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Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint – Stretching a game to breaking point

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We’re largely fond of Ubisoft’s games. They’re big and engaging and frequently ambitious attempts at storytelling. Last year’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was a gigantic, sprawling game that encouraged exploration of the Mediterranean over dozens of hours. There was a whole loot system in place (that was actually fun to use). And there were microtransactions, which you could have ignored if you felt like it. The same can be said about Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, if you swap ‘Mediterranean’ for ‘Technology Island’, only the additional systems render this one kinda… lame. As lame as a spec ops operative with a leg wound limping for the tree-line while firing a handgun over his shoulder.

The future’s a scary place

Before we go complaining about Breakpoint (yeah, there’s a lot of that coming), it’s a brilliant concept. Rather than the slightly tone-deaf take on Bolivia from Ghost Recon Wildlands, players are tasked with exploring an island chain called Auroa. Auroa is a technological wonderland, a gigantic incubator for all things electrical… including drones of all sorts of shapes and sizes. A mercenary force has taken over the island, necessitating American forces being inserted. And while the initial foray had the ‘force’ thing right, it turns out Auroa’s drones really don’t like military helicopters.

Cue crashes and casualties, an encounter with the Punisher (in the shape of Jon Bernthal as Cole D. Walker) and then a lot of guerrilla warfare. Some of it for the various Auroa factions, some of it for yourself, some of it just because you’re hoping to unlock another batch of face paint for your Ghost. There’s a whole lot of story here and much of it is great… when you’re experiencing it. See, Ghost Recon Breakpoint doesn’t try to direct you at all, meaning you can often do missions in bits and pieces. Which is a shame, because it’s at its best when the developers are able to guide you through scenarios at their own pace. That… doesn’t happen often.

A (kinda) broken thing

Ubisoft has attempted to turn Breakpoint into an all-new thing, constructed from pieces of older games. The Division‘s gear scores are here, as is Odyssey‘s exploration mechanic. There’s an online hub (now largely unpopulated), faction missions that fall away after a set period of time (as seen in Odyssey and Rayman, weirdly), as well as online-specific missions and raids. The trouble is… a lot of this doesn’t have to be here. Why the gear score? Why do faction missions have their own unlock tree, with Battle Points? Well, games as a service is to blame for that. Ubisoft’s hoping to turn its major franchises into money-spinners the whole year round, counting on extended player numbers months after release.

The problem is several of the systems Ubi is relying on to turn Breakpoint into a service rather than ‘just’ a game don’t have to be there. And, in putting them there, Ubi’s forgotten that this thing’s supposed to be a game first and a service second. Nobody’s lining up to try out services as a game, after all.

That gear score is just a way to get players to rotate their gear and, maybe, spend real money on better weapons. It doesn’t seem to matter to the game much. Use weapon with higher number, kill enemy faster. That’s caveman thinking. There’s seemingly no reason for upgrading your weapons other than ‘because the developers said so’. The only upgrades that matter are the weapon attachments and those are once-off purchases. The gear score system? It could have been wholly left out and it wouldn’t have changed the game at all. That’s something that shoulda been caught long before release.

Make your own fun

To Ubi’s credit, they’ve designed one heck of an open world. A little too open, perhaps. That’s understandable, though. Players are supposed to be Ghosts, roaming the wilds with nothing but their wits and someone else’s guns. And pants. And boots. Seriously, these guys wear a whole lot of nicked clothing. It’s surprising that it all fits as well as it does. There’s an injury and stamina system in place, like you might find in a Monster Hunter game. Players need to rest and patch themselves up, in order to recover from injury and fatigue. Which is a nice idea but one that’s a little underutilised. Players can only rest at bivouacs, which also act as fast-travel points, while injuries have to be taken care of in the field. Most players will wind up only using bivouacs to spawn vehicles near camp. And that injury mechanic? Usually, if you take a serious injury, you’re dead. Occasionally, you will escape your pursuers and then you feel like one heck of a soldier. Mostly what you feel like, though, is a corpse.

Roaming the various biomes is a lot of fun, as is scoping out enemy encampments and looking for interesting loot. Blueprints, mostly, since you’ll find weapons and clothing everywhere. There are unique weapons scattered throughout the world as well and some of them are worth hunting down, even if the gear score means you’ll only use everything you find in passing. It’s all temporary. But at least you’ve got some interesting scenery to explore. If you choose to, that is.

You can also choose to spawn a helicopter at every bivouac and just fly to your destination. Then, all of Ubi’s system mean exactly nothing, since you’ll just respawn near the last place you were killed. You can even do this tactically, by checking out the response to your forays and then hoping for a better vantage point when the game resurrects you. Some of the bases will randomise enemies when you die, just to keep you on your toes, but it’s really easy to cheese your way through Breakpoint.

Victim of their own success

We’ve seen Ubisoft make this exact game before. We’ve seen them do it, over and over again, splicing bits of previous titles into something new and making a real success of it. The Watch_Dogs series owes a lot to Ghost Recon and Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed has been informed by Far Cry in various ways (mostly when it comes to base and outpost behaviour). Ubi’s whole catalogue is interlocked. Generally, the company’s up to the task of balancing the load.

This time, though? Ghost Recon Breakpoint collapses under its own weight. There’s too much going on, too many things vying for your attention. It’s possible to enjoy yourself just exploring and unearthing mysteries at your own pace. Breakpoint isn’t a broken game by any stretch of the imagination. Except maybe enemy AI. They’re not especially bright and tend to run towards the growing pile of dead soldiers on the stairway.

Breakpoint is trying to be too many things and it isn’t good at most of them. Breakpoint has: RPG elements, loot shooter elements, open-world elements, investigation elements, an injury and fatigue system, crafting elements, weapon and gear upgrade elements, classes and specialisations, options for stealth, run-and-gun, multiplayer, single-player, and a few more things besides. It’s amazing it’s functional at all.

The game has no way of keeping any of those things under control and makes it far too easy to bypass these new and exciting things Ubi wants you to try out. One of those bypass methods is money, while the other is time. Even then, you can short-circuit the whole game so time isn’t much of a factor either. Hence all the cheesing. Breakpoint should be a grand, open-world adventure where players creep through the undergrowth together and take down targets with military precision. What it actually is, for the most part, is a slog. Because Ubi overreached on this one. Pity. The story’s pretty damned good, when you get to experience it.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Verdict

It’s not that Ghost Recon Breakpoint is broken. It definitely isn’t. It’s just that the game hinges on a whole lot of systems that don’t have to be there. Breakpoint feels like it was cobbled together from bits of other games that were lying around the Ubisoft office — a map from Far Cry here, the loot system from The Division there, the find-your-own-way pathing from Assassin’s Creed there. Ubisoft’s done this before and has done it extremely well, which is why this experience is just so… jarring. Breakpoint is a regression for the company. Yes, it’s a wide-open game where you can play the way you want but it’s lost focus as a result. Yes, you should play with your mates but it’s also designed to be played solo — but you’ve gotta be online for the latter. Yes, there’s a whole, intricate loot system but it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything other that slapping attachments onto new guns and watching numbers go up. There’s a lot that doesn’t have to be here, to the detriment of the stuff that’s actually included. We know you can do better, Ubisoft. You’d been doing it for years. What the heck happened?

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The same can be said about Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, if you swap 'Mediterranean' for 'Technology Island', only the additional systems render this one kinda... lame. As lame as a spec ops operative with a leg wound limping for the treeline while firing a handgun over his shoulder. 

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