Nomad goes wandering again.
On the walls of Ubisoft Paris’ art department, there’s a flow chart showing how Ghost Recon: Breakpoint evolved in the course of its development. At the top of that chart, there are four words that sell the concept pretty succinctly: “Ghost Recon: Wildlands 2”.
Ghost Recon’s taken many and varied forms since its PS2 debut, but Breakpoint feels like one of the most definitive sequels in the series, reupping and updating not only the story, but the style, mechanics and feel of Wildlands. During my visit to the developers, and in a short hands-on, it became clear that a great deal was staying very much the same for this new violent trek through the wilderness. But along the way, Ubisoft’s developers made very clear that this isn’t a reskin – here are the key similarities and differences I spotted:
It’s a Story Sequel to Wildlands
Nomad’s back. Technically he’s back to the future, with Breakpoint taking place in a crypto-dystopic 2023. A Musk-y tech entrepreneur’s private island has been overtaken by a rogue element, his factories now producing autonomous weapons of war, and Ghost Recon sent in to assist – with initially catastrophic resutls. A now-stranded Nomad has a personal connection to all of this, with flashback sequences built into the story, fleshing out what’s taken place between the two games, where Nomad’s been, and who he met along the way.
But It’s Bringing Star Power This Time
Principally who Nomad met was Cole D. Walker, played by Jon Bernthal of Netflix’s The Punisher. Walker was dropped into Wildlands last week, introducing a swaggering Southern wildcard who’s clearly gotten wilder in the intervening years. Walker is responsible for the island takeover, along with his cell of other rogue Ghost agents, the Wolves. The actor’s clearly been dropped in to provide more of a motivation for players than “stealth and shooting is fun”.
It Feels Very Familiar to Play
While minor changes have been made to your minute-to-minute experience – looting and crafting are now possible, for example – the core of Wildlands’ stealth-action set-up remains intact. This is still a game best played with three friends, with drones used for recon, plans made for stealthy ingress and egress, and quick-kill gunfights when it inevitably all goes wrong. Essentially, if you had strong feelings about Wildlands, they’re unlikely to change too much when it comes to Breakpoint.
But You’ll Progress Differently
The key difference comes outside of that core action. The game now offers four classes, each with their own abilities, equipment, and progression (which carries over between the main game and and an unrevealed PvP coming at launch). The idea isn’t to segment players, but actually allow for more freedom when playing together – classes can be switched freely at camp throughout the game, meaning you’ll hopefully never be stuck with four snipers (unless you want to be).
It’s Still a Huge Open World
Wildlands’ Bolivia was a gargantuan thing, its 20 provinces providing a truly open world, designed for squads of players to take on missions from multiple angles, often at the same time. Breakpoint doesn’t alter that formula – we’re shown a rescue mission that has two players fighting through a facility gate, receiving covering fire from a sniper, while a fourth player blowtorches a fence to slip in undetected from the rear. When I play the same mission, my team takes a less… finessed approach, but reaches a similar conclusion. Your tactical muscle memory should serve you well here.
But It’s a Fictional Setting Now
The key difference is that this is very much not Bolivia. Breakpoint takes a more Bond-like route by choosing the entirely made-up Pacific island of Aurora as its location. It reminds me most of Just Cause 4, using fiction to allow for a variety of environments the world just can’t compete with – swamps, jungles, poppy fields, deserts, and even a volcano all make up your new stomping grounds. It also allows for the sci-fi inflected story to breathe a little – drone swarms and unmanned tanks roaming the world in search of a Ghost to bust feel a little more natural in a place this obviously unreal.
You’re Still an Apex Predator
Ghost Recon has always put you in the boots of the best of the best, and no matter how much Breakpoint emphasises that Nomad is alone, humbled, and hunted, you are still far beyond the abilities of the private military contractors you’ll be up against. With the new Prone camo feature (lie down and you can use the environment to cloak yourself, usually by smearing mud all over yourself), you’re potentially even more ghost-like than ever. Walker’s Wolves are presented as rogue Ghosts with as much experience as you and your squad, but in my (albeit limited) time up against them, they went down just as quickly and easily as anyone else.
But You’ll Need to Work Harder to Survive
One thing we’re told repeatedly is that Breakpoint will reflect the realities of surviving in the wilderness, forcing the Ghosts to eat and drink to stay at peak performance. That element’s never actually shown, so I can’t speak to how it’ll balance survival mechanics with straightforward fun. What I do discover is that you can sustain injuries beyond a drained health bar. Let’s say you, I don’t know, accidentally jump off of a high ledge for absolutely no reason – doing that will potentially injure your leg, forcing you into a limp that will only go away with treatment. Not eating might make your aim shakier, and other injuries could take away movement options, like vaulting. Treatment is pretty fast (and free if you’re in camp), so this feels more like a punishment for not treating your Ghost right than an integral new piece of gameplay.
It’s Still Going to Have Tons of Updates
Wildlands’ trump card was in keeping players interested after release, adding everything from a PvP mode to special appearances from Sam Fisher and The Predator. Ubisoft knows how much of a boost that offered, and the developers are already making clear that this is an ongoing project, months before release. While PvP will be in from Day 1, we’re shown that extra story content and limited-time events will be added. I’d be very surprised not to see more very special guests come along too.
But Some of Those Are Raids Now
The major new addition to the, er, new additions is the promise of endgame raids. Wildlands’ level cap put paid to many players’ time with the core game, and Ubisoft clearly wants to make that a thing of the past. We’re shown hints of multiple raid locations – all of which have to be taken on as a co-op team – apparently set on maps separate from the main Aurora island. One, of course, is nestled inside a volcano. It’s the biggest clue that Ubisoft’s now fully jumped into the game-as-service realm with Ghost Recon – which will probably also be the biggest difference between it and Wildlands.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK Deputy Editor, and has never been driven to breaking point on a volcanic island. You can follow him on Twitter.