'Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint': Game Review

Ghost Recon Breakpoint Still 1 - Ubisoft Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Ubisoft
Jon Bernthal shines, but repetitive gameplay, technical issues and a lack of depth drag this island adventure down.

An intriguing story and superb acting from Jon Bernthal are weighed down by technical issues and frustrating monotony.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint paints a dire picture for the player right out of the gate: a helicopter crashes behind enemy lines, stranding the hero, Nomad, on an island paradise-turned-military state called Auroa. An elite special forces unit, the Wolves, patrols the island, led by a man named Cole Walker (Jon Bernthal) whose declining moral code has morphed him from a model soldier to a self-proclaimed revolutionary.

It's an intriguing setup worthy of Tom Clancy's name, but it fails to introduce the real overarching villains of Breakpoint: monotony, frustration and technical mishaps.

Every mission plays out virtually the same way. The player gets a location from an NPC, travels to said location, deploys a drone, marks enemies, infiltrates and neutralizes threats and then moves on to the next mission. If that doesn’t sound much different than Breakpoint’s predecessor, 2017's Ghost Recon Wildlands, that’s because it’s not (and that's a whole other layer to the game's problems). There are moments in Breakpoint where, if a screenshot were placed next to a frame from Wildlands, choosing which game is which would be difficult. That’s not great. 

What’s worse is when the game’s myriad technical issues create even more barriers to entry. Some are annoying — like the occasional clip into the environment or falling between structures and getting stuck — resulting in a soft reset. Others are maddening to the point of screaming, like when the checkpoint system doesn’t save objective progress and your character's death results in the mission restarting, the resurrection of every enemy previously killed and a respawn point 500 in-game meters away from the mission objective. 

It's all a real shame, too, because everything about the premise of Breakpoint is intriguing. The turmoil surrounding the island of Auroa— and more important, the background story of how it got that way — is a strong narrative worthy of experiencing. Bernthal’s performance as the villainous Cole Walker exceeds the rest of the characters by a Auroran country mile, truly shining every time he’s onscreen. The argument can be made that he doesn’t appear enough throughout the game, but oversaturation wouldn’t be ideal either and Breakpoint finds the ideal middle ground.

The island of Auroa is the real star of Breakpoint, however. A sprawling paradise hiding all manner of secrets worth exploring, the isle's lush natural backdrops are balanced well with the futuristic architecture that pops up throughout, always delivering something new and interesting to investigate. The constant threat of enemy troops appearing while traveling on foot makes for a small bit of tension, while the Azrael drones that intermittently fly overhead make things a little more dangerous. There’s a mixture of wonder and worry when traversing Auroa, which enhances the long treks to mission objectives. If only the act of exploration was as engaging as the scenes being explored.

Actual combat is mechanically sound — the weapons have satisfying weight, kick and accuracy —but none of that matters when the enemy's artificial intelligence is completely useless. None of the foes knows how to cover efficiently, opening themselves up for easy headshots, and the ones who do get close are happy enough to just stand out in the open waiting to be killed with ease. Sometimes the sheer number of enemies attacking at once can be overwhelming, particularly to a player flying solo, but turning around and running away is enough to confuse them. These enemies seem to lack the “I” in “AI.” 

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s player two customization systems aren’t bad, though one is definitely more effective than the other. The Skill Point system is straightforward: earn a skill point through leveling up, spend it on a skill, done. Skill points can also be found out in the wild in supply crates, allowing for even more perk unlocks. Some skills and perks cost one point, other, more powerful skills cost a few more points and up to three perk slots can be filled with unlocked buffs. It’s elegant in its simplicity, easily the more effective of the two systems, and the one deserving of more thought and strategy. 

And then there's the Gear System, where rank numbers are assigned to the gear your character wears. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for these ranks other than trying to emulate the Light number system seen in other shooter franchise Destiny. There’s no stats being gained by wearing higher-ranking armor or weapons (at least none that are outwardly visible) and while some equipment offers slight perks, like a 2 percent stamina boost, the rest are just...there. The only times that gear number comes into play is comparing the player’s total number to a tagged enemy’s number, but that’s still not a measure of difficulty since every enemy is killed in the same way. 

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has its share of redeeming qualities, but they are unfortunately buried deep beneath a topsoil of repetitive gameplay, technical issues and a lack of depth that open world games like this sorely need. The island setting is neat and the main villain is well-portrayed, but there’s not much else to get excited about. Enjoyment of this game, honestly, depends fully on how much of those bad aspects a player can take before reaching his or her own breakpoint. 

This game was reviewed on Xbox One X.