An island utopia in lockdown, a mission gone wrong, a betrayal and a Ghost on the run… and that’s just what you start off with in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Though I was late to the party with the game’s predecessor Ghost Recon Wildlands I enjoyed it a lot and was looking forward to this. Reviews and a demo though put a stop to that with things they added (gear leveling) and removed (AI squad mates) making it feel like a lesser game and putting me off. But a recent sale brought me back to the game and it’s been nice to see that a lot has changed.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is an open world third person shooter that pops you in the middle of a large island and requires you to complete missions in order to liberate it from a rogue mercenary group. Not only that you’re also wanting to avenge your fallen team mates after your mission fails spectacularly and you’re one of a few survivors. It certainly helps that the target of your future aggression is played by Jon Bernthal who appeared briefly in Wildlands and has fully gone “bad Punisher” here. I’ve always liked the premise of “the hunter becoming the hunted” in Breakpoint with the odds being stacked against you and enemy drones this time play a big part in that. If you accidentally get spotted by an aerial drone things go go wrong fast with flares being dropped and you’re quickly surrounded by a large number of units. The need for stealth in the beginning can take a little getting used to for past players but at least it does force you to avoid a constant “run and gun” strategy.
Right from the beginning you’re ill equipped to face off against your opponents and so a lot of time is spent finding good gear. This is where the game’s default mode comes in with weapons and clothing having a “gear level” which includes perks and abilities that dictate their overall effectiveness in areas such as accuracy, damage and recoil. The frustrating part for me at the time of the demo was I was more interested in the combat and not in pursuing a “+1 SMG of shooting straight” (my name!) because my current one wasn’t good enough. I was really happy hearing that the developers had taken note of that from a lot of similarly disappointed players and responded with the “Ghost Experience” update that let you play either using the “regular” mechanics or a new “immersive” mode that cuts back on the gear leveling and focuses on more difficulty options. What’s great is that players can choose to customise this to find a happy balance between the two. For me I chose the immersive mode but dialed back the lack of HUD to have a minimal map and compass which felt close enough to Wildlands to make me happy. A great touch is that squad members in co-op can stick with their own mode of play and the game will adapt for each of them. The only exception to this appears to be raids which require gear levels but I found if you’ve played in immersive mode for much of the game, switching over doesn’t put you at a massive disadvantage as you can quickly get the gear you need to meet level requirements. Plus the game remembers your loadouts for each mode which is a smart design decision and let’s you switch whenever you want.
Maybe the best change is the one that should never have been left out in the first place and that’s the return of AI squad mates. They’re not always the smartest and the game gives them a lot of concessions – you often see them run past enemies in broad daylight without setting off alarms – but if you’re playing alone and want backup it’s the best way to keep you in the game for longer with additional fire support and the occasional revive too. Of course you don’t need to rely on AI exclusively and having friends provide support in co-op goes a long way to surviving these situations and how the game allows for it really helps as it’s easy to jump out of your own game to join a friend and then return to your own while keeping all your progress and items. If you’re playing with AI they will come and go as real players drop into your game so you always have support… hopefully in the future we could see a mix be allowed so that you can potentially have a full squad with a mix of AI and real players.
Technically the game does a great job of presenting your environment with some long draw distances that really reinforce that anything you can see you can travel to. There seems to be a greater amount of fauna and flora in the environment compared to Wildlands and the variety of terrain around the island looks better designed give players reasons to leverage land/sea/air travel appropriately. Though once you get access to helicopters it’s hard to go back to anything else! On the audio side there’s a great deal of background chatter that really helps flesh out NPCs, enemies and your squad and is more useful to the game than the effects which are a little like generic military/sci-fi stuff. So overall maybe not a whole lot different to Wildlands on this side.
I do wish that the method for managing missions was a little more straightforward, especially since it was also cumbersome on Wildlands. Basically your mission screen is laid out like a board with targets, people of interest, etc all positioned around it and you have to click into these to access new missions or to even restart failed ones. With the amount of tasks you can accumulate over time it’d be so much nicer just to have a list to click through even if it does break immersion. A small annoyance for me too was how DLC content is presented. At least one slice of content was hidden behind a paywall that teased you with an opening mission featuring a popular franchise character and it really muddles up what missions you really have available and what you don’t. Admittedly I’m playing this now at a time when the bulk of this content is now released but I think I would have preferred not seeing it until I actually decided to buy the season pass. There’s also been a few bugs encountered in play where co-op squads do always seem to sync up correctly (player positions aren’t consistent) and other missions simply not working. I’ve only seen these happen a few times in 30-40 hours of play but they’re unfortunately the kind that are easy to notice.
Despite my early negative impressions of the game I’m impressed with what Ghost Recon Breakpoint has become. You have a big environment to explore, plenty of bad guys to shoot at and thanks to the more recent updates the ability to tweak the gameplay experience into something as easy or hard as you want. Apart from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the last big scale co-op military shooter I spent a lot of time on was Wildlands so having more of the same here is going down much better than I thought. 🙂
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint is out now on PC, Xbox, PlayStation and Stadia platforms. Played on an Xbox Series X.