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.