Ghost Recon Breakpoint Review - Faulty Reconaissance

  • First Released Oct 1, 2019
  • PC
  • XONE
  • PS4

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a confused mishmash of disparate ideas that struggle to coalesce in an enjoyable way.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is uneven and conflicted. On one hand it's a natural sequel to 2017's Ghost Recon Wildlands, offering a near-identical core gameplay loop of open-world espionage and shooting. On the other hand, Breakpoint is a messy hodgepodge of disparate ideas, pulling various aspects from other Ubisoft games and shoehorning them in, half-baked and out of place. Ghost Recon's identity as a tactical shooter has evaporated and been replaced by a confused patchwork of elements and mechanics from other, better games. Its defining characteristic boils down to just how generic and stale the whole thing is.

The addition of loot and an ever-increasing gear score fits into the standard template of Ubisoft's recent open-world games, whether it's The Division 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or even Far Cry New Dawn. Breakpoint fulfills its quota by including these light RPG mechanics, but the implementation of its loot grind feels like a severe afterthought. There are numerous pieces of armor to find and equip as you explore the fictional island of Auroa. The numbers attached to each one will raise or lower your gear score, but the effect this has on gameplay is entirely inconsequential. Rare loot might include small buffs like a 2% increase in stamina or a 1% increase to movement speed, yet the effects of these buffs are negligible, and armor doesn't affect your damage resistance in any perceivable way. A level 5 beanie offers as much protection as a level 75 helmet, so these numbers only exist to raise a gear score that's nothing more than a flimsy representation of your progress. You're supposed to feel good about that number rising, but it's difficult to care when there are no tangible benefits to picking one piece of armor over another. You just end up opting for whatever has the higher rating without any meaningful consideration.

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Choosing which weapon to roll with requires slightly more deliberation, although this is mainly due to your preference for specific weapon types as opposed to the number attached to each. Breakpoint features the usual assortment of assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, and sniper rifles, and these firearms function similarly to armour, with rare weapons receiving miniscule buffs to aspects like reload speed and recoil reduction. Again, the impact these stats have on gameplay is paltry at best, especially because shooting in Breakpoint is still geared towards landing headshots for an instant kill. This is a holdover from Wildlands and the series' early beginnings as a somewhat "authentic" tactical shooter. The most heavily armored grunts in Breakpoint take two shots to the head to kill--one to take off their helmet, and another to finish the job--but every other enemy can be extinguished with a single bullet.

Weapons feel impactful as a result of this, successfully capturing the rush of being an elite special ops soldier that can take out four or five enemy combatants in a matter of seconds. But this also means the rarity of weapons and the gear score attached to them is ultimately meaningless. You can wander into an area recommended for players with a gear score of 140 with a significantly lower score and still kill every enemy without breaking a sweat. This amount of freedom would be commendable if it didn't shine a derisive light on how shallow the RPG mechanics are.

The only enemies in the game that require a specific gear score to defeat are the killer drones dotted across the island. Encounters with these unmanned killing machines are few and far between, but because they don't have heads and aren't made of flesh and blood, they can be bullet sponges. Facing off against one of these drones is the only time the number next to your weapon actually matters, and even then they're easier to destroy by using the rocket launchers, grenades, and mines found in your inventory, which don't even have numbers attached to them. It's another example of how Breakpoint isn't a coherent match with Ghost Recon's sensibilities, which are still reflected in the way headshots function, and the trivial impact that loot has on gameplay makes the constant switching and dismantling of each piece of gear an unnecessary timesink.

Breakpoint's paper-thin survival mechanics are similarly underdeveloped, hinting at a tense experience that never comes to fruition. You carry a flask that you can refill in lakes, rivers, and even in someone's backyard swimming pool for that sweet tasty chlorine. Water is used to replenish any lost stamina you've misplaced by over-exerting--usually by rolling down a hillside because Auroa is nearly bereft of flat ground. The island consists of diverse biomes including verdant woodlands, snow-capped mountain tops, and muggy swamps, but the common throughline in each environment is the presence of craggy cliffs and hillsides.

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As a result, traversing on foot revolves around spending a lot of time sliding down undulating slopes. This quickly drains your stamina, sending you into an uncontrollable roll that inflicts damage with each nick and bump. Health regenerates over time, but if you suffer either a minor or major injury and don't want to hobble everywhere, you need to use a syringe for instant pain relief or spend longer wrapping yourself up in bandages. Syringes are finite, yet you have an infinite supply of bandages that almost make the mechanic moot. There are never any anxious moments of desperation as you find yourself hindered with an empty medicine box. It's easy enough to wrap yourself up after a tumble, and injuries in combat are rare enough that having to find a safe spot to pause is not something you have to consider very often. There are also bivouacs spread out across the map that are used as fast travel points and rest areas where you can apply specific buffs by eating, drinking, or aiming your gun at the sky to somehow improve its accuracy. You don't have to gather food because it's always available, and there's some light crafting on the docket if you have the materials to restock your supply of explosives and gadgets.

Much like the loot, these light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into. The story revolves around your character being stranded alone, trapped deep behind enemy lines. You're outmanned and outgunned against an elite force equipped with a stolen fleet of devastating, unmanned killing machines. Stealth is encouraged, so much so that when you're prone you can cover yourself in mud and foliage to blend into the environment and remain undetected. Each of these elements places an emphasis on survival, but Breakpoint constantly skirts around the edges, never committing to mechanics that would extend beyond the feeble survival aspects already included. The plane-like Azraël drone occasionally flies overhead, ready and raring to rain fiery destruction down upon your helpless human body. Yet all this means is that you'll sometimes have to lie down and wait for it to pass before you can continue with what you were originally doing. You can see the inkling of some interesting ideas here, but Breakpoint never capitalizes on these and is ultimately a generic pastiche of what's come before.

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The gameplay loop is almost identical to Wildlands': You send a drone into the sky, survey an enemy base, and mark targets before infiltrating in whichever manner you see fit. Navigating through a heavily fortified compound without being seen is still inherently satisfying. Each one is usually designed in a way so there are a number of enemies obscured from your drone's vision. You might be able to pick off a handful of guards from a distance using a silenced sniper rifle, but at some point you'll have to enter and find the rest. The only thing impeding your stealthy espionage is the fact you can't move sideways while prone. Instead, you end up with these awkward animations because you can only turn at right angles. Taking cover is overly cumbersome, too. You do it automatically, but what the game deems as cover is inconsistent from one low wall to the next, and even if you do manage to get behind an object, whether you can shoot over it or not is another question. Though this would be a bigger problem if the AI were the least bit competent.

Enemies in Breakpoint are mind-numbingly dumb to the point where playing on the highest difficulty doesn't present a significantly harder challenge. Their reaction to a buddy getting shot in front of them is often one of confusion; they'll stand still in the open instead of scurrying for cover. They don't fare much better in the midst of combat, either, running between the same two pieces of cover without engaging you or seemingly forgetting you exist. Occasionally they might try to flank your blindside, but more often than not their strategy boils down to charging directly at you, making it incredibly easy to line up your shots and dispatch a few in a row. Bottlenecks like corridors and doorways are by far their worst enemy, though. Sit down one end of a straight corridor and it doesn't take long for the bodies to pile up. You can even shoot the ground at the entrance to a base and kill each enemy who comes to investigate. Factor in the disappointing fact that enemies don't so much as flinch when getting shot in the body, and none of this is conducive to enjoyable combat.

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Shooting other players in the Ghost War PvP mode fares better since real people tend to have their wits about them compared to the AI. Unlike Wildlands, Breakpoint cleverly unifies progression across both single- and multiplayer. All of your weapons and skills carry over, and any rewards you unlock can be brought back into single-player, too. Elimination and Sabotage make up the game modes on offer, the former ending when one team is eliminated, while the latter functions in much the same way with an additional win condition based on one team successfully planting and destroying a bomb. Matches generally turn into long-range sniper battles due to each map's wide-open spaces and the fact that a single shot from a sniper is enough to kill somebody. The best matches in Ghost War are tense affairs, especially since you only have a single life unless a teammate can perform a successful revive. The issues with Breakpoint's cumbersome cover mechanics and awkward prone movement are only exacerbated in multiplayer, however.

It can also be difficult just getting into a match of Ghost War due to relatively frequent server issues. Breakpoint is an always-online game, even if you're playing alone in single-player. The servers have run into a few problems since the game's full release, and it's incredibly frustrating to be kicked back to the main menu and have to restart a mission all over again when you're not even engaging with the multiplayer portion of the game. If you do want to do so, the servers are running smoothly, and you can get some like-minded friends together, there's definitely some fun to be had in Breakpoint's four-person co-op. Silently clearing a base of its enemies is more gratifying with four people. You can plan ahead, simultaneously approach the compound through different entrances, and time sync shots together. It's more chaotic with strangers but you can jump into matches with random players if you fancy a taste of open-world chaos.

There is, however, some dissonance between co-op and the story painting you as a lone soldier, although this is much more egregious in Breakpoint's social hub. You can play the whole game solo, but mission givers all hang out in this homely cave where you'll also find 50 or so other players. Your character is literally called Nomad, and yet you're in a space with a bunch of other Nomads, all standing around the same NPC like it's an MMO. And the story's not great either way. Jon Bernthal elevates every scene he's in, chewing up the scenery to deliver simmering monologues befitting a villain with a dubious moral code. The writing is mostly cheesy, though, with some flat voice acting and predictable twists. The inventor of the island's killer drones develops a minor Oppenheimer complex when he realises his creations can be used to kill innocent people, but this aspect isn't explored beyond surface level, and that applies to the rest of the narrative too.

Much like the loot, the light survival mechanics aren't fleshed out enough to warrant any engagement beyond the limited amount you're forced into.

The presence of the social hub and the effect it has on diminishing the story would've been worse if the story were better. As it is, the social hub seems to exist to guide players towards Breakpoint's myriad microtransactions. Maybe that's an overly cynical viewpoint, but why else would you gather players in an open space other than to encourage them to show off by purchasing fancy new cosmetics? You can buy tattoos, shirts, masks, hats, weapons, vehicles, and more. Purchasing in-game money also comes in denominations that ensure you're always spending more than you need. You don't have to engage with any of this stuff, and it's easy enough to ignore, but this microtransaction structure is predatory by design.

It would make sense if the addition of loot were in service of guiding people to spend real money on better guns, but even then the stats are so meaningless it would take a lot of convincing. There's some surprising fun to be had stealthily infiltrating enemy compounds and playing with friends, but Breakpoint is still a generic and distinctly sub-par game. It's essentially every Ubisoft open-world game rolled into one, failing to excel in any one area or establish its own identity. Breakpoint is a messy, confused game and a ghost of the series' former self.

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The Good

  • Infiltrating an enemy compound unseen is satisfying
  • Headshots are impactful, allowing you to extinguish enemies in the blink of an eye

The Bad

  • The addition of loot and a gear score is inconsequential busywork
  • Survival mechanics are underdeveloped and easy to ignore
  • Enemy AI is terrible and robs the combat of any enjoyment
  • The social hub seems geared towards microtransactions
  • Its mishmash of half-hearted ideas lacks any unifying identity

About the Author

Richard has spent 35 hours playing Breakpoint on PS4 Pro, completing the story and spending a portion of those hours in co-op and PvP. Review code was provided by the publisher.