Solid gunplay and new mechanics make for decent holidays in Auroa but will it be worth the long haul?
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is out in about a week, less if you’re paying for early access. I had a chance to try it out thanks to the recent open beta and that too after servers were finally online – more on that later. Many improvements and changes were made following the closed beta so while it could be further polished, this is as close to the final build as we’re going to get.
It’s been odd journey for the franchise since the transition into the open world format with Wildlands. However, Breakpoint’s mesh of genres may be the oddest we’ve seen yet, even for a Ubisoft title. Part-Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in loot hunting and quest design, part-Division 2 in loot scaling and build “optimization” and still very much Ghost Recon Wildlands in terms of gunplay.
"To its credit, Ghost Recon Breakpoint does a good job of easing you in and pacing the story despite everyone knowing what’s up."
You probably know the story by now which, given how events play out in-game. You’re Nomad, en route to investigating Auroa after the archipelago goes dark. Entering with a full range of troops, it’s not long before a drone swarm annihilates your chopper and Nomad is left fighting for survival. It’s not a bad set-up especially as you heal up, sneak past enemies and see Cole D. Walker, a former Ghost, killing his own.
Such an event is treated as revelatory in the game world but we already knew that. We also already know that Walker and his crew, the Wolves, have taken over the island and Skell Technology, commandeering its drone technology. To its credit, Ghost Recon Breakpoint does a good job of pacing the story despite the general outline being known. You meet up with the Homesteaders in Erewhon, reunite with a few Ghost buddies, attempt (and fail) to leave the island and set out to find Jace Skell, the head of Skell Tech who may or may not be doing all of this against his own will. Spoiler: He’s probably being coerced by Walker. Probably.
Things get odd when you head to Erewhon because it’s essentially a social space. So from a story standpoint, you’re Nomad, the sole Ghost capable of getting things done and bringing down Walker and his Ghosts (with some help here and there). In practice, the social space is full of other players, all pursuing the same course of action. It’s the same narrative dissonance that affects games like Destiny 1 and 2 – there are numerous heroes or, in this case, “sole survivors” like you.
"Unlike what the initial reveals indicated, the survival elements aren’t nearly as brutal. "
Outside of the initial encounter, I found it quite relaxing to explore Auroa, driving past guard patrols and seeing helicopters oscillate between taking me down or just going about their business. Higher level areas with tougher enemies and drones certainly exist though. If you’re detected, then the Wolves will descend on you, though it’s not like you’re being actively hunted outside of this.
Unlike what the initial reveals indicated, the survival elements aren’t nearly as brutal. You have a stamina bar that runs out when sprinting for extended periods of time. Tumbling down hills when the stamina bar is empty causes your max stamina to deplete, which is easily fixed by drinking water. Managing thirst and hunger aren’t really major goals here.
Damage can be healed through medical syringes and taking cover but any injuries will require…well, medical syringes. Granted, this is on Regular difficulty and I could see things being slightly tweaked here and there. To Breakpoint‘s credit, taking too much damage results in a major injury that only allows for sidearm usage and may even cause limping.
You’re also sliding down hills now as opposed to just sprinting, which makes you consider the harrowing risk of navigating down slope quickly. Fortunately, there are numerous Bivouacs around to rest up and is eat food, the latter providing more damage resistance or crafting rations for increased accuracy and other benefits. You can gather materials in the wild for crafting as well, making these Bivouacs more than just standard checkpoints found in the wild. You may just use them for fast-traveling above all else but it’s nice to see options for preparation and tactics embedded within.
"I could see a scenario where the gear pieces can help further tailor one’s style, offsetting some of the negatives that certain weapons and their attachments have."
Specializations can be selected and as you level up, different perks can be unlocked benefits like increased health regeneration or less stamina usage and so on. Each Specialization has a different “Ultimate” – I went with the Assault class for the sake of running and gunning. It conferred “True Grit” which increased gun accuracy and stability – kills would restore health and extend the skill’s duration. Ranking up within a Specialization provides skill points and different rewards like camos (which can also be unlocked by completing different challenges and tasks).
Weapons and gear drop with different Gear Scores. Each gear piece also has a unique perk, like increased handling or accuracy. It’s not raining loot like Borderlands 3 but there is a significant amount of time spent switching out gear for the sake of higher numbers. This provides stronger damage resistance against tougher foes, though again, one head shot is all that’s needed at times.
I could see a scenario where the gear pieces help further tailor one’s style, offsetting some of the negatives that certain weapons and their attachments have. It does throw out the established trend of “obtain a weapon and use it throughout the game” that Wildlands had though. This may irk some players especially given that they need to buy the same weapon at higher Gear Score from a blueprints vendor. Even when locating weapons in the wild by asking for information or uncovering evidence, you’re essentially unlocking the blueprint for crafting it back at the hub. It’s not a one-and-done cycle like the previous game by a long shot.
"There doesn’t seem to be much point to the inclusion of loot tiers aside from gating content behind Gear Scores."
The store does offer some weapons and gear to quickly boost your Gear Score up. You can also acquire vehicles, attachments and so on using Skell Credits (which were doled out at a fairly regular clip, discounting the 30,000 or so provided initially in the beta). There’s no looter shooter hook per say – the benefits offered by gear aren’t minimal, at least at my current rarity, but they didn’t represent anything even close to game-breaking like The Division 2, forget Borderlands. Which is fine, don’t get me wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be much point to their inclusion aside from gating content behind Gear Scores.
The guns themselves are nothing super-crazy – if you enjoyed using the weapons in Wildlands, Breakpoint‘s gunplay feels even more satisfying. The sound effects could be improved for sure but as a whole, I enjoyed snapping to targets, planting headshots and moving on. Stealth was still fine – CQC doesn’t feel incredibly different as enemies will still react to dead bodies, become alert and track you down, and all converge when you’re located. It’s definitely better than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which saw enemies, mercenaries, captains and bears seemingly appearing out of thin air to kill you. However, it’s still odd to sneakily stab an enemy numerous times while their friend is inches away, oblivious to the noise.
There are new mechanics to take advantage of like Sync-Shot Drones that can be thrown out to make up for the lack of AI teammates. A blow-torch can be used to carve through fences stealthily. Damage over time grenades allow for area control. It’s admittedly weird to have to invest skill points into unlocking something like night-vision goggles but that’s fairly early in the tree so it’s no real biggie.
"Meanwhile, while the open world exploration is helped by the addition of investigations and more nuanced side quests, many of the typical Ubisoft tropes remain."
Perhaps the biggest issue with Ghost Recon Breakpoint, at least during the beta, is just how many steps forward it takes while staying rooted in the same place. The story-telling is vastly improved over the original game but the overall plot and characters are still fairly one note. Some of the dialogue and reactions from characters like Schulz can be odd, to say the least. There are some positive performances here from the likes of Josiah Hill and Cole D. Walker, the latter helped by Jon Bernthal’s cold-blooded charisma.
Meanwhile, while the open world exploration is helped by the addition of investigations and more nuanced side quests, many of the typical Ubisoft tropes remain. You’ll find points of interest with prisoners who need to be rescued and escorted back, outposts to assault, loot chests to scrounge through and civilians to interrogate for information. It’s not terrible – heck, when you’re taking a detour every now and again while playing the main quest, they provide nice distractions. However, even with how its structured, this is still a Ubisoft open world at its heart. There’s a lot to see and it all looks fairly gorgeous even if you’re running at High settings but much of it will be familiar.
In terms of bugs, I didn’t experience too much by way of animation glitches. At least one bug caused me to restart the game because it prevented item switching or interacting with anything, including a target I had to interrogate. During one conversation, the visuals became very blurry – whether this was a resolution issue or a result of erratic sharpening is hard to say. Performance was otherwise fairly smooth and I didn’t experience anything by way of massive frame drops, hitching or pop-in.
While shooting is solid, movement feels a bit delayed when trying to immediately go prone. The camera felt too close to my character, which isn’t too problematic while shooting but feels awkward when navigating the environment or my immediate surroundings. The vehicle movement is also very erratic, feeling solid while on a motorcycle but way too slide-heavy when using a dune buggy.
"As a whole, the beta feels like it needed more polish. What’s there is fun to play even if it doesn’t necessarily break new ground."
The load-out screen seems like it’s trying to ape Destiny and while I see what it’s going for, I feel like it could be tweaked to be more intuitive. I also can’t wait for being able to disable the constant “Join/Matchmake With Other Players” option that’s present in the top right. If there was an option to disable it, I couldn’t find it. Otherwise, the ability to pin certain objectives on the top left of the screen and hide them dynamically felt nice and there’s a decent amount of customization in terms of notifications for tutorials, objectives and whatnot.
I didn’t play much of PvP but after one long round of Elimination on a large open map, I felt like I had my fill for a long time. Perhaps there’s some appeal to posting up, spotting enemies with drones (which are items that have to be found on the map) and sneaking around. I did feel like the weapons and abilities were fairly well balanced even if the Adrenaline Shot may need to be slightly toned down in terms of Ultimate Charge provided. But again, not too much time spent to really comment on balance.
As a whole, the beta feels like it needs more polish. What’s there is fun to play even if it doesn’t necessarily break new ground. But what warrants major concern is its always-online nature, no doubt because of the social aspects. If there are server problems – like what occurred when the beta launched – then players simply can’t access the game. This is a real bummer when you consider that Wildlands can be played offline. Hopefully Ubisoft irons these issues out – Ghost Recon Breakpoint is out on October 4th for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Despite some hiccups and nuisances here and there, I’m looking forward to seeing it evolve and how the inevitable showdown with Walker will play out.