How the heck am I going to get this truck to stop?
This, naturally, was just one thought I had while playing the newest addition to Ubisoft’s Clancyverse, Ghost Recon Breakpoint. I was in the midst of a clandestine mission wherein I was tasked with tracking and stopping an enemy convoy, interrogating one of the drivers, and somehow preventing damage to the trucks. Now, as far as how I was actually going to do all of that was up to me. For the better part of an hour I chased this godforsaken convoy on a dirt bike over mountains, through rivers, into heavily fortified enemy areas, all the while trying to figure how I was going to cut them off. I tried setting up traps with C4 to spread the vehicles apart, driving next to them to bait them into where I wanted to go, running my bike directly into the lead car to cause a shootout — none of it was working. I huffed and I puffed and I could not for the life of me determine how to blow their house down.
So I took a breath, fast traveled to a camp close to their route and started thinking. As I searched through the various menus and bevy of deadly gadgets, I was waiting for something, anything, to jump out at me to give me an edge. And then I found it. My solution came from the sky: I was going to land a helicopter on top of them. Would it work? Probably not, but hey, that’s why they call it the ol’ college try.
Though I didn’t manage to gracefully park on top of their motorcade a la Ethan Hunt, I did bring their convoy to a stop by brashly landing my chopper in front of the lead vehicle. Afterwards, I quickly exited, shot my target in the leg, eliminated the rest of the enemies with quick taps to the head, went back to my target to interrogate them, knocked them out, and stormed off into the night as if I were, uh, a ghost (oh, that’s why it’s called Ghost Recon!). When the dust settled, I felt somewhere between Jason Bourne and Raylan Givens.
All of this — long-winded exposition included — is to say when Breakpoint works it feels like the best parts of Breath of the Wild or Dragon’s Dogma: Problems are left for me to solve, in whatever (deadly) way I choose fit, and the stories along the way are memorable. The problem is moments like these are rare occurrences, and the bulk of my time was spent repeating the same verbs over and over: scout, stalk, shoot, escape.
Breakpoint takes place on Auroa, or “World 2.0”, a private island owned by billionaire Jace Skell (great name) dedicated to innovating and designing drone technology, because, ya know, the world needs more drones. Unfortunately for Mr. Skell, his tech quickly begins to fall into the wrong hands. After a cargo ship sinks off the coast of Auroa, the US government decides to investigate and sends in the elite Ghost unit. The main protagonist, Nomad, is on approach to the island when their chopper is attacked by what looks like rogue drone units and they crash in a fiery heap. After waking up in a tree and piecing themselves back together, Nomad quickly finds out that former Ghost Cole D. Walker (played by Jon Bernthal) now works for Sentinel, a private military contractor, that led the attack and formed his own elite group of soldiers, the Wolves. Didn’t you know that everything cool needs a proper noun?
Cheesiness and the sheer volume of problematic themes aside, at this point I (sadly) don’t expect Tom Clancy games to have interesting, well-written stories, or at the very least engage with their often uncomfortable ethos in which nothing can be solved without the might of the US military. There could be something to be said about a billionaire buying an island to research and manufacture drones. There could be a commentary on invading the homes of a foreign country. Hell, they could even question the abuses of power by privatized military outfits like, oh I don’t know, why the hell it was even possible for a private company to take over an entire island in the first place. There could be, but there isn’t. A decent plot in a Clancy game is like a purple unicorn: I guess it could happen, but I don’t know if it will. At least Jon Bernthal does a good job and the setting in Breakpoint isn’t outright racist like its predecessor, right?
Once the absurdity of the plot stopped screaming in my face, I was able to focus on the many beautiful sights. If Breakpoint has one thing going for it, it’s Auroa. Though I am not sure how an island has multiple biomes like volcanoes and wintry peaks, it was easy to ignore the main quest for hours on end to explore my heart away. Every corner of Auroa is filled with interesting locations, drone fortresses, enemy bases, villages, towns, tech campuses, and bunkers. I was honestly startled when I opened the map for the first time and saw all of the question marks staring back at me. There’s so much to see and do that it can easily become overwhelming, and it doesn’t help that the game desperately wanted me to do everything.
Similarly to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and then Origins before it, Breakpoint is absolutely massive not just in terms of scale, but in the number of systems and mechanics it wants you to engage with as well. In addition to the number of locations you can find, there’s the dense main quest, side quests, faction quests, faction bounties, weapon attachment, and blueprint quests, cooperative play, PVP, and raids are on their way. That doesn’t even begin to cover the mechanics like managing stamina so you don’t fall down cliffs, crafting and cooking rations, choosing which passive perks to use, leveling up your class — I could be here all day. And there is a gear and loot system on top of everything else!
The game clearly wants me to do whatever I want when I want, and that mentality extends to the main quest. Directly after you crash land on Auroa, the game completely opens up with minimal tutorialization. I was simply shown how to heal, how to fire my gun, my main quest marker, and the rest was up to me. It might as well have said “Defeat Ganon” — Breakpoint does not stop you from doing anything. If I wanted to, and dumb enough, I could march right over to Cole D. Walker himself and take on his posse within the first hour of the game. I could take the main quest at an even clip, or I could roam the island for weapons and gadgets, building up experience along the way, and then come back to the story incredibly overpowered.
The lack of direction does a good job of establishing just how alone you are on this huge island. In all directions, there are both men and machines that want to kill you. Wandering Auroa feels dangerous, and the early stages were genuinely thrilling as I silently took out enemy patrols, scrounged for better weapons and supplies, and scrambled into cover to avoid an enemy drone or recon plane. Before missions, I drank water to grant fatigue resistance in the likely chance I had to run away from my enemies and then slept until nightfall to have an advantage. When I approached encampments and bases, I methodically scouted the area with my drone for snipers, radio operators, and any lingering enemies on the fringes so I could take them out first and drag them back into the shadows.
As I mentioned above, when Breakpoint works, it’s like I am a cool shadow man slowly destroying my adversary piece by piece. Eventually, though, the gameplay broke down into an awkward, repetitive rhythm, plagued by boring mission structure and bugs.
Outside of the few quests that require you to stop a moving convoy like my beautiful introductory pastiche describes, missions essentially boil down to approaching a base, scouting that base with your drone, trying your best to silently take out guards, find objective (which is usually interrogate a person, hack a terminal, or find a document), inevitably get discovered by a guard, murder everyone, and then go to the next mission point which is another base, another scouting run, rinse and repeat, ad nauseum. The thrilling moments where I stopped a moving convoy with a helicopter don’t outweigh the many hours I spent completing the same tasks over and over. The gameplay tries to make up for the repetition with the loot system and adding an “exploration” mode that ditches quest markers, forcing you to rely on directions given by NPCs and landmarks, but even that cannot spice up the lackluster quests, not to mention how dull it can be shooting dumb AI after dumb AI.
As many systems as Breakpoint has, none of them fundamentally change the core of the experience, they just add window dressing to a boring store. You can tell me as much as you want that I need a higher gear score to kill enemies faster, but one shot to the head always drops them. What are you trying to say Ubisoft, that an 80 gear score head can repel my 50 gear score gun?
I can forgive repetition to an extent if the essence of the game is solid, but I’ve encountered my fair share of bugs, too. While frame rate has largely been consistent, I haven’t been able to go a session without one of my gadgets bugging out. It may sound minuscule, but this one bug prevents me from using the item, doesn’t let me switch to another item, and whenever this particular bug happens, I can’t mark enemies, aim down sights, or melee enemies. I found that last one out when my sync shot drone bugged out, so I decided to sneak up behind an enemy only to find I can’t melee and having to start the mission over. Worse yet, the bug doesn’t go away until you log out or die. Although this particular glitch has been the most frustrating, I’ve gotten stuck on terrain, subtitles frequently do not match the dialogue, and, in one instance, I teleported out of the middle of a cutscene into a firefight and could not do anything because the game thought I was still in the cutscene. Game development is hard, so bugs have never bothered me too much, but they did nothing for a game that was already wearing on my patience and leaving me increasingly bored.
I came out of Breakpoint feeling far more negative than I initially thought after watching the trailer last year. The world seemed beautiful, the switch to a loot and gear system appealed to me in theory, and as a Latinx person, it wasn’t turning an entire group of people into drug lords. Breakpoint has so much to do and so much to see, but the sheen of endless possibility quickly wore off after I realized that “endless possibility” mostly meant “go here, shoot people, run away”. Though there is enough to like and keep me around for a bit longer, at least until the raid releases, I don’t know how many more uninspired missions I can complete.
This review is based on the Xbox One X version of the game. A copy was provided by Ubisoft.
Though Ghost Recon Breakpoint starts off strong by throwing you in a dangerous, beautiful, and dense world, it quickly shows its hand and ends up being a repetitive let-down.