Ubisoft has long enjoyed a reputation for amalgamating all its favourite game systems and shoving them into everything it puts out. For years, every Ubi open world had giant towers to climb, thousands of icons to clear and endless tat to collect. Laborious, but ultimately inoffensive.
In Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, we see the final form of what Ubi has been leaning towards for years - a game structurally driven by an endless, purposeless grind, and one that can be expedited by forking out money for microtransactions. Yes, this is still another giant open world, another tactical military shooter, and another multi-million dollar production - but every element of its design feels tainted by greed.
The setup is actually the most interesting part of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. You play as Nomad, a generically gruff Special Operator, who leads a team of ghosts towards the fictional island of Auroa to investigate a communication failure and a cargo ship that has been destroyed. Before the choppers can land, they’re all taken out by some mysterious swirling mid-air tech, and you’re left stranded. Minutes later, you see Col. Walker, played by John Bernthal, merk a load of your operators, and then it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on.
Breakpoint does this by structuring its story around discovery and clues. People you meet on the island - itself a kind of tech utopia that has been overtaken by a PMC - fill you in on the whereabouts of key characters and plot developments. It’s a unique take on an open world narrative, and it’s also indicative that Breakpoint feels like a game being pulled in two different directions.
On the one hand, you have this mysterious island and its hidden backstory. There’s an option to turn off waypoints and have to figure out mission locations by solving clues based on the map and the environment. You have no AI teammates when playing alone. You have to maintain water levels to not get fatigued and manage injuries in order to refill your health bar.
And then, when you meet a local resistance force, you’re shoved into a Destiny-style social space filled with other players dancing about and spinning in circles. You’re told that only a few soldiers remain after the choppers crashed, but there are literally dozens you can team up with at any point.
And while the game purports to be a survival sim, you can’t go two seconds without being directed towards the next bit of loot, all in an effort to increase a Gear Score that will allow you to take on increasingly, artificially, difficult areas.
While there are countless missions to take on, either stealthily or aggressively, the entire game is structured around loot. Got a sniper rifle? Here’s another one, with a higher number. Those boots you’re wearing? Yeah, better take these ones you found in a box because they’re highlighted green.
Now, although this is completely at odds with the game’s narrative, there’s nothing essentially wrong with restructuring Ghost Recon with some loot - typically it can add to a game’s shelf-life, and when executed well, can be intoxicating. However, when it’s easier to find the in-game store than it is to change your Y-axis invert option, and there are literally pages upon pages upon pages of boosters, weapon packs, skins and other nonsense to buy with real money, it’s hard not to feel a little cynical about why Ghost Recon Breakpoint has suddenly undergone this design overhaul.
And while it’s likely entirely possible to finish its enormous campaign and side missions without spending an extra penny, when microtransactions are so clearly baked into the game’s design, offering genuinely game-changing gear - not just cosmetics - it doesn’t speak highly for the game’s true intentions.
Essentially, Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a grind to nothing - a Sisyphean purgatory where you could effectively pay for the privilege of not even playing the game at all.
Now, cynicism and monetisation aside, if the moment-to-moment action was good enough, it would be much easier to ignore the uglier side of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. But it feels hopelessly unfinished. Enemy AI is awful - GoldenEye on the N64 awful. They’ll pile up stairs after you one-by-one if you camp on a roof, or stand still as you pump sniper rounds into their chests, or get stuck on walls. Enemy vehicles pop-in merere feet in front of you. The entire game is absolutely riddled with typos - it feels like it’s been Google Translated from French and not proofed.
And this is frustrating because there’s no real reason for it to feel like this - Ubisoft has put out countless open world games with far superior AI and far fewer rough edges. The action will undoubtedly be enhanced by playing in co-op with friends, the weapons still have punch, the island itself is absolutely stunning on Xbox One X, and despite knowing that it’s ultimately pointless, there is still some dumb part of the human brain that likes getting the new shiny weapon with the higher number.
But much like Wildlands before it, it’s obvious that Breakpoint is two or three major patches away from feeling complete. It feels like a TV show or movie that has been hauled back into the editing room by overzealous, panicked execs - a game with the potential to move the line for giant AAA open worlds, but hacked apart and remodelled into a kind of free-to-play Frankenstein (that’s not free to play).
The addition of competitive multiplayer does little to improve the package - itself a perfectly enjoyable suite of standard maps and modes, but nothing that’s not eclipsed by the competition (and in truth, even Call Of Duty Mobile).
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint verdict
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a moderately enjoyable shooter whose moment-to-moment action is enhanced by every co-op partner you can add to the mix, but thoroughly dampened by its unrelenting commitment to a never-ending grind.
It’s a game stuck between camps like a lost orienteer - never the compelling loot churn of The Division or Destiny, and never allowed to live up to its potential as a military survival game.