If I were to sum up what Ghost Recon: Wildlands is in a context that people can identify with, it would be The Division: Bolivia. Ubisoft’s upcoming stealth shooter follows a very similar gameplay loop to the New York post-apocalyptic action game, even down to the lack of a compelling narrative. This is neither good or bad for Wildlands, but those who are after a story akin to Netflix’s Narcos, be prepared to temper your expectations in the next month.
I had a chance to join the closed beta over the Waitangi weekend, and after playing a few hours with my fellow NZGamer.com partner-in-stealth-crime Luke Batt, we both found the comparison to The Division fitting.
It took us some time to get our heads around the design: The game is an open-world shooter, littered with main and side missions across the area available in the beta, and how each mission is approached is completely up to the squad. Stealth is the by far the most effective approach, though.
Your squad is tasked with taking down drug cartels, and capturing lieutenants or captains alive to interrogate them provides you with more missions. They range from crippling cartel resources to eliminating key targets. There's no real narrative that runs concurrently other than audio communications, and some missions like stealing one of the drug-lord’s Lamborghinis makes you wonder if you're really an elite stealth squad, or a bunch of drunk kids with weapons causing mayhem in this neck of the woods.
Each mission you take can generate new side missions when you hack into the cartel’s communications database looking for intel. They vary in the bonuses you can gain, from increasing rebel support, to bonus skill upgrades. The former is akin to air support, where they can assist with mortar drops that you can call in, or increasing their presence in the world to provide help as you require it.
Your character’s loadout and skill are the meat and potatoes of the game: As previously mentioned, completing missions will get you skill upgrades, and there are a lot of options here. You can increase your physical ability, such as stamina and health, your weapon ability, like reduced recoil, or add additional items to your loadout, including thermal vision, parachutes, or mines.
To unlock these effects though, you’ll first need points from particular skill categories. These can be acquired by tagging cartel supplies. This is usually done once an outpost is cleared, and the routine at each outpost seems to be picking up a skill point, then tagging various health, ammo and electronic supplies to gain points in their relative categories. Like The Division’s weapon/stamina/tech skill points, you need a pre-requisite number of points for a particular category before you can upgrade that skill.
Ubisoft have also migrated The Division’s weapon customisation, where each gun has a dozen or so options for you to modify. You can find these littered throughout the world in crates, and finding them will add it to your armoury permanently. Those who like to tinker and play around with the weapons can spend hours finding the right loadout that suits their play style.
Traversing through this world can be easy or painful, depending on the situation. There are tons of aircrafts, helicopters, motorcycles, and even boats to help you move across the vast world. While there is plenty of variety, the driving experiences aren’t enjoyable. Vehicle controls feel rubbery, and the terrain doesn't deter you from going off-road. You can only suspend your disbelief so much when you can drive a beat-up, 1980’s Toyota Town-Ace minivan up the side of a cliff with no trouble.
Eventually I relegated myself as the gunner on a helicopter, or a passenger in vehicles, not because I was being polite and letting others drive, but because I disliked the driving so much myself. Sorry Luke, you were my designated driver.
If your squad-mates started travelling without you because you decided to heat up that final slice of leftover pizza you had in your fridge, you can simply travel towards them. I found this to be the most effective way to travel, because it brought me time to customize my loadout and upgrade my skills (or heat up that pizza) before teleporting, and more importantly I got to miss the crappy driving.
Weirdly, you can respawn the same way should you bleed during combat. But instead of spawning on your squad mates, you’re teleported to the safest spot nearby. During one mission where we were taking out a hilltop outpost, I became the sacrificial lamb and was killed in action so my squad could complete the objective. But once I bled out, I teleported the nearest safe spot – at the bottom of the hill. So my squad that had completed the mission had to wait for me to run up the half-kilometre winding path to reach them.
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