A major step back for Ghost Recon.
Ubisoft has a history of beginning franchises with ambitious games that fail to do justice to their interesting concepts, and then improving upon them with sequels that realize the potential of their predecessors. While 2017’s Ghost Recon Wildlands wasn’t the first Ghost Recon game by any stretch of the imagination, it was very much a fresh start for the franchise, as it dropped its focus on linearity and uncompromising tactical action in favour of something much more accessible and content-driven.
Wildlands was fun, but it wasn’t perfect by any means- but if you were hoping that Ubisoft would build upon its ideas in its inevitable sequel to deliver a better and more rounded experience, well, prepare for bitter disappointment. Ghost Recon Breakpoint is worse than its predecessor. It’s not even a good game. Rather than improving upon the half-formed ideas of Wildlands, not only does it bring them over pretty much as is, it also adds a bunch of half-formed and misplaced ideas of its own. What we’re left with as a result is a bloated game that’s confused about what it wants to be, that – worse still – doesn’t even get most of the basics right.
"Ghost Recon Breakpoint is worse than its predecessor. It’s not even a good game. Rather than improving upon the half-formed ideas of Wildlands, not only does it bring them over pretty much as is, it also adds a bunch of half-formed and misplaced ideas of its own."
It feels like some time in the early months of Breakpoint’s development, the development team sat down and decided it would be a good idea to shoehorn mechanics from other popular Ubisoft franchises into the game, regardless of whether they made sense in a Ghost Recon title or not. A loot grind, survival mechanics, role playing elements, combined with the bloat that Ubisoft games have become notorious for- it’s all in here. And the cherry on top of that cake? Excessive, blatantly greedy monetization.
Before getting to Breakpoint’s failure to execute its new ideas though, let’s talk about the basics first- starting with the story. Breakpoint’s premise of being stranded in hostile territory, outgunned, outmanned, and outmatched is an interesting one, and in the hands of a better writing team, the game might actually have woven a complex, engaging narrative on the foundations of that premise. Breakpoint, though, has a predictable and dull story, made even more so thanks to corny writing and sloppy storytelling. Sure, Jon Bernthal gives a great performance as Cole D. Walker, and he’s definitely a highlight of the game’s story, but he’s a lone positive in a sea of forgettable mediocrity.
Breakpoint also breaks series tradition by taking place in a fictional setting, but it does’t even leverage that setting very well. The game’s open world is massive, as you’d expect from a Ubisoft title and from a sequel to Wildlands, but it’s also a boring environment. There’s plenty of visual diversity, but you’ll be spending sizeable chunks of time traversing through empty spaces with nothing to do- and the activities that the open world does have aren’t the most interesting or varied. The fact that the driving mechanics have seen absolutely no improvements since Wildlands does the game no favours either.
"The game’s open world is massive, as you’d expect from a Ubisoft title and from a sequel to Wildlands, but it’s also a boring environment. There’s plenty of visual diversity, but you’ll be spending sizeable chunks of time traversing through empty spaces with nothing to do- and the activities that the open world does have aren’t the most interesting or varied."
But a fictional setting isn’t the only thing Ghost Recon does for the first time ever with Breakpoint. There’s a lot of other interesting new ideas- and surely there’s something to like here, right? For instance, the survival mechanics. As I mentioned, Breakpoint has an inherently interesting premise that could make for some unique and intense gameplay moments. An increased focus on survival mechanics makes a lot of sense given that narrative premise, and Ubisoft was certainly on the right track when it decided to blend narrative and gameplay in this particular area. However, much like many other new additions in Breakpoint, these survival mechanics are half-baked, and ultimately, nearly meaningless.
For the most part, they boil down to stamina management. Push yourself too hard – sprint for too long, keep running uphill, slide down steep slopes, that sort of thing – and your stamina meter not only depletes, it might even get temporarily cut down, and depending on when you lose your stamina, it can have different consequences. In theory, that sounds like it could be well-executed- which, of course, it isn’t.
Stamina regeneration is a bit too generous, while the hits your stamina meter takes hardly have any effect. On top of that, some perks and skills can counteract the negative effects of running low on stamina, neutering any impact it could have had, while annoyances like not being able to climb over even the smallest of ledges when stamina is depleted makes the whole mechanic unnecessarily irritating. And it’s not just stamina that is affected- taking hits in and out of combat can result in injuries that temporarily decrease your max health and can impair movement. Once again though, health regenerates at a rapid pace, which means you only need to take cover for a couple of seconds before being good to go again.
"Much like many other new additions in Breakpoint, its survival mechanics are half-baked, and ultimately, nearly meaningless."
Meanwhile, though syringes to heal yourself are a consumable resource, your supply of bandages – which achieve the same affect but are much slower – is infinite. The end result is that survival mechanics end up feeling entirely unnecessary, because the game itself is unwilling to implement them in any meaningful way. Instead, it feels like Breakpoint has survival mechanics for no good reason other than the developers being able to say “look, we have survival mechanics!” They’re pointless and cumbersome, and they don’t add anything beyond mechanical deadweight.
A new addition even worse than the survival mechanics is loot. Once again, Ghost Recon Breakpoint tries to have its cake and eat it too- it introduces loot mechanics, but not to the extent of being a full-fledged looter shooter like The Division – which it borrows from heavily. And that’s because in spite of having this potentially game-altering new element in their game, Ubisoft haven’t really done anything to ensure that it fits. They’ve made no necessary adjustments, enacted no needed changes, to make Ghost Recon a game that can actually function properly with loot mechanics. It’s the textbook definition of “shoehorned”. It’s like putting competitive multiplayer in a God of War game- except that already happened, and even that made more sense.
You’re probably thinking, “it can’t be that bad, right?” Actually, it can- allow me to explain. First of all, the loot makes no sense. Why does a backward hat have a better gear score than a full-fledged protective helmet that covers my character’s entire face? Why do fingerless gloves give me more protection than fully padded gloves? Even games like Destiny or Borderlands – which are complete flights of fantasy – operate with a basic level of logic where loot progression is concerned, and yet, that logic is nowhere to be found in Ghost Recon Breakpoint, a tactical military shooter.
"In spite of having this potentially game-altering new element in their game, Ubisoft haven’t really done anything to ensure that it fits. They’ve made no necessary adjustments, enacted no needed changes, to make Ghost Recon a game that can actually function properly with loot mechanics. It’s the textbook definition of “shoehorned”."
But that’s not even the worst of it. That’s still easy to ignore, if you can just accept that the game doesn’t respect its own setting and narrative premise (also exemplified by its hub area, which has dozens of other players running around when you’re supposed to be all alone and helpless on this island full of metaphorical wolves). What’s worse than the nonsense loot is that the loot game has little to no effect on the actual game. Enemies still go down with a single headshot – some of them might require two – which means the gear score of your weapons or the score of the armour your enemies are wearing means nothing.
Loot games circumvent this issue by having bullet sponge enemies, which Breakpoint doesn’t have (for the most part). And that’s good- that means you can still approach missions tactically rather than worrying about the DPS of your guns. But… then why have gear score in your game at all? We often describe lootgrind-focused games as “watching numbers go up”, but in Breakpoint, that is literally all it is. You do occasionally run into drones that act as bullet sponge enemies, but they’re not common enough to necessitate the presence of loot mechanics and gear scores. And you know what? You can just ignore any gear requirements and toss grenades at these drones, because grenades don’t even have gear scores.
Breakpoint still could have managed to overcome its unnecessary loot grind though, by simply allowing players to just engage with those mechanics on a surface level while playing the actual game like a regular Ghost Recon title. That, however, is impossible, because of the game’s brain-dead AI. It seems like every enemy you run into in Breakpoint has a death wish- either that, or they’re all just inhumanly stupid. You shoot an enemy down, and the person standing right next to them will go “huh?” and look around in confusion, rather than running for cover. They’ll then call over their friends, all of whom will proceed to stand around their friend’s dead body and be stupid and confused together. Take down two more, and maybe they’ll finally figure out that somebody is shooting at them from that general direction.
"It seems like every enemy you run into in Breakpoint has a death wish- either that, or they’re all just inhumanly stupid."
After that, they’ll proceed to fire at you. But if the going gets tough and all of them decide to swarm you – which, to their credit, they will do if you’re spotted – you can just head into a corridor and wait for them to walk right into the chokepoint. And it won’t matter how many of these lambs walk to their slaughter- all the other lambs won’t take a look at the literal pile of corpses at that chokepoint’s entrance and think “maybe I shouldn’t head into that corridor”. No, they’ll think their friends are making a human pyramid or something, and decide to join in on the fun.
The terrible AI isn’t the only area where Breakpoint is unpolished. It’s a mess from a technical perspective in a lot of other ways as well. Every time you boot up the game, it’ll take its sweet time to load several textures and assets, which means often you’ll see your character holding an invisible gun, or standing on a mesh of muddy textures that wouldn’t have passed for terrain even in a PS2 game. NPCs can be found standing in mid-air, stationary cars will occasionally decide to float for a couple of seconds, characters’ eyes and lips will do weird off-sync stuff, and even after you’ve finished the story, the game will tell you that your story progress stands at 0%. It isn’t completely broken, but it is unequivocally unfinished and woefully unpolished. Breakpoint needed at least a year or two more in the oven- in its current state, it’s simply not good enough. The visuals themselves – when they’re working as intended – are nothing special either. The only good thing I can say about the game in this area is that the frame rate, for the most part, is solid.
Another can of worms that needs opening is the monetization in this game. Ubisoft keeps coming under fire for the way it monetizes its games, but I don’t think any of their games has ever felt nearly as greedy – and blatantly so – as Breakpoint does. Literally anything you can think of in the game is being sold for real money- cosmetics, guns, weapon attachments, weapon blueprints, you name it. It’s straight up pay-to-win. And sure, pay-to-win isn’t game-breaking in a PvE game, but Breakpoint seems like it is designed to be monetized. For example, the only thing its loot mechanics have any actual tangible impact on is the game’s in-game store. Ubisoft might try to justify the microtransactions here with the good old “they are completely optional” argument, but by being so flagrant with their monetization model and its nature, they’re really just shooting themselves in the foot.
"Ubisoft keeps coming under fire for the way it monetizes its games, but I don’t think any of their games has ever felt nearly as greedy – and blatantly so – as Breakpoint does. Literally anything you can think of in the game is being sold for real money- cosmetics, guns, weapon attachments, weapon blueprints, you name it. It’s straight up pay-to-win."
Ghost Recon Breakpoint suffers from a double whammy of cardinal sins- it doesn’t do justice to the stuff it brings over as is from its predecessor, and it doesn’t even execute any of its own new ideas properly. So often we hear about games that had content or ideas cut during development, either because they did not fit their vision, or because the developers weren’t confident they’d be able to do justice to those ideas. It feels like Ghost Recon Breakpoint skipped that part of the process.
Ubisoft threw a bunch of disparate and conflicting ingredients into one big pot, and while the pot spewed out poisonous fumes and billowing smoke, they just turned away and served the dish to their customers anyway. If you’re looking for more Wildlands – but not as fun – and can ignore the needless and half-baked new mechanics and the unbelievably stupid AI, then you might still get some enjoyment out of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. But if you’re looking for a good, fun game- this ain’t it. Breakpoint is the worst game I’ve played since last year’s Fallout 76– at least it has NPCs though. I guess that’s something.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
If you liked Wildlands, you might still enjoy the core loop; Jon Bernthal is great as Cole Walker; An interesting narrative premise.
An intriguing premise is let down by a boring story and poor storytelling; A dull open world with unenjoyable traversal; Astoundingly incompetent AI; Half-baked survival mechanics; Loot mechanics have absolutely no impact and are completely unneeded; Bland visuals; Numerous bugs and glitches make for an upolished experience; Aggressive monetization.
Bloated, confused, messy- Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a low point for the series.