Another day, another Ubisoft closed beta. This time, it’s the latest installment in the long-standing Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series, simply called Wildlands. Because I bribe the Ubisoft beta candidate selection team, I managed to get an invite to this one too (I played For Honor a few weeks back) and so, without further ado, let’s get cracking.
“For God’s sake man, this isn’t a holiday.”
Ghost Recon: Wildlands places you at the helm of a 4 man team, the appropriately-named Ghost Squad. Tasked in this case with bringing law and order to a drug-addled Bolivia, you and your team are working with the local band of plucky rebels, many of whom seem to be great at getting themselves caught. Game-play is as tactical as ever, with a selection of commands on a wheel at your disposal to keep your 3 squad members under your thumb. Aside from the standard go to, open fire, regroup or hold position, the introduction of the sync shot command allows you to order silent kills in tandem with your own shots; in addition, your rebel mates offer a second group of requests, supplying everything from vehicles to mortar fire depending on the favors you pull for them in return.
“Ghost squad, let’s– wait, is that a butterfly?”
These favors come like this. You’ve got the main story-line, dismantling the all-powerful drug cartel that has Bolivia in its clutches by killing off the various leaders a little like Far Cry. But then you’ve also got the notorious side mission, many of which involve helping out a rebel in need and all of which earn you the respect of the cause and access to their arsenal. I’ll admit, I was cynical: I couldn’t stand the repetitiveness of The Division. But the freedom of an open world paired with the various ways of approaching each mission is a strong combination, which is particularly important considering the core premise of each mission is a fairly constant kill everyone and reach the objective.
The Ghost Recon: Wildlands world map is a behemoth of a place, and if you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know that it holds within it a variety of different environments, from salt flats to mountain peaks. The closed beta offered only one of about 9 different sectors of the map for our exploration, a farmland/hillside environment called Itacua. In order to open up other areas, you’ll have to dispose of the respective cartel leaders; this can be done in any order you fancy, and was, incidentally, the portion of narrative displayed by the closed beta. Investigating major intel unlocks story missions, which in turn – when completed – drive toward the ultimate goal of killing the top dog.
You’ll have to excuse the godawful PSN name…
In terms of character customisation, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is meticulous, possessing a character creator on which you could potentially spend days. And although the actual male and female characters were all hilariously ugly, the slightly unusual option for ghillie suits or gas masks meant the ultimate goal for me didn’t really include dashing good looks. You’ve seen my character in the pictures above and below; you know what I mean. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear my character’s voice, nattering away almost incessantly with his Ghost Squad buddies; a vocal protagonist was something distinctly lacking from The Division, for better or worse.
A little less ghillie, a little more badass.
The same can be said of the weapon customisation: Wildlands holds the Tom Clancy military experience high with a massive range of weaponry and attachment items. Weapons can be found scattered across the Bolivian world, and although the closed beta was limited in terms of unlock-able items I imagine there will be alternate routes to acquiring new hardware as well. Aesthetically speaking, the guns match the player, insofar as camouflage and netting options are as broad and wonderful as the options for type of backpack/tattoo/boot.
AK-47: the new fragrance for him and for her. *sighs*
By far the most innovative feature of Wildlands has to be the drone. Operating in much the same way as the binoculars in The Phantom Pain or ‘eagle vision’ in Assassin’s Creed, the drone allows what I’ll call limited omniscience: relying on a short battery life and signal range, the upside is your drone can tag enemies, scout an entire village without running out of power, and even order your squad-mates around with the same commands mentioned earlier. I cannot express how damn useful this was for slightly more complex strategies, particularly seeing as your squad-mates are complete idiots unless bossed around fairly constantly.
Drone also good for wide angle scenery shots.
Oh, and obviously, Wildlands is exceptionally pretty. Ubisoft by this point are skilled in the art of open-world magnificence, and this game is clearly designed to show off; even in the small, unassuming sector of Bolivia to which we were confined, the graphics never failed to deliver some very scenic vistas. But it’s 2017, and you knew all that already. Seeing as this is a short section, I’ll also mention here that multiplayer features allow up to four players per session, working as a team in the same way you would with your AI squad-mates. Online gameplay has a tendency to descend into chaos, so be warned.
That about covers it. The closed beta ran from February 3rd through 6th, and although there has been no announcement as of yet, I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see an open beta arrive in the following months. And although I promised myself I wouldn’t pass judgement on this game – all’s fair until the reviews roll in – let me say this: I was not expecting to enjoy myself on the Wildlands closed beta. I’m far too impatient for tactical gameplay, and need a little substance behind my open world if I’m going to be incentivised to explore it. But a combination of everything I’ve discussed thus far somehow managed to keep me enthralled for far longer than The Division ever could, and so, if exceeding expectations is anything to go by, I remain optimistic.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is due for release on console and PC on March 7th.