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I have never played a game as inconsistent as Ghost Recon Breakpoint. In its finest moments, when the stars align, it delivers stealth action on par with the best in the genre. When it falls apart, as it usually does, a tangled weave of glitches and half-baked systems reveal a game compromised by bland AAA design sensibilities and a ceaseless desire to churn out content at a breakneck pace.
Ghost Recon Wildlands was a disaster. The 2017 game’s expansive open world was dull and difficult to traverse, its jock-bantering AI companions grated on the nerves, the length never seem justified, and its caricatured cadre of Mexican villains weren’t just embarrassing but racist. It’s an understatement to say that I did not care for it.
Breakpoint moves into the realm of speculative-fiction, shifting from a “what if” scenario about a real place to a poor man’s Metal Gear or Deus Ex on a fictional island. Its narrative has more focus, its world map is more diverse, its villains are more charismatic, and its moment to moment gameplay is sleeker than before. These improvements come with their own shortcomings and mistakes. The end result is an improvement over WIldlands that nevertheless disappoints more than it impresses. It is a better game, and you can have a lot of fun playing it.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is at its best when you’re taking lengthy hikes through thick forests and stealthily infiltrating bases full of elite soldiers. But, like Wildlands it ultimately crumbles apart into a heap of conflicting ideas. It is a loot-shooter where loot doesn’t matter, a game about technology that constantly confuses its message, and a survival mechanic-laden exploration game where you never struggle to survive. A lot of things are thrown against the wall, rarely sticking.
Here’s the thing: when Breakpoint works, it evokes the best moments of games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Kitted with the right mix of sniper rifles and personal defense weapons, a smart player can dispatch platoons of hapless guards and slink into fortified bases to interrogate commanders or hack computers for the latest intelligence. These forays might unlock a lengthy series of investigations that bring them face to face with dangerous enemy operatives who, while too easily dispatched when discovered, tease the possibility of grander battles. Helicopter chases erupt into something terrible as strange automated tanks fire flak volleys upwards into crackling bursts. Excursions through wind-swept fields turn grim as a surveillance drone swoops by and detects you before cover can be found. It summons a high-tech kill squad to chase you through the brush. All of these moments are incredible and hint at a game far more exciting than the complete package. But damn, if they’re not fantastic in isolation.
Breakpoint abandons the gritty pretext of Wildlands imperialist geo-politics for a techno-thriller whose pitch is more exciting than the execution. After a tanker goes missing off the coast of a remote corporate island commune, the player and their squad of “Ghost” special forces are flown in to determine what happened. Arriving at the island of Auroa, they are shot down and left behind enemy lines. The once-thriving libertarian paradise is now controlled by rogue paramilitary forces led by former Ghost Cole Walker, portrayed with slimy delight by Walking Dead actor Jon Bernthal. Walker and his allies have seized control of the island’s drone technology, with the aim of expanding outward and using it to quell conflict with grand displays of technological violence. It’s up to the player and a few allies—including the scientists responsible—to thwart Walker. It is a far more compelling set up than Wildlands, offering a clear villain and personal stakes alongside cursory commentary about modern warfare. But it never commits and is lost amid the static of rote gameplay systems.
Pulling from Destiny 2 and its cousin The Division, Breakpoint models itself like a loot-shooter. Players have an overall gear score, which rises as they collect new items from fallen enemies or hidden caches. Weapons and armor come in tiers of rarity—cruddy grey, decent green, quality blue, rare purple, and legendary yellow—which often boast small bonuses such as reduced recoil or increased stamina. But unlike Destiny, were you might find a weapon with a unique history that you upgrade in order to have a constant companion at your side, Breakpoint’s loot is meant to be discarded as soon as you find something better. This means that an assault on an enemy base might yield fresh body armor that you immediately replace halfway through a firefight with more body armor because some random schmuck dropped a slightly better version. Once, I killed a high ranking enemy and received their unique submachine gun, only to find that the shopkeeper in my base was already selling more powerful weapons when I returned from my mission. There’s never any time to develop a weapon preference or create a unique character build. You grab loot, equip it if there’s a little green arrow indicating it’s better, and replace it as fast as possible. It’s not a grindy system—any excursion will upgrade your gear score from 5 to 10 points, depending on luck—but it is pointless. Loot is generic enough that players will not care about what they find, and perfunctory enough that raising your gear score rarely seems important. Breakpoint’s developers want the loot-shooter structure, the slowly rising power curve, without ever really committing to it.
Loot doesn’t matter because Breakpoint is astoundingly easy on default difficulties and only marginally harder on higher settings. Almost every weapon can be silenced and equipped with powerful optics, leaving the player to gleefully sneak about and eliminate enemies at extreme ranges or even up close with a single shot. This is true in nearly all cases, regardless of the difference between the player’s level and the enemies’ own strength. One time, I found myself on the hunt for a dangerous foe called Flycatcher, a sort of discount FOXHOUND operative who had a masterful command of engineering and an army of drones. After a long chain of interrogations and sleuthing, I located his base of operations. I snuck past the elite “Wolves,” Walker’s personally trained death squad. The sneak was exciting. Although I could kill with a single shot, the base layout was a mix of tight tunnels and drone-packed landing pads. I was eventually detected and pulled into a firefight with powerful troops. After the fight was over, I resumed my push through the base and up to Flycatcher’s position. When we previously met, there was a cutscene as his drones chased me through hallways, gliding around like deadly predators. This time, with his drones somehow oblivious to my presence, I snuck into his command room and killed him with a shot to the back of the skull. So much for the mighty boss. So much for our much-teased final encounter.
Breakpoint does have some interesting ideas and exciting modes. Its campaign uses a largely non-linear structure that allows you to tackle any challenge, up to and including the final battle with Walker, whenever you want. This is fantastic. There’s plenty to do and you can do it on your own terms. Wildlands gated content behind side missions, asking players to perform a variety of minor tasks in order to take on greater challenges. Breakpoint is open, letting players embark on whatever sort of experience they’d like. That can mean treasure hunts, daily missions to destroy enemy supply lines, the somewhat generic but enjoyable story mode, tracking priority targets, or wandering for better gear. You are the center of a wheel, with various spokes pointing out in disparate directions. It is often more over-the-top Just Cause than classically stealthy Ghost Recon. You can cut loose, track targets, grind out faction reputation. It’s in your hands, and the world is more exciting as a result.
Draped over all of this is Breakpoint’s most controversial feature: a robust suite of microtransactions that’s proven difficult to talk about given the immediate, inflamed response. This anger is justifiable—that so much of Breakpoint has been chipped and locked behind an instantly implemented store is a grim mark of what modern gaming has become—but the reality is that this monetization structure is more egregious in its nonsensical existence more than anything else. Much of this stems from a now-unavailable purchase that was never available during any point of my playtime: the ability to purchase ability-granting skill points. Alongside gear score, players slowly level up their character through experience points that contribute to a general level. Each time you level up, you gain skill points to spend on various passive buffs, drone abilities, and equippable boosters that grant bonuses such as increased accuracy at a distance or reload time. Their continued inclusion would have upset the game’s already precarious balance. That they were considered at all is frustrating. What remains is a largely avoidable collection of purchasable crafting materials, vehicles and cosmetics that nevertheless grates with its very presence. While there was never a point that I felt compelled to buy anything nor was I made to engage with these systems the same way I might have been with Star Wars Battlefront 2’s odious loot boxes, Breakpoint is draped in a heavy cloth of currencies and unlockables. Year after year, players receive a new Ubisoft open-world game. More recently, this comes hand in hand with a new shop meant to wring extra cash from consumers. Many will ignore it, others will not but it’s there, waiting for whoever it might snatch in its jaws.
Breakpoint’s gameplay is weighed down by extraneous systems, and the narrative similarly stumbles as it tries to juggle too many ideas. It’s not a bad story, but it’s more fraught than the writing seems capable of handling. Breakpoint’s creators want to tell a story about the dangers of technology and the terrifying nature of unmanned drones but can never point the finger adequately. This is a game where rogue agents get their hands on deadly and impersonal weapons, where the player often needs to hide from overhead drones lest they call in destruction. These weapons, Breakpoint shows, are something to fear. They are a power that can easily be subverted for evil. And yet, the player has access to a personal drone that can mark and instantly destroy targets and somehow nothing bad comes of that. Much of the story is focused on rescuing scientists so that they can mope about their creations while also working to subvert them and, ultimately, get them back into the right hands.
The game has no time for the idea that these weapons, at least in their basic forms, are a part of warfare today and that regardless of who has them they enact untold death upon not just enemies but civilians as well. Instead, it presents its weapons merely as tools. Science can get overly ambitious, yes. As Breakpoint protagonist Nomad says: “progress isn’t a zero-sum game.”But in this particular case, what matters more is the user and not the weapon itself. Walker is a rogue agent, a mad outlier seizing innovative technology. The player is the loyal soldier, the good American, who will save the day. We don’t want drones to fall into the enemy’s hands. Better to keep them in our hands, where at least they will sometimes blow up the people we are aiming at. Let me just deploy my drone and tag the enemies for execution. Thank goodness I upgraded my own tech enough; it would be horrible if anyone else had this power. This disconnect is frustrating because Breakpoint’s gameplay manages to imbue these weapons with gravitas. They are terrifying to behold and it is always horrible to feel the cold gaze of a recon drone hone on your position.
Gameplay systems speak, and their absence also speaks. That I benefit from the tools that I wish to rob my enemies of becomes a judgement on them and not on the tools. What do my enemies lack? Not weapons but discipline, loyalty, and the things that make a “good” soldier. More clearly: what is Ghost Recon saying? Well, nominally that the status quo is fine and that there’s “good” and “bad” applications of technological violence.
The story also falters in other areas. While Bernthal is a deeply watchable actor and Walker chews up every scene he’s in, he’s also a disposable villain. He needs to be, if you’re able to hunt him down whenever you want. As a result, while there are flashbacks that show off the player’s history with Walker and try to bring a more personal side to the story, it falls flat. Walker’s motivations are vague, his speeches empty, and whatever dangerous bite he is introduced with diminishes over the course of the campaign. Breakpoint’s effort to create a compelling villain are commendable—I certainly paid attention when Walker was on screen—but its loose structure ultimately undermines the narrative. I was told that Walker was a “revolutionary” who “has a reason for being here,” but there’s little time devoted to those motives. It’s clear that Walker feels shackled by government bureaucracy. “We’ve chosen to become the warriors we were meant to be,” Walker says. What that means isn’t apparent until his last moments.
There are smaller narrative annoyances, too. Side characters lack Bernthal’s raw charisma, their individual quest arcs rarely coming to a compelling endpoint. There are times where I get a sense of who these characters are, and times when I came to really like them. The ousted corporate CEO Jace Skell seems disconnected until we learn he’s been funding research into a cure for someone’s cancer. Fiery revolution Haruhi Ito struggles with her methods after a bomb’s collateral damage kills innocents. In other cases, it’s a jumble. Who is this AI specialist and why is she suddenly working with one of my scientist compatriots? Do I really care if one of my fellow Ghosts betrays me if we only had one scene prior to his heel-turn? It’s easy to lose track of the plot.
There’s lip service paid to high concept ideas including the bias of computer algorithms and anxieties about transhumanism, but these are deployed more often as buzzwords than ideas to explore. It doesn’t help that Breakpoint often confuses what these things mean. (Take a drink every time they’re actually talking about posthumanism instead of transhumanism. Take another when the term is used as a boogeyman without context.) Breakpoint’s creators want the game to be taken seriously, but doesn’t want to do its homework.
The more I played Breakpoint, the more frustrated I became. Breakpoint, for its momentary victories, it often feels superfluous and bland. Its tacked on loot rarity system is neither interesting nor robust enough to warrant inclusion. The story claws at ideas without grasping anything, even if it hits individual beats from time to time. Ubisoft’s structure of annualized releases, of constant open worlds and content, robs Breakpoint of any staying power. Did I not just play another military loot-shooter when The Division 2 released in March earlier this year? Won’t I just sneak around more guards and evade more drones when Watch Dogs Legion releases next year? Wasn’t I silently taking out bases in Far Cry New Dawn in February? The answer is yes, but here I am slogging through a massive open world to find bursts of enjoyment in a game that’s in over its head.
I knew what I was in for and managed my expectations. Booting up Breakpoint, it was cliche and generic but I didn’t dislike it at first. For the first few hours, it was harmless enough until I eventually resented it. I resented the idea of playing 20 to 30 hours of this bland sludge. I resented its dull military hooting and hollering. I groaned at another cosmetic packed store, another fresh way for someone to lose twenty bucks. It started slow, far too slow. I didn’t care about Walker and I barely do now. I was supposed to trudge through his huge map, another world built by committee, until I faced off with this crew cut clown? Fuck that. I wanted no part of it. It was only after nearly 10 hours of playtime that things started to fall into place. As Breakpoint allowed me to wander from mission to mission and expanded my sneaking tools, things started to fall into place. Removed from the tacked on loot system and vapid skill trees, I found bright flashes of chewy stealth action. Damn, they were good.
Finding those moments doesn’t absolve Breakpoint of its many missteps. It’s not a redeeming enough fact to wash away the AAA triteness. Breakpoint is a game that feels meant to satisfy a company’s coverage of Q3 profits, a game with systems so blatant and unnecessary that they literally mean nothing within the game itself. Gear score is an arbitrary value. You can’t even call it a carrot on a stick. It’s all stick. There’s no point. It’s there because that’s what big games do now. There’s a giant piece of raid content because you gotta have a big endgame for your years-running service games. Microtransactions are slapped on, with useless cosmetics and (initially) sneaky ways to power up your character because a one-time purchase is never enough these days. Bases, side-quest, daily reputation grinds, guns, guns, and more guns. Breakpoint embodies the corporate philosophies that I’ve come to loathe and which many players are rightfully sick of.
I have gone from ambivalence to anger to quiet acceptance with Breakpoint. There is so much that frustrates me, so much that drags down the experience into a muddled and forgettable thing. But every now and then I’ll dive into a snow filled ditch, covering myself in dirt as enemies walk within feet of me or hit a shot from 400 meters out and everything feels right. It’s a damn shame that Breakpoint seems religiously devoted to slapping together mismatched bit of modern game design into a mediocre patchwork. For all the clumsiness, there’s something here but it’s been watered down.
I’m here to talk about something odd I discovered in the recently released Ghost Recon Breakpoint. For some reason, players have access to not one, not two, not four, but five different tattoos featuring a Bald eagle and American imagery.
The new Ghost Recon game launched earlier this week. I jumped into the game and messed around with it for a few hours. It seems fine. If you want more in-depth impressions, read Heather’s great write-up of the game. But I’m here instead to rank each of these eagle tattoos.
I will ask two important questions about each eagle design, which will determine their rating and ranking: How big is the eagle? And how cool looking is the eagle?
Simple enough. So let’s get to ranking!
5 – Soaring Eagle
Size: 3/5 | Coolness: 3/5
At the bottom of the list is The Soaring Eagle. It’s hard to even tell that it is, in fact, a Bald eagle. I mean, that could be a vulture from far away. The pose is also not very exciting. In a game filled with eagle tattoos, this is the runt. The one nobody wants or buys.
4 – The American Eagle
Size: 5/5 | Coolness: 2/5
If this was a list where I ranked each tattoo according to their name, this would be at the bottom of the pile. That isn’t a clever name or anything. It just is what it is. However, the size is very good. That is a large eagle and it is clearly a Bald eagle. But that pose is terrible. It looks like the eagle just heard a joke and is way overselling how funny the joke is because his boss said it.
3 – The Bold Eagle
Size: 5/5 | Coolness: 3/5
That is a big and, dare I say, bold, eagle. A great name for a fairly good eagle tattoo. The pose isn’t very interesting, but at least it doesn’t look too weird. He is staring a bit too intently for my liking, though. If I was in a squad with this dude and he had this tattoo I would ask him to wear long-sleeve shirts, so I wouldn’t constantly feel intimated by that bird.
2 – The Freedom Eagle
Size: 4/5 | Coolness: 5/5
This may not be the biggest eagle, but that’s okay. It’s big enough and has a really exciting pose. Look at it! It is diving and attacking something. Maybe a snake? Hopefully a snake. Those things will sneak into your house.
1 – Swooping Eagle
Size: 5/5 | Coolness: 4/5
This is the biggest eagle on the list. Honestly, it might be one of the biggest eagle tattoos featured in a video game. I haven’t done enough research on that, so I could be wrong. But I feel confident in saying that there can’t be much bigger than this swooping eagle.
This ended up tying with the Freedom Eagle, both receiving 9 eagle points out of a possible 10. So I decided to use the number of stars as the tiebreaker. This was no contest. Swooping Eagle has six stars and the poor Freedom Eagle has none. What a shame.
If after seeing these eagle tattoos you feel inclined to buy some, you can buy a pack of them for 600 Ghost Coins, which translates into $5 in the real world. You don’t get all of them, only three of the five. But they are bigger eagles of the collection, including my number one ranked Swooping Eagle.
Are these tattoos worth $5? I don’t think so, but I’m more into pelicans anyways, so what do I know? I hope the next Ghost Recon game has a bunch of pelican tattoos.
Assassin’s Creed games have gotten better and better at establishing a sense of place and filling that place with tons of satisfying, stealthy missions. After a few hours with Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo is still mostly just thinking about how much he likes Assassin’s Creed. On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, we talk about his initial impressions of Ubisoft’s latest, as well as the other stealth-focused open world games that he loves.
First up, Kirk and I discuss the games we’re playing. I’m still on Fire Emblem: Three Houses but also tried two new tabletop games: Escape from Aliens in Outer Space and Sheriff of Nottingham. Kirk’s tabletop group is still playing Betrayal Legacy, and Kirk is also playing the new Hitman level and Destiny 2: Shadowkeep. After a break (28:32), we bring on Stephen to talk about Ghost Recon Breakpoint, open world games, and how much we all love sidequests. We close with off-topic discussion (1:08:15) about Elementary, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Kirk’s music pick.
Stephen: One of the interesting things about this game—and this is going to be a theme, Ubisoft doing the same thing in multiple games, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. In this case, what I think is cool, is when they tease their next game in the previous game. There was a surprise update to Ghost Recon Wildlands, the one set in Bolivia that came out in 2017, earlier this year. Suddenly they’re like, “There’s this other Ghost,” which is what the special agents in the Ghost Recon universe are called, and it’s the Jon Bernthal character, whose name is escaping me right now, unfortunately. He shows up and he has a mission for you, and you do a few things. They didn’t say it flat-out at the moment, but within a couple days, they revealed that this was actually a tease for Breakpoint.
They’ve been doing that now, where Ubisoft games will get this last-minute DLC or something. Division 1 did it for Division 2. I was speculating earlier this week on Kotaku that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey hasn’t really had its final update and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they start teasing the next one of those.
So anyway, his group of Ghosts have overtaken the island. So, as opposed to the previous game where you go in with three AI buddies and you guys are all going through, doing the stealth shooting tactical stuff—it can be co-op if you prefer, instead of AI—you are solo in this one. I mean, you can co-op, but there’s no other human characters by default. It’s just you and your drone. More survival aspects. You can get tired, you have to drink water. You can bivouac, you can set it afire. And if you eat, you have a little bit of extra stat boost, I forget which type, the next time you go back into action. But if you read a book, a little handbook that you have, you can get more XP.
Maddy: You become emotionally fulfilled, and then going back into action isn’t as daunting.
Kirk: You engage your imagination!
Stephen: With literature that you’re reading? No, it’s tactical notes. It’s the Clancy-verse, that’s what you’d be reading about.
Kirk: “How To Skin A Snake, And Eat It.”
Stephen: Exactly. But basically, you’ve got big skill trees, like you had in the previous game. They’ve gone more heavy on the loot and the collecting, which can suspiciously be monetized. Weapon blueprints, all kinds of scored statistic-based armors that you can get, all of which you’re constantly collecting and harvesting or whatever and can then get from an in-game shop. Some of the stuff you can buy optionally from the microtransactions shop instead. Although, I don’t feel like you need to do any of that. It always has that question, though, of have they built in some of the grind?
It’s open in terms of what you do. You can go after the main dude right away. Heather Alexandra’s gonna review the game for us and she’s trying to do that. She’s trying to do that Ganon in Breath of the Wild-style, go in your underwear and try to take him down with a stick. But she ran into a tank, so it’s not working out so well.
Otherwise, you can try to take down these various Ghosts that have gone rogue, who are on the island, or you can try to do other quests that are on the island. It seems like it could be interesting. It’s a huge, vast world, I just haven’t explored enough of it. Like Wildlands, the main character is this blank slate. The writing is pretty wooden so far. The whole thing is surprisingly austere. You have some Ubisoft games that have a lot of personality to them, more like the Far Cry games, some of the Assassin’s Creeds or the Rayman games.
Kirk: Watch Dogs.
Stephen: But then you have these games that are much more stripped down, like Steep, which was pretty antiseptic. I would say Wildlands to an extent was like that, and I’m getting some of that from Breakpoint too.
Kirk: Didn’t Steep have the mountain that started talking to you sometimes? It was like this one weird flash of color in an otherwise very beige game.
I have a couple of questions. First of all, John Bernthal’s name is Colonel Cole D. Walker.
Stephen: Oh yeah! Cole Walker! I just needed to think of some generic words. Cole Walker, that makes sense.
Kirk: Someone should just make a huge list of all the “action man” names that have ever existed. There are so many, and they’re all very good. So, questions that I have. First of all, how’s the gameplay? What is it like, in general, to go to an outpost of dudes and shoot the dudes?
Stephen: It’s great, Kirk. [laughs] What a weird question. What is it like to go to a base and shoot the dudes?
Kirk: Love shootin’ the dudes. I mean, that’s what you do in the game, right?
Maddy: How does it feel? How’s the gunplay? Feel good? Feel powerful?
Kirk: Snuffing a man’s life out? Watching him die?
Maddy: [laughs] That is the game, though, right?
Stephen: As both of you know—listeners may not know—I play games in a strange way. One of the things I do is I spend too much time in menus trying to understand systems instead of just diving right into the gameplay.
Maddy: You haven’t actually shot anyone in the entire game yet.
Kirk: “I have a really good understanding of the microtransaction store, but haven’t really shot too many people—”
Stephen: They’ve thrown this very weird version of a battle pass into it. I’ve been interested in some of the quest structure and stuff like that. What I found is that I can’t play it the way I played the previous game, which was the way I try to manage Kotaku, and the way that I most like playing an Assassin’s Creed game.
Kirk: Shoot people from a distance?
Stephen: Point and have other people do the awesome stuff.
Maddy: While you’re doing sidequests that may or may not be relevant? Or is that too real?
Stephen: [laughs] Right. My favorite moment in any Assassin’s Creed game is in Brotherhood or whatever, where you have that posse of assassins and you’re just walking down the street all suave as Ezio. Then you just press that button to whistle and then suddenly your assassin brother or minions, whatever, jump off of a rooftop or out of a haystack and stab a person to death. And you just keep walking down the street without breaking a stride.
They’ve taken that away from Assassin’s Creed games, but what I liked in Wildlands is that you could, with either your character’s sights with the gun or with the drone that you can fly into the air at any moment, you could tag up to three targets, and then you could either pull the trigger while shooting one enemy and then your three buddies would automatically shoot the other three targets. Or, you could not fire a shot at all, you just press the button and the three targets you tag would all be killed by your three buddies. You could do this in a super-stealthy way where you were never exposing yourself to danger, other than to just surveil, spot, and then say, “Okay, tag them, take them out.” For me, that was the best way to remain stealthy in that game, and I enjoyed playing it that way. Then I would take things on myself if the action got too hairy, or whatever.
In this case… you don’t have the AI buddies yet, they’re coming as I think free DLC. You instead are relying on your drone to fly around and zap each person that you tag. They’ve made it an item, an expendable item, so you only get three sync shots and you have to collect more. So it’s forcing me to do more direct engagement, actually sneaking up on enemies. I would actually say they’re correcting for the way that I was playing. Sometimes you can object to that—“The developers should go the way the players go”—but I feel like it’s good and healthy that I’m being incentivized to use my stealth skills.
For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.
Highlight Reel is Kotaku’s regular roundup of great plays, stunts, records and other great moments from around the gaming world. If you record an amazing feat while playing a game (here’s how to record a clip), send it to us with a message confirming that the clip is yours at email@example.com. Or, if you see a great clip around that isn’t yours, encourage that person to send it in!
I’ll be blunt: Playing Ghost Recon Breakpoint has been a drag. My initial ambivalence has given way to outright frustration as I trudge through generic military gameplay and the tangled web of pointless microtransactions. But Breakpoint has a twist that also offers a unique challenge. If you want, you can search and find the location of the enemy commander and try to take him out right from the start. It’s a seriously hard task, but the idea of skipping the gear grind and defeating the big bad certainly is appealing.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint starts by leaving the player stranded behind enemy lines, hunted by their former comrade in arms Cole Walker. Walker is a gruff, world-weary villain portrayed by The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal. He pops up throughout the story to hound the player and deliver simmering monologues. The goal, such as it seems, it to create an honest-to-God villain. 2017’s Ghost Recon Wildlands was lacking in that department. Walker provides a rival that players can eventually face off against, a fallen ally whose history with the protagonist ties into the main conflict. Normally, you’d play through the story and earn loot and get stronger along the way so that you’re ready to fight Walker on equal terms. However, if you want, it’s possible to interrogate enemy commanders until you locate Walker’s base. At any time, players can rush to his location and try to take on the big bad boss. It’s similar to how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows players to rush immediately to Ganon. Breakpoint suggests that the player has a gear score of 150 or higher before doing this, but I decided to ignore that advice and give it a try.
My first attempt was pretty stealthy until literally everyone noticed me.
Locating Walker isn’t particularly hard. I snuck into an enemy base, taking out soldiers until I reached their commander. Commanders can be interrogated to learn more about the game world. Sometimes, that means the location of a gun blueprint or nearby camps to rest at. I had selected the quest to locate Walker from my objective list, however, and that gave me the opportunity to ask where to find him. All it took was sneaking behind a few baddies and holding them a gunpoint to learn that, shockingly, Walker was the large base on the map I thought he’d be in. My gosh, who would have guessed it?
Sneaking into the base was easy enough. Breakpoint is not a challenging game. In fact, it’s often dead easy. Even when entering hostile territory with max level enemies, everyone can be taken out with a quick shot to the head. In some ways, that’s a good thing; it pushes back against the loot-shooter aspects of the game and avoids spongey enemies like what you’d find in The Division or Destiny. Unfortunately, it also erodes much of the challenge. All your weapons can be silenced, and you can simply jump from cover to cover sniping the most “difficult” enemies. My initial entry into Walker’s base was pretty simple, as I crawled through the moonlight and darted from building to building. I was eventually spotted after enemies heard my gunshots. The higher an enemy is in comparison to you, the more perceptive they are. I had ventured a little too close and drawn attention. Guards swarmed and I was swiftly dealt with. But even with that mistake, I felt confident I could find Walker and kick his ass.
That was complicated on my later attempts. It is not hard to find Walker in his base; he is inside the largest building. Another shocker. What makes things difficult is the fact that the doors are locked until you defeat a max-level tank drone. It can blast you into pieces in a second, alerting everyone in the base to your presence. I was able to chip away at its health by firing armor-piercing bullets at its glowing weak point, but this thing is nearly 100 levels of toughness above me. Taking it out was a lengthy proposition, one made harder by the dozen of high-level thugs that swarmed my position every time I engaged. Maybe there’s a scenario where I slink through the base and take out everyone first. Maybe I could come with a team of fellow players and manage to succeed. For now, I’m done. Breakpoint hasn’t made it too difficult to get better loot, and while you can get higher-rarity gear in Walker’s base, you can never get loot that’s much stronger than your current gear score. With a bit of luck and some prep work, I’ll get this one.
Breakpoint has a unique structure, and it’s neat that I can try to face one of the most difficult fights whenever I want, but that’s been a small balm on a game that’s gradually losing me. Moments like this point to a more interesting game, one with a unique structure and tons of freedom. It might be cool to blow up a high-level tank and prove my badassery, but so long as I’m trudging through a giant world map to take out yet another base, this is more of a fun quirk than a game-redeeming feature.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is in early access before its full launch on Friday. It offers a somewhat generic but capable military shooter to hardcore fans. Looming over everything has been the specter of microtransactions. The game offers lots of them. So far, we’ve seen that you can easily ignore them.
First thing first: none of Breakpoint’s microtransactions are required for a comfortable experience. They suck, but they can be avoided. Many options are cosmetic, and while there are options that can help you get quality gear, it’s pretty easy to loot new weapons and rewards. That core loop—sneaking around to pilfer supplies and new blueprints—is a big part of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. You’re trapped on the fictional island of Auroa, hunted by a villainous former comrade portrayed by Punisher actor Jon Bernthal. Breakpoint is about scrounging what you can and adapting to your situation. Hunting down new gear can take some time, but there’s not really a need to speed it up with in-game purchases. That’s a scam, and one best avoided. On the off chance that you really do want a fancy sniper rifle or can’t wait to snag stylish armor, you can. You’ll just need to toss down a few bucks.
Breakpoint has two currencies. The first are Skell credits. These are the basic unit of currency in the game, gained through looting fallen enemies and completing missions. Skell credits are spent at a shop back at your home base, where you can purchase a few things. There’s a random collection of weapons to buy, all of which tend to be of a slightly higher gear score than what you currently have. You can also buy modifications for your weapons or a small range of cosmetic items like sunglasses, flak vests, and other attire. If you have found weapon blueprints by exploring parts of the game world, you can buy the weapon as well. Skell credits are extremely easy to come buy, especially if you sell off excess gear. However, you can purchase them and use them in the basic shop. For example, you can buy 8,000 credits for 1200 Ghost Coins, the premium currency, which you buy with real money. That many Ghost Coins can be obtained for about $10.
Buying Skell credits is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. The first is that you can acquire them easily. Items in the shop aren’t too expensive and unless you’re on a spending spree, you’ll always have the credits you need to buy knick knacks. But there’s also little reason to do that. Enemies often drop gear, you can scavenge from hostile encampments and bases, and the gear you do find in the field tends to be better than what you can buy. Let’s be blunt: if you’re buying Skell credits, you’re a chump. Don’t waste your real money.
Beyond Skell credits, you can also purchase the aforementioned Ghost Coins. These are the more premium of the currency and they can be used to buy some more drastic upgrades. Ghost Coins can be used to purchase many of the things previously mentioned: cosmetic items, weapon modifications. But they’re also used to buy weapon blueprints, unique cosmetics, and crafting material to upgrade weapons. Out of all of those, it’s the blueprints that offer the most advantage. In order to craft new weapons, Breakpoint requires players find the corresponding blueprint. Locating weapon blueprints usually involves scanning intelligence found in enemy bases or interrogating soldiers. From there, you’re given the location of the blueprint and need to infiltrate whatever hideout or base the item is secured in. Combined with travel time, this means that finding blueprints can take a while. And because the intelligence can point to many different possible weapons, it might not even be a weapon you like. Ghost Coins bypass this, giving immediate access to whatever weapon you want. If you buy bundles containing multiple blueprints, you are even give the credits required to purchase them in the normal item store. It doesn’t necessarily give an automatic advantage, either in single player or PVP, but it can give access to more accurate and reliable weapons early on. You can also purchase weapon modifications and upgrade parts, meaning that you can buy a gun and literally all of the remaining attachments.
Before launch, a Redditor broke down some of these microtransactions, listing one additional option: the ability to buy skill points. It understandably caused a stir. Skipping a portion of the grind? Having a stronger character in exchange for cash? Skill points unlock passive bonuses like increase weapon range, as well as active abilities like different drones. Having the ability to instantly unlock skill tree perks would drastically upend the game even if many of these upgrades don’t care over into multiplayer. (Picture Star Wars Battlefront II without the additional sleaze of random loot box drops. Not great!) In some ways, the ability to purchase skill points could be similar to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s experience point booster, which similarly stirred controversy, but as of today they cannot be found in the store. We’ve reached out to Ubisoft for details and clarification, but haven’t heard back yet.
Breakpoint’s microtransactions have rightfully concerned some players. The good news is that the most disruptive purchases have been removed from the store, though it’s troubling they were there at all. We’ve asked Ubisoft if their removal is permanent or not. If they come back, the game will inevitably feel to some as if it’s pushing them to buy upgrades to forgo a grind. The bad news is that there’s still a lot of other options to buy, including weapon unlocks.
The microtransactions are easy enough to avoid but there’s a lot of them. That might not be a problem for many players, but it’s a damning factor for others. My advice? You don’t need to buy anything and shouldn’t. That’s what grubby executives are counting on. Playing Breakpoint normally will still give you access to plenty of loot, outfits, and having blueprints to find offers a great excuse to wander the game world. Grab some friends, scout some bases, and keep away from the store for the best possible experience.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is here, or is it hiding in that bush over there? Whatever the case, Ubisoft’s latest addition to the Tom Clancy video game canon is here with plenty of loot to find and bases to assault. Breakpoint brings a lot of improvements over 2017’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. Cool character creation, tons of weapon customization, an actual villain. But it’s also rough in other areas, less of a delicious action milkshake and more like a gritty military sludge.
I’ve played around five hours of Breakpoint today, waking up and diving right into the action. On the one hand, it’s a surprisingly chewable and chill action game. On the other, I feel like I’ve been here before. Breakpoint isn’t a game out to shatter the mold; instead, it wants to slide comfortably into it. That’s great if you’re looking for some tactical action but if you’ve played a military shooter before, then you’ve basically played Breakpoint. No amount of user-interface overhauls or big name actors can change that. I’m in for a long haul but here are some initial thoughts.
Maybe We Won’t Start A Diplomatic Incident This Time?
Okay, the bar is admittedly low here but 2017’s Ghost Recon Wildlands had some serious problems with its setting and villains. Set in Bolivia, it focused on a Mexican cartel that somehow took over the country and transformed it into a narco-state. It was sleazy and racist, with caricature Mexican gangsters traipsing about a Bolivia that wasn’t much like Bolivia at all. It was so bad that the country of Bolivia filed a complaint to the French embassy (publisher Ubisoft being a French company, of course) and considered legal action.
Breakpoint opts for a fictional setting: the island of Auroa, which has been taken over by former “Ghost” operative Cole Walker (portrayed by Jon Bernthal.) It’s a sort of tech-libertarian paradise where a company working on automation and drone technology was eventually seized by Walker and his cohorts. It’s generic, but I’ll certainly take that over the shitshow that was Wildlands. And hey, it’s nice to have an honest to God villain this time around.
Ghost Recon Has Been Taking Notes From Destiny and The Division
While not a full-blown loot shooter, Ghost ReconBreakpoint leans further into that direction than its predecessor. There are a variety of weapon rarity levels, and you have an overall gear score based on the quality of your equipment. Taking on Walker has a recommended gear score of 150 or higher, and much of your time is spent not only on story missions but slowly upgrading your character’s power. This is a bit different from Wildlands, which was far more focused on letting you choose the weapons you like and going from there. Don’t expect to get too attached to your gear in Breakpoint. I was upgrading, swapping out, selling, and disassembling tons of weapons and armor right from the beginning of the game.
Normal Mode Is Pretty Easy
If you’ve played plenty of shooters, don’t expect Breakpoint’s normal difficulty to offer much of a challenge. While there are tougher enemies—Walker leads a platoon of spec ops “Wolves” who love to hunt down the player—it’s nothing you can’t handle with a marksman’s rifle and some well-placed shots. All your weapons can be suppressed, and Breakpoint hands you a precision rifle in the first mission. If you can aim and click your mouse, the early game (and presumably much of what’s to follow) will seem straightforward.
The Structure Is Different
Wildlands built itself around a core loop where players would do a few odd jobs to gain access to a high profile cartel lieutenant who they’d confront to gain more intel on their leader, El Sueño. It was a little bit like Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction. Very loose, not tons of story. Here are some bad guys, go take them out. Breakpoint splits activities into different paths: a main story path, missions for Auroa’s various factions, side quests, other events like high level raids. This means that you can focus directly on the main story if you want. There’s less screwing about and trying to unlock new missions. It gives Breakpoint a welcome momentum that Wildlands didn’t have.
I Might Be Able To Fight The Final Boss Right Away?
You can immediately tag a mission to confront Walker right from the start of the game. The main tasks are to interrogate enemy officers for intel on his location and to, if you can, level up your gear to the appropriate level. I’m not entirely clear on how this all works, and it’s possible that officers don’t show up until certain story beats. However, the idea of a playthrough that ignores all the intrigue for a mad dash at the villain is really exciting. Chances are that it doesn’t work that way, but I would love for it to be possible.
All Games Should Let You “Pin” Objectives
To help players manage their various tasks, Breakpoint allows them to pin up to three objectives to their interface. For me, this has meant a pin for my main story task, a pin for one side mission, and final pin marking the location of a nearby weapon blueprint. It’s as simple as going into your pause menu, hovering over a mission, and tapping spacebar. Super useful, easy to reference whenever you want, and great for tracking Breakpoints’ numerous distractions.
You Don’t Need To Wear Ugly Gear
Breakpoint’s focus on swapping out gear means winding up with some mismatched looks. If you find yourself walking around with half a ghillie suit and a crummy flop hat, you can hop into the menu to change your appearance at any time. You’re still mostly limited to tacticool gear, but if you don’t like a particular pair of pants all you need to do is select a new look. If you have better looking gear, simply transform the higher quality stuff into something easier on the eyes.
There’s An Exploration Mode
Lifting a page from Assassins Creed Origins and Odyssey, Breakpoint has a guided mode and exploration mode. The first places a marker on your map leading directly to your objective, the other asks you to decipher clues and peruse the map to find where to go next. It’s a neat touch for customizing your gameplay experience, even though I think it’s better to play guided in this case. Breakpoint’s map isn’t always easy to traverse; knowing exactly where to go speeds up an otherwise slow process.
Something’s Up With The Graphics For Me
I’m playing Breakpoint on PC and while everything runs smoothly, there’s some strange stuff going on with the graphics. It’s hard to explain but there’s either some depth of field stuff going on or a filter applied to things out of focus. Whatever the case, it’s given backgrounds a pixelated look that’s honestly distracting me. It’s not affecting my aim and I can soldier on without many problems, but I’m hoping that a few tweaks in the options will get rid of whatever the hell is going on.
This Could Take A While
Five hours or so isn’t a lot of time with a big AAA video game these days, but I’ve been focusing on the main story quest and was dismayed to see that the statistics screen said I’ve experienced 0% of the overall story so far. Maybe it’s a bug or a factor tied to the fact I’m playing a Ubisoft-provided review code before the game is supposed to be available in my region. Or maybe Breakpoint is that huge. I’d be more excited if the story wasn’t a standard behind-enemy-lines tale. Breakpoint s okay so far, but the prospect of untold hours of scowling soldiers and moody Jon Bernthal one-liners is daunting. All in a day’s work, I guess.
Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, the follow-up to 2017’s popular and controversial Ghost Recon: Wildlands, kicked off its closed beta weekend yesterday, letting players who pre-ordered the game take on two early story missions and a host of side missions that ostensibly will give players a clearer picture of what to expect when the game launches October 4. Almost immediately, players have been polarized over what’s arguably the game’s most prominent new features: its new gear system.
In a shift from Wildlands—which itself was an open-world reinvention of the more level-based Ghost Recon franchise—Breakpoint now has weapons and gear with levels, much like your character. The average level of all your gear contributes to an overall gear level, which gives you a rough idea of what kind of challenges you can take on. According to Ubisoft, the forthcoming raid mission is the only game content that will be locked behind a gear level limit, and enemies do not have a visible level attached—just a skull noting that their gear level is significantly higher than yours, and you’d better prepare for a tougher fight than usual.
SomeGhost Reconplayers consider this antithetical to the franchise ethos, which is predicated on realistic, tactical play. “One shot, one kill” is what, they say, people look to Ghost Recon for. Their argument is that It’s not supposed to matter what level your weapon is at or what kind of perks their character class has—if your character sends a bullet to another one’s head, that’s all it should take. From a messaging standpoint, Ubisoft seems to agree.
In a lengthy Q&A published the same day the beta went live, Ubisoft laid out its rationale for the RPG-style gear system, noting that it’s not meant to detract from the series’ brand of tactical shooting. For human foes, higher levels just mean they’ll spot you faster and be a little bit more lethal, taking an unspecified but slightly higher number of body shots before they go down.
“Whatever the human enemy level, you will always be able to eliminate them with a single headshot, as long as they are not wearing a helmet,” the post reads, “in which case you just need to land a shot once to remove it, and then a second time to take them down.”
The operative word there is human. Breakpoint is set on a tech magnate’s private island, and taking on a variety of autonomous drones is a big part of what goes on. It’s also Breakpoint’s out for having missions and areas that do scale based on gear level, although Ubisoft states that lower-level squads should still be able to take them on as long as they’re ready for a challenge. To which…sure. You can also technically beat Dark Souls naked with a single club, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Ubisoft’s argument for implementing this system stems from user data that indicated most Wildlands players found a weapon they liked and stuck with it for almost the entire game. This new system, the company says, encourages players to swap out weapons regularly and see more of what the game has to offer. It’s nice on paper, but if Ghost Recon is the skill-based shooter that Ubisoft says it is, and the tactical fantasy players seem to want from it, then players sticking with a gun they’re good at using seems a little bit like a problem that doesn’t need solving.
Similarly, classes feel like an addition made for the sake of having another thing to add in post-release content, the way Operators are added to Rainbow Six Siege or Specializations in The Division 2. It’s not that they aren’t fun—I like having the option of being a medic or a heavy weapons expert, but that’s also because I’ve acclimated class systems after years of playing shooters with them. If I think hard about it, there’s nothing particularly Ghost Recon about how they’re implemented here.
Despite these substantial changes, Breakpoint still feels tremendously satisfying to play. The trouble is that with its new class and gear systems, Breakpoint moves into fashionable areas of big-budget video games that aren’t entirely simpatico with Ghost Recon’s hardcore style. Figuring out how well developer intent meshes with player feedback is one of the purposes of beta tests like this—and it’s almost certain that players will figure out how well this early version of Breakpoint aligns with what Ubisoft says the game is meant to be.
Here’s one thing I’m certain of: Breakpoint’s new gear makes Ghost Recon a much more compulsive game, appealing to the big dummy in me who loves seeing numbers go up. I don’t have a problem with that, but there are also dozens of places where I can get that feeling any given week. Ghost Recon should feel different, right?
E3 2019It’s time for the biggest gaming show of the year. We’ve got articles, videos, podcasts and maybe even a GIF or two.
Tim Rogers checked out the Ubisoft booth at E3, and shenanigans ensued. Watch the video for a look at Watch Dogs: Legion, a very intense staring contest,and the one question that has surely been on everyone’s minds: What, exactly, is a Ghost Recon Breakpoint?