As we head towards Ghost Recon Wildlands' closed beta – which runs from February 3rd to the 6th – we highlight seven aspects of Ubisoft's upcoming open world tactical shooter that we're excited about.
1. It's Ubisoft's biggest open world action adventure yet
Set in a very near-future Bolivia, Ghost Recon Wildlands' features a sprawling open world environment that's bigger than any prior Ubisoft action adventure. It comprises 21 different regions spread across 11 distinct ecosystems: Altiplano (high plains), Arid Mountains, Canyon, Forest Valley, Green Land, Highlands, Jungle, Lake and Waterfall, Salar (salt flats), Swamp, and Yungas (mountain jungles). All told, it's home to 7 million different trees, bushes, and rocks, 800 kilometers of road, 150 kilometers of railways, and more than 150 individual locations that include villages, outposts, and landmarks.
To create as authentic a digital rendition of Bolivia as possible, four teams of Ubisoft developers traveled to the country to document its varied biomes, experience Bolivian culture and heritage, and meet with geo-political activists, politicians, law enforcement, farmers, and journalists. The objective was to learn everything they could about the country, from its coca production through its industries and landscaping to the details of everyday life. During the trip, the team shot over 15,000 photos, and recorded more than 15 hours of video.
The game also features a full weather system, plus a day/night cycle. These environmental conditions can affect the gameplay – for example, if you attack an installation at night, there will be fewer enemies present because most of the guards will be sleeping. Likewise, undertaking a missing during a thunderstorm will reduce visibility and make it harder for you to spot the enemy – and for the enemy to spot you. This opens up the potential for tactical play, with some missions actually being easier at different times of the day and night.
2. Players are free to tackle missions whenever and however they choose
While Ghost Recon Wildlands does have a central narrative story arc that you can follow, the game is almost completely open from the very start. You can choose where you want to go, and which missions you want to tackle: There are no artificial barriers preventing you from doing whatever it is you want to do. Instead, the 21 regions each have a difficulty rating, which you can use to plan your progress. If you want to wade right into one of the tough areas, you're free to do so. Even though you might fail, there's nothing stopping you from trying to complete whatever tasks are available in that zone.
In terms of the missions themselves, you're given a specific objective, and it's up to you to decide which tactics and strategies would be best employed to achieve it. There are no linear or scripted events to work through; instead your target will be populated with NPCs that have specific behavior patterns, and will react to your actions. Sometimes that might mean digging in and defending, while at other times they might try to advance and flank you. In some instances, they might even call for backup, or request aerial support from helicopter gunships.
As a mission gets underway and the action heats up, you will need to improvise accordingly. This makes for very dynamic-feeling gameplay that constantly keeps you on your toes, and where you can't always predict what's going to happen.
3. Play it on your own – or with others
Ghost Recon Wildlands can be played as a solo experience, or as an online co-op game. If you elect to tackle the game on your own, you're assigned three AI-driven ghosts that accompany you. Rudimentary commands can be issued to your squad through a control wheel-type interface, and that enables you to direct the positioning and actions of your team on a basic level. Most of the time, though, they'll simply follow your lead and support you by firing at enemy targets that are attacking you, or that you highlight using a drone.
An interesting feature that was outlined by lead designer Dominic Butler at E3 last year is that the AI ghosts will adapt their responses to your style of gameplay. Quite how this will work remains to be seen, but I think the idea of your team supporting the way you want to play is a really good one, and if it works well, it should help deliver a really satisfying single-player experience.
Multiplayer co-op sees the AI ghosts being replaced with real players, and up to four people can participate simultaneously. The previously-mentioned open-ended mission structure is ideal for team play, and players will have to work together to figure out the best way to approach a particular target or objective.
A smart aspect of Ghost Recon Wildlands' multiplayer is that if you join another player's game, your game world will sync up with theirs, allowing you to replay missions that you might have already completed. Not only that, but the game has an adaptive system that lets players individually set their own difficulty levels, even though they’re playing together.
4. There's comprehensive gun customization
A key feature of Ghost Recon Wildlands' "play it your way" design is the option for the player to choose and modify their weapons so that they align with their own personal playstyle. To that end, the game features around 50 firearms, including assault rifles, sub-machine guns, sniper rifles, light machine guns, pistols, and shotguns. There are also exotic weapons available in the game, but these have to be earned by completing specific missions.
Almost every aspect of a weapon can be tweaked, from adding attachments such as scopes, barrels, suppressors, grenade launchers, and stocks, to choosing how the gun's firing mode functions. There are more than 100 different pieces of equipment available, and they can change the characteristics of a weapon in a wide variety of ways, including noise reduction, bullet penetration, damage, handling, accuracy, and rate of fire.
Paint jobs are also available that enable the player to further make their firearms – they can carry two primary weapons, as well as a handgun – their own. The more a weapon is used, the more it ages, getting scratched and beaten up as it sees more and more action. It can be cleaned and repainted at any time – or you can simply leave it as it for a battle-worn look.
5. The game features more than 60 different vehicles
When it comes to traveling around the game's enormous world, if you can steal it, you can drive it. There's a broad range of civilian motors like cars, vans, pickups, SUVs, and motorcycles, and a slew of commercial vehicles like trucks, tractors, and even earthmovers. If you're skilled enough, you might even be able to get your hands on an armored vehicle, military SUV, or off-road buggy.
If you want to take to the skies, several types of helicopters can be found in the game's environment, from regular choppers through transporters to armed gunships. Small airplanes can also be found parked up at airfields, and are ideal for a long-distance journey across Bolivia.
Ghost Recon Wildlands' map also features lakes and waterways, and these can be navigated by stealing fishing boats that are moored along rivers. There are also other craft, such as floating laboratories, inflatable military dinghies, and gunboats. However, getting your hands on one of those requires a little more work.
6. Ghosts are fully customizable
The first order of business when you initially boot up the game is to create a character. There's a broad range of options to choose from, including gender, face, hairstyle, hat, top, pants, and shoes. Clothing can be further refined by selecting one of 30 different materials, from plain black cloth through denim and plaid to a range of different camouflage patterns.
Cosmetic features such as scars and tattoos can also be added to additionally customize your character, and there are a number of different equipment options, such as being able to select the kind of glasses, earpiece, and mic that your character utilizes.
The sheer wealth of options is really quite impressive, and according to Ubisoft there are more than a billion potential character variations. That should enable players to create a ghost that's very much unique to them.
7. Ghost Recon Wildlands features authentic sound engineering
I talked earlier about Ubisoft sending groups of developers to Bolivia so that they could document different aspects of the country. A part of that team included a dedicated group of audio engineers. They spent weeks recording the sounds of everyday Bolivian life, from the hubbub of bazaars through the harsh grating of mining work to the quiet rustle of the wind whipping through canyons. Oftentimes that meant staying in a location and recording over a 24-hour period. Because the game has a full day/night cycle, the team wanted to make sure that the sound remains authentic, whether it's morning, noon, or night.
As well as capturing the ambient sound of Bolivian life, the team also spent time working to ensure that the game's weapons sound like their real-life counterparts. An authenticity manager from Red Storm Entertainment (Ubisoft's North Carolina-based developer) worked with the US military and gun manufacturers to engineer the gunfire effects to be as realistic as possible. But that's only half the story. The game also includes a dynamic echo system that analyses the environment when a gun is being fired to deliver very realistic-sounding echoes.
Basically, the echo system identifies all of the surfaces that can reflect the sound of gun,fire whether it's a mountain, cliff, or huge rock. The system then positions a reflector on the objects in your surrounding area, and an echo is played at the position of each reflector. The echo length and delay time are calculated according to the distance between the gun and the reflector. It's an incredible effect – watch the video to hear just how effective the system is.