I recently had the chance to go hands-on with Ghost Recon Breakpoint at a preview event held in San Francisco in August. In case you missed it, I had the chance to interview Creative Director Eric Couzian where we discussed Level Scaling, Gear, Cross-Play, and Microtransactions. You can read that here.
During my time with Breakpoint, I played through solo content, co-op content, and some PvP. My feelings coming out of the event were as mixed as ever, as I remained completely split on whether or not I actually liked what I played. So then, let’s take a look at what I liked and disliked during my time with Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
Unlike Ghost Recon Wildlands which takes place in Bolivia, Ghost Recon Breakpoint takes place on the fictitious landmass dubbed Auroa, which is filled with multiple different biomes from jungles, swamps, to snow swept mountains.
But before I could dive into Auroa proper, I sat down to take look at the hardware were going to use for the event. We played Ghost Recon Breakpoint on PCs at the event. Naturally, I asked about the specs of the PC used for playing, but unfortunately I couldn’t get a definitive answer. While a keyboard and mouse were hooked up, I was told that we could only use gamepads for the event. I suspect the keyboard mouse tuning wasn’t quite finished, so with regret, I picked up the controller.
As a brief aside, I use a controller on my PC at home for virtually type of game...except shooters. I just can’t play shooters with a controller. And so the first 40 minutes or so of my time with Ghost Recon Breakpoint was spent acclimating myself to controller movement and aim. Throughout my entire experience that day, movement and aim felt sluggish, partially due to the use of controller, but more on movement later on.
So let’s talk about the set up. Ghost Recon Breakpoint ran at 1080p on what looked like the Very High preset -- the third highest. AMD’s FidelityFX Sharpening was used in conjunction with Temporal Injection, type of image reconstruction technique used in a few Ubisoft games.
Because of this, the image overall looked soft. Note, it didn’t look bad per se, but this clearly wasn’t the final build. Though do note, I could not get confirmation on the specs. This is simply my best estimation.
Co-Op & Solo
We started out in the character creation screen. The character creator is just fine. It’s nowhere near as robust as I would like given my penchant for playing RPGs, but it’s doable. For example, the character creator of a game like Dragon Age Inquisition is something I’m used to using. However, in non-RPGs, having a far more simplified character creator is somewhat expected. You’re able to adjust your hair, face, gender, scars, and more. The scars in particular look pretty awesome. Here’s my dude who I immediately began referring to as Geoff.
Our first task was to get to Erewhon, a base/hub of sorts. This involved going through a tutorial. Note, I generally don’t pay attention to tutorials. However, because of my complete lack of skill with gamepads in shooters, I paid close attention to the tutorial here. You have a loadout in which you can manage your inventory and swap out attachments for your weapons to customize them further.
As it stands now, the UI in Ghost Recon Breakpoint is horrible. It was here where I really started to wish I could use my keyboard and mouse. The UI is classic Ubisoft — over-designed and messy just like The Division. It features the same cursor-driven UI which was popularized by Destiny and used in other games like AC Origins, AC Odyssey, and No Man’s Sky. It’s becoming quite tiring at this point.
It’s almost paradoxical because the way the UI is designed necessitates a cursor if you’re using a controller…but had it been designed better in the first place, a cursor wouldn’t be required. I’m not sure why a more traditional UI wasn’t designed. A potential solution could be to use traditional tabbed navigation, and collapsable lists for things like missions. Such a UI would be far easier to navigate on a gamepad.
As I played through the tutorial, I grabbed a vehicle for speedier travel. Vehicle handling in Ghost Recon Breakpoint is just as bad as any other Ubisoft game. I simply have zero confidence in the vehicle at any point in time. In this regard, Grand Theft Auto V remains the benchmark for vehicle handling in games like this. For example, the vehicles in GTA V feel more arcadey, and thus more responsive and fun to drive. In other words, they aren’t chasing the realistic physicality Tom Clancy games attempt to emulate. If Ubisoft literally copied the vehicle physics and handling from GTA V for all their games, I wouldn’t complain in the slightest.
I had a chance to look at the map, and it’s quite large. As explained in my interview with Creative Director Eric Couzian, it’s roughly the same size as Bolivia in Ghost Recon Wildlands, but sports a large number of diverse biomes.
Given that the map is entirely of a fictitious place, Ubisoft have the latitude to create whatever they like. In this regard, Auroa features many different biomes posing interesting geographical features. For example, the mountains in the central north don’t have much cover, so you need to reconsider how you attack an enemy structure there when compared to attacking a similar structure in the jungle where cover is abundant.
Eventually, I made my way to Erewhon. This hub is where you can find missions, hang out with friends, and upgrade your gear. If you’re familiar with the hubs in The Division 2, Erewhon in Ghost Recon Breakpoint isn’t too functionally dissimilar. At this point, I’m unsure what to think of the hub. I could easily do without it, but its inclusion isn’t unwelcome.
It’s here I met up with three other journalists to begin co-op. Co-op involves groups up to four players taking part in missions, or just general free roam similar to Ghost Recon Wildlands. Co-op is interesting in its setup. The group leader can activate a mission which is then shared to all other group members
Everyone doesn’t have to run to the start of an objective. You only need one person to trigger it. Mission setup is broken up into guided and unguided. This is similar to AC Odyssey’s Normal vs Exploration mode. Guided mode in Ghost Recon Breakpoint pinpoints mission objectives on your HUD and map. Unguided, like AC Odyssey’s Exploration Mode, gives you an indication to a general area. It’s up to you to look at the POIs on your map and physically find the correct location. But for my taste, I liked Guided mode as it encouraged exploration -- something I always love doing in open world games.
Loot is instanced in co-op, which is obviously great as we didn’t have to fight over gear. Throughout the missions, there are various cutscenes for exposition. You can make choices in these cutscenes, however, these choices are personal for role-play purposes. These choices don’t really affect the mission. It should be noted that in these cutscenes, I didn’t see my group members, unlike GTA Online where everyone in your group is present in cutscenes. I honestly wish these choices mattered in the larger story, but they just don’t.
This is a good time to discuss the voice acting and performances. As a caveat, all the performances in Ghost Recon Breakpoint could be placeholder for this specific event. However, from what I experienced, they’re just not good.
As an example, within minutes of reaching Erewhon, we were asked to go help these civilians on the coast. But the impetus to do so simply wasn’t there. The NPC giving us the mission was just ungrateful that we were there to help and effectively just told just told us to go help. Generic gruff guy Geoff shrugged and off we went. Just...why? As we kept playing, the writing and performances didn’t improve. I felt zero compulsion to help anyone, and instead felt like the story’s sole purpose was to push you towards the next shootout.
While this type of design may be present in other games, I’m someone who actually does care about a good story. I need engaging characters. From my perspective based on this preview, Ghost Recon Breakpoint has neither. This is one of my biggest gripes with Ghost Recon Breakpoint at the moment.
Let’s discuss gunplay. It’s probably indicative that I haven’t mentioned gunplay up until this point due to how forgettable it was in this preview build. Again, I honestly believe a lot of my frustration has to do with the fact that we had to use a controller for a shooter, but I really can’t ignore how heavy and slow it felt.
I could try to compare it to Ghost Recon Wildlands, but that would be disingenuous because I used a keyboard and mouse in Wildlands. And because of that, gunplay in Wildlands actually felt pretty decent. But in Breakpoint with a controller in this preview build, recoil felt exacerbated because of the lack of fine control on a gamepad, and aim down sights simply didn’t feel accurate. Oh how I wish we could have played with a keyboard and mouse…
We ran a few such co-op missions during this period during the preview, and they all generally played out similarly. We traveled to an area, fought baddies, I struggled with the gamepad, and then we traveled back to base to turn them in. In this preview build, the missions felt quite similar to each other and I just didn’t feel invested in the story or characters.
PvP consists of two modes: Death Match, and Sabotage. Death Match is basic elimination, whereas Sabotage is the bomb mode you’re familiar with in most other shooters. Teams take turns arming and defending bombs before the timers run out. Both modes have differing weather and times of day.
We got owned in Death Match. Literally nothing worked. Nothing. We were thoroughly outclassed.
Sabotage is by far the more fun of the two. Different weather and times of day seriously affected our strategy. We opted to have two or three members push, with the fourth (me) staying back and providing overwatch while sniping. This worked so effectively that while we lost every single Death Match game, we won every single Sabotage game.
In PvP, you can ping items and locations simply by looking and hitting the ping button (A by default on the Xbox pad). You can even ping when you’re dead and you’re observing your teammates. It’s a simplified version of the ping system in Apex Legends and honestly, it works great here. We used it to great effect and this is one of the more positive features I enjoyed during the preview.
However, animations and movement really hinder you. Sticky stealth coupled with heavy sluggish movement really present a serious disadvantage in competitive scenarios like PvP. As an example, getting up from prone position takes several seconds. You cannot aim or shoot during this time. Additionally reloading animations take far too long.
Because of the drawn out animations, movement overall feels very sluggish. Momentum is preserved while moving so you don’t stop on a dime. I get that this is “more realistic,” but it’s not responsive like it should be for a video game. With a controller, this weight in movement and lengthy animations genuinely hinder you in a competitive environment.
Additionally, you can keep reviving your teammates when they’re downed. There is no limit to how many times you can revive. The time window for when you get knocked down to when someone can revive you is so long. You can imagine a scenario where two teammates keep trading lives and keeping the team in play by manipulating the revive system.
Potential solutions for this would be drastically reduce the revive window, limiting players to one single revive each, or both. Because of all these issues, despite how much I enjoyed Sabotage, PvP as it stands now will receive a lot of complaints from players who are far more competitive than me.
As I mentioned at the top, Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a conflicting game from what I experienced. There are elements I liked such as the sheer size and diversity of the map, but these positives are almost always paired with negatives.
Focusing on the map example, while the map diversity is great, there are POIs dotted across the map with roaming enemies, and random loot chests to find. It’s very standard “GaaS open world” design.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. For instance, I love The Division 2’s map because there are simply so many fun engaging things to do both above and below ground. I liked the variety of activities you could do. But as it stands right now in this preview of Breakpoint, it feels like the POIs are very sterile. The structures look very clinical and boring, with bog standard crates, fenced in construction, and guards in the expected places.
Unlike in Division 2, I never felt compelled to explore these structures. They didn’t possess the same intrigue. I think part of this is because Division 2 is set in DC — a real location — compared to Breakpoint’s fictitious Auroa. Exploring the ruins of real-life locations for a more “grounded” Tom Clancy game immediately carries with it a mythos to which a fictitious location can’t match.
Additionally, while I do love the prone camo system in which you can go prone and cover yourself in mud to camouflage yourself from enemies, other parts of the movement and animation system feel awful as I mentioned while discussing PvP.
The skill system is actually quite in depth. I love just how customizable it is, with each skill focus, such as stealth, having its own branching tree and areas of focus. But here again, it’s let down by the UI. My ability to appreciate the nuance and depth of the skill system was let down by the terrible UI.
And like I mentioned earlier, the vehicle handling is the typical Ubisoft affair, feeling overly heavy, and slow to respond. When they do respond, they over-respond, causing chaotic driving.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is not a game I’m “cautiously optimistic” for as so many outlets tend to be when coming out of preview events. Yes, it’s still in development, and the build we played is no doubt outdated. Terrible UI, lengthy animations, bad vehicle handling, an extremely generous revive window in PvP, and uninteresting characters propping up bland writing don’t fill me with confidence. But I doubt these fundamental gameplay elements will be changed drastically to my liking in time for launch.
Ultimately, I didn’t love Ghost Recon Breakpoint. I didn’t hate it either. I was left feeling something far worse: bored.
Full Disclosure: Travel and accommodation were provided in full by Ubisoft.