I was filled with nervous anticipation and looming apprehension over the Ghost Recon: Wildlands Beta. This Beta could either have propelled me into the depths of hype for my second most anticipated Ubisoft game of the year, or just ended up as another game piled on to the seemingly ever-growing list of modern let-downs. When I came into the Wildlands Beta I had already cobbled together some vague expectations and hopes for this game. My mind hearkened back to Mercenaries and Mercenaries 2, released in 2005 and 2008 respectively, and how good they were at giving you an open world playground and letting you loose within it, with a healthy arsenal of armaments, vehicles, helicopters and other death dealing tactics such as air strikes, and how fresh and original it felt. Now they may not have stood the test of time, as many games of that era haven’t, they gave you a liberating feeling of doing what you want, how you want, when you want. I expected this same exhilarating motion to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but also a more subtle underside that allows you to become your surroundings, as the Ghost Recon name implies.
I won’t lie and say I’ve been a fan of Ghost Recon since the first games, I played some of them here and there, but I have almost no previous experience with the franchise to look back on and compare this game to, but this in a way puts me in a better space to talk about the Wildlands beta objectively, and overall, I got that feeling of inexhaustible liberty you get with an open world game. But as you know, that isn’t all the forges a great open world game. I began by making my character, and the character creation was surprisingly in depth, I certainly expected a lot less of this game. You could change everything from facial hair, to the patches worn on your clothes, meaning you and the rest of your friends could squad up in the same camouflage, the same outfits, with the same patches and truly represent a Ghost Recon squad of elites. My character was a covert assassin, a long range killer of men dressed in the most fearsome shade of green, olive drab, complete with an eye-patch and a pointless two hole balaclava. This could also be edited at any time if you fancied changing up your style.
Now into the gameplay. I was playing co-op with my cousin Rob, which always adds another layer of enjoyment to a game, especially a vast open world game like this promised to be. Although the Beta only let us play within a small portion of the map, if I had to say, maybe 1/12th of the full map size, it still seemed moderately large and we garnered a good deal of enjoyment even looking at the world, with a stunning sunset ushering us into the world of Wildlands. As soon as we got in a vehicle, that opinion began to change. The driving mechanics are simple to get to grips with, but with some wear and tear, come undone with pressure. We bounced ridiculously up and down mountains, with no physics to be seen, as if we were enveloped in a huge rubber ball camouflaged as a car. Even on the roads the driving felt no better, the handling on almost every vehicle was awful, and it felt as if they were made of polystyrene, one sharp turn and you enter an unending barrel roll taking you twenty meters away from the road you wanted to turn in to. Helicopters weren’t any better, a stiff and unfriendly procedure from start to finish. You either had to crawl along at a snails pace, or dive bomb to gain more speed, only when you stopped dive bombing to actually gain some speed did it wrench you unceremoniously almost 180 degrees to level you out again, killing all momentum and making flying feel extremely awkward and not enjoyable at all.
In contrast the gun-play, which is the core focus of the game, actually feels quite realistic and refreshing. For some reason I expected something akin to the Division, where the enemies weren’t born of flesh and blood, but forged out of kevlar and solid steel, and could absorb entire magazines of ammo before dying. Luckily, this wasn’t the case, and two to three pistol bullets was enough to take out a normal Cartel foot soldier, and headshots actually kill in one! Something quite rarely seen in shooters these days. I felt as if playing aggressively, charging in all guns blazing or playing covertly, using stealth, range and environment to your advantage, played out with equal success, although I much prefer the latter choice. The combat felt rewarding, it was good and satisfying setting up in an all encompassing position on top of a building and mercilessly gunning down the Cartel reinforcements arriving by pickup truck. It was equally gratifying sending in your drone, marking your targets, and playing like a true professional. Working your way slowly into the enemy camps, ambushing a patrolling lookout and setting up a sniper position on a nearby hill, tower or otherwise elevated location was thoroughly enjoyable. My only problem with the combat in Wildlands was the slightly awkward cover system, there wasn’t a button prompt to enter into a piece of cover and stick to it, the game just sort of tried (and failed) to have you seamlessly meld into walls and other cover. While I imagine this was in an attempt to keep things fluid, it actually achieved the opposite.
So once we were a couple of hours in, we’d been enjoying re-customizing our characters, playing with the limited amount of weapons made available to us, and exploring the skill trees. Now, the skill trees often felt totally unnecessary, I didn’t notice any difference from how effective I was from the beginning of my time with the Beta, all the way to the end. The % boost skills felt like they did literally nothing, for example I got the scope sway % decrease for sniping, and it seemed to make no difference, and the same can be said of the incoming bullet damage decrease. The only skills that I found useful were the ones that increased the longevity of my drone, and even they were 100% unnecessary, but Rob enjoyed the under-barrel grenade launcher and banished a fair few enemy choppers from the skies.
Another cause for concern for the full game, that we both agreed on, was the mission structure along with how the map is planned out. To be blunt, it reminded me of Far Cry 3. For those of you that never played Far Cry 3, the majority of the missions included taking outposts from the enemy. As you started the game, these outposts were interesting, each with a different layout and each requiring careful planning and execution to avoid the enemy calling in reinforcements and swarming you. Gradually, however, as your character Jason snowballed into an all-powerful warrior king with the help of his tattoos, these became two things: a) very easy and b) very similar, and eventually, dull. I can definitely see this happening with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Rob and I even felt that feeling creeping in by the end of the remarkably short 2 hour Beta. I hope that isn’t reflective of the full game, or this title will most likely fall flat and lose any interest it might have built prior to release, which I don’t want to happen, as Ghost Recon is already a somewhat dying franchise, and this would only help it on its way.
In conclusion, I did enjoy my time with the Ghost Recon: Wildlands Beta, but only to a point. Obviously the Beta is only indicative of a small part of the full game, but if all the missions are the same as the ones showcased, then it needs more variety to thrive in my opinion. The gun-play was enjoyable, and satisfying enough for me that it didn’t get repetitive quickly, fully ghosting through an enemy camp is still a solid and rewarding experience. The game did however, feel a bit easy, and a lot of things felt mostly pointless such as the skill trees. All in all, I would recommend giving the full release of Ghost Recon: Wildlands a wide berth, let some reviews come out, take your time and do your research on whether the game has more to offer than what was showcased in the beta, because if the average gameplay I gleaned from the Beta is one slice of the pie, then I won’t want the rest.
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