“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” —Herman Melville
It should be quite plain that Wildlands and The Division are completely different in terms of their base mechanics; The Division is an MMO-style game where loot and progression dominate gameplay, while Wildlands is intended to be a third person cooperative shooter. However, with a design far more accommodating to folks who prefer to play solo or only with a small group of friends, Wildlands initially does seem more in line with the sort of title that I might be interested in. With this in mind, however, there are some elements that are worth considering now that the Wildlands open beta has concluded: in this post, discussion will center around differences between the two games’ betas (I’ve not purchased The Division since its release). We begin with the elements that Wildlands does better than the Division, and this is the presence of random events that can make a mission unexpectedly challenging or straightforward. During the raid on a training camp, I had successfully eliminated the first of three instructors when the rebels arrived and began lighting up the place, causing Santa Blanca and UNIDAD helicopters to show up, fighting one another. In the ensuing chaos, I entered the camp’s other compound and eliminated the two remaining instructors. Previously, I had attempted an all-stealth approach but was discovered and died even after shooting down the Santa Blanca helicopters. Similarly, some of the convoy missions can become more interesting (and challenging) with the presence of traffic and UNIDAD patrols. Understanding that Wildlands is a tactical shooter, I also enjoyed the gunplay: one well-placed bullet is sufficient to down an unarmoured enemy, and even enemies with body armour do not require more than a few bullets to neutralise. Moreover, Wildlands provides an abundance of choice: after finishing the first mission, players can take on the provinces in any order of their choosing to eliminate a central member of the Santa Blanca cartel, giving a sense of freedom that stands apart compared to the more structured story missions of The Division.
While Wildlands proved to be quite entertaining, there are some aspects of The Division that are superior to those of Wildlands. The first is the user interface: The Division‘s unique, augmented-reality HUD remains one of the most innovative I’ve ever seen, projecting just enough information onto the screen to provide vital information at a glance. Seamlessly integrated into the world, it’s unobtrusive while at once being useful: two features I particularly liked were the pathfinders for highlighting a path to a destination, and the point-cloud renderings for the ECHO mechanic. The interface elements for the menus are also simple to navigate, making use of tiles to quickly show all of one’s items. Besides the amazing user interfaces, The Division also had a more intriguing premise. The fun in blowing up drug cartels notwithstanding, the idea of a bioterrorism act involving banknotes infected with smallpox cripples New York, forcing the activation of the stay-behind unit known as The Division to assist responders and investigate the cause of the disaster. It’s a terrifying thought to imagine such an event occurring, and presents a fantastic immersion into a speculative world where one has the opportunity to explore the deserted streets of New York. The Dark Zone was also an interesting component of the game, adding an additional sense of danger and uncertainty that resulted in some interesting emergent social interactions forming amongst the players. This is noticeably absent in Wildlands, which plays the much more familiar cooperative approach. Ultimately, owing to their differences, both titles do have their own merits, and so, for players like myself, the question ultimately boils down to which game is more single-player friendly.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The routine in Wildlands is a very familiar one: any point of interest is almost certainly to have a group of bad guys, patrolling, and blowing cover will make the battle substantially more difficult. This seems to be the case for stealth-driven games, where players who exercise good patience can get through areas very easily, whereas those who prefer going loud will find things a lot more tricky.
- After arriving at the enemy encampment, a rainstorm blew in. In Wildlands, clothing can become wet when exposed to the elements and will dry out over time. In most games, dynamic wetness is usually not rendered, so players can walk through a rainstorm or wade through water, coming out as dry as before they went in. Although water-logged clothing will not slow a player’s movements down substantially as one might expect, it’s nonetheless a nice touch to the game.
- As it turns out, one only really needs a good long-range weapon for a stealthy engagement: I managed to pick off more or less the entire camp with the M40A5 from a distance, before walking in and lighting up the mortar shell crates with my sidearm. As it turns out, my referred loadout (an assault rifle and sniper rifle) is the preferred one for stealth. There’s another that places a greater emphasis on LMGs, SMGs and shotguns, but those likely require a good team in order to be effective.
- The mission to take out the Santa Blanca training instructors proved to be a difficult one: on my first few attempts, I set off the alarm, causing Santa Blanca helicopters to show up. On these first tries, I located a mini-gun emplacement and blasted them out of the sky, but eventually died when the UNIDAD showed up. On subsequent efforts, I decided to go with the stealth approach once more, disabling alarms, and generally being sneaky to minimise detection.
- The later attempt proved more successful, and I managed to take out two of the three instructors before I was detected. The helicopters rolled in, as did the UNIDAD, but as these two factions began firing upon one another, I took advantage of the chaos to shoot out the last of the instructors to complete the mission. For amusement’s sake, I then found an armoured personnel carrier, sat myself in the gunner’s seat and decimated the UNIDAD helicopter before taking off for the next mission.
- One of the more interesting gameplay mechanics that make death seem inconsequential in any Wildlands mission is that a mission will be completed whenever the goals are satisfied, independently of whether or not one makes it out alive. I remember one mission in the Itacua, I entered an encampment, took out the target and died seconds after the mission was completed, and when I respawned, the mission was complete. The implications of this are that it is possible to sneak into a heavily fortified area without dispatching anyone, take out the target or grab the intel, die and still finish the mission.
- The mission where the goal was to search the communications outpost was an amusing one: I commandeered an APC and used it to clear most of the camp before walking in and taking the objective at a very casual pace. Close inspection of this image finds that I’m equipped with the 805 Bren A2, with a red dot sight and magnifying optics. Wildlands offers a very versatile mechanism that switches the player’s perspective from first to third person when aiming down sights; with automatic weapons, aiming over-the-shoulder is excellent, providing a greater field of vision.
- Conversely, sniper rifles are best fired from the first person to maximise accuracy. Here, I close in on an aggregation of individuals of interest on a mission. Carelessness with the AI teammates led this mission to fail the first time I tried it, since they opened fire too early and allowed the target to escape, but I figured out that the individual of interest would try to flee in a vehicle and had prepared a pursuit vehicle.
- I’ve never actually tried to swim across the large lake at the center of the Montuyoc province, but out of curiosity’s sake, I hopped into this smaller pool near the lake to see what would happen. The steam effects suggest that it’s a warmer pool, and some cursory searches find that there are indeed hot springs in Bolivia as a consequence of the tectonic activities that forged the Andes mountains.
- Extracting the informant was probably one of the trickiest and most tense missions I played through: moving him a “mere” 1.4 kilometers proved to be an unexpected challenge when both the Santa Blanca and UNIDAD forces appeared with helicopters, and I had such an amount of open ground to cover. I made it by hiding behind large boulders and evading the helicopters, which eventually began attacking one another, buying me enough breathing room to reach the extraction site.
- The last obstacle I encountered was a Santa Blanca patrol, and while some shooting with my side arm rectified that issue, my AI teammates finally caught up and provided enough covering fire, allowing me to complete this last mission. With four of five story missions completed in Montuyoc, I decided to go for some exploration and collect all of the different weapons in this region before continuing on with the final mission.
- As heavy clouds roll over the region, I close in on the weapon case. By the end of the beta, I found all of the weapons, which include the Shorty 12G, TAR assault rifle, and two more sniper rifles, as well as the different weapons accessories. While the accessories are useful and allow one to fine-tune weapons to fit with their play-style, in general, the muzzle attachments tend to be mixed bags, reducing recoil at the expense of preventing a suppressor from being mounted.
- The sharp-eyed reader will have noticed that my equipment was a little more diverse during the first of the Wildlands posts that I wrote, but I eventually decided to stick with one set of equipment. The options for customising one’s appearance is varied and can be used to create some interesting-looking characters, but I chose to outfit my character in a versatile manner to explore different settings without looking out of place.
- Unlike some games out there, which suggest that less clothing confers more armour, Wildlands thankfully sticks to the realism route and ensures that players can only choose from clothing that make sense for special operations. I recall titles such as Vindictus, which I’ve only played briefly, where some of the better armour in the game does not actually involve more armour for defending against attacks, and some challenges require players to complete missions without any armour at all.
- It’s been quite some time since I played Vindictus — if memory serves, the last time I ran it was back during 2013. Since then, my Steam library’s grown dramatically: prior to the summer of 2013, I had an older computer whose upper limits for gaming included Team Fortress 2 and Portal 2. However, after I built a new computer to replace this older system, I picked up Bad Company 2 and Crysis. From there, the number of games I could run expanded, and I’ve gone through a variety of titles over the past several years.
- Over half of my Steam library consists of shooters (first person or third person, tactical or run-and-gun). The other games include strategy games like Sim City 4 and DEFCON, as well as some visual novels (including CLANNAD, Go! Go! Nippon! and Sakura Angel) and puzzle games. As is evidenced by this blog, I’m a huge fan of shooters: this is not unique to me, and from what I gather, the innate drive to make decisions that early humans utilised in finding food remain hardwired into our brains. These days, finding food involves sitting at an office and then earning money to hit a grocery store or restaurant, but our biological circuitry remains.
- This evolutionary rationale would account for why first person shooters are so popular, and contrary to popular belief, they do not cause violence. Instead, I’ve found them remarkably cathartic; studies have found that populations with a proportionally large number of gamers correlated with a reduced number of violent crimes. Back in the Wildlands open beta, I’ve made it to the mine where Carl Bookhart is hiding out. There’s a sniper rifle case in this mine, the MSR, that can be picked up.
- After reaching Bookhart, I cleared out the room with the AI teammates and shot him in the head with an assault rifle to complete the mission, unlocking the M4A1 tactical, which comes with a foregrip and optics. The illustrious weapons are fun to use, although in the beta, only assault rifles could be unlocked, and I predominantly play with the sniper rifle.
- Here, I wrap up a side mission involving the delivery of communications parts to rebel forces, giving me a large amount of communications points. Besides communications, medical, fuel and food supplies can also be delivered. In addition, small caches are found throughout each map. Besides the skill points and levels needed to unlock skills, the skills also have a supply requirement — the side missions, although optional, contribute greatly to assisting players in unlocking new skills.
- With all of the main missions complete, I returned to Itacua to explore and see if I could find a plane to fly, as well as locate the remaining weapon attachments and the one weapon I’d not bothered to find while I was here last while rolling through the story missions. The scenery at this rebel outpost is impressive, and I found myself staring at the water effects.
- Here, I fire the TAR-21 assault rifle at Santa Blanca forces. A Coyote RDS is visible, and this is also one of the few images I have where I’m actively firing. The TAR-21 is the assault rifle variant of the IWI Tavor, firing 5.56 mm NATO rounds, and while it is absent in Battlefield, its smaller form, the MTAR, can be unlocked as a carbine. It’s a reasonably fun weapon to use in Battlefield, having a high rate of fire that makes it most useful for closer engagements (the recoil on the weapon is quite high).
- I return to the UNIDAD base armed with the MSR sniper rifle, picking off sentries so that I may sneak into the facility undetected and find the weapon case, as well as the attachment. Similar to the HTI, it initially comes with a five round magazine and packs a bigger punch than the M40A5; it is effective up to 1.5 kilometers in reality.
- The results of exploration is the unlocking of the 12G Shorty, which is the only shotgun I managed to find during the course of the Wildlands beta: this stockless shotgun is sixteen-point-five inches in length and has a capacity of two shells. Despite packing a wallop in extreme close quarters, its low capacity and short range means that the weapon was highly impractical even in close quarters, where one can run into several opponents.
- The first time I visited the town in Itacua’s northeastern corner, I ran into a UNIDAD patrol and only just escaped. Here, I’ve commandeered a buggy armed with a minigun from the UNIDAD compound that I was exploring earlier, and if I order an assault, as I did here against Santa Blanca goons, the minigun will tear them up on short order. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any shoulder-fired anti-air or anti-tank options, although in some videos, I’ve seen folks use explosive drones to instantly destroy helicopters.
- I’ve outfitted my assault rifles with an under-barrel grenade launcher attachment for fun: while going loud is not the smartest thing to do in most missions, with no more story missions left to complete in the beta by this point, I figured it was time to go and mess around with some of the different weapons: this grenade launcher is excellent for taking out crowds and destroying unarmoured vehicles.
- One aspect of Wildlands that was hilarious was the fact that vehicles could automatically right themselves when flipped over, and when using the motorbike, I could hit objects at obscene speeds, and the bike would merely bounce into the air. I’ve only died once while on a vehicle, and that came from hitting another vehicle head-on in a collision because it was so tricky to steer the bike.
- After clearing out Santa Blanca patrols, I finally come across the plane and a short landing strip. The mission: steal the plane and its supplies, then land it safely somewhere to deliver said supplies. However, immediately after takeoff, the unusable controls reared their ugly heads, and I crashed immediately, landing on the hillside. As planes require a flat surface to take off from, there was no way I would be completing this mission, so I flattened the plane with a grenade to fail the mission.
- While I’ve not shown any instances of my usage here in this post, Wildlands does offer a night vision mode by default, excellent for those night missions where spotting enemies can be next to impossible in the darkness. I also unlocked thermal vision in the skill system, but did not play nearly enough to reach rank 14, which would allow me to unlock a special kind of suppressor that allows a weapon to deal full damage even when the suppressor is mounted.
- After collecting a laser sight for my sidearm here, I decide to take another shot at flying. I was modestly more successful, but was shot down by anti-air missiles. Despite this, I bailed out and survived, but the plane was totalled, failing yet another mission. Side missions will become available again, so there’s no big concern for failing these, but main missions will cause the game to end if failed. Speaking of failures, I note that yesterday was the tenth anniversary to Five Centimetres per Second‘s theatrical première, but even such an occasion apparently does not merit any mention of when Your Name‘s home release will be. Toho has been remarkably secretive about things, and one wonders if it would take a Tom Clancy-style operation just to learn when the BluRay disks hit the market.
- In the last moments in the Wildlands beta, I travelled to the southwestern corner of Montuyoc, which I’d not explored, and found a desolate, snowy mountainside that provided a beautiful view of the province. Now that both Wildlands posts are done, looking ahead into the future, I will be detailing my initial impressions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, as well as covering the Yuyushiki and Kiniro Mosaic: Pretty Days OVAs. I remark that I also picked up Titanfall 2 during the EA Publisher Sale for sixty percent off, which means that I will be experiencing the campaign to this one, as well.
Ultimately, I think that, while I had a bit more fun with The Division‘s beta, Wildlands ended up being a bit more friendly for solo players, with its inclusion of AI teammates and vehicles. However, Wildlands does feel like a game whose value is most apparent when playing with a group of friends: I’m predominantly a solo gamer, and seeing as I never did end up purchasing The Division in spite of how enjoyable the beta was, it’s safe to say that I’m unlikely to purchase Wildlands in the future. Readers may have noticed that for Wildlands, I’ve got a bit more criticisms than I do for other games. This beta also had noticeably more issues than the previous games, ranging from the poor vehicle handling to one instance where I fell through the map. In general, I only purchase games that I am convinced that I will likely enjoy, so the chance that I’ll play through and complete a game I’m not enjoying is very small. With that being said, even if the vehicle controls are rectified by the time Wildlands launches, the game does not appear to be my cup of tea at full price; perhaps a good discount may lead me to change my mind, but with how Steam Sales and Ubisoft titles have worked, I imagine it will be quite some time before a good sale price may be found. In the meantime, it’s time for me to push forwards with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Remastered edition.