Review copy provided by Ubisoft. Reviewed on PC.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint has a lot going for it. While I didn’t play it until later and can’t speak to reports of a turbulent launch, Wildlands was one of 2017’s surprise treats. I found that its arcadey blend of open-world exploration, tight shooting, and Metal Gear Solid V-lite stealth was a winning combination, reminding me of the open-world sandboxes of yesteryear like Mercenaries: Playgrounds of Destruction and Just Cause. I say this so you know where I am coming from: I am not a Ghost Recon hater. Far from it: I thoroughly enjoyed the last game in the franchise, and I expected Ghost Recon Breakpoint to be a blast.
I take absolutely no pleasure in saying this: Ghost Recon Breakpoint has none of Wildlands’s sandbox adventurism, arcadey fun, or goofy destruction. All of that has been done away with, replaced by a nauseating terrine of pointless progression mechanics, baffling interface decisions, and clunky controls, fermented in a formaldehyde cocktail of technical issues. This game is agonizingly bad.
Narrative hook and world design
Ghost Recon Breakpoint hits the ground running. The opening sequence is compelling, trapping players on the fictional Pacific Island of Auroa and immediately introducing them to new mechanics, like the need to heal your injuries and the game’s loot system. But we’re soon shuttled off to Breakpoint’s hub area. This is where things start to fall apart. The hub, known as Erewhon, is somehow populated with dozens of Ghosts, even after we’re informed that our crew were mostly goners and that we were left stranded on Auroa. Erewhon somehow remains hidden from the elite squadron of drones constantly scanning and monitoring the island, even with a small fleet of vehicles parked outside, through the magic of… a tarp. Covered with leaves.
I can put that to one side: these games are meant to be fun, not immersive. I immediately accepted a squad invite, assuming I would be matched with other players in the early phase of the game. Suddenly, I was transported from this early tutorial mission to a mid-game side quest. One squad member was prone on the ground, completely still. Another was doing donuts in the parking lot with a sports car. A third disconnected right after I joined. The rest of my time playing Breakpoint, unfortunately, was a series of similarly infuriating exercises in tedium.
Polish and technical elements
In its current state, this game is an absolute technical shambles. The movement feels strangely laggy and unresponsive compared to Wildlands. Enemies can see you through walls, bunkers, or through multiple floors of a compound. Vehicle handling is a step back, especially the bizarrely broken and unwieldy motorcycles. Menus are glitchy and confusing to navigate, including one recurring bug where menu items were replaced with a generic placeholder text. Executing a mission, whether in solo or co-operative play, often felt like a comedy of errors.
I queued for co-op, only to be matched with one endgame player, around gear level 200, and another just starting out, close to level ten. When I left to commandeer a helicopter, upon my return, one squadmate complained that they were stuck, and then disconnected. This may seem like a minor quibble, but they add up into an experience that feels frustratingly unpolished.
Here’s an example: one mission asked me to enter an enemy’s hideout via a secret cave. I figured the conveniently placed nearby boat should do the trick, so I took out the enemies guarding it and hopped in. But it couldn’t move: it had spawned too close to the shore. So I went to the other side of the island to find a dock, also guarded by enemies. I had finally obtained an unglitched boat.
When I entered the cave, the enemies spotted me. Unsurprising, as I was driving a boat. But as I clambered onto the main platform, I noticed none of the enemies were moving. They were just standing there, completely still. Three enemies ran out, one by one, somehow oblivious to me standing directly in front of them. I took them all out with a few shots. The rest of the enemies stayed behind cover, waiting for me to pick them off.
None of the friendly NPCs seemed to react in any way to the massacre they had just witnessed, but whatever, I just wanted to find the mission objective. But there was no mission objective: I trawled the whole base without a clue. I went into the menu to find and pin the objective, and when I returned, the game informed me my goal was… “#ObjectiveName.”
At first, I couldn’t go an hour without experiencing a technical issue. Then, it was every thirty minutes. Then they seemed to unfold, one after another, all in the course of a single mission, making some virtually unplayable. And even when the game is functioning as intended, the AI is so dreadful that any semblance of challenge disappears.
Design and progression
It’s not all bad, mind you. The shooting mechanics are mostly competent, and there’s a large variety of weapons. The Ghost War mode added to Wildlands is available at launch, and it’s much more fun than playing the campaign. But it’s been curiously stripped back too, with much smaller map sizes than those found in its predecessor. Despite it being more enjoyable than the campaign, Ghost War ultimately suffers from its reduced scope and feels like another retrograde step for the franchise.
I want to touch on progression. Ghost Recon Breakpoint has a massive world, and kudos to Ubisoft Paris for how varied and interesting it can be to navigate. But did the world really need another loot-shooter? The Division 2 and Borderlands 3 are great examples of how this now-ubiquitous genre can combine satisfying combat, special abilities, and addictive mountains of loot.
But Ghost Recon didn’t need to be The Division: it just needed to be more Ghost Recon, and embrace the arcadey, hop-in and hop-out co-op chaos that made Wildlands such a delightful romp. Instead, Breakpoint is loaded with completely pointless progression mechanics that are totally at odds with its core design.
Players are encouraged to always use the piece of gear with the highest score, no matter what. If you try and switch to something else, the game places a bright red down arrow next to it, flagging it as inferior. It’s hard to overstate how much that UI choice, which may seem minor, acts as a deterrent. It tells players “don’t do this!” in the loudest design language Ubisoft has, and some missions and areas are soft-gated behind gear score.
It’s counterintuitive: the game tells players to use a slow, heavy machine gun when a silenced semi-auto assault rifle does a much better job. The hidden stat menus don’t tell the real story, and in the case of armor, everything boils down to that one score. It doesn’t make any sense, and this obsession with slowly increasing a single number makes Breakpoint a worse game than it should have been.
Breakpoint is supposedly built around co-op play, removing the AI companions that made Wildlands enjoyable to run solo, although Ubisoft claim AI teammates will return in an upcoming update. But the game’s co-op matchmaking system is totally broken. At gear score 40, I was matched up with three players ranging from 150 to 250. They asked me to help clear a mission with them, so I did. It was the final mission of the campaign. I saw the final cutscene of the game, and the main mission counted as completed in my log.
Over the next hour, I gained dozens of levels in gear score as the experienced players guided me through these endgame areas, chuckling about how broken and buggy our experience was along the way. After they departed, I queued again, and was matched with three other players with completely different gear scores. The game claims to scale levels, but the reality is that I gained dozens of gear levels in one hour with an endgame party, and two gear levels in an hour with a party closer to my level. Matchmaking in this game, like everything else, is buggy and broken.
I don’t have anything good to say about Breakpoint’s sound design. Enemies frequently repeat voice lines and radio calls. Audio is muddled and confusing. Positionality is poor. The mix is unusual, there is a strange lack of clarity. Everything tends to linger in the mid-to-low end.
The score is quite good, though. A guitar-based track that kicks in when Nomad is being hunted by the relentless Wolves is suspenseful and exciting. The pounding, industrial drums are excellent, recalling Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s film scores as well as the classic Fragile album by Nine Inch Nails. Unfortunately, the score often recedes into the mix and loses its impact.
Breakpoint can be visually striking at times. But here too, it’s a mixed bag: texture pop-in is constant and can be extremely jarring. Outdoor environments are beautiful, albeit lacking in variety. But some indoor areas look bizarre, as if they were molded out of clay. Character models are inconsistent. Leads are detailed and look great. Side characters, on the other hand, sometimes look as if they’ve walked out of a late-gen PS3 game.
As for the narrative, it veers between ridiculous, predictable, and boring. Jon Bernthal’s much-hyped performance as Walker, the centerpiece of Breakpoint’s marketing campaign, brings nothing interesting to the table: he is hammy and forgettable. Other characters try to give their all, but the material they’re provided is confusing and ill-conceived.
At one point, a flashback shows player character Nomad and Walker in a village on an operation gone wrong. They discover another soldier who killed an innocent woman. He claims she was armed. We point out that she clearly wasn’t. The soldier pulls a knife from his pocket and places it inside her hands. I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.
Another plot point reveals that the deadly swarm of killer drones commanded by Walker were designed only for the purpose of pollination. A Robo-Bee, if you will. I felt the blood pooling in the back of my head.
Bad games, like bad movies, are exhausting because they forever rob people of their valuable free time. I will never recover the twenty hours I spent with Ghost Recon Breakpoint. I implore you not to make the same mistake. If you want a gritty third-person shooter with a strong loot grind, go play The Division 2. If you want a fun, arcadey open world co-op romp, go play Ghost Recon Wildlands. There’s no reason for anyone to play this game.