Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell guest stars in a revamped Breakpoint that does much to improve on the badly flawed launch version.
The disappointment felt by players when Ghost Recon Breakpoint launched echoed around the Internet. Legions of bugs, a lack of computer-controlled teammates, wooden voice-acting, and shoehorning in The Division’s gear score system created an unloved ginger stepchild of a game. Ubisoft was far from deaf to those complaints, and as well as working feverishly on new content also attempted to assuage the community’s more rabid anger with bug fixes, updates, and most recently the immersive Ghost Experience, a change designed to bring the game closer to the standard of past instalments.
Coinciding with that update is the release of Deep State, the first piece of season pass content starring Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher – who is also apparently stuck on the fictional island of Auroa after it was blockaded by drone swarms. He’s pursuing an all-new baddie, The Strategist, and naturally could do with some help from Nomad, your user-customisable hero or heroine.
The biggest change to the game is undoubtedly the addition of Ghost Experience, which changes a great many things, the most noticeable of which is the total removal of the HUD. By default, there’s no mini-map and no beacons, leaving you to navigate by asking directions, interrogating baddies, and comparing photographs you gather as intelligence, with information on your map. It makes missions take a lot longer, but at a stroke removes the patronising markers that are the scourge of open world games.
The other massive change is the total removal of gear score. At launch, Breakpoint borrowed The Division’s upgrade system, with each gun and garment you found adding to a score that affected which enemies you could take on which missions and were suitable for your character’s level. Without gear score it’s back to being a military simulation, with clothes now purely cosmetic and guns doing damage based on their stats, along with a three-tiered upgrade system that permanently enhances them.
It’s a welcome change and means that supply crates that once contained guns and garments now give you money and the weapons parts you need to perform upgrades. It also means that you won’t continually be chopping and changing equipment every time you get a gun with a slightly higher number next to it. As in past instalments, once you find a loadout that works for your play style you’re at liberty to stick with it. You can also change weapons to suit the mission or environment you’ll be working in, something that simply wasn’t an option without Ghost Experience.
You’ll also find the bivouac system has changed. Originally you could open any bivouac site and call in new helicopters, armoured cars, or motorbikes. You could also buy, sell, and dismantle weapons at whichever site you happened to be. Now you can only buy guns or request vehicles when you return to Erewhon, the inside-a-mountain base of the Auroan resistance. It adds a much greater sense of isolation, as does the removal of other players from Erewhon. Rather than looking like a military convention, it now lends a far more convincing lone wolf feel to your predicament.
Even reloading your gun has been overhauled. Previously, in line with almost every first person shooter before it, when you reloaded, the bullets remaining in your magazine would magically transfer back to your ammunition supply. Now if you reload with 40 rounds still in the magazine, those bullets are discarded forever. It adds a new dimension to combat, but it does prove surprisingly tough to unpick decades of muscle memory that desperately want you to reload the second you’ve fired a gun.
The net effect is a game that’s tougher and more realistic. Those playing since launch will long ago have found themselves with high enough gear scores that there were very few threats left that had any meaning. With all that stripped away, the island of Auroa is a far more dangerous place, where you’ll be fighting for survival first and foremost. Each encounter can now be deadly, and mis-managing a firefight either by reloading at the wrong time or letting yourself get spotted when you were trying to be stealthy can swiftly spiral into being killed in action.
It’s refreshing and far more in keeping with the game’s premise of being on your own facing off against a mighty mercenary army. It also perfectly complements Deep State, with the eight or so hours of story mission joined by two new character classes.
The Engineer class comes with two drones, one that supplies extra ammunition and another that attacks enemies for you; while the stealth orientated Echelon class has a taser gun and sonar vision that lets you see enemies through walls. They’re both useful in their own ways, but at time of writing a bug with the game’s upgrade system means you can’t always unlock those new powers, even once you’ve ranked each one up fully.
Speaking of bugs, Breakpoint still has them. Trucks may no longer launch themselves into the air and explode, provoking an unfair alert when you so much as approach an enemy base, but dialogue still stutters, torch beams shine through walls and floors, your character still slams into invisible walls when scrambling down hills, and there are numerous animation glitches as you traverse the world. It’s better than it was, but still some way from the standard you’d expect from a finished game.
And there are also still no computer-controlled teammates, the very cornerstone of the Ghost Recon franchise. Previously squad tactics and simultaneous enemy takedowns were at the heart of your approach to objectives. Now solo players really are all on their own, and while Ubisoft continues to promise that teammates will be added in a future update, their absence remains keenly felt.
Still, this is a much better game than it was a launch, and early players who quit in horror at the state of it can now safely come back in the knowledge that things have improved considerably. There is clearly self-awareness on Ubisoft’s part too, with an early Deep State mission leading Nomad to comment that, ‘it’s like Bolivia, but it sucks more’, a reference to Ghost Recon Wildlands, which most players now regard as the series’ high watermark.
Thanks to the Internet backlash it’s also now budget priced, making it a good deal these days. The voice-acting and script are still risible, but the gunplay is first rate, the new-found rawness and danger making unscripted encounters nerve jangling and exciting again. It’s made the game fun, and with such a large volume of content both included and available to season pass holders, there’s a lot to like in Breakpoint 2.0.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint: Deep State review summary
In Short: A noticeable improvement over the rushed and broken launch, thanks to a tougher, more immersive Ghost Experience and an enjoyable story chapter starring Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher.
Pros: Renewed sense of danger and much more rewarding combat and exploration. Ghost Experience fixes a lot of previous problems and Sam Fisher’s story works well.
Cons: The script and acting are still bafflingly poor, and there’s still no computer-controlled teammates. Still some bugs.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, and Stadia
Publisher: Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: updated 24th March 2020
Age Rating: 18
*The base game can generally be had for around £20 at the moment; it’s currently just £15.99 on the PlayStation Store, for example.
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