At this point, unless you’ve got friends to play with, there’s no real reason to even consider jumping in. Ubisoft has years of content planned, so it’s likely that things will get better and there’s no rush to jump in alone.
Provided you’ve got your squad assembled, the story in Breakpoint plays out much like a Tom Clancy novel. I suppose that’s fitting, given he’s the franchise’s namesake. What this means is that the writing is average at best and most of the core story resembles that of a summer action flick. There are occasional flashes of fun explosions, but it’s not going to win any awards for most engaging or interesting story.
As your Ghosts begin to unravel what’s happened on Auroa, players will meet other characters that have tasks for them. Some are of the utmost importance, such as stopping the big bad overarching tale, while others are as simple as fulfilling requests from a variety of local factions. Unlike in Wildlands, there’s minimal impact on the world, even if you assist these factions. Nothing truly changes, whether you ignore these requests or become a local hero. These faction missions do tie into a Battle Rewards system, a newly introduced game mechanic that seems tacked on at best. These Battle Rewards act similar to a Battle Pass system, with various levels to rank up to during seasons and rewards available along the way. Artificial daily limits on how much of this you can earn, make the whole system even more strange.
In typical Ubisoft open-world fashion, there are side missions everywhere, and there’s certainly no shortage of things to do. Most of the side missions do expand a bit on the overall story and help to build the setting of Auroa; none of them are engaging. Having quest-givers appear in random sections of the world, whether that be deserted forests or bustling communities, feels odd.
There’s hardly ever a place where the world feels empty, even though it should. Reach the peak of a mountain somewhere, and you’ll still be within a few hundred meters of some random Sentinel patrol. Sentinel are the throw-away bad guys in Breakpoint. They’re everywhere and more of a pain in the butt than an integral part of the story.
The one bright spot of an otherwise entirely bland story is Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Cole D. Walker, former Ghost and leading bad guy in Breakpoint. Clearly, a big catch for Ubisoft, the character probably should have played a more significant role in the overall setting. Pursuing him and learning about his past and what’s gone on since his appearance in Wildlands is quite fun throughout. Breakpoint has players gather information pieces in all manner of random locations on Auroa, slowly piecing together Walker’s backstory and what lead to the creation of his Wolves. Unfortunately, once you add those Investigations to the Faction Missions, Side Missions, weapon and accessory blueprints, and collectibles, it suddenly feels a lot like you’re cleaning up the playroom of about one hundred kids. There is stuff everywhere, and the few good story bits are easily drowned by it all.
Solid Co-Op Shooter
Wildlands’ strength was its co-op gameplay. No other title before had allowed players to get together and play out whatever tactics they preferred. From stealthy invasions of bases to all-out assaults, it was all a delight. In Breakpoint, most of that is still valid. The co-op experience is the high point of this latest Ghost Recon title even though it falls short of my expectations. Several changes to how stealth works and the addition of drones, have made some tactics less enjoyable. However, you’ll have the most fun while playing Breakpoint with your friends, and there aren’t any other games like it in that regard.
Players have access to a vast arsenal of weaponry, gear, and vehicles on land, air, and sea. The customization of weaponry is complex enough to keep you busy, and you’ll soon have found your favorite guns, along with whatever blueprints you need to seek out to get the attachments you prefer. Some design choices around the customization and progression of your gear range from bizarre to outright offensive (microtransaction), but overall, the array of customization available is excellent.
Ubisoft has separated your player’s gear appearance from the underlying items with their stats. This means that you can look as badass as you want without having to sacrifice on your gear score. Perhaps this should have been the clue that the entire gear score system was entirely unnecessary, but more on that in a bit. On top of all this customization sits the now typical layer of microtransactions. There has been an outcry in the community about the fact that some of the coolest looking items need to be purchased with real money, but, frankly, I’ve been able to find everything I want for my character in-game. It’s also incredibly easy to collect thousands of Skell Credits, the non-premium in-game currency, and purchase whatever you need with that. Though I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how strange it feels to purchase a stealth helicopter from a straw hut inside a cave, but whatever. For me personally, the microtransactions don’t cause a problem, though your feelings may be different.
Several other improvements to the quality of life, such as the ability to save visual presets, allow you to further experiment with your Ghosts. I wish those presets also saved the camouflage I chose on my weapons, but I’ll take it. Overall, Breakpoint is one of the most fun co-op shooters, if you’re only concerned with the actual co-op mechanics.
My Eyes! My Ears! It’s Gorgeous!
Breakpoint is also a delight in the audio visual department. The island of Auroa features all four seasons and a variety of climates, some of which are exceptionally well rendered. There are incredibly awesome moments to be hand while sneaking through tall grass on a windy early morning as the trees bow, and the sun begins to seep through the foliage. You might also find yourself in a moonlight night high in the mountains covered in snow. The variety of sceneries is a lot of fun, and I recommend taking the time to smell the proverbial roses.
On the sound effect front, it feels like Breakpoint has made some strides over the already excellent Wildlands. Gun sounds are still outstanding but Ubisoft has managed to add an extra oomph to explosions. Whether you meant to blow up an automated machinegun position, or that chopper you just jumped out of awkwardly crashes amid the enemy base you’re about to infiltrate, the sound effects are incredible. I’m not sure if I could feel a shockwave in my headphones, but it was pretty close.
Why the RPG Tho?
Breakpoint’s strength is its co-op shooter gameplay. The story is average, the graphics are gorgeous, and things sounds amazing. This is pretty much the same level of excellent game development that Wildlands brought across several years ago. If only Ubisoft had been satisfied to leave it here. Instead, a whole level of RPG-ification has been draped across Breakpoint’s foundation. Not only will you come across a large arsenal of weapons ranging from handguns to submachineguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles, but they now all stats. Not just your typical stats of range, damage, reload speed, and so on, but the M4A1 you found 15 minutes ago will have a worse gear score than the one you just stumbled across. There are different rarity levels of the items you find as well, with some adding additional perks. All of this feels odd with guns and gets outright bizarre with gear. Even though my customization options allow me to look the way I want, I’m actually wearing a legendary set of plastic gloves, a giant backpack, and a backwards baseball hat because that’s what gives me the highest gear score. These mechanics had a place in The Division but do nothing but clutter up the world and your character in Breakpoint.
What this all boils down to is that not only will you spend the time to infiltrate enemy installations to complete an objective, but you’ll also track down every single crate in the place, looking for a slightly better version of the gun you have. This leads to a constant rotation of gear without any real-time to evaluate what you want. It’s not until you’ve reached a place where your gear score is maxed out that you may start customizing the weapons the way you want them. Honestly, by then, you’ll be finished the game, and it’s a pointless exercise.
All the weapons and gear you collect can be dismantled for parts or sold at the shop for credits. The weapons break into parts needed to upgrade other weapons. Those upgrades apply to every gun of that type, so you won’t lose the progress when you discard that gun five minutes later in favor of one with a gear score that’s two points higher. Clothing and armor dismantle into parts used to craft several consumable items, some incredibly useful like Sync Drones, some entirely useless like rations.
This entire set of game mechanics could have been skipped in favor of more polish on the rest of the game. There’s no doubt in my mind that Breakpoint would have been a much better game if it had been left in the oven for another six months. From typos in cutscenes to tedious interrogations of NPCs, to flat out regressions in controls over Wildlands, much of it reeks of early release. That’s truly a shame because there is fun that can be had in Breakpoint, but there are an awful lot of things to look past at the moment to find it.
Another mechanic introduced in Breakpoint is related to injuries and stamina and is intended to serve up more severe consequences for your Ghost. In other words, you’re supposed to be more careful during combat engagements and even just surviving in the world. In practice, this comes down to your character awkward sliding down slopes, even marked paths, and occasionally taking a tumble. I’ve even falled down stairs while in a full sprint. It feels gimmicky and when combined with the automatic health regeneration and water bottles that can cure anything, it turns into more of a nuisance than a well-thoughout mechanic. The Bivuoacs are supposed to serve as these shelters for your Ghost to take a breath in but in reality they’re fast travel points, garages, and shops to purchase that extra one or two points of gear score. Also, do we really need an auto-cover system? It makes climbing ladders an absolute farce, and I’m surely capable of going into cover by myself. Like many other mechanics, the ideas are good but the execution is severely lacking.
One Step Forward, Several Huge Leaps Backwards
Ubisoft has no doubt been very ambitious with its recent titles, and many of them have found success. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was able to add RPG elements with great success, for example. But with Breakpoint, it’s a matter of too much in too short an amount of time. Superfluous game mechanics have muddled up an already hyperactive world that’s surrounded by a meager story and overall ends up distracting from some very solid underlying core mechanics. Here’s hoping that Ubisoft can turn things around during future updates or the next iteration of the vaunted Ghost Recon franchise.