Very few franchises are as synonymous with tactical gameplay as Ghost Recon. A series built on a foundation of challenging, precise combat the series developer Ubisoft have attempted to enhance this experience with each new release. Enter Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the follow up to 2017’s Wildlands and latest open-world title from developer Ubisoft. With only a few weeks left until its release, we got a chance to sit down and play a few hours of the game’s opening.
(Discloser: During the event, we were given a free Ghost Recon notebook and mug.)
Set on the South Pacific island of Aurora, players once again assume the role of a Ghost operative. Tasked with investigating a drone technology company – Skell Technology – their helicopter is quickly shot down leaving them stranded on the island. Hunted by a former Ghost and comrade-in-arms Cole D. Walker, your only hope of survival is to retake control of the island from Skell and Cole.
Unlike Wildlands, Ubisoft is clearly aiming for a more personal, focused story. Throughout the campaign, we get a glimpse at a number of flashbacks revolving around Cole. Actor Jon Bernthal does a terrific job capturing the grizzled, jaded soldier, without becoming a caricature of himself. There’s a sadness to Walker as he recognizes some of the men he is currently trying to kill and understanding how he ended up down this dark path has captured my attention. This is a stark contrast to Wildlands, which told its story through very brief video vignettes and audio diaries.
While Cole is an intriguing addition, I worry that the player character – Nomad – will be rapidly overshadowed. Just with the brief time I spent with him, Nomad felt like every war move protagonist rolled up into one. Even though he’s a player stand-in, Ubisoft is obviously attempting to establish an emotional connection between Nomad and Cole. This wasn’t as much of an issue in the previous game, as the story was always secondary to the gameplay. Yet, with a greater focus on the Ghosts, there’s a much higher chance that any poor dialogue or storytelling with standout.
There were also sections where a dialogue wheel would appear, allowing us to pick our response. A member of the Ghost Recon Breakpoint development team explained that these would not affect the overall story and were there simply as a role-playing element. Even though the core plot won’t deviate, how Aurora’s three different factions perceive you will alter.
We only got a brief chance to try the faction-focused missions, but it was nothing spectacular. This wasn’t an in-depth sidequest, but a small distraction we could take care of while on the road to the next campaign level. Given how much busywork was in Wildlands, I’m concerned this trend will seep into Breakpoint. Where the quantity of “things to do,” heavily outweighs how engaging or unique these activities are.
Another radical change to the Ghost Recon formula is the introduction of a loot system. Every weapon and armor piece has a level associated with it. The higher the number the better the gear, which allows you to gain better stats such as damage. It’s an odd change, but Ubisoft assured me that every enemy (except for Heavies) can be put down with a single bullet to the head. During my time I didn’t notice any radical difference between Level 1 and Level 14 except that I was a little bit weaker in firefights.
It’s too soon to judge whether this design choice ends up working in Ghost Recon’s favor. This system was only a shadow of what games like The Divison 2 and Destiny 2 offer. We suspect that this loot system will have a more dramatic impact on the game’s future endgame content like the raid which takes place on an active volcano. At least there was a healthy amount of customization and even a transmogrification system for armor.
Weapons can be found throughout the world on either the bodies of your fallen foes or loot chests scattered throughout. Ghost Recon’s Gunsmith returns, allowing players to customize a variety of components such as the muzzle, magazine, rail, scope, and under barrel. There’s also a ton of new gadgets, with my personal favorite being drones that can perform a multi-target, instant kill “Sync Shot.” Breakpoint will also feature A.I. teammates, but we hadn’t unlocked them during our time playing.
To my surprise, I had the most fun playing Breakpoint’s new 4 vs 4 multiplayer mode, Ghost War. With only one life per person, Ghost War is a superbly intense as one mistake can spell disaster for your team. Utilizing the terrain and even the weather is critical since you’ll want to avoid running out in the open at all times. In one of my matches, I managed to mask the sounds of me moving thanks to a massive storm. Another game saw a heavy snowstorm roll through, limiting our visibility and making it difficult to user snipers.
Gun battles are frantic, fast, and fierce. Since you can be knocked down by only a few bullets, there’s a greater emphasis on ambushing and using cover. Players can also gain an advantage by hunting down items on the map such as drones or other gadgets. These ended up being a big decider in our games, as drones can temporarily tag players for your teammates to see. There’s a lot of potential surrounding Ghost War and we are excited to see how this multiplayer mode progresses following the game’s launch.
After nearly four hours with Ghost Recon Breakpoint I’m conflicted. While the open world and tactical gameplay remain, I worry that this new loot system will end up being shallow and unnecessary. Breakpoint also has a chance to tell a compelling story thanks to the antagonist Cole D. Walker, but he could easily overshadow the main heroes. Breakpoint has the potential to be the next great Ghost Recon game, so we are curious to see how it call comes together.