Assassin’s Creed games have gotten better and better at establishing a sense of place and filling that place with tons of satisfying, stealthy missions. After a few hours with Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo is still mostly just thinking about how much he likes Assassin’s Creed. On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, we talk about his initial impressions of Ubisoft’s latest, as well as the other stealth-focused open world games that he loves.
First up, Kirk and I discuss the games we’re playing. I’m still on Fire Emblem: Three Houses but also tried two new tabletop games: Escape from Aliens in Outer Space and Sheriff of Nottingham. Kirk’s tabletop group is still playing Betrayal Legacy, and Kirk is also playing the new Hitman level and Destiny 2: Shadowkeep.
After a break (28:32), we bring on Stephen to talk about Ghost Recon Breakpoint, open world games, and how much we all love sidequests. We close with off-topic discussion (1:08:15) about Elementary, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Kirk’s music pick.
Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.
Stephen: One of the interesting things about this game — and this is going to be a theme, Ubisoft doing the same thing in multiple games, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. In this case, what I think is cool, is when they tease their next game in the previous game.
There was a surprise update to Ghost Recon Wildlands, the one set in Bolivia that came out in 2017, earlier this year. Suddenly they’re like, “There’s this other Ghost,” which is what the special agents in the Ghost Recon universe are called, and it’s the Jon Bernthal character, whose name is escaping me right now, unfortunately.
He shows up and he has a mission for you, and you do a few things. They didn’t say it flat-out at the moment, but within a couple days, they revealed that this was actually a tease for Breakpoint.
They’ve been doing that now, where Ubisoft games will get this last-minute DLC or something. Division 1 did it for Division 2. I was speculating earlier this week on Kotaku that Assassin’s Creed Odyssey hasn’t really had its final update and I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they start teasing the next one of those.
So anyway, his group of Ghosts have overtaken the island. So, as opposed to the previous game where you go in with three AI buddies and you guys are all going through, doing the stealth shooting tactical stuff — it can be co-op if you prefer, instead of AI — you are solo in this one.
I mean, you can co-op, but there’s no other human characters by default. It’s just you and your drone. More survival aspects. You can get tired, you have to drink water. You can bivouac, you can set it afire. And if you eat, you have a little bit of extra stat boost, I forget which type, the next time you go back into action. But if you read a book, a little handbook that you have, you can get more XP.
Maddy: You become emotionally fulfilled, and then going back into action isn’t as daunting.
Kirk: You engage your imagination!
Stephen: With literature that you’re reading? No, it’s tactical notes. It’s the Clancy-verse, that’s what you’d be reading about.
Kirk: “How To Skin A Snake, And Eat It.”
Stephen: Exactly. But basically, you’ve got big skill trees, like you had in the previous game. They’ve gone more heavy on the loot and the collecting, which can suspiciously be monetized. Weapon blueprints, all kinds of scored statistic-based armours that you can get, all of which you’re constantly collecting and harvesting or whatever and can then get from an in-game shop.
Some of the stuff you can buy optionally from the microtransactions shop instead. Although, I don’t feel like you need to do any of that. It always has that question, though, of have they built in some of the grind?
It’s open in terms of what you do. You can go after the main dude right away. Heather Alexandra’s gonna review the game for us and she’s trying to do that.
She’s trying to do that Ganon in Breath of the Wild-style, go in your underwear and try to take him down with a stick. But she ran into a tank, so it’s not working out so well.
Otherwise, you can try to take down these various Ghosts that have gone rogue, who are on the island, or you can try to do other quests that are on the island. It seems like it could be interesting. It’s a huge, vast world, I just haven’t explored enough of it.
Like Wildlands, the main character is this blank slate. The writing is pretty wooden so far. The whole thing is surprisingly austere. You have some Ubisoft games that have a lot of personality to them, more like the Far Cry games, some of the Assassin’s Creeds or the Rayman games.
Kirk: Watch Dogs.
Stephen: But then you have these games that are much more stripped down, like Steep, which was pretty antiseptic. I would say Wildlands to an extent was like that, and I’m getting some of that from Breakpoint too.
Kirk: Didn’t Steep have the mountain that started talking to you sometimes? It was like this one weird flash of colour in an otherwise very beige game.
I have a couple of questions. First of all, John Bernthal’s name is Colonel Cole D. Walker.
Stephen: Oh yeah! Cole Walker! I just needed to think of some generic words. Cole Walker, that makes sense.
Kirk: Someone should just make a huge list of all the “action man” names that have ever existed. There are so many, and they’re all very good. So, questions that I have. First of all, how’s the gameplay? What is it like, in general, to go to an outpost of dudes and shoot the dudes?
Stephen: It’s great, Kirk. [laughs] What a weird question. What is it like to go to a base and shoot the dudes?
Kirk: Love shootin’ the dudes. I mean, that’s what you do in the game, right?
Maddy: How does it feel? How’s the gunplay? Feel good? Feel powerful?
Kirk: Snuffing a man’s life out? Watching him die?
Maddy: [laughs] That is the game, though, right?
Stephen: As both of you know — listeners may not know — I play games in a strange way. One of the things I do is I spend too much time in menus trying to understand systems instead of just diving right into the gameplay.
Maddy: You haven’t actually shot anyone in the entire game yet.
Kirk: “I have a really good understanding of the microtransaction store, but haven’t really shot too many people—”
Stephen: They’ve thrown this very weird version of a battle pass into it. I’ve been interested in some of the quest structure and stuff like that. What I found is that I can’t play it the way I played the previous game, which was the way I try to manage Kotaku, and the way that I most like playing an Assassin’s Creed game.
Kirk: Shoot people from a distance?
Stephen: Point and have other people do the awesome stuff.
Maddy: While you’re doing sidequests that may or may not be relevant? Or is that too real?
Stephen: [laughs] Right. My favourite moment in any Assassin’s Creed game is in Brotherhood or whatever, where you have that posse of assassins and you’re just walking down the street all suave as Ezio.
Then you just press that button to whistle and then suddenly your assassin brother or minions, whatever, jump off of a rooftop or out of a haystack and stab a person to death. And you just keep walking down the street without breaking a stride.
They’ve taken that away from Assassin’s Creed games, but what I liked in Wildlands is that you could, with either your character’s sights with the gun or with the drone that you can fly into the air at any moment, you could tag up to three targets, and then you could either pull the trigger while shooting one enemy and then your three buddies would automatically shoot the other three targets.
Or, you could not fire a shot at all, you just press the button and the three targets you tag would all be killed by your three buddies. You could do this in a super-stealthy way where you were never exposing yourself to danger, other than to just surveil, spot, and then say, “OK, tag them, take them out.”
For me, that was the best way to remain stealthy in that game, and I enjoyed playing it that way. Then I would take things on myself if the action got too hairy, or whatever.
In this case… you don’t have the AI buddies yet, they’re coming as I think free DLC. You instead are relying on your drone to fly around and zap each person that you tag. They’ve made it an item, an expendable item, so you only get three sync shots and you have to collect more.
So, it’s forcing me to do more direct engagement, actually sneaking up on enemies. I would actually say they’re correcting for the way that I was playing. Sometimes you can object to that — “The developers should go the way the players go” — but I feel like it’s good and healthy that I’m being incentivised to use my stealth skills.