There was a moment in Ghost Recon Breakpoint where it all came together. My co-op pilot flew high above an enemy base and I parachuted down on top of a tower. First, I snuck behind the rooftop guard and stealth killed him, then quietly climbed down the ladder into the control room and did the same to the guard there. It was a planned assault pulled off to perfection, and it gave me hope that my time in Breakpoint would be filled with these moments of adrenaline. Unfortunately, it was one of a handful of moments that were high points in an otherwise frustrating experience.
Welcome to Auroa
In Ghost Recon Breakpoint, players will once again fill the boots of Nomad, the leader of a group of elite soldiers called Ghosts. After the events of Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Ghosts are sent to Auroa, an island in the South Pacific owned by Jace Skell, billionaire philanthropist and founder of Skell Technology. Skell fancies Auroa to be a place where the brightest minds can help the world through design, research, and development. Things are great until Cole D. Walker (Jon Bernthal) shows up. Walker is disgruntled after the killing of his soldiers and the events of Wildlands. As a result, he leads a company of military contractors called Sentinel to take over Auroa, led by his own former Ghosts, which he now refers to as Wolves.
On their way to Auroa to investigate the sinking of a ship off its coast, Nomad’s Ghosts are knocked out of the sky by something they are unable to identify. The crash kills some soldiers, and others are quickly hunted down by Wolves. When players gain control of Nomad, they must work through a tutorial mission teaching them the basics of the gameplay, including stealth, melee combat, and using first aid. They will eventually arrive at Erewhon, Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s social hub where Ghosts can regroup and reset before heading out on missions.
Thrown to the Wolves
Once at Erewhon, Nomad will be rudely greeted by various NPCs and shown the ropes. Players will be given their first few missions, as well as shown their first of many Bivouacs, a place to craft, apply buffs, call vehicles, and fast travel. Erewhon features a store that allows players to buy weapons and gear, craft blueprints acquired on their journey, purchase vehicles, pick up consumables, or sell unwanted items. Players will also find NPCs in Erewhon that can give them access to the game’s Faction missions tied to the Season Pass, or get them into a game of Ghost War, a 4v4 PvP mode that shares progression with the PvE side of things.
Stumbling around Erewhon is also when I found the real money store that offered me every shortcut you could imagine, including bundles of skill points to unlock the different perks, abilities, and consumables. The option to buy just about every weapon and attachment in the game is there, all broken down by class. Ubisoft Paris has since removed the option to buy skill points, but a lot of the other pay-to-win elements remain. I’m glad I’m writing about these a week after seeing them, because the first time I saw the microtransactions in Breakpoint was like a punch in the gut from the Punisher himself.
Bit of a snoozer
There was a lot left to be desired when it came to Ghost Recon Wildland’s story. A lot. What it had, though, was a consistency that flowed from basic narrative to gameplay. Ghosts were in Bolivia because a drug cartel murdered an agent, and a small team was sent in to dismantle them piece by piece. It worked. The map showcased the entire organization and almost all missions felt connected to the reason you were in Bolivia in the first place. It felt like you were really dismantling a drug cartel.
In Ghost Recon Breakpoint, I didn’t care one bit about why I was in Auroa. I’m not against the premise of some billionaire genius creating technology and it falling into the wrong hands, but almost every character was whiny at best, and at worst so disrespectful to Nomad that I had a hard time tolerating the way they spoke to him. At one point he punched a rude NPC in the gut, and I cheered. Most of the time, I just shook my head at the lack of character development and tried to figure out what looked off in the cinematics. It took me more time than I’d like to admit to realize they seem to be missing any hint of complex facial expressions.
The exception to all this is Cole D. Walker and Jon Bernthal. He did what Jon Bernthal does, which is play a character like he did in Punisher on Netflix, or Shane in The Walking Dead. He has the rough and tumble military veteran down and was easily the bright spot in Breakpoint’s storytelling. It would have been nice to get a lot more of Bernthal, including backstory and just general screen time.
The Ghost of Nomad
About three quarters of my time in Breakpoint was spent with a co-op partner who I play games with regularly. We headed out into Auroa to begin the journey to take down Walker and his Wolves, and it was a mess from minute one. Breakpoint has somehow taken steps backwards with the controls of drones and helicopters. You can't invert the y-axis of Nomad's personal drone, even though you can seemingly invert the y-axis of everything else up to and including menu navigation. Helicopters have also lost the ability for players to free look. Alone, these backwards steps aren’t killers, but they were only the tip of the iceberg in Breakpoint.
My co-op partner and I fancy ourselves stealth players, always looking to pull off the daring assault, or to sneak in and slip away without anyone ever knowing we’re there. We tried repeatedly to make this spec ops fantasy play out in Breakpoint, but it’s a ghost of what it was in Wildlands. Nomad’s drone has had its legs cut off. In Wildlands, you could spot a target with your drone, fly it in, then detonate it for the kill and be gone like, I don’t know, a Ghost. In Breakpoint, Nomad’s drone is useful only for spotting enemies in most cases and isn't nearly as effective as in Wildlands. I’m all for evolution and refinement, but stealth and gameplay options once available to players in Wildlands have been cut away like muscle, and all that remains is the skeleton. Most encounters will result in a gun battle, which can be a let down in its own way.
Firefights bring in new opportunities for Breakpoint to fall short, including its automatic cover system. You should expect to snap to cover walking through a door, or while trying to climb a ladder. When you want to fine tune your position in cover, forget it. There will be a handful of occasions where you can’t switch weapons, and the prone system, which was the best implementation of the prone mechanic I’ve ever seen in Wildlands, is awful. It’s clunky and weird and a lot like trying to climb out of a ball pit while drunk.
Despite all that mess, though, when things get out of your way the gun play in Breakpoint is good. Having my co-op buddy call out two targets standing on a balcony above me, then directing me to their six, and having him snipe one while I stealth kill the other, is fantastic. Nailing headshots from my MP5 equipped with a suppressor and laser sight is heaven as I eliminate only the guards between me and my objective. Having dozens of soldiers hunt me while I’m using prone camo, walking mere feet from me, is something I will remember Breakpoint for. It can be so damn good at any given moment, but they are rare and often interrupted by nonsense design or bugs.
Things got even worse for me during my eight or so hours spent playing solo. Nomad’s AI teammates that made Wildlands a game players could enjoy solo are gone. This, along with the deconstruction of all that was good about Nomad’s drone, means you truly are alone. The sync shot your AI teammates could pull off has been replaced by a consumable you buy at the store. Once you use up your handful of shots, that’s it, and there are hardly any other tools to help you with your objective. As a solo player, I probably spent 75 hours in Wildlands, but there were times I couldn’t find the drive to load into Breakpoint without teammates. Once when I did, I parachuted onto a roof and cleaned out an entire base except for one soldier. After falling to my death, I respawned nearby, but every soldier I killed was back. I still had my injury, though, which I assume was a bug.
Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot
When the dust settles and a base is cleared of hostiles, it’s time to gather the loot in Breakpoint. This is done through searching crates and grabbing dropped items. Because Breakpoint uses RPG mechanics, weapons and armor have perks and a gear score. It’s common to simply equip whatever you find without care or concern for whether you have any interest in using it. The armor portion of this is fine since players can separate their cosmetic items from functional armor. My avatar looked the way I wanted and that is a point in favor of Breakpoint and its chase for the spec ops fantasy.
The weapon RPG elements of Breakpoint are a feature-lacking transplant from The Division 2, and I’m not sure I’m ever going to understand the reasoning for their inclusion. I don’t appreciate crafting an M4A1 through the blueprint I found, only to have it made obsolete by every other M4A1 I find. To rub salt in the wound, players must go back and change the paint scheme and attachment configuration every time they pick up a weapon, which is every few minutes. I rarely felt like I had the perfect loadout in Breakpoint and, when I did, it had to be torn apart for some shotgun with a slightly higher gear score 10 minutes later.
An incomplete plan
Ghost Recon Breakpoint, for all its questionable design decisions, has as many or more bugs and missed details that fill the entire experience. I was congratulated for completing the tutorial missions every time I logged in. NPCs suffered from missing and low-quality textures in cinematics, and it became a mini game to try and spot the typos throughout Breakpoint. I had to log out a few times to rid my HUD of messages telling me I was too far from a target when the mission was done. Once, this resulted in every enemy in the base respawning and blasting my co-op partner to bits, which was at least funny from my perspective. I even managed to get attacked by a helicopter while I was in Erewhon, which was great considering there was no way to fight back. I had to leave and fly out of combat range just to fast travel to a Bivouac. While all games have bugs and some are even hilarious, there are so many in Breakpoint that I don’t think I’ve ever had a play session that went smoothly from start to finish. There’s always something nagging at your fun.
The war is lost
There is no doubt in my mind that six months from now Breakpoint will be a more playable game. Ubisoft Paris will iron out the bugs, bring back AI teammates, concede to player demands on some design, and tweak the experience to be more playable. However, this is the Breakpoint that was offered up on release, and it’s a mess. The best one can hope for is to get lost for a moment while Bernthal steals a scene, or to hit that high with a co-op partner. It will never last, though, and you will always find yourself shaking your head in frustration. Ghost Recon Breakpoint had every opportunity to improve on Wildlands, but instead of evolving, tore everything good about that game to pieces and replaced it with too few wins.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Ghost Recon Breakpoint is available in retail and digital stores now.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint
- Prone camouflage is awesome
- Brief moments of co-op stealth goodness
- Good role for the Punisher
- Head shots are satisfying up close
- My Ghost looked like a badass, even if he wasn't
- Character animations lack facial expressions
- Game has more bugs than weapons
- Most tools at Nomad's disposal have been gutted
- I didn't like a single NPC outside of Cole D. Walker
- Weapon RPG mechanics and gear score have no place here
- Microtransactions, even after being nerfed, are gross
- Somehow, flying helicopters is worse since Wildlands
- Expect to take cover when you have no desire to
- Crawling into an ideal position while prone
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, Ghost Recon Breakpoint review: The spec ops nightmare