Can Ghost Recon Wildlands Be The Next Step In Mainstream Open-World Games? [Open Beta Impressions]

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I’m not one for open betas but Ghost Recon Wildlands is one game I’ve been cautiously optimistic about pretty much since Ubisoft first revealed it at E3 2015. I have high hopes for it, for what it could mean for open-world games going forward. As of this writing I’ve only tried the beta for a few hours but I think the game accomplishes some key things I want to see in more games, even if this game doesn’t nail everything perfectly in the end.

Most comparisons of Wildlands seem to be to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain because of the emphasis both games have on offering players total freedom in how they complete objectives. That’s definitely there in Wildlands in a way you don’t see in Ubisoft’s other open-world games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. It’s pretty much just “here is your objective, go do it,” with nothing to funnel players down any pre-determined path.

I have one pretty neat anecdote from a multiplayer session demonstrating this: The whole team of four was in a helicopter flying towards an enemy base where the mission was, and I decided to hop out early with my parachute to approach one side of the base while the rest of the group attacked from the other side. It worked out pretty well, as the enemies were mostly distracted fighting the other three guys while I picked them off from behind.

The immediate major difference with Wildlands though is that the size and scale of its world is on a whole other level compared to MGSV or previous Ubisoft games or really almost any mainstream open-world game. Being able to see towns and mountains several miles in the distance and know all of that is playable space is exactly the kind of next generation step forward I’ve been expecting for PS4-era games. It’s not just the sheer size, the world feels a little less dense and more realistically spaced out than Far Cry or Skyrim. That said, Wildlands seems to compensate by putting helicopters practically everywhere. In my multiplayer session we almost never had to drive anywhere because most enemy bases had helicopters. Maybe that’s a lift from MGSV since you could call a helicopter anywhere in that game.

In co-op, Wildlands seems to turn into a pretty chaotic and fast-paced game. The people I played with tried to be somewhat stealthy, but it ended up being pretty much open firefights almost all the time. There was one mission where we were able to silently take out every target, the main team sneaking up to the back of a building while I cleaned up a few targets from a nearby hill. Maybe it will depend on the kind of group you play with, but Wildlands doesn’t seem to immediately lend itself to the kind of methodical slow-paced gameplay of Metal Gear, at least not in co-op.

Playing a bit in solo is a pretty different experience if you’re the kind of player who likes to more slowly plan things out. The commands you can give to AI buddies are pretty limited but you can still get quite a bit done with sync shot and good positioning. I was able to carry out a pretty interesting sequence of missions in solo:

To quickly get to a main mission located a few kilometers away, I decided to steal a helicopter from an enemy base. Doing that required me to bring my team into a forest overlooking the base near the helipad. I was able to use sync shot to quickly eliminate the people guarding the helicopter and then take it without putting the whole base on alert.

Upon approaching the main mission I saw it was in a village on a high cliff at the end of a mountain ridge, and I couldn’t land the helicopter anywhere close without alerting the enemy. I had the team parachute out over the ridge which was heavily forested, letting the chopper just plummet somewhere into the valley below. Approaching the village I could see the target was probably in the church which was almost up against the cliff, and I was able to bring the team right up to its rear, bypassing almost all the enemies in the village.

After my team completed that objective, catching the enemy off-guard, I spotted a small shack occupied by enemies way down below the cliff with some loot inside and skill point behind it. I was able to scout the place from the cliff, spotting all the enemies with the help of thermal vision. I left my team at the top of the cliff, climbed down, and circled around behind the shack where the skill point was. Afterward, approaching the shack from behind I had my team take out the guards in front all the way from the top of the cliff.

One point of concern with the missions is how varied they may or may not be in the full game. MGSV makes its open-world action fun partly through the degree of variety in its missions. Most missions have multiple objectives that might involve extracting people, finding information, or sabotage in a wide range of environments and situations. It’s hard to say right now if missions in Wildlands will be much more than “go here and eliminate all the targets.” In that regard one of the biggest restrains on the possibilities for how missions play out might simply be the imaginations of the players. In my co-op session for almost all the missions we really just took a helicopter near an objective, touched down, shot everyone, and lifted off again. There need to be missions that discourage repetitive strategy and encourage other possibilities.

A huge difference from MGSV that can definitely be observed in the beta is that the controls in Wildlands don’t feel as tight or dynamic. It’d be great if every similar game controlled as well as MGSV did but I’m not going to take that for granted. The simple fact is that your character in Wildlands doesn’t respond with quite the same tactility Snake does in MGSV, nor do they have Snake’s range of movement options. Honestly though it wasn’t that much of a sticking point for me. I talk a lot about how great controls can enrich an entire game, but I’m also the kind of person who can accept a game’s controls as “good enough” if the other components are fun or interesting enough. That’s how I manage to enjoy hundreds of hours of The Witcher 3 and ArmA III.

One thing I should probably note is Wildlands is indeed filled with loot and experience points. After each mission in multiplayer the team would spend a few minutes just running around and cleaning up all the documents, supply drops, or whatever else gives you points. I guess that could be analogous to how real special forces teams might toss places for intelligence during a mission, but here it just looks like typical AAA game mechanics that may or may not add much to the overall experience.

That might be the ultimate sign that Wildlands is less a Ghost Recon game than it is The Next Ubisoft Game. It seems like it’s really trying to be the next step forward for Far Cry and Creed and Ubisoft’s whole format for making open-world games. Personally I’m fine with that because I hope one day it informs some other game with the same sense of scale and freedom but maybe a more subdued and solo-focused structure, or more mission variety if that’s what Wildlands ends up lacking.

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