Ghost Recon Wildlands is out on March 7, and we spent some time playing the Ghost Recon Wildlands Closed Beta. You’re part of a squad of elite soldiers tasked with cleaning up Bolivia’s illicit drug trade run by the Santa Blanca — a dangerous drug cartel. Up to four players can team up to undertake missions across sweeping vistas ranging from snowy mountains to dense forests in this third-person tactical shooter.
The entire game takes place in an open-world, not too dissimilar to the rest of Ubisoft’s output this generation, with the likes of Watch Dogs 2, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, The Division, and Far Cry Primal to name a few. Unlike previous entries in the series, Ghost Recon Wildlands drops futuristic settings for a real-world scenario. Much like Gears of War and Uncharted, the action takes place in third-person, forcing you to pop in and out of cover.
Firing up the game threw up what can only be assumed a sign of utmost confidence. A prompt to pre-order the game greeted us even before we could even play the closed beta. You might find it rather presumptuous of Ubisoft. Nonetheless, we trudged on.
Before getting into the game proper, we were tasked with creating our character. The options aren’t as vast as say Final Fantasy XIV or Fallout 4, but there is more than enough to keep most happy.
Unlike The Division, there is more than just a palette swap between gear, ensuring visual variety. You could don jeans and a shirt, or opt for full camouflage, a la Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s ghillie suit.
However, the outfits you wear are purely cosmetic. We opted for the ghillie suit, and there was no real benefit. Enemies were able to spot us despite our disguises.
Akin to Watch Dogs, you’ll find a host of vehicles at your disposal to negotiate Bolivia’s varied terrain, that ranges from mountains to plateaus with weather conditions such as snow and rain along with a real-time day-night cycle to boot.
In the beta, the gunplay was serviceable. Pulling off headshots was easy thanks to responsive controls. Using scopes to take out targets from afar was equally simple. Throw in sync shots — which allow you to take down multiple targets quietly, and it was easy to see that the game wants players to take the silent and stealthy route.
But you don’t have to do that. Going in guns blazing is an option too, and perhaps one which is a lot more enjoyable. Swapping out suppressors to go in loud resulted in some interesting situations. Several enemies were run down by their own allies in cars as they tried hurrying to our location. Other times, it resulted in an entire base being distracted while we managed to sneak out with a high value target that had to be rescued.
In fact, disregarding stealth might be the best way to play Ghost Recon Wildlands. Reason being, the missions themselves aren’t particularly memorable. Sure, you’ll steal equipment, assassinate high-ranking cartel members, or assist the local rebel forces, but it all feels rather rote and don’t follow any logical sequence.
For example, you’ll grab a sports car used by a cartel duo you’re tracking down to find the places they’ve visited via its GPS, but you won’t be able to pinpoint their location until you do a few more missions. The structure in Ghost Recon Wildlands seems to pad quest lines a lot more than it should, making the busywork a lot more obvious than say, The Division, or Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
What kept the aforementioned games fresh was their worlds. They had a sense of character that kept us coming back. Are the titular wildlands of Bolivia enough? The sparsely populated regions, while impressive in scale, don’t seem to have much to offer except for Instagram-worthy sunrises and sunsets.
A saving grace is the game’s cheesy videos on its many villains. With funny memes lampooning social media and relationships, they’re fun to watch, adding some much needed personality to the game.
The game also sports a robust levelling up system. As you progress you’ll gain resources and experience points which let you unlock new abilities, such as greater aim precision or more health. It’s an interesting addition but it will be interesting to see how much of an impact it has on the proceedings when the full game is out.
From our experience, unlocking the parachute — allowing us to exit the game’s many helicopters at will - proved to be useful. At the same time, certain perks can be gained by discovering medals in the game world, adding an element randomisation to character progression.
Driving the various vehicles in the game also felt exceedingly random. Be it unrealistically rocketing up mountain slopes in an underpowered bike or crashing into walls only to bounce off them in a 4x4, it just felt inconsistent, making the use of the aforementioned helicopters a necessity.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is best played with friends. Rallying three other pals alleviated some of its concerns. But strictly single-player only fans should stay away, despite Ubisoft talking up plot and villains. It just isn’t a lot of fun alone as the AI — both friendly and enemy - have too many flaws. The former tend to take forever to heal you if you find yourself wounded, while opposing soldiers don’t make use of cover and prefer sticking together, making it ridiculously effortless to string together kills. Its humdrum mission design does it no favours either. All of this results in a repetitive, by the numbers effort.
Although Ghost Recon Wildlands is out next month, the closed beta has us concerned. Ghost Recon Wildlands may share the name of a series of tactical shooters that’s been around since 2001, but that might be the only thing they have in common.