I have a confession to make. I went into the Closed Beta for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands hoping it would be bad. I have nothing against the developer nor the Ghost Recon franchise, but March is heating up to be a heavy gaming month. If Wildlands’ beta proved the game was just going to be another Ubisoft dud, I could easily mark it off and focus on the other releases coming out. However, instead of a glitch-filled mess lacking in content, I found a game that proved to be a lot of fun.
Right from the beginning, I was startled with the amount of choice the game gave me. Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games are usually chock-full of customization options, but the last two entries in the franchise, The Division and Rainbow Six: Siege, proved lacking. Wildlands opened on a character customization screen that was surprisingly robust. It did not quite reach the level seen in Saints Row IV, but it put games like Destiny to shame. Sex, facial structure, and race were all customizable. I could also change my shoes, pants, shirt, outerwear, and backpack. There were a few ghillie suits, head set radios, hats, and glasses options as well. Scars and some of the most patriotic tattoos I had ever seen were also available. As a fan of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, I immediately went to work on making the perfect modern day Assassin, complete with a grey-white hoodie.
The freedom of choice did not stop there. Wildlands looks to feature a decently detailed skill tree to offer a wide variety of playing styles, as well as plenty of weapons that are also fully customizable to complement any player’s strategy. I immediately gravitated to a long range, silent hunter, substituting my secondary weapon for a sniper rifle and upgrading the range on my drone to better pick off enemies from a distance.
The true joy of what Wildlands could be upon release came through once I truly started exploring the beta’s open world. Wildlands is everything that The Division should have been. Missions can be handled pretty much any way the player wants. The first story mission culminates with the player and their team rescuing a hostage from an enemy compound. A cliff face on one side offers a means of sneakily dispatching the enemy one at a time but gives the enemy the high ground. The other side has a larger open field with a few spots of cover. The enemy would see the player coming but would have to wander out of cover themselves to flank the player. Not wishing to take the open field and end up in a firefight completely outgunned, but also wanting to avoid giving up the high ground and ending up like Anakin Skywalker, I chose Option C: be creative. One insane jump in a jeep later, my teammates and I were in the midst of the enemy encampment. Now past their defenses and with a huge semi-bullet proof vehicle to use as cover, the enemy were easy pickings. In less than a minute, the entire enemy base had been cleared, the hostage was safely stowed away in a chopper, and I was celebrating the first of many victories.
The entire experience felt a lot like the sandbox assassination missions introduced in Assassin’s Creed Unity. The developer has given the player plenty of tricks to use as they see fit, opportunities to map out and plan a strategy, and numerous paths to a single goal. However, unlike Unity, Wildlands is completely open and the player is likely to stumble upon numerous side missions in their attempt to complete a main one. I drove up to the location on the main map and passed numerous side missions on the way there that I could have done before saving the hostage. I found weapons and unlocked new gear doing side missions that helped make the main mission easier.
I played a great deal of the beta solo with three A.I. squad mates. They followed my instructions to fall back or press forward or find cover easily enough. It was really cool to tag enemies with a drone and signal to your squad to engage the marked targets simultaneously for a swift end to a fight. However, this was a game that was meant to be played co-op. The few times I was able to team up with a random stranger were way more fun than simply ordering an A.I. around. It allows you to come up with more creative solutions to deal with the enemy, a strategy that makes the higher difficulty levels actually possible to play. On the higher difficulties, the A.I. are not idiots. They react to the player. They seek cover. If their strategy is not working, they try something else. Luckily, the enemy are not bullet sponges, but the player is not one either. It takes careful planning to outsmart your opponent, not just having the bigger gun (although that really helps).
Of course, not everything was all fun and games in the wild lands of Bolivia. The map (although massive and judging by the beta we only got to explore 1/20 of it) suffers from the Ubisoft plague of hundreds of pinpoints all revealing something to collect or do. I cannot imagine that ALL of them are fun and exciting. The game also seems to continue the trend of dry, boring characters doing something that straddles the line between good and evil to stop an even greater evil (so evil in fact that it seems more demonic than human). It is a theme present in all of the games based on Tom Clancy’s work (this one takes themes from Clear and Present Danger). Then there are the helicopters. Oh my God, the helicopters. I have never before experienced such an utterly crap set of helicopter controls in my life as a gamer. I cannot adequately express how frustrating it was to try and fly one of those things. Most disappointing of all though was Wildlands inability to really drive home stealth. I tried adopting a stealth approach because I love being sneaky, but there was no punishment for failing to remain undetected. If I was ever spotted and a fire-fight erupted, I could still dispatch the enemy easily enough if I still had a decent enough position. I foresee a lot of gamers just giving up on stealth altogether and simply plowing through enemies with superior fire power on the Normal difficulty.
All in all, the beta proved that Ubisoft’s newest game should not be a total failure. Its flaws prevent it from truly being the next great shooter, but the decision to allow players to tackle an objective any way they want with friends, as opposed to another corridor to corridor shooter where the player is an unstoppable god, is refreshing. If I can find some friends to play it with, I will definitely be picking up Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands in March along with the new DLC for Titanfall 2, final expansion for Dark Souls III, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Mass Effect: Andromeda. Who needs sleep right?