See this and other replies from @cirquelar for some Mars landing hope… Seems like some landing spots can be much better than others, but maybe giant heavy vertical rockets won’t turn out to be the optimal vehicle for humans.
The paper does point out that heavy landing is difficult, but maybe it just means humans shouldn’t land in at 40 MT vehicle. A titled cargo lander maybe isn’t a problem. A smaller human only landing system would give more stability.
I like the idea of little two-seater sky-crane-enabled vehicles dropped down from some orbiting mothership. Would still need an ascent vehicle but at least you could launch from a spot where you have established ground-truth.
I’d be interested to know how sure we can be ahead of time about the stability of a particular landing site under the kind of stress a heavy rocket would create. Angled thrusters or some kind of sky crane seem like they’d solve it, if they could work for such a heavy load.