We’re a little late to the Ghost Recon Breakpoint party but we’re here with our review of Ubisoft’s latest open-world ’em up and we do have a long history with this series that we owe, in some part, to this website even existing (thanks to the peerless Xbox 360 titles Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and its tremendous sequel).
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is already getting wildly mixed reviews, thanks in part to some controversy about pay to win microtransactions, but we’ve had a chance to let the dust settle and have been plugging our way through the assorted military forces that are up to no good on the fictional island of Auroa.
Breakpoint tells the story of betrayal as the totally lovable and not at all stupid scientists at Skell Technology find their totally not exploitable AI drone weaponry exploited by a paramilitary force who are looking to use their tech to control the region.
It’s pretty standard stuff featuring the usual tech paranoia that you’d expect but, for once, Ubisoft aren’t focusing all this on a team of lieutenants that you pick off before facing off against some charismatic psychopath. I mean, for sure, ex-team mate gone rogue Colonel Cole Walker is cast in that role but he’s got a bit more of a military asshole vibe rather than being some sort of colourful cult leader which is what you’d get in the Far Cry games.
That said, this is an Ubisoft game through and through and so that means a big open world, lots of missions (main, side and faction), more weapons than you can shake a Saudi arms dealer at and a lot of little icons spread over a map all shining away in the hope of tempting you away from Breakpoint’s main campaign.
If you played Wildlands, the previous Ghost Recon game and the first to take the series open-world, well this is more of that. You’ll run, drive and fly vast distances occasionally taking out unsuspecting men stood next to motorbikes before finding some sort of large base full of goons that you have to take out in order to reach whatever objective you’ve been given. These goons come in various flavours such as snipers, drone operators, armoured heavies and comms guys who will raise the alarm if they see anything untoward.
Designed to be played in co-op (which is what we did for this review), these base raids represent Breakpoint‘s best moments. Scoping out a base with drones before picking off key targets with the game’s excellent sniper rifles and then going in for some stealthy tactical insertion is always a winner. We enjoyed in the Far Cry series and it is just as good here. There’s a real mixture of nervousness and god-like power as you figure out who dies in what order to maintain your cover and when you then have to work your way into the base to get to the objective, it can be even more tense.
This leads to some really tactical gameplay where you can spend ages just figuring out what is the best way into the base. You have to plan these things on the fly but when you do, and it works, Breakpoint is as satisfying a shooter as we’ve played in a long time. Especially in co-op which, admittedly, makes everything better. There’s something timeless about seeing the detection warning come up from your blind spot and spinning around to face an enemy only to find your co-op partner is already creating abstract expressionism using their brains as the paint.
It’s exactly what we expect from the series, and also from the recent Far Cry games. This feels less Far Cry-y than Wildlands did and a little more like Ghost Recon used to. That said, it’s no GRAW or GRAW2 but what is? Just point us at whatever Ubi-exec we need to blow to get remasters of those games.
With all that said, Breakpoint does have problems. From a basic design point of view there is a bit too much going on. As ever you’ve got what feels like an endless amount of guns with an endless amount of attachments. This is complicated by having classes, skill upgrades, passive perks, active perks, Skell Credits to spend, clothing, gear parts (obtained from scrapping equipment), multiple main quests at the same time and whatever else.
Even the simple act of sleeping in a bivouac is an ordeal as you get options to switch classes, apply bonuses via potions or something, craft stuff and buy/sell gear. Gear that you unlock by finding blueprints which are just a small part of the dozens of different types of ‘thing’ that you can find out in the world. Initially it’s all a lot to take in and while it does start to make sense, it’s just a bit overwhelming. If you just want to get out there and kill people, this might not be the game for you.
The game does have a loot system which is initially quite enjoyable but this has issues too. I was quite happily sticking to my sniper rifle and some clothing because they gave me XP bonuses, eschewing higher level gear that wasn’t quite as useful on paper. It turned out that this was a mistake as eventually Gareth, who I was doing the co-op with, was a much higher level than I was because he’d been equipping whatever gear had the highest number on it. Ultimately this means that holding onto a good gun becomes a disadvantage, which seems pretty broken to us.
The other main problem is that the game is just a bit janky. While it’s a big, well-designed world the visual quality isn’t up there with the Far Cry games and this is made worse by your character occasionally not being able to deal with the landscape and sliding all over the place/levitating or the way the camera struggles to keep up when you are inside. Being in a stairwell is enough to make you physically sick at times and a simple helicopter flight will often see your co-op buddy floating outside the chopper for the duration.
There are some nice visuals to be seen, the game has some great lighting (especially the sunsets) but there’s also a lot of texture pop-in. You can be trying to acquire a target with the ever-useful drones and not getting anywhere but then you zoom in a little and it turns out that enemy, the one you can see RIGHT THERE, was actually behind a wall that has now suddenly magicked its way into existence and has been blocking your drone.
What strikes us most about Breakpoint is that there’s no real love to it. It’s a military game first, and that’s fine, but there’s no real joy in here. The often terrible voice acting stopped us caring about the characters and their stories and those fun, random moments that Far Cry 5 gave us just aren’t apparent here. We’re not looking for too much humour but the game is just so serious. All the time.
GRAW2 didn’t have a sense of humour either but it was so lean, so focused that we were enthralled playing that and that lasted years as we kept dipping into the co-op and PvP modes but Breakpoint is just another shooter at this point.
Hopefully in a few patches time, the game will be more solid. They’ve already patched out the pay to win micro-transactions (before we got the game, so we can’t speak to how bad they were) and we’ve been happy to Google things like ‘the best sniper rifle’ to go and find it rather than resorting to paying real cash for it. Also, it seems as though Destiny-style Raids and other content is planned, so Breakpoint may well end up offering some long lasting value for money.
Given how slick, beautiful and enjoyable Far Cry 5 was, we don’t know why the Ghost Recon games are just that bit lacking in quality but our affinity for the series (not Future Soldier though) and sniping people in general has made Breakpoint an enjoyable experience. Even in solo play, the game’s level of challenge makes it more compelling that it has any right to be and so we can’t say we’ve not enjoyed it thoroughly but we just wish it had a bit more love in it.
Seriously though, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 remaster. Let’s do it, Ubisoft.
+ Excellent gunplay
+ Co-op works really well
+ Lots of weapons and tech to play with
- A bit one note all the way through
- Very similar to a lot of other Ubisoft games
- Visually underwhelming