It’s been 14,000+ hours since the Ghosts deployed in Wildlands…
Or to put it another way, 20 months since the release of Mr Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, an open world 3rd person perspective military tactical shooter set in the Bolivian countryside. This marked a decisive debut from the franchise’s ealier, more traditional linear iterations.
Editor’s Update: The open beta starts 26th-29th September…
High-value target lost…
While the gorgeous visuals of Wildlands stunned audiences with its’ depiction of the diversity and beauty of Bolivia’s landscapes – there was something missing (a lot according to the Bolivian government who were less than thrilled by being associated as a host nation that was filled-to-the-brim with hordes of sicarios and drug cartels). The interactions with enemy and friendly forces was quite hollow, missions felt extremely repetitive, and AI was poor enough to spoil the overall experience.
It was a shame as Wildland’s had some interesting touches. The gunsmith feature was as detailed as before and the real-world manufacturers of tactical gear (e.g. 5.11, Helikon-Tex etc.) were present as has become the staple in the same studio’s other franchise: The Division.
Wildlands had some other novel ideas thrown around, including some amusing side-missions such as paying lip service to Splinter Cell and Rainbow 6 Siege players by introducing some of their characters to the Ghost Recon world. And, of course, even tossing in a face-off with the Predator, perfectly suiting the jungle environment that dominated the game.
Hunter to soon become the hunted
Now, we are less than a month away from release of Wildlands’ successor, Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Here the emphasis is placed on you and your 3-person-squad being survivors rather than aggressors – pitted against a rogue force of former ghost operatives calling themselves The Wolves.
Furthermore, as the result of a ship being sunk off the coast of the game’s fictional physical setting; a group of islands – called Aurora – you find your helicopter shot down, separated from your team, wounded – with only a side-arm to defend yourself and being hunted by the aforementioned Wolves.
Incidentally, Aurora also happens to play host nation to a company that R&D/manufactures powerful weaponised drones – making it the likely reason your former-ghost-squad-members-now-ghost-recon-killers, the Wolves are so determined to drive away any interfering forces. Yep, of all the places to land – you just had to crash here!
Changing of the guard
In a break from tradition I have put together some of my initial thoughts from playing the beta that has just closed.
Beta’s, the sirens of our times?
Normally, I wouldn’t be inclined to do this – beta’s can be something of a false prophet – either luring players in with game mechanics that won’t actually see the light of day (see my piece about The Division’s (the debut game’s) gameplay trailers – or likewise destroying any merit in the good ideas that are being bestowed into a title by putting others off through a mixture of overall poor presentation and general roughness and bugs that won’t be present in the finalised product.
But let’s face up to a couple of facts that are pertinent to this release:
1) The game’s finalised release is October 4th, less than one month away.
2) Putting out a beta this late in the day – means it’s more of a marketing promotion – if there was the genuine feeling at UbiSoft HQ that everything had to be axed then we would have been invited to play the Beta months ago or not at all, depending.
So with all of that – it only remains for me to say I haven’t been paid or asked to review this beta – yes, I realise there are quite a few Ubisoft games that I have reviewed over the last few years on here – but that’s more a reflection on my preference for good solo/co-op tactical, action shooters.
Beta 1st Impressions: The Good, The bad & The Fugly
· The new sense of heft to the player-controlled character animation is largely welcome – better sense of realism when traversing terrain, walking, climbing – like the added emphasis placed on taking care to move across the landscape and potential for injury when not taking enough care.
· Graphically, even in beta version this all looks really good – draw distance is impressive (e.g. when travelling by helo) you can see far ahead – although not sure if this is at the cost of environment being less populated e.g. fewer trees, mountains etc. in the playable beta.
· Weapons seem good, solid action – although as a con – would have liked to see more animation in reloads and carrying of these etc. Also, not a fan of the toning down of attachments for guns – e.g. where have the replaceable stocks disappeared to? Also, the gunsmith is decidedly less impressively represented than in earlier examples of the franchise.
· Prefer the increased level of player-controlled character customisation, makes him/her feel more real which oddly, makes you care more about them – although most of the online players I encountered seemed to have gone for a very similar look to my own choice – this may be the Beta’s limitation for options or that we all had great taste in character design – we’ll have to wait and see what the final game allows us to do.
· A better variety of vehicles – but the motorcycles handle terribly – shame as these were the few vehicles that handled better in Wildlands originally.
· Love the more Metal Gear Solid vibe of the Wolves and the use of the ‘spotter drone’ which also has the menace of something that Hideo Kojima would have included if he were the driving force behind the game’s creation process.
· Awesome sense of being hunted by these guys – GR franchise has suffered from the feeling that you and your team are invincible which has led in the past to creating a challenge that seems hollow.
· Normal NPCs still seem like cannon fodder – but their AI has been vastly improved, so swings and roundabouts here.
· The items navigation wheel is annoying for swapping between different items of gear as you still need to select these from the main menu which just ends up pulling you out of the game’s immersion.
· As with many of Ubi’s titles – there is too much going on in the menus at any one time – they really need to streamline this – on the surface at least – there should be a minimum of key menus –with better UX design – examples of needless overcomplicating are found abound in the studios Division series.
· Not so keen on the harder enemies restricted by the total gear value of the items and armour your player has acquired
· Did enjoy the featured drones and the harder difficulty they represent.
· Wish the loot boxes were more limited and offered better rewards – rather than being everywhere and often representing a new pair of gloves or hat.
· Love the prone camouflaging using mud etc to blend in – very cool, just wished they worked other animations and skills like this into the game.
· Less impressed by the food, water, crafting etc. In the beta – these effect buffs didn’t really come together and felt like they were more optional than a required component of the game.
· The finding your own way in the open word – trying to uncover intel to form missions is brave move and only time will tell if this pays off in this world.
My gut instincts say that this may prove to be problematic as while I appreciate the artistic freedom bestowed upon players to approach gameplay in the manner, they see fit – my well know issues with open world is that the lack of direction often leads to an unsatisfactory or disappointing experience.
Everything can all too easily feel empty when you’re left to your own devices – especially when it’s trying to find out just what the hell you are supposed to be doing.
· The breech tool is god-gift for the when you actually know where and what you’re doing and it’s this kind of gameplay freedom – albeit with a more directed approach to missions that I feel Ubisoft should be taking.
· In the beta there wasn’t the option for you to be accompanied by your AI team-mates – which was a shame.
I still think they should be adding the swap to play the other characters system of old – games like the Conflict series (Conflict Desert Storm 1 & 2, Conflict Global etc.) did an excellent job of allowing you to loosely order your squad to hold a position or move to a location, guard – not engage etc – while also allowing you to take the reins as that character whenever you desired.
If GR did this – they could relax the plethora of skills trees for your player – which inevitably result in you building a player that is an excellent all-rounder rather than a unique specialist – and instead could allow you to craft a well-proportioned diverse 4 man/woman/mixed squad of specialists.
Not just that – but the diversification that this would have on the impact of the gameplay and tactics/strategies would be killer – C’mon Ubisoft, at the risk of sounding like a broken record – I’ve been saying this for years!!!
It would go a long way to forgettable or terrible team AI which GR has certainly had – whether Breakpoint eliminates this or not – we’ll just have to see.
What we know so far…
Those were my impressions so far – based solely on the beta and experience playing Wildland’s I think I can safely say that Breakpoint will be important in terms of deciding the direction for future Ghost Recon titles – the greater emphasis on being outgunned, the notes of survival and greater character customisation along with what the studio has already said that progress made in the campaign – will carry across to PvP and vice-versa – are all likely to be crucial ingredients moving forward
In a nutshell – if you’ve already enjoyed playing Wildlands – then I think Breakpoint will impress you further, I will be getting a copy of the game following its release at the beginning of next month and when I do I will bring you a more in depth look and examine the pros and cons I have listed here to see how the final game stacks up.
Let me know what you thought of the closed or the forthcoming open beta – or similarly what you would suggest for the direction, as far as the Ghost Recon franchise as a whole is concerned.