Ghost Recon Breakpoint Review: Ghosts-as-a-Service

By Mark Delaney,
I tend to like everything Ubisoft puts in stores, but my long-held criticism of the developer-publisher has been how their many sprawling games include so much on their world maps, leaving me feeling like I’m shopping for items on my list more than enjoying the game in front of me. After a brilliant opening act, things tend to become compulsory and rote. Some recent games of theirs, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, have transcended that feeling and given me a real sense of accomplishment in their sandboxes. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, on the other hand, is perhaps the best example of the problem: overstuffed with things to do, but lacking anything of real substance. Except in the eyes of a hyper-specific type of player, Breakpoint never rises above decent.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Xbox One Review

After a minor geopolitical dispute – due to Wildlands' perception of Bolivia as a drug-obsessed land run by criminals – Ubisoft brings Ghost Recon to the fictional archipelago of Auroa, where a Venus Project-like automated utopia goes awry after military contractors hijack all the fancy drones and enact a hostile takeover of the region. As Nomad, players will go to inspect the sudden radio silence from Auroa only to crash-land right in the middle of the chaos.

It’s a premise that clearly earns the Tom Clancy seal of approval, but like Wildlands, it tends to be little more than background noise for Breakpoint. Each enemy interaction plays out much like the last game, so if you liked Wildlands there’s no reason to think you won’t also enjoy Breakpoint. You may just feel like the whole project is a mile wide and an inch deep, with few remarkable changes to the formula.

Even among those changes, some decisions have had a negative impact. Removing AI teammates is one of those bad moves — and something the developers have already promised to undo. The original decision was likely to push players into playing together, which is at least well-intentioned — because Breakpoint is much better in co-op. Breakpoint is best played by those who want to soak themselves in its style of combat. Deploying the recon drone while you’re lathered in mud and underbrush on the outskirts of an enemy base is the satisfying way. Sprinting in loudly with guns blazing is functional and reliable, but it will get old long before the story has run its course.

For that reason, Breakpoint will most appeal to the role-players of its community. People who apply every tactic available to them, because in that regard Breakpoint does run deep. With an enormous toolset of guns, gadgets, as well as passive and active abilities, there are moments when Breakpoint feels like it’s the closest we’ve come to a new Splinter Cell since Blacklist. New wrinkles focus on survival elements too, though these are only really crucial on the higher difficulties. Resting at fast travel points gives you buffs like damage resistance and XP bonuses and you’re encouraged by a timer to return regularly in your travels and re-up on new buffs.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Xbox One Review

Resting offers only good things to you and fellow Ghosts, and yet because the game constantly pulls you along its multi-level story missions and its busy mini-map, stopping for these bonuses can feel more like a chore than a need. Another rough change is the geography itself. Auroa still provides the multiple biomes which today feels like an open-world mandate, but there’s a strange sense that there are few actual roads in the game world, making controlling anything but a helicopter a pain because of the bumps and bruises that come with constantly plowing through jungles and over boulders.

The game’s new social hub, Erewhon, does well to visualize just how much content is on offer in Breakpoint. Main missions, side missions, faction missions, raids, Ghost War PVP, and weapon hunts are all given their own corners of the safe space where NPCs leave early breadcrumbs to get you to engage with them. You’ll walk around this space among many other live players and can load out into co-op with any of them, or wait there for your friends to show up. Looter-shooter style gear scores now accompany every piece of clothing and weapon you find, and your score will help you keep track of which areas of Auroa you’re ready for. Plenty of regions on the map are considered high-level. Similar to The Division, it feels like Ubisoft wants you around for the long haul, but Breakpoint doesn't justify that time sink as well as its Tom Clancy brethren.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Xbox One Review

Truly, it feels like there’s more content in Breakpoint at launch than most could realistically finish, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that so much of it is there to boost playtime and keep the game’s merits as a live service experience apparent to anyone only giving it a glance. When you really get into it, the wealth of content feels something like Netflix’s approach; they’ve thrown it all at the wall in the hopes you’ll stick around. But the same model doesn’t quite translate to Breakpoint, which plays more like if Netflix demanded you watch all their shows, the good and the bad.

One good thing Ubisoft did take from Netflix is one of its famous faces. Jon Bernthal (The Punisher, The Walking Dead) plays Cole D. Walker, Nomad’s former squadmate who has since gone rogue and now looms over Auroa with a swift iron fist. It’s a role that suits the talented actor to perfection given his tough exterior and pitch-perfect rugged survivalist delivery. Bernthal does an admirable job with the material and overall the story is much more interesting than its predecessor’s, despite so many goofy ancillary characters.

That’s the crux of Breakpoint’s problems: it’s stuck between two worlds. Ubisoft cut out the helpful AI teammates, brought in a famous actor, and gave players a bunch of new survival tools to make it feel like a gritty, narrative-heavy shooter/RPG-lite. But the gear scores, endless mission markers, and regularly refreshing storefronts all give it the undeniable scent of a game that measures its content in quantity first and foremost. Wildlands was a great reinvention of the series’ formula, but Breakpoint doesn’t advance the series in enough meaningful ways. Maybe it was rushed to production after Wildlands outperformed expectations. Perhaps that’s how you get a game that can feel like it’s got a foot in two different universes all the time. Even as both of those worlds are fun on their own, they tend to clash, leaving players in limbo.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Xbox One Review

The achievement list runs the gamut from story completion to collectibles to one-off milestones like long-distance double headshots to even a few for PVP — none of which should cause too much of a headache for most players. Strangely, a few achievements were updated in the day one patch to have their descriptions changed — Heart of Darkness now has totally different unlock requirements. Given that the game is so massive, I’d estimate perhaps 50-70 hours are needed for a completion.

Summary

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is the reigning poster child for the late-generation live service game. There is more on offer here than most people could ever dream of playing unless you retired from all other games — and maybe your family and your job too. But players should measure their content in quality, not quantity. There’s still a lot of fun to be had in Breakpoint, but you’ll need friends or good co-op partners to see a lot of it. For solo players, the gameplay loop wears out fast and even the awesome Jon Bernthal can’t save the project’s clashing design principles. Breakpoint measures its successes in stats like user engagement, but I still measure mine in memorable moments, and that’s one area this gargantuan game is not servicing.
3 / 5
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately 28 hours in Auroa, flying choppers, tagging bad guys, and eating coconuts. He collected 13 achievements along the way. A review copy was provided by Ubisoft.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.