I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the last time I took a chance on a Ubisoft title. The Division proved to be a palatable diversion for a while but ultimately became a shallow and aimless slog with little incentive for me to continue playing beyond the level cap. Ghost Recon Wildlands shares much of the DNA that made up Ubisoft’s previous attempt at a multiplayer blockbuster: Players can join up either solo or with a group of friends to tackle missions, level up characters, and face increasingly difficult groups of enemies in an online open world.

Ghost Recon Wildlands, like The Division, is a third-person cover shooter with vaulting mechanics, military weaponry, and an out of touch, painful tone that reaches for Jack Bauer -in-“24” levels of gravitas but ends up falling well short of that. Somehow.

What best sums up Ghost Recon Wildlands is an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Given that I just played The Division last year, and have played countless third-person shooters (I’m currently making my way through The Uncharted Collection on PS4 after buying the system…finally) some of that is understandable. It’s pretty hard to innovate what has been iterated on hundreds of times by now, and Wildlands doesn’t look to reinvent the wheel, and I’m perfectly fine with that. What immediately struck me was just how many games it reminded me of while still holding true to that third-person gameplay.

Grand Theft Amaru

After taking far too long in the games robust and beautiful character creation mode, I was immediately thrust into a mission where I had to…rescue an informant…or something. Like I said, I skipped through the story to get to the gameplay and systems. The gist of the mission is that I am to rescue a man named Amaru, who has valuable information for taking out some big bad drug lords in the region before he can be killed. Pretty simple stuff.

Flaking me on all sides were my three AI controlled teammates who I could issue orders to via the command wheel. After getting my bearings with the game’s controls, I noticed my map. Amaru was being held a few kilometers away from us, and my team was surrounded by vehicles. I hopped into the Jeep with my crew and began making my way towards Amaru’s location, and I couldn’t help but getting some serious Grand Theft Auto vibes. My destination was marked with a yellow blip and was far out of sight on my mini map, so the GPS had generated a course for me to follow on the way there.

More on Ghost Recon Wildlands: Our Most Anticipated Games of 2017; Stealth in the Wildlands; Ghost Recon Wildlands Open Beta to Include New Province.

Flinging the Jeep down the mountain and around sharp bends felt fantastic and while the vehicles handle similarly to those in Grand Theft Auto, they certainly don’t respond realistically to damage or crashes. When coming into contact with another vehicle or the side of a cliff the physics are generally forgiving, pushing objects and other cars out of the way while leaving the vehicle with nary a scratch.

While driving around I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of shanty towns filled with poor villagers out on their daily business, ramshackle trucks and SUVs rambling along the road, and tropical foliage lining the hills and valleys of the open world. The open world feels very much like Kyrat from Far Cry 4, alive and bustling with activity while also not feeling very meaningful or fleshed out. The NPCs don’t really raise concern with a bunch of Americans with assault rifles sprinting through their town. Those elements and people are there but they don’t feel like they serve a purpose other than to keep the open world from feeling empty.

The Phantom Favela

Once my team and I arrived at our destination the game instructed that the best way to tackle enemy outposts was to “mark” enemies either by aiming at them with my standard weapons when they were in sight, to use my binoculars to mark them from far away, or to use a small pilotable drone to fly above entire towns to get a full 360-degree view of the village. The drone has a limited range and timeframe that it can be deployed to keep it from making things too easy. Once the drone flies out of range the picture becomes more scrambled, as if your character is losing signal from it flying out of range. Should the drone be deployed too long, a small beep rings out, the interval between beeps becoming shorter and shorter the closer the battery gets to running out of juice. Enemies can see the drone if it gets too close and shoot it out of the sky, alerting their fellow cartel members that something is amiss.

Tagging enemies and taking them down stealthily reminded me a lot of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, specifically how the game encourages stealth as the best option while ramping up the amount of enemies thrown at the player should they choose to go guns blazing. Another similarity between Wildlands and The Phantom Pain is how certain NPCs hold valuable information that can be gained through stealthy interrogation techniques. Simply approaching a character from behind gives the player the option to grapple with them, after which they can be interrogated should they have information to share. Once I interrogated one of these men I was informed of Amaru’s exact location, which was then added to my mini-map.

I then jumped on to a dirt bike and began to drive down the mountain. At first I thought my squad would be following me down the mountain, but unless the player is in a four-door vehicle the team will stay behind and “catch up with you later,” meaning they spawn shortly after you stop at your destination and get out of your current vehicle.

After arriving at Amaru’s holding cell I marked the enemies surrounding the building and picked them off one by one. Your squad has the ability to perform a “Sync Shot” where the player can mark a target and press the Q key to have the entire squad unload on them at once. I couldn’t get the Sync Shot to work most of the time and the few times it did it seemed unnecessary against the enemies we were facing. I could easily take down the enemies myself with a single shot to the head, but I can see the use of the Sync Shot against enemies with armor.

I dispatched the camp pretty much by myself and was instructed to extract Amaru at our base camp, so I hopped in a helicopter conveniently parked in front of the camp and took off over the hills.

Once I arrived back at camp a short cutscene played out telling me that two men named Yuri and Polito were responsible for Amaru’s capture, along with the capture and torture of a fellow Ghost Ricky Sandoval. Yuri and Polito run this part of the country and it’s my job to go find more intel on their whereabouts, so I’m thrust back into the open world to go find more answers.

The Open World, Skills, and Enemies

After the mission is completed I am given the opportunity to switch out my weapons, upgrade my skills through a small skill tree, and explore the overworld map. There are icons scattered all around the map for things such as major intel, supply drops, and skill points. Finding major intel unlocks new missions across the map while supply drops refill your ammo. Finding skill points gives your character the ability to upgrade their skill tree.

The skill tree is broken up into 6 branches: Weapons, Drone, Items, Physical, Squad, and Rebel Support. Each branch has a host of skills to upgrade based on the branch its on. For example, the first Physical upgrade I could get was a longer sprint duration, while the first Drone upgrade available to me was night vision. The first unlocks were very basic and more unlocks become available as you level up, should you have enough skill points to pay for them all.

I decided to go out into the open world and explore a bit to see what the sandbox had to offer. Red blips on the map indicate enemy combatants, and they can be engaged or avoided. Some of the blips represent individual soldiers while others represent encampments. Engaging an enemy is best done through stealth as creating a lot of noise and alerting guards will cause them to call in reinforcements. These can come in the form of soldiers from other camps on foot or trucks of enemies arriving to mow you down. While the enemies arent difficult to kill they have decent aim and do a good bit of damage. Where the AI makes up for its lack of aim is in numbers. Messy encounters can quickly get out of hand and a careless squad can become overwhelmed, so caution is strongly suggested.

Finishing off my first hour with the game, I came across a purple blip on the map and immediately had to go exploring. Purple or yellow items in normal MMO’s typically signal an Elite enemy – one much stronger than your typical foe. My squad ambushed the purple enemies, after which the game informed me they were part of the Unidad special forces, an aggressive military force that will shoot you on site.

The Unidad soldiers have heavy body armor and machine guns that can tear through an underprepared Ghost (much like they did to my squad) and I was quickly taken down by their heavy fire. Friendly squad members can revive downed players and NPCs once the area is clear. One of my squad members revived me and we finished off the Unidad soldiers we had taken on initially, but more Unidad reinforcements arrived to kill us for good. I respawned a few seconds later and well…that was it for now.

Final Thoughts

So far I think there is quite a lot of potential in Ghost Recon Wildlands. While I haven’t gotten a chance to play with actual people online, the experience feels accessible and quick to pick up in a way The Division did not. The missions are straight forward and fun, albeit simplistic. I don’t know exactly how long the game could hold my attention, but I am eager to jump back in and experience a bit more of what the game has to offer, so I guess the beta is doing its job.

Ghost Recond Wildlands open beta is available to download from the Uplay client and from the Ubisoft Store.

Ghost Recon Wildlands launches on March 7 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

About The Author

Evan W
Senior Staff Writer/Review/Editorial Writer

Evan discovered gaming with Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and never looked back. He has spent the last 20 years criss-crossing genres and platforms, and is an equal opportunity rager, breaking consoles and PCs alike. If you spent summer days off from middle school playing classic PC shooters instead of developing a tan and social skills, you've got a friend in him. Mom might not understand the pain of being "180NOSCOPEWTFPWNED, SON!", but he does. Oh, he does.