In early March this year, two video games are being launched which I’m interested in. Namely, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and Horizon Zero Dawn. Tired of being let down by AAA games bought at launch, I’ve researched both of these titles, in a bid to make sure they are what I thought them to be.
Now, I’m not about to buy two big games in the space of a few days. Not because of the cost, though that should always be a factor, but because when I get a new game I like to play it until it’s completed. This would mean if I bought both, one would sit on a shelf, unplayed, until I was done with the other.
Which one to get, then? Both appeal to me because of the vast, open worlds in which they’re set – I’m an adventurer at heart, so I can happily waste a great deal of time exploring a vast, playable map. As a storyteller, I’m drawn to Horizon Zero Dawn because it appears to have an interesting and complex storyline, something I can really immerse myself in. Ghost Recon: Wildlands, on the other hand, has four player co-op, and that is what tipped the balance in its favour.
So when I was selected to take part in the closed beta for Wildlands, I saw it as a good chance to get stuck in and test it to death, to really ensure it met my expectations, and lived up to its promise.
I’m sorry to say, it failed in that regard.
Don’t get me wrong – the game has a lot of good points, and they may be enough for a lot of people to derive a great deal of enjoyment from it. So let’s start with those good points, shall we?
- Gameplay: In Wildlands, players have the freedom to do as they wish, with the entire map being open to them from the start. You can hop into and operate any vehicle you see – a range of cars, pickups and SUVs, trucks, motorbikes, various boats, choppers, and aeroplanes. How to achieve a mission objective is entirely at the player’s discretion. Do you use total stealth, and sneak in like the ‘Ghost’ operative you’re supposed to be? Do you go loud, and blast everything you see into oblivion? Do you make use of the local rebels, and have them create a diversion for you? Maybe you’ll wait for the cover of darkness, or a passing storm, and make your move then. The choice is infinitely yours.
- Visuals: Wildlands looks good – it’s bright and colourful, with impressive draw distances. This means you can crest a hill and be greeted by a sweeping vista of fields, forests and snaking rivers with a backdrop of rugged, snow-capped mountains. It really gives you a sense of being in a vast, wild land, reinforced by the knowledge that in the full game you can travel all the way to that distant mountain range.
- Map Size: The map looks to be huge. The beta was restricted to one region, and that was big enough for a good few hours of intensive gameplay. This region, however, is only one of a total of twenty one, so take those hours of gameplay and multiply them by that number. Judging by the region available in the beta, it’s fair to make the assumption that the entire map will be full of a range of different terrains, and various objectives to keep you occupied.
Sounds good so far, right? And so it should – many game developers would be happy to achieve just a few of the above points. But, as previously alluded to, there are negative points. So let’s take a look.
- Gameplay: While there is a great deal to do in Wildlands, with a broad range of ways to accomplish those things, the game seems to be unsure of just what it wants to be. Is it a ‘serious’ tactical shooter, making the player think about the best plan of action before attempting said plan? Or is it a more ‘arcadey’ game, with the emphasis firmly on fun? As it turns out, it’s neither of those – rather, it appears to be a bad mixture of the two. Using tactics, you could stay at a distance and use your sniper skills to quietly take out patrolling guards. This is badly let down, however, when the bodies of those you’ve silently killed just disappear. A ‘serious’ shooter would give patrolling NPCs the ability to spot dead bodies, and raise the alarm, making tactics and timing all important, but that is sadly lacking in this game.
If you play with the three in-game AI co-op buddies, you can order them to do various things, from waiting where they are, to regrouping, and even coordinating synchronised take downs. Impressive stuff… but sadly let down when you quickly realise they can do all the work for you, taking all the fun out of it. For instance, when I arrived at the final boss fight of the beta, during the ensuing shootout, I got myself shot down (I was playing on the hardest difficulty). Your buddies have the ability to revive you, within a certain time frame, but the AI ones will only attempt this when it’s safe to do so. As a result, as I lay bleeding to death on the floor, my AI buddies took out all of the bad guys, including the final bosses, before reviving me. I’m less than proud to say I ‘beat’ the final bosses while slowly dying on the floor, without having fired a single shot in anger. Not fun.
It is also fair to say that you stand more chance of being killed by a bad game mechanic than by legitimate gameplay. Having no jump ability means you can, from time to time, get caught up on a small obstacle which isn’t deemed high enough to trigger the ‘climb over’ mechanic. Having no dive, or roll, ability means if you’re caught unawares, you’re stuck there like a rabbit in headlights while all hell breaks loose around you. You can go prone, but doing so when under fire is always a bad idea.
And why is it, when I jump into a big 4×4 and floor it in an attempted quick getaway, that flimsy looking tent in front of me, instead of folding like the piece of cloth it is, actually stays just where it is, while the front of my jeep crumples like soggy cardboard? C’mon, people, destructible environments! They are a thing you know.
- Visuals: As mentioned above, Wildlands is bright and colourful, with impressive draw distances. But graphically, it is lacking. Now, I’m not particularly bothered by graphic quality, I much prefer to prioritise gameplay. And I’m well aware that to achieve large draw distances in a vast open world environment, certain things have to be sacrificed. But the game still looks bland, with various surfaces being dull and almost texture free. Also, in certain areas during a rain shower, the raindrops hitting the floor were represented by very large, very pixelated ‘splashes’. Now, as this was just a beta, there is every chance that particular visual effect is incomplete, and will be fixed before the final release. But then, there is every chance it might not.
- Map Size: Again, as mentioned above, the scale of the game’s map looks to be impressive, consisting of twenty one large regions. Which, for me, started alarm bells ringing. The gameplay in Wildlands reminded me very much of Far Cry 4 – namely, taking over the smaller outposts, before moving on to the large ones, and finally taking out the boss. Whilst that was fun, I couldn’t help but wonder if having to do that for each region, basically repeating the same actions twenty one times, would get tedious. Of course, I could be totally wrong in this, and every region might be completely different. There is no way to tell without playing the finished product.
There you go, some of what I consider to be a few of the more relevant good and bad points. On a side note, I have heard a few people comparing Ghost Recon: Wildlands to The Division. Why, I do not know, the two games are poles apart. Yes, they’re both 3rd person shooters, yes they’re both set in an open world. But that’s all. The Division, though being set in an ‘open world’, is still a cover based, linear shooter. The long, straight New York streets restrict your ability to roam freely, and they’re all chocked full of very handy abandoned vehicles, and various barricades which you can shelter behind while you engage the enemy. The ‘boss fights’ are similar – you go where you’re told, when you’re told, your own thoughts on possible tactics be damned. And bullet sponges! Bullet sponges everywhere!
So yeah, don’t use The Division to judge Wildlands, either in a good or a bad way. Just sayin’.
My final verdict on Ghost Recon: Wildlands then? My impression after having played the beta (and yes, I completed all the story line, did all side quests, collected all the things, tested it all thoroughly)? Sad to say, I won’t be getting the game at launch. I’m kinda bummed about that, as I wanted to look forward to it, but the game, in its present form, just doesn’t do it for me. Sorry, Ubisoft.
That being said, all of the above are just my thoughts after playing the one closed beta. It’s all just my opinion, and should be treated as such. If you’re looking to buy this game, or any other, it’s your money you’ll be spending, so you should do your own research, and make up your own mind.
As always, that shallot.