This ongoing weekend, Ubisoft hosted a closed beta for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the PC. This closed beta gave a select few access to a title that has been 4 years in the making, allowing us to see the open-world that they created. Seeing how I prefer the PC for my gaming platform of choice, I entered in for the PC. Luckily, after using 5 different email addresses, I was finally selected to check out the game.
Going into this beta, I had several questions on my mind, all of which were sort of answered in my 15 hours with this closed beta. With the most glaring question being, would this be another “The Division“? It’s no secret that originally I enjoyed that game at first, but with no end game and several major issues that weren’t corrected until later. The Division quickly grew into a title that I simply didn’t enjoy anymore. Seeing how there are several comparisons being raised between Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division, I spent most of my time in the closed beta trying out the world. What worked for the game versus what Ubisoft had tried before.
Before I go into my impressions, I have to say that it definitely feels like Ubisoft took a lot of what was wrong in The Division and improved on it here. While there is definitely room for improved, what was available in the closed beta is definitely solid.
This is definitely not The Division
The first thing I wanted to get out is that this is not The Divison. A lot of the concerns regarding The Divison was that the world was barren. There wasn’t much going on in terms of the background, especially for a city such as New York. Sure, you had NPC encounters, with enemies running through the streets, but that was it. In Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you have the complete opposite. There are tons to see, from various animals walking around the area, livestock in villages, birds flying around the sky. There’s definitely a difference between this world and the stark and harsh concrete jungle of New York.
The most important difference is the abundance of NPCs walking around the world and their interaction with you. Walking or drive past the NPCs, they’ll look at you, turn their heads or even mention stuff to you. React to them in a hostile manner and they’ll duck and begin to cower. They’ll even jump out of their vehicles allowing you to carjack them if you point your weapons at them. If you try to run them over, they will jump out harm’s way. Besides even if you do manage to run someone over, they’ll just get right back up. And no, you can not shoot the human NPCs, though you can shoot the animals if that’s your sort of thing. Though I found out the hard way that they can run over you and they will kill you!
There’s also a lot of objectives to complete in regards to the missions, as well as random events that you can stumble across. During several treks throughout the word, I’ve encountered the opposition murdering people or giving them a rough time, allowing me the chance to liberate them. The missions were varied. Some had you racing to a location to save an NPC, or taking out a person of interest. Others had you taking down equipment that the enemy was dependent on. I definitely think there needs to be more variety with the missions, though I did enjoy attempting to complete them.
Though, I had more fun with the random events than expected. And the events aren’t something that the game throws at you, but more so than events that you force upon yourself. For example, I had attempted to take over a military installation that was inhabited by the local enemy, the Unidad. At the start I had a handful of enemies to take out, however, once I did that, they started calling in reinforcements. Those extra bodies simply kept coming and coming, increasing my odds of not taking over the base. Regardless of how hard I tried. And the enemies weren’t simply sitting there, letting me shoot them.
No, they were flanking me, they were scouting for me and they were really lethal when it came to taking me out. There were other events that popped up during my time in the closed beta as well, mainly side missions. Each with their own requirements for finishing. Sadly the beta only had access to a limited area. Trying to go outside the area ended with you being killed since you left their beta zone.
Another big difference here that Ubisoft’s other open-world shooter didn’t have is vehicles. There’s a large amount of both land and air based vehicles that you can access. Various airplanes, helicopters, humvee’s, SUV’s, dirt bikes, trucks and even several exotic sports cars in the game, that you can take and zoom around the area. Fans of Grand Theft Auto are going to enjoy that last bit of news. During one part, I encountered a farm with a tractor on it and fully didn’t expect to be able to jump onto the tractor. But I was too and I drove it around for a bit.
I particularly enjoyed being able to jump on the smaller and more nimble helicopters and flying about the environment as it gave me some perspective on how large the play area is. And again, this was just the area available in the beta. Once the full game is released, there will be more to explore.
Customizations and more customizations
Fans of dressing up their characters are going to happy with the option here. Not only can you customize your character, but also your weapons. At the being of the game you select either a male or female model and then you can start making it your very own. You’re able to change up your facial features, hair, shirt, pants, headgear, backpack, glasses, tattoos and more. They definitely put a huge variety of selection when it comes to your clothing, though I was a bit disappointed with the number of hair styles and beards available. Either way, you’ll definitely play around with the options for while.
The weapon customization goes a bit deeper. Here you can change out a large assortment of things, from the stock, scope, magazine, barrel and several others. This also changes the way the weapon handles and the damage it can do. This also introduces a check and balances deal, since they don’t want you to create a super mega weapon. Adding a scope may give you better accuracy, however, your damage output may suffer. Adding a large magazine may do nothing, while a larger barrel gives you more range at the expense of hip fire accuracy.
It’s nice to have that option and gives tinkers something to do to min/max their layout while they’re waiting for their next mission.
Environments and environmental damage
I didn’t encounter a location in the game that had a building I couldn’t enter or a mountain I couldn’t climb. It was refreshing to be able to do more than just fight or looking for trouble. While it’s too early to say, it definitely seems like whatever you can see in the game is available to travel to. That’s something that gets me excited in an open-world game, as I love exploring the areas in them. More so the buildings, as they turn gun battles and planning for them, into a more interesting experience. Who doesn’t like running into a building, waiting for the enemy to run past them and catching them by surprise? Or going to the highest building and opening up a few rounds from a sniper rifle?
What fun would an open-world game be if you couldn’t damage your surroundings? Mind you, I didn’t test this as much as I should have, but I came across with some mixed results. Just about everything in the game will show battle damage; cards, buildings, signs. Though it depends on what you’re shooting at or blowing up, as not everything is fully destructible. Put enough bullets into a vehicle and it will blow up, as expected. But if you shoot at trees or buildings or even street signs, they merely take the damage and keep standing. There’s no fun in putting a bunch of rounds into a tree and not having it going down. That plus the whole immersion factor goes out the window.
You’re not a lone wolf
Since this is a Ghost Recon game, you aren’t able to go it alone. Instead, you have a team of three other AI controller players who tag along with you. Sadly, you aren’t able to customize their layouts. They are also nearly useless, depending on what’s happening. That’s not to say they don’t hold their own because they do very well, but they seem to like asking what should they do. For example, if you’re sneaking around and even though the enemy hasn’t seen you, they’re asking you what should they do. Though they also are useful by calling out enemy positions that you didn’t see, alerting you that you’ve been made or calling out all things of interest. They’ll also let you know when you screw up, like shooting a civilian.
In the field, they talk to each other, recanting about their current mission, a past mission or something other random stuff. They even joke once in a while. Almost everytime I took the control of a vehicle, someone would always complain they I won’t let them drive. I guess they stink at driving. However, once a firefight breaks out, you’ll be glad that they are around as they can hold their own. Many times they’ve bailed me out or revived me when I took a bullet or two. You’re also able to command them, though it is a bit limited. As of the beta, you can only tell them to open fire, go to a location, regroup and hold their position.
I only wish I was able to control them with a bit more freedom. Having more commands would be nice, yet I understand why they are limited. Having a larger amount of commands and fitting them on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller would complicate the matter. So having a limited set of commands that covers the basic needs gets the job done.
I also like the introduction of the drone. This little device makes for scoping out hostile environments so much easier. Just toss him up and let it do its thing. In its default configuration, it can be used to look for enemies while putting some skill points into it will allow it to do much more. Flying longer, blowing up stuff, signaling unsuspecting foes to it and more. I just hope that the usage gets limited or I can see it possibly taking the fun out of certain situations.
Everyone likes shooting virtual guns.
I have to say that the gunplay in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wild Lands is damn near perfect. The gun models are spot on, each weapon has a distinct sound and there are various amounts to us. During combat, the gunplay brought a smile to my face as it was very satisfying. But not just firing the weapons, but the indication when I was off my mark or if I hit my target. Humans hit by accurate fire result in a realistic sound, which is accompanied by a cloud of blood, letting you know you hit the target. Bullets that bounced off walls and other objects reacted with the sound of the object it hit. Bullets hitting metal sound like was impacting metal, while brick and other surfaces sounded similarly.
Shoot through a car’s windshield hear the sound of glass breaking. Shooting the car or armored vehicle returns a sound of the bullets striking against metal and so forth. Though not everything has a corresponding sound, as when I shoot through a lake or stream, I expected to hit the sounds of water being shot up. I either didn’t hear it or it wasn’t at a level I expected it to be.
The only thing missing is body damage. Shooting enemies anywhere on their body is death to them. While some higher up enemies need multiple shots, there is no body damage. If you want to cripple someone by shooting them in the arm or leg, the result is the same; they end up dead. Sure, this wasn’t a feature that Ubisoft had mentioned, I was hoping it would be added to the game. Another disappointment is the lack of melee actions. You can pistol whip someone all you like, but that’s the extent of melee. Or it is for now. Though, it would be nice to pull out a knife when you’re in close quarters with someone vs trying to get a headshot or putting a few bullets in them.
The game is also playable in both a first person and third person perspective. I’ve seen a lot of news out there saying this wasn’t the case and those are incorrect. While the game does throw you into the first person view, pressing the “X” key will shift you to the third person view and will keep you there until you change it. Needs to say, both have their pros and cons, but I switched between them during my game time. I will say that while the third person view is nice, the camera angles do tend to cause issues from time to time.
Control and Performance Concerns
The controls for the PC version are terrible. The controls felt clunky for not only your character but also the vehicles you get to control. Controlling your character isn’t that frustrating, though it was annoying when you’re trying to scale a ledge or fence. I would have liked the ability to automatically scale over those obstacles instead. I expected that these operatives were in the best shape of their lives and movement would be a bit more fleshed. It’s definitely not bad but feels like it could be better, a bit more natural.
However, the second you climb about anything other than your legs is when stuff gets all twisted. The land vehicles, for example, are hard to turn in either direction. Attempting to do so results in a fight between then keyboard and your fingers. This goes double for piloting the helicopters and airplanes throughout the demo.
Sure, I could have pulled out the Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller, but I wanted to see how things played out on the keyboard. There wasn’t any way to rebind the buttons on either the keyboard or controller either. This was mildly frustrating for me. When I play shooters, I tend to bind my crouch and prone buttons to my mouse. So when I’m trying to sneak around or when I need to belly flop as bullets are aimed at my face, the action is instant. The issue I have now is that all the buttons are bunched together, which resulted in me pressing the wrong button at times.
While this is a beta, the PC version has an issue with PC 0ptimization. I played the beta on two different gaming PCs; a high end and a medium ranged PC. The high end considered of an Intel i5-5820k, GTX 1080, 16GB DDR4 (still waiting on my other memory kit) and Windows 10. While the medium ranged PC considered of an Intel Xeon E3 1231 v3 (Overclocked to 3.9Ghz), GTX 1060 6GB, 16GB DD3 and Windows 10. The experience was similar on both machines. However, for this impressions piece, I am reporting on what I experienced on the high-end machine.
When I first started on the high-end system, I dialed in my settings for 3440×1440 at 60fps and ultra settings. I noticed that after I did that, I simply wasn’t able to maintain that frame rate, yet alone able to sustain a consistent 50-55 fps. It simply kept fluctuating between 30-55fps and it was ruining the gameplay. Especially the gun battles. At first, I considered setting the game to 30fps, which would have afforded me a better experience. I wanted to see how much I could push the game, seeing how this is the beta. Playing at 1440p was out of the picture, even with my hardware. So I settled for 1080p at very high settings. I still had to drop a few settings but was able to maintain 60fps for most of my gameplay sessions.
When I played in several multiplayer settings, my once solid 1080p60fps experience dropped to 35-45fps. That was on the high-end PC. On the medium end PC, I had to set it to a consistent 30fps to make it better experience me. After changing to 30fps, the experience was better. At the same time. I’m not going to complain about optimization at this point, simply because this is a beta. This is exactly the sort of stuff that everyone who is partaking in the beta should be trying to play around with. Sadly, the notion of getting access to a beta usually means a chance to play a game earlier, for some.
I’ll be looking forward to next week’s open beta for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Hopefully, Ubisoft takes to heart the issues that others and myself have had with the closed beta.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands releases on March 7 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.