Some are Soldiers, We are Ghosts
I dig that tagline, I really do. I dig the voice over that delivers it in the trailers and I dig the whole Ghost Recon: Wildlands concept. For some people though, the game isn't that hardcore Ghost Recon experience they wanted - that's OK though, because this is a new era and more than just hardcore fans (of which I am actually one) will be shelling out their money to play it. I was given the chance recently, along with a few others, to roll out into Itacua, one of the first regions of the 21 that you'll get to explore when the game comes out in March.
Or sooner, since Ubisoft have confirmed there's going to be an Open Beta very soon.
This isn't a review, or a preview, this is a personal piece based on MY time with the game. The version: Xbox One.
I could spend hours with Charactersmith, I really could. It's like the soldier customisation in XCOM 2. I spent hours with that. Tweaking the character's look here and there, coming up with someone who could have starred alongside Oliver Queen on CW's Arrow. I was pretty much, Arrow with a gun. There's a plethora of options to poke through for male and female characters, perhaps a few more will be added into the main game and it felt a little jarring not to have Night Vision Goggles as a visual accessory for these spec ops soldiers - considering that night vision is a thing you can get in game.
From the opening cut-scene this felt like my story, my Ghost had a voice (I missed that about the Agent in the Division) and the intro set the scene for a dive into Itacua as the night gave way to day in a spectacular H.G. Wells Time Machine style moment.
It's a very pretty game, those panoramic views of Bolivia made me want to explore the rest of those 20 regions that were locked off for the beta. But I was happy with just the one, I'd been waiting for Wildlands for a while - so even at this stage to get to play a build of the game that's different to the Tech Test and a few months older than the current build - good stuff.
Wildlands with Friends
I got some time to myself to try out the first few moments of the game, because it didn't take long before some of my buddies showed up ready to play. 3 days of Ghost Recon: Wildlands was on the cards and I was going to make every moment count!
What impressed me was just how easy it was, even though I was in a private game, to get my buddies in to play with me (You just open your notifications and accept the person who asks to join, or invite them from the lobby menu - all IN game). Soon, three of us were ready to take on the first mission - all custom Ghosts - the AI had been disabled the moment the first player joined in.
We hit the first mission and the guy with us had played the Tech Test previously, so he was able to give us some pointers on how to play. It didn't take long though, the shooting and gun mechanics were pretty solid to begin with and I am a big fan of shooters in general on console. I settled into the use of first person 'down the sights' and third person aiming, found the system to switch them pretty easy and being able to tap the right bumper to toggle left/right with the character whilst in third person over the shoulder cam, well that was the icing on the cake and intuitive.
We approached the first guy, my buddy sniped him before I could even move. That's the peril of playing with an advanced player, but it was cool to watch the dude drop. The second guys though, we coordinated on that pair and whilst I KO'd the one, he shot the other with his rifle.
It's that simple moment right there which set the game apart for me. Working with a second player to accomplish a simple goal, take down two tangos together.
Pretty soon there were four of us in the game and we were all working to the same goal for a while, then we'd split off and do our own thing, coming back to join up for a side mission or another run at a main story mission. We picked the map clean over the next few hours and the play as you want style of the game really suited us.
We weren't locked to one approach, we tried different tactics and even managed to take a base down completely in stealth.
(My favoured style of play)
Wildlands is huge, 21 regions and Itacua is the small one at the start. You need vehicles to get around that map, it's big.
The driving was decent, I'd been playing Watch_Dogs 2 before the beta so I was clued into that driving model already. It wasn't too simulation like and it wasn't too arcade, I felt the balance was just right. The bikes were incredibly fun to use and I spent a lot of time roaming around with those.
The flying... I think that needs a tweak or two. The chopper especially, that requires some work. Nothing major. I believe that it nosedives too much when you ram on the throttle and push the nose down towards the ground, rather than flying forward and keeping on going - it dips alarmingly down and slams into the dirt if you're not careful.
Note: Later on I hit a bug where the chopper lost all input and shot up into the sky, flew backwards and murdered me and my co-op buddy from the GRW forums. Funny, but frustrating at the same time since we'd just rescued Amaru from the farm and were taking him back to the rebel HQ.
The chopper also needs a rudder control, something like left and right bumper to spin it around on the spot.
The plane, that also needs a rudder, it's a bit janky but I landed it A-OK first time.
Boats? They seem pretty OK to me.
Since you're down behind enemy lines you don't have government support, so you help the rebels. You can find supplies to help you learn new skills when you have a skill point or two. These supplies have to be individually collected by each Ghost in the game - that's a bit against the co-op feel of the game I think, it'd be better if they were shared resources so that you get them at the same time your buddies do.
It also cuts down on the queue outside a resource when you have 4 Ghosts collecting them.
Exploring Itacua and Solo AI
I got some time on my own with the AI, levelling up my Ghost and unlocking new things for the game. New attachments for my guns in Gunsmith (yes it's back) and skills for my drone etc. The AI were, passable, they need a ton of tweaks and even though micro-management might be a pain to control, I believe they need some individual order commands to be able to tell them where to go and so on. Nothing complex, but something more than we have now. You can order them to hold, open fire, regroup and go there (as a group) - with Sync Shots taking down up to 3 extra guys.
You can order them to fire on your command, or they'll shoot when you take your shot.
I spent a lot of time in solo for the last day of the beta, I explored the map thoroughly and found loads of cool things to see. Lots to do, since the bases repopulated with bad guys.
2 Ghosts are better than One
I had a lot of fun on day 2 of the beta, 4.5 hours of it with a guy called Darkstar_IE from the GRW forums. I passed him a beta code and in turn he joined me in the game. We did a mix of stuff on Veteran as you can see from this Twitch video here: 4.5 hours of Wildlands
Warning: 4.5 hours of gameplay, the sound does drop, but that's Twitch's fault, not the game. You can also see the chopper bug here.
Also, see this cool sniper shot, took the chopper right down!
Vistas to Die For
Ghost Recon: Wildlands has some incredibly cool vistas, it has some amazing areas to explore in Itacua itself and the thunder storms are purely incredible. Not only do they have an impact on gameplay, especially at night, they just look badass when you're sneaking around a base taking guys down with flashes of lightning now and then.
The world is the star of this game for me, I could explore it all day. The lighting and effects are incredibly good on the One. I never got tired of moving through the trees and watching the way light and shadow fell across my Ghost.
I could say a lot more, but this isn't a review.
Is it Ghost Recon?
Turn off the HUD, throw it up to Ghost and you have a game that does feel like Ghost Recon. The bodies vanish way too quickly though and that does break things a little, since the enemy won't discover a dead comrade if the corpse has been removed. There's a few tweaks needed to the game, but for me it's a worthy addition to the franchise - perhaps I'm just not as hardcore as the old school Ghost Recon fans though. I have a feeling if Ubisoft had just called this Wildlands and made it a new IP, no one would whinge about the Ghost Recon brand being sullied.
I love the game, loved the time I spent in the beta - I'm stoked for the full release and I will be playing this like mad.
See you in Bolivia, Ghosts.