The 3rd through to the 6th of February saw Ubisoft launch their closed beta to selected gamers of their upcoming open world tactical shooter. The next installment of the Tom Clancy franchise, Ghost Recon Wildlands. A game I’ve personally been looking forward to getting my hands on. Would it live up to expectations? I jumped in to find out.
Now this was a beta development release so it shouldn’t necessarily be looked on as the final version that will be released but bearing in mind that the release date is 7th March 2017 it would suggest that for the most part, this is a pretty accurate representation of what we can expect.
Right out of the gate you can see many similarities with Ubisoft’s previous title, Tom Clancy’s The Division. A Game I’m pretty familiar with and will base some of my thoughts and comparisons against. Ghost Recon isn’t a sequel to The Division however many players from one will undoubtedly migrate from one to the other. Wildlands moves away from the city of New York and moves into the more open sprawling hillsides and country terrain of Bolivia.
The storyline is based around you and a team of special forces being sent in to deal with the drug cartel controlling not only Bolivia but the drug trade into the United States and Canada. The Santa Blanca Cartel has been given the blind eye treatment for too long by the Bolivian government but after a DEA agent is tortured and assassinated, the United States special forces step in and that’s where your involvement begins. With today’s political climate the way it is, it seems a wise choice to make the target enemy for a game like this a universal threat rather than a specific country or military force. I think it’s fair to call drug cartels fair game when it comes to legitimate targets without offending someone. It certainly beats using the age old zombie enemy.
Gameplay seemed impressively solid. Very much in the same vein of The Division, the open world gives you and your team access and the ability to move about freely and choose how you want to go about taking on the storyline missions as well as the side missions dotted around the map. Talking of the map, its huge. This is only a taste of what is to come and I’m really looking forward to seeing just how big and diverse the map will finally be. Moving around on foot again feels the same as it did in The Division. The real change with Wildlands is that now you have access to a multitude of vehicles. Many of these can be found on the sides of roads, parked up by buildings or at friendly areas. You can of course take a more direct way of getting a vehicle and hijack a car from a passing traveler as you might do in such games as Grand Theft Auto 5 or Just Cause 3. One word of warning though is that it seems that the local inhabitants are rather skittish and pedal happy when faced with an armed special forces team attempting to take their car and have a habit of trying to speed away inevitably knocking you over and possibly killing you. I mentioned GTA5 and JC3 and these have more than a passing resemblance. The freedom to move about, the access to cars, bikes, planes and helicopters gives you a real sense of freedom that you had in these previous titles. In fact Wildlands feels so much like JC3 in places I did wonder if my character had access to a grappling hook. There’s something strangely satisfying about flying high above a target location and then skydiving into position ready to secure the objective.
Weapons are detailed and have a feel of weight and bulk to them. This is something that I’ve seen missing from some games and i feel is quite hard to get right but Wildlands has got it. Just as they did in The Division, different weapons have different characteristics and personalities in a way. Its up to you what you prefer to use in what situations. You are free to choose your own tactical layout of shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, sub machine guns and pistols. As well as this variety of choice you can also go much deeper down the rabbit hole. Just as with The Division, you can modify your chosen weapon with a host of attachments and mods to tailor each individual weapon to your personal liking. These additions can be found by exploring the map or by completing missions giving you reasons to explore and to engage with enemy positions. The closed beta only gave a taste of what you could find and use but from the glimpse I got, I already have an idea of a couple of load out options I would like to try out and can’t wait to dive in just as I did in The Division looking for and picking the right attachments to suit my play style.
As with weapons, your character can be modified and tailored to your personal tastes and play style. The initial character creation is quite detailed, giving the player many options to create their own main character and give them clothes, tattoos, scars, equipment and all manor of variety to suit just what you might want. As you progress in the game, you are rewarded with points that can be used in the menu system to open up new abilities and once opened you can boost those abilities to greatly increase your potential and skill set.Skills and abilities range from stamina and the ability to take damage to better use of binoculars and the ability to use explosives etc. The beta only gave a taste of these as you would expect but rest assured, the ability to choose and the range is there to keep gamers very happy.
Completing the missions is something that you can also put your personal stamp on. Each mission lays out a set parameter such as stealing a drug lords car or to infiltrate and extract a hostage etc. Once you have your mission details then its up to you on how you perform your task. You can decide to race in on some vehicle, guns blazing from your team while you race to fulfill your objective, dodging bullets and ducking from explosions as you go. You could choose to take a more tactical approach to the mission, scouting out the enemy positions and deciding on a route to the objective with the least amount of exposure possible. You can always choose a mixture of both or change on the fly as the events unfold. That’s the beauty of Ghost Recon Wildlands, you are in control and you have the ability to make the necessary choices. Your choice of weapons and tactics can make the missions easier, more difficult or simply more entertaining. Its all up to you. I did find that the use of the drone was an inspired piece of gaming. We have seen drones used in multiple games lately including Ubisoft’s very own Watch Dogs 2. In Ghost Recon Wildlands the drone is used to scout ahead. as the drone moves about it can detect and mark enemy positions so that you can decide which targets to pick off in which order. The drone has a limited range and a limited battery life but both of these can be upgraded as you get further into the game. I don’t often like gimmicks in a game and drones have been used as such previously but in Wildlands it really does become a powerful piece of kit.
Joining friends is also nice and simple. In the hub menu is a list of friends that are either online or offline and you can simple invite them from there. You can of course join random players as well but I find that in a game where tactics can play an interesting dynamic to how missions are completed, random players might envisage different techniques and priorities. There will always be that one player that wants to run in and try to grab the glory before the rest of the team have stepped into position. If you like playing with random gamers then great but I think that this game will truly benefit from friends playing as a team as the talk and discuss enemy positions and objectives.
So what were my impressions of the beta release of the game. In a word, impressed. After playing The Division for 300+ hours I do have to admit that I had high expectations for what Ghost Recon Wildlands would have. The beta gave a good taste of whats to come and that taste was mouth watering. I loved the sense of freedom that I had all the while feeling deeply placed into the story. I can’t wait to delve further and fight Bolivia’s drug cartels. Wildlands has a beautiful map and scenery to explore. Just as with games like JC3, I enjoyed going off into the wilderness and exploring hillsides and mountain ranges to find amazing views and finding new ways to attempt missions. I’m interested to see just how close to the release version of the game this beta was. In many cases we have seen developers release betas as more of a promotional exercise rather than a true beta test. Being close to the official launch date of Ghost Recon Wildlands I would perhaps presume that this was part pr exercise and part strength and stability test of the online structure. If that was the case then I saw no issues with online play. Servers remained solid for as much as I played. My beta experience was on the PlayStation 4 so I cannot speak as to what XBox and PC stability was like.
One issue that I had noticed during the beta was that the cover system is very soft. Ghost Recon Wildlands doesn’t share the cover system mechanics with its predecessor, The Division. Instead of locking against a piece of cover or terrain, the character loosely kneels behind or close by. This can be a bit of an issue during firefights. More than once I tried to keep close to the edge of a building wall to provide cover as I leaned round to engage the enemy but found myself either unable to look around the edge and instead aim at the actual wall or move too far out of cover and become a target. In The Division you would lock against the wall and the game mechanics would allow you to lean out or over the terrain.
This was something that was an issue for more than just myself. Talking to fellow participants including Brent (@TheDude1979) I found that this soft cover mechanic was something that others were finding somewhat lacking compared to how it was handled in The Division. There is one addition to the cover system though that does make a difference and that is the ability to go fully prone. Falling to the ground does male it harder for enemies to target you especially if used in combination with cover such as boulders and walls. Laying prone also seems to aid with aim especially when using sniper rifles which can make that long distance head shot much easier. Could a combination of the cover system from The Division and what’s already in Ghost Recon Wildlands be added before release? With about a month before the game hits the shelves it’s possible but probably unlikely. Will this cause a problem for players? In a word no. It would be nice to use a families mechanic such as the one fro The Division but although both are similar in a lot of ways and made by the same developer, they aren’t sequels and therefore mechanics will be different. Players will adapt and learn to use what is available quickly and use the cover system and terrain to their advantage.
I would have maybe liked to have seen a way that you could customize your team mates along with yourself to give your squad more of a unique and personal feel. This could have perhaps been done while creating your own main character but i have a feeling what Ubisoft are looking for is rather than using the generic team mates that you play through the single player campaign with, they want you to team up with friends and online gamers to give a more dynamic and lifelike feel to the game. This would mean that your squad is then made up of all the other players individual characters. It worked for The Division and I’m sure that there will be many times where I will be online playing with all manor of friends and community gamers so this option isn’t really an issue but maybe a nice option to have added
One thing that I did see that came across from The Division especially from the pre-patched version was the floating gun bug. On more than one occasion I could see floating guns, sometimes squad members would have their weapon floating around but the funniest occurrences were while driving. When using the dune buggy I found as I was driving my rifle would be floating out in front and turning as I tuned the wheel. Funny but not game breaking. Something I sure will be either fixed before release (on disk or via day one patch is up for debate) or at the very least patched soon after release.
Overall I have to say that I got everything I wanted from Ghost Recon Wildlands. The open world aspect let me explore how I wanted and take on the challenges and missions when I wanted to. I could choose exactly how I wanted to execute each mission. If I wanted to go in fully loaded and just shoot up anything that moved then that’s exactly what I could do. If I wanted to take a more cautious approach, check out the environment and pick the entrance, targets and objectives then that’s also what I could do. When it came to The Division I found myself using brute force and a hail of bullets to get the task done but with Ghost Recon Wildlands I found that I was taking the more careful and planned route. I found myself using the drone far more than I thought I ever would and then being far more tactical when it came to entering buildings and reaching objectives.
Is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands a perfect game? We won’t know that until the full game actually releases. Do I think that the points I’ve raised will be addressed before release? One or two maybe but certainly not all of them. However this will not change my overall thoughts on the game. Ghost Recon Wildlands has plenty of what I’m looking for. There seems to be enough depth and creativity there to keep me entertained for a long time and with the inclusion of coop and teaming up with friends, that should add months of solid game play. Hopefully they will include some aspects we saw from The Division in regards to extending the interest for players after the initial campaign. That we will find out at release but I am optimistic if not confident that there will be plenty here for fans and newcomers alike.
With so many impressive titles coming out in the next few months it could be hard to decide which ones to actually put time into but one thing I can say with certainty is that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands will be on my day one purchase list. This beta showed me just how much I want to play this title. Well done Ubisoft.