Sometimes games come out that defy your expectations. Sometimes games come out that try to break the mold. They open your eyes to new possibilities that you never would have foreseen. They bring something new to the table.
But sometimes games come out that are perfectly content with just being at the table and hanging out. Ghost Recon Wildlands feels like that kind of game. If I were choosing to be super reductive, I would say that Ghost Recon Wildlands is what The Division would be if it were a tactical military shooter. There's a bit more to it than that, but that gives you a basic idea of what you're getting into here.
I don't necessarily say this is a negative manner, because I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent with The Division. It didn't keep my attention very long after I finished the final story mission outside of picking up some achievements that I was relatively close to getting, but for the month or so that I was playing it, I had a good time.
Based solely on the recent closed beta, Ghost Recon Wildlands feels like The Division without the loot, which is a positive or a negative depending on your personal preference. For me, I love games with loot if the game makes it interesting. The reason I love looting in the Borderlands franchise is because the guns, shields, relics, and grenades all feel like they do something different. When you break it down, they're just choosing from a few different options of gun type, a few different options of effects, a few different varieties of ammo, and shuffling them around to create new weapons. I am being reductive here, but at least when I get a new gun, I have to weigh my preference of do I want this shotgun that shoots incendiary rounds or do I want the shotgun that only shoots regular ammo but does more damage? It's simple, but it works.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is based more in reality, so I can't discredit it for not having a gun that shoots swords, but every gun feels the same as all the others, making it less intriguing when you do equip something new.
Wildlands has a decent amount of customization, but not as much as you've seen in other games.
One thing that Wildlands does that separates it from The Division is the emphasis on stealth. You're encouraged to approach each outpost or encounter with caution and to take things slow, executing your targets with swiftness and precision. That is, until you inevitably miss your target because aiming in this game is not very good, resulting in a shootout that will leave you on the ground waiting for a teammate to revive you.
This part of the game bums me out. I love being stealthy in games, and if a game gives you the option of stealth or balls-to-the-wall guns blazing, I always choose the stealth option. I love the idea of making my way to an outpost and taking out ten dudes without one of them knowing what's going on until I send them to meet their maker.
I encountered two different types of enemies during my time in the Wildlands. First, we have the Santa Blanca cartel, which are your run-of-the-mill bad guys wielding sub machine guns and other small arms. They usually run in packs, and even though they're not much of a challenge when separated, you can get taken out quite easily when you have a few of them coming down on you.
Then you have the Unidad forces. These guys are armored and carry heavier firepower. Early on in the beta, I encountered some Unidad soldiers. I didn't take them out quickly enough, so reinforcements closed in on my location. So I took those guys out as well, and then more reinforcements came. Before I knew it, I was being chased down by helicopters, which were easily taken out with the standard assault rifle I was carrying. But no matter how many helicopters I took out, there were two more replacing them. I couldn't get away by killing them, and I couldn't escape them in a vehicle. Eventually I just had to back out to the main menu and return to the game to get out of that situation.
The world itself doesn't do anything special, at least not from what I found. I didn't do any exploring and only moved from mission to mission with the occasional veering off to tackle a side mission or pick up a collectible, but considering that the beta was only a fraction of the world that will be available in the main game, Based on different screenshots Ubisoft has released, I trust that they're going to have some scenery worth looking at.
As far as the matchmaking goes, I attempted once to play with other people. It took a long five minutes for the game to actually start, and when I did, two of my three squad members backed out immediatley, and the one that stayed was on the opposite end of the map. Of course, I'm not going to judge that experience based on such a small sample size (one is a pretty small number), but that's the main reason I avoid playing cooperatively with players I don't know. However, if I had a crew of friends that could all get together and play this the same way I do with Gears of War 4's Horde mode, then I can see great potential with Wildlands.
So, what exactly am I saying about Ghost Recon Wildlands? I'm not telling you it's a bad game. Even for a beta it seemed pretty well polished. The only glitch I encountered was a squad mate getting stuck atop a small platform, which was fixed with a quick nudge on my part. I have a strong sense that there's going to be a lot to do and see, and I did play several different mission types. However, my grievances will likely cause Wildlands to take a backseat to other major titles launching near the same time, specifically The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I knew I loved you before I met you.
I'm sure the game will sell gangbusters, but I'm also sure that it'll wind up at the magical $20 price point some time before the holiday season, which is when I'll take the plunge. It's not going to set the world on fire, but I think it'll be a good game to fill time with during the annual summer lull.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget to check out all the other places you can find me.