It's hard to believe that it's already been a year since Ghost Recon: Wildlands made its grand debut at the end of Ubisoft's E3 2015 press conference. Granted, the game was clearly still in development: art assets were unpolished, the visuals looked relatively simple and performance didn't seem like it could keep up with the game.
Thankfully, the game is looking a lot better after a year's worth of development. It's not just about the visuals, either: Ubisoft finally gave players a look at an extended gameplay demo. The promise of an open-world, tactical military shooter sounded too good to be true: thankfully, Ubisoft has seemingly proven that the formula can work.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands takes place in a Colombia overwhelmed by drug lords, corrupt government officials and cartels. The Ghosts are sent in to try and stabilize the region — but in reality, it's all just a backdrop for the mission-based gameplay.
The demo begins with a target. Someone with a penchant for corpse disposal has some seriously important intel, and the Ghosts are tasked with a non-lethal extraction. In most other games, that would lead to some serious tactical restrictions — but as the demo shows, even something like a non-lethal run still allows for plenty of different options.
First things first: the world of Ghost Recon: Wildlands isn't just big, it's gorgeous. As previously mentioned, the game didn't look great back when Ubisoft first showed it off — but the latest version is a completely different story. Towns feature posters and detritus rustling through the streets, foliage bends and shakes as players fly overhead and the terrain is torn apart as vehicles drive through it. The game may not boast the best tech specs in the industry, but given how many Ubisoft games have been backtracking when it comes to graphics, the fact that Wildlands has improved over time is a nice change of pace.
Gameplay, however, is what really steals the show. In terms of actual mechanics, Wildlands is relatively simple: you point, you shoot and the bad guys fall down. What's interesting is how the game flows: the demo begins with a close-quarters infiltration, then seamlessly moves to a sniping sequence, vehicular pickup and stealth infiltration with zero transitions whatsoever. Playstyle appears to be dictated by player choice and equipment loadouts, not some arbitrary mission restriction.
Not only that, but the vehicles work just as seamlessly as the gameplay. Hopping on a dirtbike or taking off in a chopper are just part of the mission, should players choose to use them — nobody's going to fail a mission because they didn't hop in some specific pickup truck. Traversal, while comparatively simple, has also been built with freedom in mind (and it's a great way to gain the higher ground).
To be fair, there are some lingering questions: for instance, how will such a seemingly co-op-focused game work in a single-player setting? Is death an instant mission failure, or can players respawn? How much of the control scheme and presentation is customizable?
Regardless, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is looking infinitely better than it was at last year's show — from what Ubisoft showed off today, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the return of the Ghosts.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is due out on March 7, 2017.
For everything from Ubisoft's press conference, make sure to check out our full recap — and for everything E3 2016, make sure to check out our updated coverage hub!