Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a veritable cocktail of survival tactics and player freedom, with a brilliant set up for co-op based action. I was barely 10 minutes into my PvE hands-on session when I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, trying desperately to inch my way around five enemies without being spotted. The first few minutes of the campaign are great at establishing that Ghost Recon Breakpoint is all about survival, so naturally the stakes are high from the get go. When you first you see your Ghost, they're separated from their team and hanging upside down with blood streaking across their face. The helicopter they were just on blows up some distance away, and this is when you're thrown into the action. Talk about an explosive introduction.
The crash takes place on Auroa, the multifaceted island with several different biomes that you're about to call home… but not really, because there are a heck of a lot of things on the island that want to hunt you down, and it's definitely not to invite you for tea. With trained ex-Ghosts known as the Wolves roaming the island, deadly drones in the skies and on land, and plenty of other gunmen who won't hesitate to fire, this isn't a good place to be – especially since you start off badly injured, and completely alone. In Ghost Recon Wildlands, you already have everything at your disposal: fellow ghosts are at your side, you have all of your equipment, and taking on a town of enemy gunmen feels doable from the start. Ghost Recon Breakpoint, on the other hand, is a very different story. With no recon equipment to give you the upper hand in this new unknown territory to begin with, and no teammates at your back, you have to keep your wits about you as head to your first objective: going to the crash site to search for survivors.
'Cause you're free to play how you want to play
After hobbling my way through the grassy landscape for a bit, I decide it's wise to patch myself up. Here's where you'll see the new injury feature in action, and it's just one of the new ways Ghost Recon Breakpoint tries to give you a taste of what it's like to survive behind enemy lines. "We don't only want to just tell the players the story of spec ops, we want the players to feel it," UX Director Matthew Tomkinson tells me, when I ask about the survival aspects. "We wanted players to feel how painful it can be, so that it's not only just guns blazing and being immortal." And you certainly don't feel immortal. Every hit you sustain will lead to more severe injuries that seriously hinder your movements, adding a new level of intensity to the playing field. Tomkinson explains that Ghost Recon Breakpoint wants to give you the most authentic experience being a Ghost, and that includes letting players get involved in every aspect of a spec ops soldier's life, from where they sleep in bivouacs (makeshift camps), to how they travel across the terrain on foot or by vehicle, and of course, to combat and injury.
The enemies in Ghost Recon Breakpoint also add a lot more depth to the tactical side of the combat. The Wolves have the same training as you as ex-Ghosts, and are led by Jon Bernthal, your ex-brother in arms, meaning these are tough adversaries that present unique new challenges. Very early on, you're presented with the option to face some Wolves who have come to investigate the crash site, but it's not an easy fight. The beauty of this moment is it's entirely up to you to decide if you want to take them on and how, which is one of the most appealing aspects of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. In every respect, it lets you decide how you want to play, truly putting player freedom at the forefront. From customising your Ghost's looks, skill sets and weapon loadout, to letting you decide your how you want to approach every situation and navigate its world, you really are left to your own devices.
I went completely prone camo, the new stealthy feature that lets you cloak yourself using the island's terrain, and tried to inch my way towards the Wolves. There's an alarming visceral sense of danger you feel when Wolves are nearby, and every fibre of my being was screaming at me to get the hell out of the situation. Feeling too intimidated to initiate a gunfight, I decided to try and give them the slip, which felt like an achievement to pull off anyway.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Where things get really interesting, though, is when you play the main campaign in co-op. We had access to over six hours of content and were allowed to try out a handful of different missions including faction missions, Auroa missions, and Operation Greenstone missions. After you get past the initial introduction to the main campaign, you'll head to a place called Erewhon, the lush green hub area where you'll be able to invite friends to join you, or start a PvP session.
As a team of four, we were told we'd be playing in unguided mode, which is as exactly as it sounds. Essentially, instead of being led to your objective with obvious markers, you have to use intel to navigate your way to the right location and complete the missions. Thanks to all the different skill sets we had, it really felt like everyone brought something to the action. For our first mission, we are given the task of taking out a land drone, with our first piece of intel leading us to two different areas that we had to explore in order to find another clue that would ultimately lead us to our end goal.
Of course, you don't have to use unguided mode when you get stuck into the action yourself, but it was a fantastic way of getting us to work as a team and communicate with each other to find the correct location. This mode also acts as another way to offer you a more authentic experience as a spec ops soldier, and makes you feel like a band of Ghosts who can piece together the intel like a satisfying puzzle. Sure, we have a few hiccups along the way - like going to the completely wrong location and getting caught up in an unnecessary firefight - but even when you make mistakes, gaining more XP and finding new weapons and gear still feels worthwhile.
"We didn't want to have leashes or constrain the players," Tomkinson says when talking about co-op, "anyone could be doing something different." The seamless co-op experience, as Tomkinson explains, is really core to the Breakpoint experience. It worked very well in practise too, and lets you be anywhere on the map in the same session. So you can go off and do your own thing while another player does something else, or you can regroup and team up to take on a mission together. It was endlessly fun getting stuck into infiltrating a heavily guarded base with my team, but I loved how much freedom it gives to you to do whatever you want without being tied to other players.
As someone who's only dabbled in Wildlands and is relatively new to the franchise, I have to say Breakpoint really pulled me in and never made me feel like I was at a disadvantage compared to a more experienced player of the series. In fact, I could see this being a fantastic gateway for new players, but there's also a lot here for those who have dived into the action for years, too.