They say first impressions are the most lasting. While I tried, and wanted to enjoy, nay love, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, I just couldn’t get past that initial reaction. You see, within minutes of booting up the game, I found myself spinning around the island of Auroa in a pickup truck. Whizzing past dumbfounded guards, with nary a care in the world, I felt completely unthreatened.
Upon reaching the games safe haven, Erewhon, I was greeted by dozens of online players, just going about their business. After several hours of game-play, I was buzzing over the island in a fully loaded attack helicopter, launching missiles indiscriminately at enemy troop formations. Again, completely oblivious to any threat posed by said enemies.
This brings me back to the opening statement. That first impression. The one I couldn’t quite get past? It was “Oh…..”, followed soon after, by “Hmmm.” Not a great way to start a month-long relationship with this latest iteration in the Ghost Recon franchise. No, not a great first impression at all.
Trial by Fire
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is the follow-up to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which released to mixed reviews in 2017. Wildlands was the first open-world game in the series and took the franchise in a completely new direction. While the series was never quite the hardcore Mil-Sim, it did at least try to feel grounded in reality. Both Wildlands, and now Breakpoint, however, have added a certain “goofiness” to Ghost Recon.
While never intentional, the continual string of comical occurrences throughout Ghost Recon: Breakpoint served to ensure a complete lack of immersion. At regular points during my playthrough, I was greeted with mind-boggling A.I. glitches, asset pop-in, tearing, and some pretty ugly character textures.
In fact, played on Xbox One X, you could quite easily mistake Breakpoint for its predecessor. From a visual standpoint, the main difference is, of course, the environment. Credit where credit is due, the island of Auroa is actually gorgeous to traverse. The environments feel natural, and I loved how my Ghosts movement changed depending on what terrain we crossed. For example, in deep snow, they would lift their knees up to hip height in that awkward, tiring straddle step.
For the aesthetics, and for game-play, moving on foot is the best way to travel. This is when the game feels at its best, and I think that’s where Ubisoft could have focused their efforts. Having helicopters and fast travel available from the start only serves to lessen the value of experiencing Auroa. Therein the game becomes a matter of fast travelling to a bivouac near to your next mission, complete the mission, then fast travel back to Erewhon. It feels chore-like.
All that glimmers…
Objectively Ghost Recon: Breakpoint seems like it should be a much superior product to Wildlands. But I can only describe it as a series of good ideas, executed poorly. The new bivouac system is underutilised, and never reaches its intended necessity. They actually never feel necessary at all, and merely become fast travel points. The systems we’re supposed to use at the bivouac don’t even warrant the time spent doing them. After a few hours of gameplay, I simply didn’t bother with crafting or preparations, as I was rolling through the missions just fine without them.
Similarly tacked on is the gear score system. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for tiered loot; Destiny, The Division, I love ’em. However, in a game where most enemies can be headshot killed, gear score has no place. Enemy levels do make a difference and trying to low level tackle an end game base is extremely difficult, but it’s not impossible. You can, in theory, kill the wolf leader, Colonel Cole D. Walker in the first hour of gameplay. Much has been made of the microtransactions in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, though they never really stood out to me. There is a store page in the pause menu, and the number of transactions available is quite telling. Generally I can ignore such things, but I understand the backlash, and hopefully, Ubisoft will realise how distasteful these systems can be to people spending 60-100 euro on a game.
There also exists the class system. This is supposed to lead the player into an RPG style class customization. XP points can be spent to unlock new skills or perks for each of the four classes. That would be the case, but aside from the first skill available, the skill tree is identical across the board. I couldn’t discern a noticeable enough difference between the classes at all.
The hunter becomes the… hunter?
Most of the media pre-launch was of Jon Bernthal’s appearance as the game’s protagonist, Colonel Cole D. Walker. And while Walker shines as the increasingly disillusioned traitor, the cut scenes are gratingly placed. Nomad will be mid-conversation with some NPC, and a flashback scene will occur featuring Nomad and Walker, then it will go back to the present day. No context, just some random flashback. Compounded to this awkwardness we have the wooden performance of Nomad and some pretty poor dialogue from other NPCs.
Mission givers across the island take the form of the local population, Skell-tech turncoats and rebel factions. I still have no idea why rebel factions exist on the island. Aside from being mission givers, they feel completely out of place. From the outside, Skell technology was a progressive Alphabet-type company. Until the company got involved with Walker and his co-bad guy, Stone, nobody had a reason to dislike them. But yet there exists a fully-armed militia. It makes no sense.
One major plus is the gun-play in Breakpoint. Firefights with numerous enemies can be exciting, and the new armored drone enemies feel genuinely threatening. Out in the forests, or marshes or rolling hills, being outnumbered and forced to fight on the move is a highlight. But again, all that fun is taken away in an instant, with some immersion-breaking detail. This is usually the enemy A.I. doing something silly. On the subject of gun-play, weapon balancing is nice. The difference between weapons is apparent, and “going loud” with a Shotgun or LMG can be fun.
I could probably go on more about Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, but I feel no need to continue. Just as I felt no need to continue playing, or return to it until its major issues have been addressed. Ubisoft has responded to the critical reception to Breakpoint and laid out a road map of fixes and free updates. They have also gone do far as to push back all their major releases until later 2020. That’s a telling and appropriate response.
Ultimately what we’re left with in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is an abject feeling of disappointment. It’s a game of what could have been, rather than what is. If you were a fan of Wildlands, you may get some enjoyment, particularly playing online. Co-op up to 4 players is available, plus there’s the Ghist0-War mode, which is a 4 vs 4 squad-based competitive mode. Realistically though, it could be next year, and only after some major updates, that Breakpoint will be worth playing.
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