Ghost Recon Breakpoint doesn't have a clear vision of what it wants to be. Its foundation was established in Ghost Recon Wildlands, which left behind the linear levels and purely tactical gameplay of previous entries for an open-world shooter romp. On top of that, Ubisoft has tried to lay on survival mechanics and RPG systems like loot and levels. But in trying to appeal to everyone and do everything, Breakpoint just hovers in the middle. It's not an vast improvement on Wildlands, only complicating what worked about that title in the first place.
Breakpoint throws the Ghosts into a conflict on the fictional island of Auroa, home of Skell Technology. Skell is the manufacturer of military drones and artificial intelligence, and after a shipping tanker is sunk off the island's coast, the U.S. government sends a contingent of Ghosts to find out what's up. Your entire squad is shot down, with many of them killed by the Wolves, a faction of private soldier run by former Ghost Cole D. Walker. (Yes, that's his real name.) It's just you versus an occupied island, with limited resources and allies.
Breakpoint leans a little more on its story compared to Wildlands, but not by much. Walker is played by The Walking Dead and Punisher actor Jon Bernthal, and when he's onscreen, he chews up the scenery. Outside of him though, the characters simply aren't meaningful, I remember Mads or Haruhi as faction leaders, but I certainly didn't care about them. And outside of Bernthal, his squad of defectors don't really get enough screentime or dialog to make an impact.
At least, that's the narrative of Breakpoint. The instant you get to the first hub outpost, Erewhon, you're instantly met by a host of other Ghosts. These Ghosts are other players, or other versions of Nomad, the character you're playing. It immediately undermines the story of Breakpoint; you can't feel like you're alone with no resources if a whole army of Ghosts are right behind you. It's better the more time you spend away from Erewhon, but it's a perplexing choice.
The odd choices extend to the inclusion of loot and gear score. In Wildlands, you found weapons and gear around the world; once you had a piece of gear, it was yours. In Breakpoint, every weapon and piece of equipment has a gear score. You might find 416 assault rifle at gear score 40 early on, and then run into the same weapon with gear score 80 later. To keep your gear score up, you have to keep changing your gear.
The problem is loot largely doesn't matter. To keep Wildlands players happy, Ghost Recon Breakpoint is still an arcade-style shooter. This means, most enemies go down with a single headshot, outside of Heavy enemies who need a double tap to knock off their helmet. That's how I was able to clear the Wolves camp I mentioned earlier. They might be tougher than normal enemies—if Wolves above your level come at you, they'll whittle your health down real quick—but head shots from stealth are a quick equalizer.
Except when you run into the new drone enemies. Here, gear score matters a lot more. It'll take you much longer to kill higher level drones and their aim is damned near perfect. And some of them, like the flying Murmur drones, are simply annoying to tackle because they fly in odd patterns like mechanical wasps while shooting at you. So gear doesn't matter because Breakpoint is a shooter, but it also does because of the drones. You can actually take a crack at Walker early on, but access to him is gated by very high level drone tanks. Drones are the walls used to justify gear.
Breakpoint's loot system is also poorly implemented in spots. There's no way to sort your gear by score or type, which is a pretty standard option that's in fellow RPG-style Ubisoft games like The Division 2 or Assassin's Creed Odyssey. You can dismantle weapons to get weapon parts to improve aspects of certain guns, but dismantling gear nets you gear parts that… do nothing? Perhaps with the launch of the raid, they might become useful, but right now it's an entire resource you collect that goes nowhere.
Breakpoint was also supposed to lean harder on survival than Wildlands did, but those additions don't really amount to much. Stamina is probably the most successful, making you think about traversal, as running out of stamina on a slope means tumbling down and incurring injuries. But injuries outside of that don't pop up much in combat, and are patched up pretty quickly with a healing syringe. Max stamina is supposed to drop over time, requiring you to drink water, but the drop speed is low and you can ignore it outright for the most part. Again, I think there's a version of Breakpoint where survival is a much more important part of the base game—Extreme is more punitive—but it doesn't feel necessary.
What's left after you put these additions is largely Wildlands with a better map. Wildlands' version of Bolivia feels like it was stronger in terms of biome diversity, but Breakpoint's map feels real. The different biomes fit together in a more holistic way and it feels more like a real place, with jungles giving way to swamps, colorful fields, farmland, and snowy mountains. At points in Breakpoint I would just stop and look at the scenery—something I didn't do as much in Wildlands.
Breakpoint can offer some exciting moments, usually when you have a lot of enemies bearing down on your position. The enemy AI can be dumb at times, charging the same bottleneck, or it's eerily prescient, knowing exactly where a shot came from. (I don't quite understand why they're suspicious of me driving by in one of their vehicles. It's an occupied island, why is that odd?) Holding your breath as you hide in the mud with a patrol passing within a few feet of you is legitimately tense.
Moment-to-moment, the gap between Breakpoint and Wildlands is small. The core loop is still scanning an outpost with drones, and then slowly taking down enemies from stealth or blasting in with shock and awe. Driving physics are still several degrees away from reality, allowing you to send jeeps over crazy jumps, or ride a motorcycle down a mountain without dying. When I step away from switching gear in and out, I can drop hours just cleaning up Auroa without thinking about it.
This is especially true in co-op. Once you get four players together, Breakpoint is damned fun. You can clean up bases silently much faster, and blitzkrieging a position as a whole squad is a blast. Cooperative play is where Breakpoint is at its best, with friends just running around, shooting things, and usually dying in ways that lead to fun water cooler conversations. (Never let someone you don't trust fly the helicopter.)
Breakpoint is always-online, because Ubisoft wants to push you toward co-op. Nowhere is that more apparent than the blaring orange-yellow indicator that constantly flashes in the top-right corner of the screen, telling you to join/invite players. (No, you can't turn it off.) The thing is, the online doesn't have any other real hooks. You can play solo, but you can't do so offline. On launch day, the servers were actually down, preventing me from playing Breakpoint at all.
The other side of Breakpoint's online is Ghost War, the PvP mode. Ghost War is a 4v4 mode, with two teams sneaking around a smallish map trying to kill each other. Gear score is normalized while you're in PvP, but otherwise,your current class—Panther, Sharpshooter, Assault, and Field Medic—and your gear carries over to Ghost War. It helps that Ubisoft has taken the radiation circle, an idea from battle royale that focuses the action to smaller regions as the match goes on. I actually enjoy it more than Wildlands' Ghost War, if only because here it's a shared system, while Wildlands had a seperate PvP progression track.
Overall, Breakpoint is an odd experience. Weighing the game empirically and looking at the design choices made, I'd say that Breakpoint feels almost like it's treading water for the franchise. All of the new additions are too broadly implemented to have an impact. Loot matters and then it doesn't. Gear actually works against having a playstyle, since you have to keep changing to remain near top gear score. Survival feels like an afterthought. Breakpoint feels like it should've been a 2020 game, or that it was originally closer to Wildlands 2.0 before hastily implementing RPG loot. Still, I'm enjoying myself in the same way I did Wildlands; it's not great, but it's fun. Wildlands, despite its issues, became my junk comfort food, the game I played every now and then for 20-30 minutes. Breakpoint feels like it'll slot right into that spot.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a game that wants to evolve, but has trouble picking a direction. There's an extensive amount of loot, but that can get in the way of player choice in terms of specific playstyle. Equipping loot to keep up your gear score is needed to fight drone enemies, but most human enemies can be killed with a headshot, making it useless at the same time. The survival system is a selling point, but it can be largely ignored. Breakpoint needed a real direction, because what's left is just Wildlands 2.0. And doing the same thing has less impact years later.