I crawl up a mound of earth, my gear jangling as I go, safe from the floodlights of the concrete dockyard to my left. As I crest the hill I am simultaneously enfeebled and empowered; I am visible to anyone who casts their eye my way, but I can see everything. And since I’m a sharpshooter, with a scoped rifle and the ability to shoot a sensor in any direction, I figure my eyesight is likely to be better than theirs.
I’m still tense as I scope in and out, scanning the crane, the hills, the prefab buildings in the distance. With a buzz of rotors our opponents put up a drone, and I am posed an interesting dilemma; given enough time in the air, a decent drone pilot will spot you and mark you for their teammates to hunt down. But if you get marked, you can always relocate – knowing your location only helps your opponent if they’re able to act on that knowledge quickly.
If you decide you’d rather not chance it, you can always shoot the drone down, but the sound of your gunfire appears on your opponents’ minimap as a cloud of yellow, giving a vague but certain idea of your location. I figure it’s worth the risk – the game has only just started and I doubt the enemy is able to threaten us yet. I blow the drone out of the sky, sprint off the hill, and cross the map to regroup with my team.
Opening a gameplay preview with an anecdote is a well-trodden approach in this business, but in this case it’s the best way to give you a sense of what it’s like to play the Ghost War PvP mode in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. There’s no obvious point of comparison with any other game. In the briefing presentation, it is mentioned that there will be a shrinking ring of death and gear to loot on the map, and I nod sagely to myself: ‘Ah, I see. This is Ubisoft making its battle royale.’
I was wrong about that. This isn’t a battle royale. The maps are far smaller, you will find no guns among the items you loot, and the shrinking ring of death is a stalemate-breaker that only activates in the dying minutes, rather than a constant consideration. Also, the mode I play is a 4v4 team deathmatch, rather than a 100-player free-for-all. The closest comparison is obviously Wildlands’ PvP mode, but Ubisoft has made a number of changes based on data and community feedback, the most persistent point of which was that it rewarded passive play; you could sit and wait for opponents to come to you, letting your powerful class ability charge slowly over time, and punish them for taking risks.
No longer. There are no cooldowns in Breakpoint’s Ghost War; your class ability charges when you take action, like killing enemies or reviving allies, and powerups such as drones are single-use items that must be looted from the field. There’s also a communications array in the centre of both maps that we play, which marks every enemy player if you succeed in hacking it – a huge advantage when tracking your enemy down is half the battle. Altogther, we have plenty of incentive to get stuck in, and matches are anything but boring.
The result is a team shooter that feels truly unique. It’s far more serious and considered than an arena shooter, but tighter, quicker, more action-packed than a battle royale, and with a greater focus on teamwork and communication. Matches last no longer than 12 minutes or so – thanks partly to that ring of death – with the opening act defined by a war of information and communication as each team tries to figure out where their opponents are.
Ubisoft says that Ghost War’s maps have been tailored specifically for PvP, unlike those of Wildlands. It shows; the snowbound military base and dockyard on which we play are excellent arenas, with plenty of cover and changes in elevation to break up sightlines and just enough space to hide. If they were any bigger, there wouldn’t be enough action and games would drag. Any smaller, and it’d be too difficult to evade your opponents. As it is, there’s enough room to outflank and in other ways surprise the enemy, or to slip away if winged by a bullet, without ever feeling overwhelmed by the space of the maps.
That said, I wonder if I detect a touch of imbalance; I definitely prefer the uphill spawn near the military base on the snow map, and slightly prefer the seaward spawn on the dockyard map. I’d be curious to see the win rates on these maps.
Other than that, the only reservation I have is in how Ghost War will play if you’re not in a party of four with microphones, as I was at the preview event. I can imagine that solo queue will be a very different, and much less enjoyable, experience – a cooperative, willing spirit is ideal, but for everyone to have microphones seems practically essential given that so much of Ghost War is about sharing information.
More broadly, Ubisoft promises that Ghost War will be seamlessly integrated with the rest of Breakpoint. You can play one character across the whole PvE/PvP experience, with their loadout – including its loot, levels, perks and all the rest – equally applicable in either mode. Everything you earn in PvE will be useful in PvP and vice versa, so everything you do in the game will matter. That said, Ghost War will be “balanced for fairness”, Ubisoft says, with aforementioned loot, perks and so on all tuned specifically for PvP to ensure veterans have no “critical advantages” over newcomers.
With Ghost War having been added to Wildlands several months after release, it’s understandable if it felt like a bit of an afterthought. It has clearly been given the care it deserves in Breakpoint, with a number of data- and community-driven changes to enhance the experience, including dedicated servers. The result is a highly distinctive team shooter that packs tension and excitement into every game, and makes by itself a pretty strong case to pick up Breakpoint when it releases on October 4.