Let it never be said that Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is a game without ideas. Great ideas, terrible ideas, and even some great ideas implemented terribly, I’ve seen them all thus far in the 20 or so hours I’ve spent with this latest entry in Ubisoft’s tactical military shooter franchise. Then there are ideas borrowed from other games only half of which seem to actually belong here.
I have engaged plenty in the type of cross-country gameplay that will be familiar to anybody who played and enjoyed Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but now we also have widespread weapon loot mechanics, social hubs, RPG-lite elements, and accumulative gear scores taken from other Ubisoft titles, many of them clumsily shoehorned in. The gear score, for example, is a ghost number (pun fully intended). As you find loot of a higher level, this aggregate number increases, with its value theoretically determining your readiness for certain aspects of the content. It doesn’t matter though because individual weapon and gear scores do nothing for that item’s effectiveness. Mid to higher-level armour/clothing offer small stat perks but are really just cosmetic with no defensive ratings (ironically, you have an option to actually enable a “Skin Override” cosmetic mode), and a level 10 SVD 63 designated marksman rifle is going to kill an enemy in exactly the same number of bullets as its level 30 counterpart.
That number of bullets almost always being one, by the way, thanks to the franchise’s traditional one bullet headshot kills for practically every enemy you face. The exceptions are heavily armoured foes – who take one extra bullet to first dislodge their helmets – and the firepower-stuffed drones/mini-tanks who instead have structural weak points and actually offer the game’s toughest challenges if you aren’t packing explosive/EMP weaponry or piloting an attack chopper.
Combine this with the fact that the enemy AI is often dumber than mud, either standing around stupefied or endlessly running from one piece of cover to the next aimlessly after you’ve dropped one of their compatriots in their vicinity, and it can make for an unsatisfactory combat experience. At one point I cleared out a maze-like cave system by using night-vision goggles and the evergreen military tactic of “Just sit in a dark corner of the room and then shoot enemies in the head as they slowly walk in one by one to investigate the noise of their previous colleagues being drilled in the temple with an assault rifle for 10 minutes”. I quietly racked up a small mountain of bodies, and while I had the option to carry them away, why would I? Enemy corpses were the constant cheese in my trap.
While assaulting strongholds and bases will initially see you employing the same dairy-fied tactics, things do get a bit trickier once you start going up in rank though. You’re free to either go in guns blazing or stealthy, but the latter has always felt more appropriate for the franchise. And using your trusty drone to scout ahead/mark targets before sneaking in and silently killing your way to an objective is admittedly always a thrill. This ramps up in enjoyment when you’re playing Breakpoint’s four-player co-op mode, where there’s the elite military unit buzz of timing simultaneous takedowns on enemies. There’s ample opportunity for this as well with certain high-level bases designed specifically for this purpose.
Whether co-op or solo though, if you do stuff up in these enclosed missions and find yourself overwhelmed with alerted enemies calling in armed helicopter support or one of the eagle-eyed drones flying overhead marking you for all to see before laying into you with high-calibre fire, that’s when the gameplay really feels enervating. The enemies are still laughably simple-minded, but at least they offer a challenge through the pure weight of their combined firepower. Helping you to get out of those situations, Breakpoint introduces a brilliant new mechanic that allows you to cover yourself in soil or foliage while prone to the point where you’re practically invisible as long as you’re not in line-of-sight beforehand. You can’t move while in this camouflaged state, which actually makes for some tense encounters as enemies walk by just inches from you without knowing you’re there.
These mechanics work too well outside of those bases when you’re commuting across the game’s environment though. Small enemy patrols are abundant, but with smaller numbers, clearing them out of your way becomes incredibly stale incredibly fast. So much so that I ended up just using the game’s quick travel system whenever I could to hop between missions. These quick travel points – bivouacs – is another of those borrowed ideas that you can unlock. You can rest up here to either wait for a specific time of day/night before tackling a mission or even perform preparation activities to give you time-limited buffs, like enhanced accuracy or damage resistance. These mostly raise your stats by such tiny amounts though, that they’re barely worth the effort.
What you will mostly use the bivouacs for is to craft either additional armaments or some of the game’s new medical tools. You have syringes which you can craft/scavenge to give you a limited health boost from minor hits, but extreme injury (signified by a flashing red bar) in Breakpoint will limit mobility and function. Healing up from these sees a lengthy animation play out as you bandage yourself up. But with these more severe injuries happening infrequently, and with minor knocks to your health bar automatically replenishing rather quickly once you disengage in a firefight, this actually becomes a non-concern for the most part.
On top of the health mechanics, you now also have a stamina bar which depletes as you sprint full tilt or slide down steep inclines. Let that bar drop into the red while careening down a slope, and you’ll see your character stumble and fall and potentially do themselves a serious injury. You can replenish stamina by taking a drink from the water flask you carry, but it needs to be regularly topped up from water sources. A lot of these newly integrated survival mechanics often feel like just busywork, as the game designers make up for the quality of actions with quantity.
That philosophy is reflected in a new mission objectives screen which is a clutter of clippings and folders, a physical representation of all the activities Breakpoint throws at you as part of its complete free-roaming open-world philosophy. Everything from expanding character profiles to point-and-click mystery game-styled clue collections can be found here for you to tackle. Even weapons are now part of this exploration game cycle as chatting to random NPCs will give you objectives to find weapons and weapon attachments for modification. By default, the actual physical locations of these items are marked on the map, but you can turn off this “Guided Mode” so that all you get is a series of clues hinting at surrounding areas on the map and you have to figure out the rest. These explorations feel like a chore at times, but they are at least audio-visually appealing. The game isn’t exactly a jaw-dropper but it does boast some picturesque lighting effects, long draw distances with no noticeable irksome texture pop-ins, (all of which is unobscured by a superbly minimalist HUD) and solid sound design.
Or, you know, you could just hop over to the in-game store and spend real-world money on buying those weapons. Yep, we have microtransactions. To be fair to Breakpoint though, these are all but hidden away in a separate Store menu that you will never see unless you go looking for it. And there isn’t even really a good reason to be forking out money on these items, as the game’s Ghost War 4v4 PVP mode – which you enter using your single-player character with their respective loadouts – has all weapon levels equalized so there are no advantages.
Over 800 words into this review already and I haven’t even mentioned Breakpoint’s main story yet, which is metaphorically fitting as I often found myself distracted from the campaign by the seemingly endless side missions. However, at some point you – and this review – will have to get around to the game’s central narrative, which focuses on Auroa, the fictional island nation owned by a huge tech company that has gone dark under mysterious circumstances. The Ghosts have been sent in to investigate, but the fleet of helicopters transporting the elite unit is knocked out of the sky by an unknown force, leaving your customizable character – codenamed Nomad – the sole survivor from their crash with the rest of the Ghost survivors scattered all over Auroa’s expansive terrain.
It’s up to you to uncover why a former Ghost named Walker (The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal at his Jon Bernthal-est in the brief few scenes he’s had thus far) has seemingly led a military coup of Auroa and taken over over the Skell Tech facilities on the island, and also to help the local homesteaders as they stage a rebellion to remove the jackboot they suddenly find on their necks. The writing is solid enough, as excuses to go to different places to shoot different people go, with some par-for-the-course commentary on the perversion of peaceful technological advancements to make war.
Most of this happens when you chat to and get missions from the locals in Erewhon, the resistance’s top-secret hide-out (it’s “nowhere” in reverse with two letters swapped around, how droll) which is also the game’s new social hub where you can find other players to team up with or to just engage in some digital loadout measuring contests. Or just stand around. There’s a whole lot of that.
That’s if you can actually find anybody there. One of the many bugs plaguing Breakpoint had me running through an Erewhon completely devoid of either NPCs or players a few times. Other bugs range from the annoying – character dialogue audio playing long after you’ve skipped the dialogue scene – to the potentially game-breaking – I’ve fallen through and got stuck in the game world twice, both times resulting in lost progress as I had to reset from an earlier save. There’s also been unexpected and severe frame rate slow down at times causing me to get killed when I really shouldn’t have.
And then there are the game’s vehicles. While avoiding those pesky patrols by crossing through the rocky/wooded terrain of Auroa make motorcycles the best choice out of Breakpoint’s massive selection of vehicles (if you don’t have a helicopter), these two-wheeled aberrations randomly just stop obeying the laws of physics, either travelling through objects or getting stuck/flipping over objects that aren’t there. It would be comical if it wasn’t so frustrating.
With all these distractions – intentional or not – I still have a bit to go in finishing Breakpoint’s main campaign. I’m also still far off from hitting the level 150 gear score required to even attempt the game’s raid mode, and have only played two games of Ghost War which felt clunky as hell, with bland maps and a general stiffness to the gameplay. I would love to play more of the co-op sides of things, which is where this game is often at its best and most fun, but with what else I’ve experienced thus far in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint though, I’m not too sure that even the appeal of strategic military shenanigans with friends will be able to plaster over everything broken here.
Last Updated: October 7, 2019