Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands was a bit of a surprise when it hit shelves two and a half years ago, dialing back the realism the Tom Clancy games have been known for and injecting more ‘fun’ into the mix, but the changes were a hit with consumers who took to the digital jungles of Bolivia with their friends in large numbers.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, which hit shelves officially on Friday, should have been an upgrade over Wildlands, but misses that mark despite retaining a central gameplay loop of sneak, shoot, and escape that’s nearly identical to its predecessor.
While that core gameplay is still fun, particularly with friends, there’s a new ‘loot and shoot’ layer added to the game that doesn’t seem to fit and just creates inventory and crafting busywork. Enemies and chests in the world will reward players with new gear that may – or may not – sport the little green arrow that indicates an upgrade – but what kind of upgrade, and is it worth using? Does 1% more stamina from this chest piece mean more than a 2% increase in movement speed from the one I’m using?
This system also extends to weaponry, with minor buffs to stability or reload speed, but it feels largely pointless in a game where you spend at least 85% of it posting up in a good vantage point, spotting enemies, then taking them out one by one with headshots before you’re noticed. The whole loot mechanic feels like it was tacked on because someone high up demanded it, but they didn’t have an idea how it would affect every other aspect of the gameplay…so it just doesn’t.
That same person might well have been responsible for the survival mechanics which are just basically…there, but largely meaningless, in the form of a depleting stamina bar and an injury system. Running and climbing or descending slopes – and Auroa is full of slopes – drains stamina. Fortunately, your soldier carries a flask to replenish stamina, and it can be filled from any water source around: puddle, river, lake, even a pool that should contain enough chlorine to put off wanting to drink it, but it’s so easy to replenish your stamina that it makes the whole system feel pointless.
The injury system suffers similarly, with a limited supply of syringes to provide relief from injuries suffered, whether from battle or falling down a hill, but if your syringe supply is exhausted you carry an infinite supply of bandages that do the job just as well, only slower.
Even some of the scarier aspects of the game’s ‘lone soldier fighting for survival’ theme, like the drones and helicopters that can detect your presence as they pass by overhead, lose their luster as soon as the player realizes they can just hide in a building for the 10 seconds it takes for them to pass over, or – even more simply – just lie down and camouflage yourself.
If it sounds like I’m incredibly down on Breakpoint, I’m not. Underneath the tacked-on ‘every game has to have this stuff these days’ additions of ‘shlooter’ and ‘survival’ genres the game is every bit as much fun as Wildlands was, and if you enjoyed it, you’ll love this. It’s just disappointing that, instead of improving on the gameplay or the story, developers were put to work creating a bunch of fluff that doesn’t really add to the game at all.
Everything in Wildlands that you loved is still here – at least on the co-op side of things. Solo players will feel the lack of the squad backing them up, though apparently that’s being looked at to add in down the road. As it is, you’ll probably want to fast track your way through the skill tree to get Sync Shot ability on your drone companion – a decent replacement for having teammates. It’s worth noting that stealth is harder to accomplish this time out, with more patrolling guards and better – though not perfect – awareness on the part of the AI. You also can’t snipe someone, then scope in on a distant location to despawn the body this time out, so if you want to dispose of the evidence you’ll have to cart it away yourself.
The PVP mode Ghost Wars also returns, and though it’s not changed a lot from Wildlands PVP I’m still having a blast with it. The 4-on-4 matches are intense, ramping up to that ‘final circle in PUBG’ feeling, especially when the numbers tilt heavily against you and it becomes a cat and mouse game of trying to get teammates revived or enemies eliminated without being found. Like the first game, I lean heavily towards either enemy location infiltration with a suppressed SMG to create havoc or posting up in an unexpected spot with a sniper rifle and providing overlook. With a good group or even just a couple of terrible friends, this mode is a blast.
I had some minor bugs while playing through the game on Xbox One X (code provided by the publisher) but nothing game-breaking. The most common – and annoying – was a rendering issue with scoped weapons that would make it hard to see through their scopes, but it was fixable by simply leaving zoom and zooming in again.
What I liked:
- Solid story, with a stellar performance by Jon Bernthal
- A good mix of realism and fun
- Co-op play is a blast
- A gorgeous game at times
- Great weapon and equipment variety
- Ghost Wars hits my sweet spot for PVP
What I didn’t like:
- Loot elements feel largely pointless
- Skin-deep application of survival elements
- Minor, but frequent, scope bug
- Vast tracts of land….with little to do in them