Once upon a time, there was a Ghost Recon gamer who loved to be sneaky.
With tactics, teammates and guile he would carry out complex, dangerous missions where the fate of the world was at stake.
He… was a Ghost.
But something changed. There seemed to no longer be a need for true Ghosts. 2019 has made this gamer become a new beast, and not something that makes bad guys scared of the dark. He has now morphed into a soft, spongy creature called a ‘Cash Cow’, and his only mission these days is to gobble up shiny trinkets and loot crates.
Sure, I will admit the hyperbole is laid on a bit thick. But I suspect like me, many Ghost Recon fans, can’t help but feel forgotten. As Ghost Recon has lost its way. Looking at the current Meta-critic score for Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, it certainly seems a fall from grace has occurred.
To be clear, this isn’t going to be our Review, as I think at this point any discerning gamer has enough information available to make an educated purchasing decision. What I intend to do is give some brief thoughts on how I approached my first few hours in Breakpoint. Then in a few months come back and revisit the title, to see if the developer has come to their senses and made some improvements.
Once a Ghost, always a Ghost
I am a huge Ghost Recon fan, ever since first playing it back in 2002 I was hooked on the methodical, tactical, mil-sim shooter. This obsession continued through the generations with the Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighters being the pinnacles of the series. Even the following games like Future Soldier were still strong in their own way.
When I loaded up Breakpoint I was obviously not going into it cold. The online chatter was essentially–An Online only, bastardised loot-grind, cover based shooter, with poor technical performance, hundreds of micro-transactions and….. a squad based shooter, no A.I squad mates?!?
Boots on the ground
From the get go, I set the difficulty to realistic (extreme) and waded in. High bullet damage, minimal HUD: a proper tactical shooter setup. After the brief intro and a helicopter crash landing, my initial impression was…”Um, this looks and feels pretty solid, what the hell is everyone on about?!” I limped my wounded soldier through the first swamp area. Engaged my two first enemies from cover, pop….pop. Tangos down. “Ooo, that was smooth, maybe I am still a Ghost!?” I collected an AR from a downed enemy and pushed on. No mini-map, no HUDs, just an objective marker and enemy voices in the distance to let me know my next fight was coming.
I resolved a few more simple engagements, completing the tutorials as they arose and then my concerns started to form. There were weapon ‘fly outs’, tutorials on loot collection, XP and some season pass stuff. I carried on, taking down some more powerful enemies, but I started to notice recurring bad A.I, poor cover mechanics and little firefight advantage for solid tactical decisions.
Eventually this intro-story led me to a hidden base occupied by locals who needed my help. I’m not sure why they needed ME, as this base was overflowing with other players, running and jumping around like it was a safe zone in The Division or the Tower in Destiny. “What the hell?” Nothing breaks the immersion of a Mil-Sim more than talking to a NPC with 10 other players!
I completed the first real campaign mission and that’s when I got to see the real Breakpoint. A set piece mission with groups of mindless, lazer guided enemies, who rushed at me with clearly ZERO coding in their wee minds relating to ‘Tactics’ (It baffles me why they didn’t steal The Division 2’s A.I).
In my initial 3-4 hours I saw terrible technical performance, bad UI design, bad voice acting and script, a massive open world only there to force miles of traversal and endless in-game hints on how best to get ‘access’ to better gear……it would have made any mobile game designer proud.
What guts me, is the first 30 minutes was sneaky-fun. But Breakpoint quickly revealed itself to be a poor mishmash of almost every action game on the market today. If only Ubisoft had focused on the core tactical element of recon’ing an area, setting up my squad and executing a plan with a display of overwhelming force.
Now, it can still be done if you have the right group of mates, look at the fabulous F.I.S.T guys. But even this is not achieved organically. F.I.S.T have self-imposed gameplay rules AND each other, to create that type of experience. An experience that every Ghost Recon fan used to just get as part of their games.
Ubisoft have had the obligatory ‘Influencers’ drinking the Koolade. But the Publisher has unsurprisingly been very tight lipped about the terrible reception of Breakpoint. They did respond to the uproar over the day-1 purchasable XP Boosters and Skill Points, and the linked artificial grind. What I worry about though, is that the Ghost Recon-ness is missing from the whole design direction.
But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the tunnel. The developers have acknowledged the concerns that this squad based tactical shooter…… has no squad mates for solo players. So they have committed to building A.I companions back into the game. This, and hopefully some tweaks around mission design and enemy A.I could fundamentally improve the title. Maybe?
I’m going to shelve Breakpoint for now, but with the intent to come back later. I want to Review the product after Ubisoft have had the chance to supply some post launch patches, changes and fixes. Alternatively though….Ubisoft may not meaningfully improve upon the game. The reviews out there are just so scathing, the big french Publisher may consider this the ‘Breaking Point’ (wink, wink) for the whole Ghost Recon franchise and leave it to go out with a whimper.