I’ve been playing the Ghost Recon: Wildlands closed beta over the weekend, and I have to say, it’s been a bit of a letdown. While the visuals are fantastic, it ultimately feels like another big, open-world game, stuffed with a bunch of filler content and not a lot of real substance. These games make great trailers, and they sell you on the sense of wonder, they tease you with lines like “Imagine what you could do in this huge world we’ve created.” They go on about how there’s all of this content, and how it’s a living world filled with unique inhabitants, and that you’re only limited by your imagination! In reality though, games like Wildlands, The Division, Far Cry and other similar titles, are filled with copy and paste content and a lack of meaningful tools that would enable you to make your own fun.
The first time you approach an enemy base in Wildlands it’s tense and intriguing. How many enemies are there? Let me scout ahead with my portable drone. Should I try to pick off key targets with a silenced rifle, or get in close? It all sounds great, and the first time or two, it is. It’s when you find another base that feels oddly… familiar, that things start to sink in. Once you realize that the map is filled with identical side missions and repeatable content, just like in the Division or Far Cry, it starts to make all of your work feel meaningless. The lack of content isn’t the only problem with Wildlands, not by a long shot. Let’s break it down like Lucio.
The story in Wildlands is so completely unbelievable that it makes even the most cheesy action movie look like a brilliant cinematic masterpiece. If you’re unaware, the premise for the game is that a near-future Bolivia has been overtaken by a murderous drug cartel called the Santa Blanca. There are some poorly equipped rebels that are fighting against them, and that’s where America steps in. They send four guys to clean things up. And fear not, you get to play as one of them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s a video game and that you’re meant to be a hero. You’re special, the story is meant to be a special circumstance, you’re meant to overcome all odds. But this is really taking it a bit far. The idea that four people would be able to systematically dismantle a criminal organization so vast that it has taken over an entire country and has ties to other countries is absolutely ridiculous. There is an unfortunate amount of real-world evidence as to why this is so absurd.
It might not be so bad if the voice acting were solid, but it isn’t. It’s bad. Really bad. When interrogating a criminal (which means holding them from behind before you pistol whip them), who could forget thought-provoking gems like, “Puta madre, I got you vato, just don’t tell nobody where you heard this shit!”
The story missions that were made available in the closed beta were extremely short and unsatisfying. Steal a car, find a guy that is indicated on your map, fight off a wave or two of enemies. I was really expecting more in this regard.
I suspect that no one at Ubisoft could ever decide what Ghost Recon: Wildlands was supposed to be. Often it feels like The Division: Jungle Edition, with the over-the-shoulder camera, some of the HUD elements, and even the way you move. When you get into a vehicle, it sort of feels like they wanted it to be Grand Theft Auto V. When you’re assaulting an enemy outpost, it can feel tactical like Metal Gear Solid or even Splinter Cell. Unfortunately, these competing elements make it hard to understand how to perceive Wildlands. For example, it often presents itself as this serious tactical military shooter, but then you have what is meant to be “humorous” radio on in the background making poop jokes. Or, you’ll notice that you can kill enemies with a single shot to the head, and that you’ll also die very quickly if shot. However, you can then jump in a car and go driving down a rocky mountainside like some sort of cartoon. I found that if I tried to take the game seriously, I was constantly reminded of how ridiculous it was. And if I tried to just laugh at it and take it all as a joke, it wasn’t very funny, and you can’t do all of the truly over the top type of things that you can do in something like Just Cause.
This deserves its own section because of how bad the vehicles are in this game. I have never, and I do mean never, experienced a game with vehicles that controlled this poorly. Ground vehicles constantly slide as if they’re on a thin layer of pudding. They’re unpredictable, awkward, and irritating to try and drive. This is made slightly better by using a console controller, but I was irritated that I needed to use my controller for vehicles and my keyboard and mouse for everything else. Helicopters tip forward and backward and seem to ascend and descend in a completely unintuitive way. The physics are just awful, and the amount of punishment the vehicles can take is nonsensical. At the same time, if you even barely tap into something, the front of your car will frequently look as though you’ve been in a major accident. Also, the engine sounds are completely uninspiring.
This is especially problematic when Wildlands advertises all over the place that you can approach any situation however you see fit, that the strategy is truly in your hands. But, the vehicles are so awkward that it can actually inhibit your ability to utilize them in your plan of attack.
While it is true that this is a closed beta, it is my opinion that they’ve positioned this beta as a playable demo. We’re a month away from the release date. There’s no way that they’re going to make meaningful changes prior to launch based on feedback from this beta session. For that reason, I was shocked at how buggy it is.
The first problem I encountered was during character creation. Sometimes when I would try to change shirts, the game would just stop responding to any appearance changes, and there was no way to back out of the character creation menu, so I was forced to alt+f4 the game 3 or 4 times to get my character made. After that, I would say that most of the bugs I experienced were during co-op. It was a common occurrence that one of my squad mates would be running in place on top of a car, rather than sitting in the driver’s seat, while driving. Or there was the time that I crashed a motorcycle into a building and ended up inside of the building, even though you weren’t meant to be able to get inside. I had to fast-travel out because there was no way to exit the building. Perhaps the most frustrating bug was intermittent voice comms. I had a friend that would often talk and no one would hear him, and this seemed to happen randomly.
The game just feels very unpolished and incomplete. Fortunately, I didn’t have any buggy experiences when it came to the gun play, which is probably the high point of the game.
The Good Parts
There are moments that feel pretty good in Wildlands. As I mentioned a moment ago, the gun play is probably the best part of the game. Whether you’re using an assault rifle, sniper rifle, C4, a shotgun, or whatever else, it’s all quite good. I think a lot of this is to do with the fact that enemies aren’t bullet sponges like they are in The Division. If you shoot a guy in the head, or once or twice in the chest, he’s down. The fact that you’re also quite vulnerable helps add to the tension when faced with five or ten enemies.
Playing co-op is also a strong point, even with all of the bugs. Games are always more fun with friends, and Wildlands is no exception. Sadly, because of everything that I mentioned earlier in this article, my friends and I often found ourselves saying, “So… what should we do now?” while scratching our heads. However, not having AI teammates means that you can be much more tactical and intentional with your decisions. Coordinating with your team to have someone sneak up to a hillside to call out targets and snipe, while you and someone else get into position to flank from the opposite side, this is where Wildlands shines. The only gripe I really have with regard to the shooter aspect of this game is actually more related to the equipment you have available – specifically the drone. You have a small remote control drone that you can throw into the air and fly around. When you do this, your view is switched over to the camera on the drone. You can use the drone to fly over enemy bases and it will mark every enemy that you see. While this may seem handy, I feel that it really cheapens the game. Knowing the location of every enemy (or nearly every enemy) can turn an interesting fight into something that feels like you’re just going through the motions.
As I said earlier, these types of games make awesome trailers, but there’s very little substance. Ghost Recon: Wildlands could be great, in the future. It could be, if they added more actual content, fixed the bugs, embraced the fact that it is completely ridiculous, gave you more tools to interact with the world and other players, fleshed out the story missions, and revamped the vehicles entirely.
I will definitely not be purchasing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on release day. What I will do, however, is check back in 6 months or a year. If the price has dropped to $20 or $30 and they’ve polished it up a bit, and added more content, it might be worth looking at again.