Taken at face value, Ghost Recon Breakpoint has been assembled from all the pieces it needs to be a success. And that’s its biggest problem. Ubisoft’s entire open-world playbook has been dumped in, alongside many of the games-as-service elements you’d expect to find in a game you’re intended to play for a long time. There are just too many ideas crammed in without a reason to exist and too many annoying bugs and glitches to get a consistent feel for what Breakpoint is aiming to be. It contradicts its good first impression with its reliance on an all-too-familiar shoot-and-loot formula and a collect-a-thon that wears out its welcome before the end.
Part of the lack of undeniably fun moments is due to the fact that I feel like I’ve played this game already, several times over. If you’re familiar with Ubisoft’s many open-world series you have an idea of what to expect here: you’ll take color-coded missions running from story-pushing main objectives, non-vital but still involved side quests, faction missions to please the various stakeholders on the island, and a number of collectible missions to find blueprints or upgrade parts. There’s so much of it that the impressively large island-chain setting Auroa looks like someone threw a handful of Skittles at a map and your job is to pick them up one at a time.
Having lots of stuff to do isn’t a bad thing under the right circumstances, of course. There’s a ton to accomplish across the gorgeous, varied regions of the archipelago, to the point that you’re never lost for something to occupy your time, even if it’s mostly just busywork. And thanks to a number of overlapping progression systems, you’re constantly rewarded for virtually every action: XP for your character level progress, higher-numbered gear for your Gear Score, faction reputation for your daily/weekly/monthly/seasonal Battle Pass rewards, two different crafting systems (one for gear, one for consumables and gadgets), skill points to climb the branches of your skill tree, and the unlockable collectibles that allow you to buy specific items from the shop or further cosmetically customize your character. It’s endless, for sure, but you’ll never feel like you’re not getting something out of the time you’re spending.
There’s some depth added in that many of those progression systems rely on one another. You’ll need your Gear Score at a certain level to undertake the deadlier content in Breakpoint, but in order to get higher-level drops you’ll need to increase your level by doing quests and earning XP. It’s very much a gameplan outline in the games-as-a-service model, and while it reinforces you’re getting stuff done, it feels at odds with the mission statement of a traditional Ghost Recon game. In the opening moments when you’re stranded alone on an island after your chopper goes down and have to dodge patrols of paramilitary thugs, then ide in the trees from the treacherous Col. Cole Walker (played by The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal) and his elite Wolves, I never would’ve expected to spend the next 40 hours managing a deluge of multi-colored, incremental gear upgrades so I could participate in an as-yet-unreleased raid at some point in the future.
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That feeling of being trapped behind enemy lines is further diluted when you arrive at the player hub – a clandestine mountain-cave home base for the islands’ natives, the homesteaders, the tech-company refugees and all other players in Breakpoint. It’s a neat idea, since so much of Breakpoint is optimized for cooperative play and largely more fun that way, but it shatters any illusion of the one-man-army survivalist being hunted through the wilds of Auroa that Breakpoint is clearly trying to sell.
Which is a shame, since the tactical stealth elements of Breakpoint are its highpoints thanks to the mechanics that support it: this is a forgiving stealth system that includes equipping you with thermal and night vision, an enemy-marking drone, and silencers galore, plus allowing you to execute brutal melee kills that border on gross, synced shots to drop enemies in unison, and more. All those pieces are great and help sell the idea of the traditional Ghost Recon tactical stealth game Breakpoint seems to be going for, but they’re ultimately undercut as it falls back on the ubiquitous shoot-and-loot mechanics and cooperative shenanigans of games like The Division 2 as you follow your colored waypoints on a straightforward checklist.
The opening hours are also really strong from a gameplay standpoint: the tutorial effectively teaches you the intricacies of the branching skill tree, its straightforward (if not shallow) four-option class system, and the branching, opt-in mission structure. It can be a little overwhelming at first if you’re not familiar with the past few Ghost Recons, since there is an absolute ton of customization, crafting, and upgrade menus to deal with at the same time that the nonlinear mission system lets you effectively choose any type of mission you want from jump street. You can easily spend 20 minutes just figuring out how it all works. And you probably will.
In those opening hours, it’s clear to see what Breakpoint does really well: scope and scale, in a number of areas. Geographically, the size of the Auroa map is massive and runs the biome gamut by finding a way to fit swamplands, temperate forests, tropical jungles, lush green valley meadows, seismically jolted cliff faces, and snow-capped mountain ranges into the archipelago. Ubisoft’s lighting technology is once again on point, and the really intriguing near-future architecture that juts out of the earth like some kind of alien-gifted obelisks of smooth, white curves and hard-metal angles is excellently juxtaposed against the earthy wilds and rural homesteads of the native population.
But once you’ve endured the first set of cutscenes, tutorials, and mandatory introduction conversations that wash over you, you’re effectively free to jump into a car or helicopter and speed toward the nearest indicator on your map. It’s a very familiar buffet of options that are all made up of the same ingredients: follow the icon to the clue to pick up, person to speak with, button to press, or outpost to wipe off the face of the planet, and then the next, and the next, and so on until you’re told to head back to base camp and talk to the mission-giver for a reward and the next similar mission. After a few cycles of this, there’s a clear indication that for all its beauty and mechanical depth, you’re seeing most of what it offers and what you’ll be doing for the foreseeable future.
The Orders We Follow
That feeling of something being off extends to Breakpoint’s roughly 30-hour main story as well. Much like Watch Dogs 2, it’s a ripped-from-the-headlines warning on the dangers of surveillance, artificial intelligence, the morality of weaponized drones, and the could-we-but-should-we conundrum of human ingenuity mashed up with a military drama about disillusioned soldiers no longer content with the spiked collars they wear as the dogs of war for shadowy figures pulling the strings.
It’s anchored by Bernthal’s ever-intense, eye-twitching, lip-licking, pseudo-psychopathic portrayal of Walker, who delivers on a series of drama-filled flashbacks and present-day cutscenes but could’ve used a larger chunk of screentime. The rest of the cast includes a few genuine characters – like the billionaire tech genius Jace Skell – and a bunch of forgettable supporting members. And as with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, there’s a definite contrast between the main cast and the supporting characters when it comes to the widely varying levels of animation and lip-syncing quality – that’s become a consistent inconsistency of Ubisoft’s open worlds.
Between the bouts of sanctimonious tier-one operators and the residents of Auroa delivering a human element in their side stories, the majority of Breakpoint’s tale is a techobabble-driven series of go-for tasks about satellite uplinks, computer viruses, AI targeting systems, surveillance projects, and the next stage of human evolution. It’s convoluted, and at some point I began to glaze over when the Skell Technology diagnostics engineer (or whoever I was talking to in the stark-white angular offices) asked me to do something for a tech-related reason. Because, almost universally, whatever they asked me to do resulted in the same series of events: make contact with another employee, or download, or upload, or hack something, or destroy a key piece of infrastructure, but only after I’d exercised the strongly suggested option to kill everyone at the destination.
Initially, that’s fine, because Breakpoint’s gunplay and combat are engaging and creative enough you don’t need much of a reason to flex your murderous muscles. That familiar fantasy of covertly scouting an outpost, drone-marking all your targets, and then picking them off alone or cooperatively with up to three others is a satisfying time that carried me through a couple of dozen hours before the repetition really started to set in. And the climb through unlocking new gadgets, customizing weapons, and earning skills to drip-feed variety into those encounters… at first.
The real emotional payout is saved for the final fourth of the story, when the main cast finally starts coming together in meaningful ways and the consequences of their trajectories begin to collide. But by then, the gameplay loop had begun to grow stale, and that took the legs out from under Breakpoint’s crescendo.
Breakpoint is much more fun with friends, but most things are. Had I not I spent two-thirds of my 40-hour playtime with a buddy, I would’ve likely found burning through the last half much more grueling. That’s largely because friends can revive you when you’re down or can pick you up in a helicopter when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere – which is a huge relief since the annoying respawn system tends to drop you a few full kilometers from where you died or would ever choose to be. Alone, I’m mostly forced to die, respawn, fast travel to a bivouac (wilderness camp) where I can set up a camp and summon a helicopter, then fly back to the mission area to take another crack at it. It’s a few minutes of downtime between the loading screens, cutscenes, and flight time, but it’s usually quicker than hoofing it back from where I spawned. And you and your teammates can sort of fast-travel to one another, but even then it’s anybody’s guess how close to each other you’ll actually end up.
You’ll need to restart missions, or you will die, and from time to time that’s due to reasons out of your control. When particularly obnoxious bugs creep up – like when your drone loses the ability to mark targets, or the game crashes during some crucial story moment, or you fall through geometry, or an NPC you’re escorting gets stuck or dies for some reason, or a failed mission can’t be restarted – well, it’s nice to have the company of a friend to laugh through the tears. Breakpoint is loaded with bugs and glitches, many of which the community has already cataloged in various forums, speaking to the ubiquity of just how finicky this Ghost Recon entry can really be. Some of them are funny, like when the pilot of a helicopter is sitting twenty feet in front of the helicopter they’re piloting, but many of them are infuriating. Breakpoint crashed on me while I was shooting Col. Cole Walker in the face – that one was painful.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In the endgame, Breakpoint clearly puts one combat boot into the realm of games-as-a-service. But that’s a strange call because in my experience it doesn’t do any of this stuff as well as Ubi’s other Tom Clancy persistent online shooter, The Division 2.
As with all games-as-service, there’s more Breakpoint content on the horizon. The raid that I heard so much about in menus and from NPCs in the player hub that pushed you to reach Gear Score 150 to experience, well, it’s not out yet. But it also peppers in a faction reward system that strangely caps your daily progress, though you can still undertake the refreshing factions quests. Is that enough of a reason to continue to play until the new story chapters and the raid come out down the road? Not in my opinion.
Lastly, there’s the totally forgettable take on the Ghost War PvP mode, where two teams of four try to kill each other or plant and defuse bombs on a handful of maps. It’s not bad, per se – especially since it’s normalized so everyone’s gear has the same lethal efficiency – but it’s uninspired and after a few rounds you’ve seen it all.