This past weekend I had the chance to play the open beta for the latest Ghost Recon game, Wildlands. Now that I’ve got a few hours under my belt, here’s my take on it.
I have to be honest, I had some reservations before I even played it. After all, it’s yet another open world game from Ubisoft, a company that has repeatedly been unable to fill their sandbox games with meaningful content. By meaningful, I don’t mean collectables and generally scrubbing the map clean of icons – I mean genuine, memorable side quests and engaging activities.
Ultimately, Wildlands suffers from the same shortcomings that plague most of Ubisoft’s sandbox games. There’s a vast, gorgeous open world to explore, but there’s very little to do in it. This might sound like a harsh criticism for a game that’s still in development, but Ubisoft’s track record with these kind of games doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
A character customisation screen was the first thing that greeted me when I loaded up Wildlands. Given that this was only the beta, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much choice there was in customisation options. Granted, it wasn’t particularly deep by any stretch of the imagination, but it was more than I was expecting. Aside from the usual gender and skin colour choices, there were lots of clothing, face paints, tattoos and scar options available. More than enough to be able to really put your stamp on your character.
After the character setup came the opening cut scene, which was hilariously bad. My guy and his comrades were transported into a beleaguered Bolivia. It was a chopper ride replete with awful dialogue, monotonous voice acting and graphical glitches. In all fairness, these are the kind of problems that you would expect to encounter in an unfinished product, so it was entirely forgivable.
What I couldn’t forgive, however, were the almost archaic vehicles. The variety of vehicles on offer was admirable, but their handling was awful. It felt like the driving mechanics had been borrowed from a much older game. The vehicles lacked any kind of fluidity in their movement and they seemed completely impervious to the terrain. They would glide over uneven surfaces without so much as a wobble, and I was even able to drive up sheer cliff faces as though they were marginal inclines.
Maybe I’m being too harsh after spending countless hours on GTA Online, but with any sandbox game that contains vehicles there’s a certain standard that I have come to expect. With a map of this magnitude, a lot of time will be spent in some form of transport, but the vehicles in Wildlands need some attention to get them up to par. I often found myself travelling on foot if my objective was less than a kilometre away.
What made the vehicle handling more annoying was the fact that the other controls were spot on. Moving your character around the world, engaging in firefights and utilising cover felt smooth and natural. The gun play, as you would expect from a Ghost Recon game, was tight and satisfying. There was also an impressive arsenal of weapons available, and you could tinker with each one to your heart’s content.
My main grievances with sandbox games are that they don’t always feel necessary. Many of them would benefit from being more linear, more focused affairs. Weirdly, the squad-based tactical nature of past Ghost Recon games fits an open world setting quite well.
You’re given the freedom to approach missions in a number of different ways. You can opt for stealth, with quiet takedowns and suppressed weapons, or you can go in guns blazing. If the vehicles weren’t so infuriatingly inept, you could even have your squad engage enemies while in transit. Coordinating attacks with your friends is a lot of fun.
The downside to this freedom is that the staggeringly vast map is almost devoid of anything to do. There are a handful of story missions and side quests, but they are pretty repetitive. I never felt particularly compelled to clear the map of activities, which is a worry for games such as this. It’s replayability depends heavily on the variety of its missions, but, judging by this beta, there doesn’t appear to be much variety at all. Hopefully that’s not the case for the full game, but it’s certainly a worry at this point.
It seems almost fashionable to compare Wildlands to The Division, which is a little unfair as they are completely different games. Yes, they are both open world shooters developed by Ubisoft but that’s where the similarities end. Wildlands fits the Tom Clancy tag much more than The Division does with its stealthier tactics and lack of bullet-sponge enemies.
However, I have the seemingly unpopular opinion that The Division is a better product due to the fact that it’s a much more focused and refined game, and I personally find the setting more interesting. But that’s just me.
Overall, Wildlands is a mixed bag. The open world is beautiful, inviting but devoid of content. The combat is fun, tactical and engaging but offset by the almost unwieldy vehicles. In truth, playing Wildlands made me want to play other games instead. Driving along the dirt roads made me want to go back to GTA V and the tactical gunfights made me long for the Ghost Recon games of old.
Wildlands is a melting pot of good ideas that were put to better use elsewhere. However, there is the nucleus for a really good game here. It’d be interesting to see what Ubisoft could do with this if they weren’t so intent on surrounding it with a needlessly expansive setting.
At the moment, for me at least, the negatives outweigh the positives, so I won’t be buying this come release day. Hopefully, with a few post release patches, Wildlands can eventually become the game it so desperately wants to be. For now it’s just another flawed, shallow sandbox on the horizon.