Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint is the sequel to 2017’s Wildlands and the 11th installment in the Ghost Recon franchise. With no Assassin’s Creed launching this year and Watchdogs Legion set to release on March 2020, this is Ubisoft’s big annual AAA title. Does it supersede its predecessor? Does it keep its promise of delivering a quasi-realistic tactical shooter? Let’s find out:
Unlike the previous entries, Breakpoint requires an always-online connection to play and there’s no option to play solo offline. While this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, it’s something to keep in mind. It is built to be experienced as a Co-Op tactical shooter. However, a random server error often made it difficult to join a public lobby. If you’re teaming up with a friend though, there were no issues. While there’s a lot to like about the game, there are some glaring issues that need to be looked into. Good thing is that a lot of these can be easily fixed post-launch. Moreover, the live-game model ensures future fixes as well as more content. It also suffers from performance issues that seem to be random for the most part. But, is it worth your time? Let’s break it down piece-by-piece:
Visuals and Performance
At times, Breakpoint can look absolutely stunning. Looking over the ocean from a cliff during sunset while the grass is blowing in the wind or the early morning sunlight streaking from between the trees while you make your way through a dense jungle can absolutely take your breath away. The attention to detail is also extremely impressive. Minute details like mud accumulating on the tires of your jeep while driving through a swamp and getting washed off when crossing a stream are quite abundant. The weapons getting dirty as you move through the tall grass or the sunlight bouncing off your scope depending on the direction you’re facing is another example.
Speaking of light, the game’s lighting engine works great, casting realistic shadows and causing picture-perfect reflections. Probably the best thing about the visuals is the explosions. They are some of the best-looking explosions I’ve ever seen in a video-game, and, in some cases, even grander than Just Cause 4. Here are some screenshots:
That said, there are some extremely noticeable bugs and issues. For example, after an explosion, the smoke and embers will vanish suddenly without leaving behind a trace. Things like your player-character being stuck in random places in the environment break the immersion and can get extremely annoying at times. Random frame drops from 60 to mid-20s are probably the most annoying of all. There are also noticeable frame drops during driving and/or flying and weird texture pop-ins. Most of these issues, however, can be easily fixed and I’m counting on Ubisoft to patch them soon.
Sound and Voice:
Breakpoint surprised me with an extremely somber soundtrack, that can be borderline depressing at times. During combat, however, the battle music does a great job building just the right amount of tension and changing with combat situations. The same cannot be said for the sound design, however. While suppressed pistols and shotguns sound fine, the sniper rifles and the DMRs sound nothing like they should. A .50 cal sniper rifle should echo throughout the entire place and a close shot be almost deafening. But in-game, it sounds like popping bubble-wrap. There’s barely any distinction between a 1911 and a TAC-50. The game makes up for this hugely in the recoil, gun-feedback and the gunplay though. Moreover, you can hear enemies more than a 100 yards away. This breaks the immersion. Also, the enemies keep repeating the same voice lines over and over. In a 15-20 hour game, this can get quite tedious. In short, a great soundtrack and voice-acting, but terrible sound design.
While we could have included this with visuals or story, the world of Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a major part of the game and deserves its own segment. The island of Auroa features a wide variety of domains from dense jungles to snow-capped mountains and vast flower fields. There are quite a few urban settlements sprinkled around the natural habitats and combined, provide a diverse ecosystem to traverse. However, the urban areas can get repetitive soon and sneaking into the same house gets old fast. That said, there’s enough variety in the urban locations to keep the main missions from feeling stale.
You can traverse the vast open-world via cars, boats, or helicopters. There’s also a fast-travel system implemented in the form of bivouac camps. Once you find the said camp, you can rest there and travel directly from one camp to another if you don’t want to directly travel between locations. While it can be quite fun to drive/fly through the world of Breakpoint, pressing the “W” key for a straight 5 minutes while your chopper reaches the destination can get boring fast. And the fast travel system in place keeps traversal from becoming a chore. Moreover, these bivouacs replenish your health and stamina and should ideally be used before a faction war.
Every few miles, there are enemy settlements, patrols or major locations. The world never feels empty and is packed with enough distractions to keep it from feeling bland. Traveling from point A to B can get really interesting at times. Earlier on in my playthrough, I saw some guys harassing a civilian by the river. So I decided to take a small detour from my main mission. I took out the 2 guys and a drone easily enough and collected information on a weapon. However, an overhead plane revealed my position which resulted in two hyper-aggressive drones on my tail. These weren’t like anything I’d seen before and brought my health down very low and I barely managed to survive the encounter.
Events like these happen quite often and if someone is hyper-focused on just completing the main story, it can be quite annoying. I, however, enjoyed these small interruptions that broke the generic flow of missions. They show that the world is lived-in and not made up of fixed encounters and set-pieces. There are enough moments for you to make your own action-packed adventure.
Story and Characters
In Breakpoint, a group of elite military contractors has taken over the high-tech island of Auroa, owned by Jace Skell. The elite military soldiers are called Sentinel, who were hired by Jace Skell to maintain security. The man-in-charge is Lieutenant Colonel Cole D. Walker, previously part of the Ghosts. Walker served with the player character Nomad in Bolivia (Wildlands) and later on in Afghanistan. He leaves the Ghosts later on and establishes his own private army. Played by Jon Bernthal, Walker’s character is extremely well-made. He has a great backstory, the delivery is perfect and he just consumes any scene he’s in. Without a doubt the most interesting character in the game, he alone makes the story worth caring for. Coming to the story, it starts off interesting enough, with an extremely strong first act. It, however, gets generic soon enough and the mission structure doesn’t help with the pacing.
While a few characters are well-made, most of them feel like generic NPCs from a Bethesda game. Even a few of the main characters have abysmal facial features to the point they almost look abysmal. While Nomad, Walker and a handful few were lucky enough to look to get Ubisoft’s special treatment, the same couldn’t be said for the vast majority of others. While Walker’s and Nomad’s animations look almost like something out of a movie, a lot of characters look almost Antem-esque, with low-res features and janky animations. While most of these characters aren’t important, they break the immersion and shows that the game lacks consistency.
Gameplay and AI
In Breakpoint, you play as Nomad and try to free the island of Auroa from Sentinel control. After you complete the tutorial missions, you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want in the vast open world. The open mission structure makes it possible to head-first into any mission without any restrictions. While you can, in theory, complete a mission meant for much later very early on, the game advises you against it. Whenever you enter an area with high-level enemies, the game warns you.
The game has 3 levels of progression in place: your class level, your gear level, and your experience level. As you take out more sentinels, drones and get more headshots, you gain points which in turn grants you skill points. You use these skill points to unlock abilities that best suit your playstyle. The class system is quite fluid and you can swap out different classes based on your approach. Your gear level is the average of all your equipped gear. You pick up gear from fallen enemies and weapon crates. Each gear has a level rating and a rarity score. The rarer it is, the more perks it comes equipped with: like automatic marking or extra damage.
None of this actually matters though. Breakpoint has a one-shot headshot mechanic that negates all of the progression systems in place. Even for highly armored behemoths, it takes one shot to get the helmet off and one more to finish them off. Higher-level enemies only do more damage and can take more body shots. While I really liked this mechanic, this just doesn’t feel right in a progression based game. What’s the point in grinding for higher-level gear if the same level 140 enemy will die from two pistol headshots? While it tries to implement an RPG-lite system, it doesn’t hold much value given the mechanics. Wildlands also had the same mechanic but progression wasn’t tied to your gear level.
Breakpoint tries to make gear level matter by introducing these heavily armored drones with thousands of HP. There is, however, a simple workaround. Use your drone to mark the human enemies. Then take them down one-by-one and walk into a mostly empty site and complete your objective. There’s an even better way though. Drive down the middle of the road with your APC. Place down mines and traps on either side of the road. Get back on the APC’s gunner seat and start shooting. Enemies will start flooding into the narrow bottleneck and you can pick them off one-by-one. For the giant killer drones, use your mines and rocket launcher. Keep this on for a while and you can even clear the largest of bases easily. This also goes on to show how primitive the AI actually is. If you’re being chased by them, just shoot the cars a few times and they’ll get down to check, making getaways hilariously easy.
The inspiration from Metal Gear Solid V is quite apparent: with enemies calling reinforcements after spotting you and drones alerting the guards nearby on being spotted. However, the AI is so stupid that it doesn’t even feel close to MGSV. Just crouching in a bush or hiding behind a wall will result in drones and enemies to completely overlook you. For the majority of my playthrough, I played as a panther. Its unique ability is the cloaking spray, which acts as a get-out-of-jail-free card in hairy situations. Just press “Z” and run away and the enemies will be left scratching their heads. While the game tries to balance this by ability taking quite some time to recharge, you do the same by just hiding in a random bush.
The gunplay, however, is some of the most satisfying I’ve experienced. Every gun has a unique mechanic and offers great feedback. While the Sniper Rifles and DMRs can feel quite out of place as you can just run and gun without much care, they do offer an alternative slower approach if that’s your thing. The game promises to be a slow-paced tactical shooter where every decision matters; and it achieves that somewhat. You can play slow and tactically, marking enemies, taking them one by one and completing the objective stealthily. However, the game rewards a loud, explosive playstyle much more. Just use your chopper to light-up the base with rockets or just going in and shooting the enemies is just more convenient.
Breakpoint also has a Co-Op mode but a matchmaking error kept me from trying out public lobbies. Me and buddy, however, were able to get into a session without any issues. Co-Op is definitely more refined and we had a lot of fun screwing around rather than completing objectives. But, then again, everything is more fun with a friend. My main issue with the game is that, unlike Wildlands, there aren’t any AI squadmates when you’re playing solo. This is a big negative in my book as this takes away a lot of the tactical aspect of the game. So, about half of my playtime was spent solo and at times, the game can start to feel like a chore. The copy-paste mission structure of go to X, find said evidence/person, escort them/blow up the base got repetitive soon. You can basically dumb down the game to infiltrate-shoot-rinse-repeat. There wasn’t enough mission variety to keep it interesting until the end. What kept me playing was the world and the gunplay.
There’s also faction wars and a PvP mode, Ghost War. Ghost War is a 4v4 tactical mode that almost always plays out like a deathmatch irrespective of the objective. You can play as either of the 4 available Ghost classes and the gear level is balanced for every match. As of now, there are 6 maps available. While one of them is quite unique, most are generic and don’t offer much in the way of environments the way the campaign offers. To sum up, it feels like an odd cross between PUBG and Rainbow Six: Siege.
Breakpoint doesn’t know what it wants to be. The exploration aspect from AC: Odyssey is cool but poorly implemented. The same can be said for the looter-shooter aspects from Division 2, the tactical aspect from Siege or the Faction War aspect of Far Cry. It tries to be too many things at once, to its detriment. If the developers had only focused a few of these things and implemented them to perfection, Breakpoint would have been a much better game. It had the potential to be a genre-bending masterpiece of a tactical shooter, following in the footsteps of MGSV and potentially changing the tactical-shooter landscape. It ended being a slightly average concoction of many things, with neither of the ingredients shining through. If you really like tactical shooters, you will enjoy it. But it definitely isn’t the best of them and I’d suggest waiting for a sale before getting it.