Ubisoft left us wanting more after our hands-on with the E3 demo of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, so we were more than happy to go to Paris when the company invited us for six additional hours with the tactical shooter. Ghost Recon: Wildlands - the game's narrative predecessor - took the well-known franchise to an open world where player freedom was the main focus. Going open world has allowed Ubisoft to bring us a lot more content and tweaks over the last couple of years, with one of these updates including new missions where another ghost switched sides before leaving Bolivia, forcing us to give chase into this sequel.
Continuing the story in a sequel instead of a new update was a choice Ubisoft made because they wanted to address player requests for a more realistic experience as well as improvements to the core gameplay. Could moving away from the slightly less authentic experience and changing certain aspects of Wildlands' successful formula be just what the franchise needs, or could this be an example of the customer not always being right? Our recent trip allowed us to explore some of the questions we had about the game, although the answers we got left us with a weird mix of positivity and concern.
One of the aspects we didn't mention in our E3 preview was the change of scenery. Basing Wildlands' environments on Bolivia put a few restrictions on the designers as they needed to stay somewhat true to the real deal. That being the case, it's nice to see that moving the action over to the fictional Auroa in Breakpoint has removed those chains. We were only able to explore the northern parts of the massive archipelago, but it was more than enough to show just how much more diverse the environments are this time around. Being able to move from tight jungles to snowy mountains in minutes might not reflect the game's focus on realism, but it sure is a lot more entertaining for the eyes.
Another thing that caught our eye was how moving the camera closer has several neat benefits. It doesn't just improve the sense of immersion and intensity, but it also shows off the improved graphics. The increased focus on story and cutscenes shines through as both facial animations and the artistic direction of the scenes seem to have taken big leaps since the campy Wildlands. Sure, some of the characters and sequences we came across in our time with Breakpoint felt a bit cartoony and exaggerated, but a fair number - especially those where Jon Bernthal's Cole D. Walker was involved - were surprisingly engaging.
Still, the improved textures are nothing compared to the new animations system. You'll still come across some stiff and weird movement every now and then, when your character tries to walk up a hill or over some kind of obstacle, but we're willing to look past that when things generally look more fluid and authentic. Whether it's how you reach out for something to keep your balance while sliding down a slope or how you can cover yourself in mud when using the new prone camo, these are little details we enjoyed seeing in action.
Being big fans of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, using the latter was a lot of fun. Auroa feels like a real sandbox when you realise how to use your new abilities and gadgets to turn the hunters into the hunted, like laying in wait mere inches from a passing patrol or timing your stealthy kill of the last soldier while the three others are dealt with by the synchronised shots of your drones and/or teammates.
The injury system isn't as intrusive as we feared, as it mostly functions as an extra tension builder in shoot-outs as you take cover to apply some sorely needed bandages or stab yourself with that magical syringe that can heal any wound. Crafting these items obviously requires certain resources, but we never came close to running out, so one of the few negatives with this new setup is that it slows down the action for a few seconds. Let's just say that we have bigger concerns than that.
Our concerns are because Breakpoint seems to be struggling with some of the same shortcomings as its predecessor. Auroa might give the developers more creative freedom, but that doesn't stop it from feeling artificial. Those of you who have played the latest Far Cry games might know what we're talking about; the world just doesn't seem real when you come across the exact same scenarios, patrols, and enemy placements all the time. How many soldiers just standing by their vehicle in the exact same position can you kill before it becomes repetitive and tedious? The driving still feels very floaty as well, which makes going on foot for miles seem more enticing than jumping on the ATV, motorbike, or car.
That said, it's a good thing that Ghost War will be available from the get-go this time around, as Ubisoft has made some very interesting tweaks by incorporating some of the general changes from the campaign and taking inspiration from battle royale. Equipment and resources will now be spread across the maps and a radiated circle will start to close in towards the end of each round, forcing players to stay on their toes. All of the maps we played seemed well-balanced for all of the different classes and playstyles, so the folks at Ubisoft aren't joking when they say they've listened to feedback and analysed a ton of data from Wildlands. Finally, being able to carry or drag downed teammates to new locations before reviving them also meant some fun and exhilarating moments as we made incredible comebacks and nice tactical maneuvers (if we say so ourselves).
In short, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is definitely a sequel to Wildlands. Ubisoft has improved upon some of the first game's shortcoming by taking us to a new area, implementing a new animation system, and putting a heavier focus on realism by letting us get injured, carry bodies, and more. We have a few concerns though, as the gameplay still gets repetitive and large parts of the world feel empty. You can't just fill an island with collectibles and loot that don't seem to make a noteworthy difference and hope that watching stats improve will keep us engaged for long. There's still time to fix some of these things, and some of you were also more than willing to look past these shortcomings last time around, so it's important to specify that we had a lot of fun with the core gameplay. We look forward to playing the upcoming beta to see if some of our concerns can be alleviated there, and those of you who love Wildlands should do the same, as Breakpoint builds upon Ubisoft's well-known recipe in cool ways while also introducing new systems that heightens the sense of freedom you've come to love.