6 things we learned from the Ghost Recon Wildlands beta

The developers have definitely seen ‘Sicario.'

There’s a very specific flavor to the story in Wildlands, and it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s watched Denis Villeneuve’s cartel-busting FBI procedural — all shady government agents and bad guys with menacing handles like ‘El Sueno.’ It’s not unwelcome, and certainly gives the game a gritty vibe that serves to differentiate it from the many other third-person open-world franchises Ubisoft is already peddling.

Also apparent from the first section are some examples of pretty perfunctory action movie dialogue. In the game’s opening cutscene, when asked by your CIA contact if you took part in a particular special forces operation, your character replies, with a tone of ridiculous seriousness “Must’ve been someone else…we were never there.” The bro-heavy dialogue that occurs between members of your squad as you travel between missions is often fairly cringe-worthy, too.

The world looks impressive… mostly

The first thing you notice when you take a look at the landscape in Wildlands is the truly impressive sense of scale. The game’s vision of Bolivia’s feral countryside looks and feels faithful to the geography, and the draw distance is remarkable, allowing you to take in the scenery for miles around. What isn’t quite as impressive is the texture pop-in that was noticeable and frequent as I scrambled around up and down dirt paths in my commandeered off-road vehicle.

There was other glitchiness too, like the shy llama I encountered by the side of the road. At least I think it was a llama; I never got close enough to tell, because it vanished into thin air when I got within a few feet of its position. Of course, this is pre-release code, so I’d expect some of this to be fixed at launch, or at least in the subsequent weeks.

There’s a decent suite of customization options

Before you jump into Wildlands, you first have to create your character, and there’s plenty of scope to generate a pretty individual-looking Ghost. After choosing your gender, and then selecting from a few pre-made face choices, it's time for a deep-dive into the different types of clothes and kit. Everything from hats and headsets to backpacks and footwear can be swapped out and individualized with the wide assortment of different color choices and camo patterns for each item.

You’re probably going to want to play this in co-op

The game did an excellent job of throwing me right into a public co-op session within seconds of me selecting it, and the play with other humans seemed to work extremely well, with no discernable technical issues. I was pleased to see this, knowing Ubisoft have had troubles with this in the past.

And this was lucky, because I had a much less enjoyable time playing with only the AI squad mates for company, and it wasn’t just their inane banter that was the problem; my computer-controlled buddies lacked in even the most basic common-sense. After I had been forced to ditch my beaten-up auto after a particularly rough cartel encounter, the other Ghosts followed me in exiting the vehicle. After a few seconds of running through the scrub, I glanced at the radar and, realizing I was alone, doubled back. I found the other three squad members just standing a few feet from the smoking car idly, showing no desire to do anything else. I had a similar problem when I’d been downed in combat. I found that unless I was out in the open and on the same level as the AIs, they have real trouble reviving me. Once, when I was downed two steps up on an exterior staircase, a squad mate ran to my aid only to stop three feet from me, and watch with interest as I slowly bled to death. I tried not to take it personally.

My interpretation of all this is that this co-op friendly game has been primarily designed to be played as just that, and, if the AI path-finding stays the same for the game’s retail release, I’d certainly advise grabbing a few friends to play through it with. It does make sense, as some of the game’s defining features, like being able to carefully case an enemy base and then coordinate an attack in a surgical manner, simply aren’t feasible with an AI squad, as least in the game’s current state.

Don’t expect to tackle this like GTA

In line with Wildlands’ more realistic take on the open-world genre, the combat is a little closer to real-world accuracy. This means you’ll only take a couple of hits before going down, and you’ll only be able to grab a revive from a teammate once per battle. This makes risky run-and-gun tactics a lot less viable than in other third-person action games. Many of Wildlands’ missions may feel a little like GTA’s co-op heists, but it’s best not to try and tackle them in the same way, or you’ll end up failing quicker than you can say “close-quarter battle”. Wildlands favors a deliberate style that rewards planning and precise execution, with little room for improvisation. It may take a bit more patience, but there’s a definite thrill to pulling off a strategy perfectly with your squad mates.

The controls could be sharper

Right now, Wildlands isn’t the sharpest regarding its actual mechanics, and this is at odds with the precision of which the game requires you to carry out missions.  The handling of each of the game’s wheeled vehicles I had the chance to try was uniformly awful, with oversteer causing me to lurch alarmingly all over the roads, giving missions where I was tasked to take down enemy convoys an unintended layer of difficulty. I found the game’s flying vehicles unwieldy, too — the surveillance drone was clumsy, and the helicopter, even more so. Even after a fair bit of practice, I felt a constant fear of enveloping my buddies is a fiery ball of death every time I took to the skies.

I also found the shooting itself a bit lacking. By default, the camera switches to a first-person viewpoint when you hold the left trigger to aim, giving you a view down your weapon’s sights. This certainly makes sense, given the accuracy demanded, but in practice, it helps very little to the overall feel, which seems a little floaty and not tactile enough for my tastes, even after fine-tuning the various sensitivity settings in the options menu. Again, this is obviously something that could be rectified for the upcoming release, and I’d certainly hope it would be tweaked a little, as I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking the combat’s feel is fundamental to the game’s success.

The was plenty to like about Ghost Recon Wildlands during my time with the beta. I found the game’s more realistic take on the open-world genre refreshing, and I appreciate the more detailed planning and preparation its missions demand. Playing this code has raised some concerns, though, with the shakiness of certain mechanics one obvious issue, coupled with some technical issues that I hope will have been ironed out by the time the game is released worldwide on March 7th, 2017.