When Ghost Recon Breakpoint was revealed to have loot during its announcement last May, you could almost hear the heavy sigh among diehard fans of the series. Here we go. Ubisoft is making it another looter shooter.
The decision drew a mixed reaction. Would Breakpoint be able to distinguish itself from its in-house competition? And more importantly, would loot push the series further away from being a hardcore tactics shooter? It hasn't helped that Ubisoft recently released another third-person looter shooter set in the Tom Clancy universe—The Division 2.
The key difference would seem to be that Breakpoint doesn't necessarily want to put all of its focus on loot, or as executive producer Nouredine Abboud puts bluntly, "We are a shooter, they are an RPG."
He goes on, "The rule is that shooting at an enemy should create impact right away because you're a highly trained spec ops soldier. You should be able to create havoc right away at Level 1."
Abboud has been with the franchise since 2007's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. When I ask him what it means to be Ghost Recon, he says it's mainly a series about being a special ops soldier behind enemy lines. It didn't become a full-blown open-world game until 2017's Ghost Recon Wildlands, but such exploration has always been in the franchise's DNA in one form or another.
"When I look at what happened with [Ghost Recon: Future Soldier], it was a very cool spec ops game, but we wanted to have bigger maps, especially in sniping situations," Abboud explains. "That's why we made it open-world. The power of modern consoles and PC made it so 'behind enemy lines' was actually 'behind enemy lines.' What we're doing with Breakpoint is also linked to the technology and the mastery we have. We have the same team, and we're getting better at it."
From open-world sandbox gameplay, it's only a short leap to the looter shooter genre. Wildlands was already most of the way there, featuring numerous online events and other elements that would be familiar to Destiny and The Division 2 fans. Breakpoint takes it the rest of the way.
In many ways Ghost Recon Breakpoint follows the rules of looter shooters. It has four classes—Assault, Panther, Sharpshooter, and Medic—with a fifth, the Engineer, scheduled to be released after launch. It has guns that you can pick up off fallen enemies. You can invest points in a large skill tree to unlock perks, even if you aren't necessarily locked to one class, as I discovered when I was able to easily incorporate a sniper rifle into my arsenal. It will feature a raid in a Bond-like volcano base and daily missions.
But it's also quite different. Human enemies are designed to die after taking a bullet to the head no matter what level they might be. That alone significantly differentiates it from a game like Destiny, which is famous for its bullet sponges.
"I want people to realize that one thing that is not changing is the impact of the bullet in the head of the enemy," Abboud says.
So why include loot at all? Mostly because it looks cool, and because it's a useful hook to keep players coming back. "Mostly it matters that people come to the game on a daily basis and see that it's changed in some way," Abboud explains. "This is why the stats come in handy. By having stats, you have a feeling that you're developing the character. That's our goal: to have content on a daily basis."
He goes on, "Loot adds two things: depth and length. Length because each time we've added stats, content, and depth [in Ghost Recon Wildlands], people have been interested and wanted to keep playing. For us this is not about forgetting the rules of Ghost Recon, but about taking into account the behavior of modern gamers. And what we're seeing is that people are happy to keep playing as long as it stays true to its roots."
So while tiered loot will definitely have a presence in Breakpoint, it's seemingly being deemphasized in comparison to its competition. This goes for PvP as well, where Abboud says the impact of loot will be toned down in the interest of maintaining gameplay balance. The main goal in allowing one character to carry over to multiple modes is in ensuring that players always have options if one mode is unavailable.
But while the Breakpoint team is keen to emphasize the impact of headshots, the drones shouldn't be forgotten. In the teaser for the first raid, there's a shot of a large autonomous tank rolling out, which is unlikely to be a "one shot, one kill situation."
The trick, ultimately, will be whether Breakpoint can live up to its promise of "no bullet sponges" in the endgame content. Abboud seems confident enough on this point, "Of course some drones are very strong, but we want to keep it spec ops and we don't want you to face bullet sponges."