PAX West 2019: Jon Bernthal Steals the Show in Ghost Recon Breakpoint
If you played Ghost Recon Wildlands, there's a good chance you skipped all the cutscenes. I know I did. In 60 gameplay hours, I saw only the first few seconds of any given scene before I skipped past it.
Storytelling just wasn't the game's strong suit, and that was okay. It gave players an immense world, plenty of bad guys to push around, loads of gadgets to toy with, skilled AI teammates, and a fun co-op mode. I never felt like it needed also tell a good story.
After going hands-on with the game's follow-up, Breakpoint, I came away thinking something different. Breakpoint's familiar world has a story worth caring about, and that's owed entirely to the awesome Jon Bernthal.
You likely already know Bernthal well, if not from his stage appearance at E3, then from his role as Netflix and Marvel's gone-too-soon The Punisher.
I, along with others I suspect, loved him most as the ethically flexible Shane on AMC's The Walking Dead. He's a scene-stealer who has always deserved more of the spotlight and now that his starring role in the Marvel world got the ax, he gets the chance to further showcase his talents as the main antagonist of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint: Colonel Cole D. Walker.
With his tough exterior and pitch-perfect rugged survivalist delivery, Bernthal proves it's a role he was born to play. Even as Ubisoft execs annoyingly waffle on tough subjects by pretending government coups and tyrannical narco-states are apolitical storylines, the flash of narrative brilliance I saw in my time with Breakpoint tells me that this story is worth sticking around for, at least when the powerful Bernthal is on screen.
Beyond that, my hands-on demo was full of the Ghost Recon Ubisoft had successfully reimagined in 2017. A sprawling open world, ground and air vehicles ripe for the taking, a play-your-way approach to combat, and gadgets galore.
A blessing in disguise, I actually encountered a mission-breaking bug during my time, so we went off-script and explored the open world a bit more. It was probably better that way anyway. It proved that Breakpoint will absolutely scratch the same itch for fans that Wildlands did.
One of my favorite moments came when a recon drone from Walker's AI army began hovering over us. Crouching into the dirt and smothering ourselves in mud, we laid still, waiting for the robot to pass. When one teammate got up too soon, the drone alerted more enemies, and we quickly went from Fourth Echelon acolytes to guns-blazing war heroes.
It's not the way I like to play but it felt earned given our error. Just as in Wildlands, this is a game supremely focused on tactics and execution, and every right or wrong move changes the landscape of every battle in real-time.
With the surprise of Wildlands' enormous success under their belt, Ubisoft will likely go bigger and better with Breakpoint, and time will tell what that means for their latest long-tailed service game.
But for me, the biggest, most optimistic change comes between the gameplay moments, in those scenes where Jon Bernthal is on screen, morphing from a war hero into the Ghosts' big bad villain. No one could be a better fit than Bernthal for this role, and no one is more excited to see him play it than I am.
For more hands-on impressions, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub, where we've collected all of our coverage in a single place!