When I first get my hands on the gamepad to play Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, after watching about an hour or so of presentations about it, I instantly and quickly reflected on just how far the Ghost Recon series has come.
I’ve been playing since the first game on my little purple Gamecube. I marveled at how good the first Advanced Warfighter looked on Xbox 360, and pondered whether we’d ever been able to top those stunning visuals on future consoles (of course, we would). Wildlands was then a stark reinvention of the series, throwing away the pizazz of Future Soldier for the gritty and realistic sun-drenched landscape of Bolivia. Now, with Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Ubisoft has taken the franchise in yet another direction, and I’ve never been more excited.
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The idea for Breakpoint came out of the thought of “where could we push the Ghosts”. It’s a game that comes as a stark contrast to Wildlands. In Wildlands, you knew what you were going after and why. You had a plan. An objective and a target. In Breakpoint, you have none of that. There is no briefing, you’re going in blind and the enemies are expecting you.
The plot blends fantasy with reality and is being penned by Emil Daubon, who has been working with Ubisoft as an advisor on their previous projects. The kicker? Emil has previously served for fourteen years in the Special Forces of the United States Army – you might know them as the Green Berets.
Of the story, Emil spoke with me about the double-edged sword in blending the realism of the Breakpoint concept with the less realistic fictional setting. As with everything to do with Breakpoint – it’s all about freedom: –
Emil – The challenge of course, was, was finding a balance between realism and fantasy. Creating a fictional world gave us a lot of room to expand on the narrative, to expand on the challenges. It gave us a lot of freedom in storytelling to create the fantasy. So we steep these theories in doses of realism and try to use as much sort-of authentic detail, but still catering to the fantasy and the fictional world just gives us so much freedom to play with that.
Auroa is the name of the new setting, an archipelago and a brand-new world for your Ghost to explore. Such freedom means you’ll see all kinds of terrain in Breakpoint – including but not limited to jungles, beaches, snowy ranges, and even volcanoes. Wildlands players will notice that the island is home to Skell Technologies, and yes, it’s the same group. The big twist? That the technology itself has gone haywire and been commandeered by the Wolves, a band of rogue Ghosts led by Cole Walker played charismatically by Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Netflix’s Punisher).
When the demo begins, I can’t help but notice how much of an improvement Auroa is over Bolivia. Don’t get me wrong, that game still looks great, but it’s clear that with Auroa Ubisoft are less restricted in what they can do when creating the world for Breakpoint. I take a moment to take in the surroundings, and notice it’s much denser (and obviously crisper, in terms of image quality) than Wildlands. To be sure, I’ve even played Wildlands when I got back home, and yeah, this is a huge jump in quality.
For the purpose of the demo, the objective was pointed out to us but the designers stress that in Breakpoint, objectives, and waypoints won’t be given explicitly. Instead, you’ll procure information and intelligence to triangulate locations. It’s a system that reminds me of Exploration Mode in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and it’s one that really helps you immerse yourself in whatever world you’re exploring. With a setting as dynamic as Auroa, I’m glad this choice was made.
The mission we’re playing today sounds simple. The Ghosts must infiltrate an enemy encampment in order to rescue a Skelltech engineer – who they hope can shed more light on the technologies that the Wolves are using against them. The secondary objective is to destroy backup batteries that help to power the same technology. We begin on the outer perimeter of the facility, and prepare our approach, as discussed to us by one of the developers.
With not much time to waste we headed out onto our mission, and it went about as well as you could imagine it would for four people who’ve never touched the game before. I think we all wanted to go for a stealthy approach – to use the new prone camo mechanics to get the jump on our enemy. But someone on my team let off an unsuppressed shot and alerted the whole base to our presence.
Things got considerably more hectic at this point – some parts tense, other parts just overwhelming – but it was here that I understood the concept of Breakpoint. I was under pressure and trying my best to survive – healing myself to keep my stamina flowing but also moving the bodies of my teammates before attempting to heal them.
Our time was running out with the demo, and I have a compulsive need to finish anything I play, so I thought it was best to make a run for the objective. When I found the person we needed to extract, I got to try out the new dialogue system which we first saw in our guided walkthrough of the demo earlier in the day.
The dialogue system is another new addition to Breakpoint, which Laura Cordrey, Community Developer and Sébastien Le Prestre, Lead Development Tester explained to me in terms of the intention behind such a choice: –
Sébastien – Everything behind having the dialogue options again, [is about] creating a really believable narrative that people can experience in the way they want. They’ll maybe have different responses to certain situations. We’re not going to be like so many games in the past that say “your dialogue choices are going to change the face of the earth”. There’s minor consequences for certain things but overall it’s to further our narrative.
Laura – I think it comes back to the fact that we really want our players to make their Ghost their own.
Following our securing of the engineer, we were introduced to one of Jon Bernthal’s lieutenants, who commanded some violent drones to hunt us down as we tried to extract the target. Unfortunately, in my desperation to complete the demo, I instead rushed to the objectives, so avoided most of the drones, but it was clear to me they’d be just as fun an enemy to battle and that they’d mix things up a bit to break the repetition that so many resented in Wildlands.
One thing worth mentioning is that Breakpoint seems to feature a loot system, but it was hard to get a proper feel for it in the demo I played. In the presentation, it was confirmed that there would be random drops in missions and from enemies for specific equipment. I spoke to Sébastien about the way loot would work in Breakpoint, though it’s too early to talk about how it works, you there will be “different tier levels and stuff like that”, but he also clarifies that “we’re still seeing what’s the best way to balance that” and acknowledges that this aspect of the development can be a challenge.
My time with the demo ended there, and while I couldn’t approach the mission as stealthily as I’d wanted to, I could see the potential in doing so. It’s perhaps a little bit controversial to say, but I really saw a lot of Metal Gear Solid V in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. Wide open and exotic locales peppered with a lot of options that support multiple approaches. A common complaint I have with games like these is that they often claim to support both styles of play (stealth or action) but clearly go one way or the other. With Breakpoint I get the sense that the developers are working vigorously to ensure that both options are genuinely viable.
Still, I think Breakpoint will inevitably shine brightest when things go wrong mid-mission, and what I love about what I’ve played is that the game gives you the tools to deal with the pressure on-the-fly and attempt to survive any sticky situations.
A few questions remain obviously – and that’s really just what else there is to do on Auroa when you’re not embarking on missions like the one I played in Paris, but for now, I’m excited to see what else Ubisoft has to offer with Breakpoint. They’re at their best when they experiment a little and go off the beaten track with their properties, and I think Breakpoint will be a bold new step for Ghost Recon that nobody saw coming.
PRESS START SAW AN EARLY SNEAK PEEK OF GHOST RECON: BREAKPOINT AT UBISOFT IN PARIS, FRANCE. JAMES’ FLIGHTS AND ACCOMMODATION WERE PROVIDED BY UBISOFT.