LOS ANGELES – The Ghost Recon series has carved out a pretty neat little niche for itself as one of the only open-world military shooters on the market. Ghost Recon Wildlands established that the formula would work; now, Ghost Recon Breakpoint aims to refine it by making it more realistic than ever.
Headshots are lethal and enemies employ nuanced tactics, just as before. But now, you’ll also have to grapple with hostile terrain, semi-permanent wounds and setting up camps out in the wilderness. The tradeoff is that teamwork has become even more vital, and every victory feels that much sweeter than before.
I went hands-on with Breakpoint at E3 2019, and to be perfectly honest, I had a great deal of trouble getting acclimated to the game. Breakpoint is complicated and unforgiving. You can’t simply approach an enemy base and make up a plan as you go. Enemy patrols swarm the roads; enemy drones try to scout you from overhead; enemy radio operators will call in reinforcements if they see anything even remotely suspicious. The only way to survive is to coordinate with your teammates – and while you can play solo, the ideal experience is with three other players.
If you played Wildlands, the basic gameplay setup should be familiar. You’ll get a series of open-world missions to undertake, and you can tackle most of them in any order you choose. Each player can pick a different class, and each class employs a special skill. Sharpshooters excel at sniping foes, while Panthers can (usually) evade detection by drones, and so forth. This time around, though, any class can employ any weapon, which means you’ll be able to personalize your playstyle much more than before.
Knowing your character inside and out will come in handy, because the game can get brutally difficult. That’s because the villain this time around is Cole Walker (Jon Bernthal): a former Ghost gone rogue. Wildlands players will remember Cole, who was a steadfast ally in the previous Ghost Recon game. Now, he controls a group of Ghost operatives gone bad, known as the Wolves. As you can imagine, squaring off against Walker’s spec ops soldiers is quite a bit more difficult than taking down random mercenaries. They’ll utilize the same kind of tactics and kit as your own squad.
That’s why teamwork is absolutely central to Breakpoint. One reason why the game didn’t sit well with me at first was because it’s almost impossible to succeed without careful, patient planning. You and your teammates will – or at least should – spend a good five minutes or so overlooking an enemy base and discussing exactly how to tackle it. You’ll have to scope out the area with drones, tag particularly dangerous enemies (those with rocket launchers and riot shields), then coordinate with your teammates to snipe them at exactly the same moment. If you pull it off successfully, it’s extremely satisfying; if you make a mistake, the whole mission can go belly-up almost instantly. While you can revive teammates and heal yourself, your opportunities to do so are limited.
Part of the reason why staying alive is difficult is because you need to worry about injuries in addition to your health meter. The rocky, unforgiving terrain of Aurora Island is not as easy to traverse as the Bolivian landscapes of Wildlands. As such, you’ll have to scrabble up steep slopes and control your descent down rocky ones. If you mess up, you could sustain an injury, which confers negative status effects in addition to lost health. Bandaging up injuries and using syringes to restore health are both vital. However, you’ll be able to craft replacement healing items in your bivouac. Here, you can also pick additional status benefits, such as resistance to injuries or additional stamina. Conferring with your team about which buffs to apply can make all the difference during a tough mission.
All of the game’s features came together when our team went up against a behemoth drone: one of the biggest, deadliest enemies in the game. This enormous, autonomous tank could launch rockets, lay down machine gun fire and even just mow down teammates. The only way to take it out was with teamwork – and lots of explosives. Challenges like the behemoth will reward coordinated teams with new weapons and equipment, and punish groups that don’t play well together with defeat.
Truthfully, a lot of Breakpoint’s innovations can feel frustrating. Terrain and injuries are punishing, while scoping out bases to coordinate attack strategies involves a lot of sitting around and talking – and perhaps failing anyway, since one missed headshot or unseen patrol can throw your entire plan into chaos. Still, if you have three friends who are willing to tough it out with you, it can be satisfying when a good plan comes together. Breakpoint will be out on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on Oct. 4.