Ubisoft are getting in the habit of having closed and public Beta’s for their AAA franchises. Considering most of their big releases these days are dependent on internet connections or are open worlds with many interwoven parts, that internal testing could never feasibly expect to find every bug. And let’s not forget the tenacity of players out there who look to take advantage of any and every exploit they can find – The Division, I’m looking at you here. And now it’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands turn to take the spotlight and see how it holds up to a couple of million players fighting the good fight against the drug Cartels.

I was in the closed beta a month or so ago, and while I enjoyed what I played and liked what I saw, there was alot of obvious issues. I came into the open beta, not expecting a great deal to have changed, but I had hoped that Ubisoft may have taken the biggest concerns players had and made some adjustments, which they appear not to have done. The open beta has everything the closed beta had, bugs and all, but has an additional province unlocked to explore, essentially doubling the size of the beta.

The beta loads you into what appears to be the beginning of the full game, including the character creator. Disappointingly, it seems to have taken a leaf out of The Division’s character creator and giving the player a very limited pool of faces and hair styles to choose from but leaving the bulk of the customisation to the clothes and outfits selection. After you’re finished, next thing you know you’re flying over the lush green environments of the Bolivian jungles with the rest of your team getting just enough of an introduction into the cartel to get you going. You’re introduced to the leader of the Bolivian resistance and tasked with saving their founder, then the game hands you the reigns and your first mission.

This is when you first realise just how BIG Ubisoft has made their recreation of Bolivia. Looking at the map, you see signs of small towns, villages, outposts and places of interest. The beginning province you have access to is not tiny at all. They weren’t exaggerating when they said this was their biggest open world yet. Zooming all the way out and seeing the areas the beta has locked off gives you an almost overwhelming sense of the task ahead in the full game. With 21 provinces expected in the full game, this looks like it could be a long game.

The Graphics in Ghost Recon Wildlands, while not the best looking out there, it’s far from a bad looking one. The game has an incredible draw distance, allowing you to see miles into the distance and clearly seeing what landmarks and buildings that are situated there. Driving or even flying over Ghost Recon’s Bolivia can be a picturesque experience, one that can be quite pleasurable to do even at a slower pace to soak in the details. There is a real time day and night cycle, which adds tactical depth to the game other than an aesthetic one, with NPC characters influenced by the time of day it is. Textures can be hit and miss, especially the NPC’s that populate the world. The addition of a second province showed a distinct change in look and feel of the areas you visit. Going from the fertile, green jungles of the first area and morphing into an arid, dry rocky environment in the second province. So at least we can expect different and varied environments to explore comes the full game.

While travelling the game world can be a pleasurable one to view, unfortunately, the game makes the methods of travelling an awkward one. Inevitably, due to the large size of the game, travelling long distances is unavoidable. The problem is the handling of the cars feel way off. They can feel floaty and sometimes uncontrollable. Helicopters on the other hand are terrible to control, with you wrestling with them to stay on a steady flight path or even to make slight adjustments in your direction, especially if you need to make any in haste. Some helicopters have miniguns or rockets that you can fire. But since the game gives you no aiming reticule and no real way to aim the guns, coupled with the awkward controls they become extremely frustrating to use, almost to the point of being useless as an offensive weapon.

Gunplay feels solid and impactful. With one hit kills leading to extremely satisfying encounters as you surgically work your way through enemy locales. While primarily being a third person game, pulling your left trigger allows you to look down the sights of your gun for more precise firing. Especially when using the sniper, taking out guards and enemy snipers silently from afar is very rewarding. You have the option of switching your left trigger action, to a zoomed in, over the shoulder view – completely on the fly, which allows you to adjust your game to fit your style more. I found myself switching to over the shoulder when I was engaged in close quarter battles and using gun sights when engaging at range.

One of the biggest disappointments I’ve had with the beta is the AI of your squad mates when you’re playing solo. For the most part they don’t do much but follow you about, usually from a great distance and do little to contribute to fire fights unless you deliberately tell them to run into them. Even then, you could easily have dispensed with any enemy troops by the time they add their weight to a fight. You’re limited to telling your squad to attack, regroup, hold position or move to a location and that’s it. Tactical options with the AI are almost non-existent. You can’t stack up orders or set up complex waypoints for your squadmates to follow. You can’t even give individual orders. It’s all or nothing when giving an order. The only real tactical use you have for your squad mates is to instantly take out 3 enemies (assuming you’ve unlocked the skill tree to allow up to three), by marking them to be sniped and as a free revive if downed with a ‘smart bomb’ thrown in for good measure, killing all the enemies in the immediate area before they revive you. In fact, playing this solo feels more like a one man army type of affair, which does have its own satisfying moments and there is a genuine sense of  personal satisfaction when you manage to infiltrate an enemy camp and wipe everyone out silently.

It’s only once you team up with friends in the drop-in/drop-out co-op mode do you see what you can really do. With a good group of players, you can get quite inventive, like approaching objectives from separate angles and coming up with your own and individual objectives to help with clearing out an enemy location. There was an instance me and my 3 friends were flying over an enemy held village in a helicopter. I was flying and held the helicopter steady, high above the village. My friends then deployed drones, flew them down and quickly identified all the enemies in the area. 2 of them parachuted out and landed at opposite ends while the third sat on chopper step and sniped from our elevated position, taking out snipers and awkward placed soldiers while those on the ground took out troops our sniper couldn’t see. Once they had made their way through the village and nabbed the intel, I met them on the outskirts, picked them up and flew off to safety without a single alert or mistake. It was a genuinely empowering experience and encouraged us to come up with other, equally tactical approaches to other large enemy camps. It feels as if co-op is going to be the best way to play this game.

The beta is currently full of bugs. Ranging from silly things, like debris caught in slow motion animation loops and player characters unable to enter vehicles, to game breaking where co-op players can’t revive other players when they are downed. Sometimes even remaining trapped in the revive animation. Networks issues were also an issue. One instance had me unable to connect to a friend’s game, despite having an open NAT and the only way to resolve it was to shut the game down and restart it. We don’t know how old this beta build is, so alot of these issues could be resolved by the time it goes gold. But their existence may be enough to make potential customers cautious of a purchase and wait until reports of the stability of the final release start to circulate. However, expect a large day 1 patch.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands feels like a game which has potential for a really good co-op experience and a shallow single experience. But if the beta build is at all representative of the build they are close to releasing, I feel it should be left to cook in the oven that little bit more, as it feels far from a stable build. Ubisoft should be looking very carefully to the criticisms aimed towards The Division, when the player base started to find all game breaking bugs and exploits and the dreadful, almost comical, firefighting that resulted in the weeks and months after release to fill the holes of that rapidly sinking ship. The open world is impressively massive, great looking with lots of things to find and do. But with Ubisoft adding the second province to the beta, the evidence in there that it will be afflicted with the usual ‘Ubisoft bloat’ that afflicts all Ubisoft’s open worlds, copy and pasting the same collection of events/encounters all over their world offering very little variety. And while they are currently entertaining to tackle, having to do the same activities over and over across the 21 provinces will, I suspect, quickly become very tedious. But with less than a month to go, my fingers are crossed that Ubisoft will be able to adjust alot of the concerns they have received criticism for and iron out most of bugs that are present. We’ll see soon enough.

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