After Tom Clancy’s The Division became a thing that exists, I could be forgiven for being initially apprehensive about another open world shooty bad guys game from Ubisoft. Especially at a time where it seems every developer is releasing blockbuster sandbox games despite the fact that those haven’t been a scarcity for several years. That’s why despite some awkward storytelling elements, I was surprised to find myself actually having a bit of fun with this game.
Wildlands takes place in Bolivia, where a US military force does what they do best by inviting themselves in to raise the lead concentration of an unstable country and fund the local terrorists. Through corruption, violence, and intimidation, the Santa Blanca Drug Cartel has all but conquered Bolivia, and now seeks to turn it into a Narco-state, which sounds like Disney land for adults but in reality is much worse. A small recon team of you and three army buddies are sent in to help local rebels resist and dismantle the influence of the cartel. The writing isn’t winning any awards for innovation, and the cutscenes are forgettable, but it does the job.
Luckily it seems that a lot of lessons have been learned since The Division, and Ghost Recon: Wildlands offers a sprawling open map with as many varying environments and locations as you can crash a helicopter into. Throughout the rolling mountains and thick jungle are many locations, from camps, to strongholds, small towns and industrial sites, each of which has its own intel, vehicles, and loot. Every location requires it’s own specific and careful approach, which went a long way in keeping the game from becoming tedious or repetitive. The fact that players can choose what intel to unlock – whether it be the locations of skill points, resources, or weapons, is a great incentive to explore places beyond just completing objectives.
The downside to this is that the upgrade system tends to become a little grindy, requiring you to scavenge and steal resources wherever you go just so that you can upgrade your character to run a very tiny bit quieter. Most skills can be upgraded several times for an increasing amount of resources, but each upgrade is about as effective as pissing in a downpour, which means the feeling of progression just isn’t as noticeable or satisfying.
At least all of this does come together to compliment the gameplay nicely. Perhaps it was intentional that players can take about as much punishment as a wet napkin before needing to be revived, because it puts a huge emphasis on using stealth. This means that exploring to find weapons and equipment that suit your play style is both vital and rewarding. Taking out enemies requires players to be deliberate and plan carefully, so the subtle differences between weapons are more apparent. The spy drone mechanic from Watch Dogs 2 also makes a return, although it’s a lot more useful for tagging enemies when planning an infiltration in this game.
As well as the gritty tactical gameplay, the game also has a range of vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats and planes to get around in. In addition to being used for transport, these are involved in the core gameplay – some missions involve stealing a vehicle from a compound, or stopping an armoured convoy. The driving mechanics are simple enough but still require a certain level of control, with just the right amount of buggy physics to add an element of unpredictability that makes for a lot of fun.
The game actually does a good job at providing a decent single player experience, despite the fact that it’s centered around co-op play. In single player mode, your team mates are really only there to bail you out and revive you if you screw up, which is more than what can be said for multiplayer. Since I have few friends and less that are organised, I had to rely on public matchmaking, and trying to play a mission in pub play is like trying to organise a picnic for hyperactive chimps. Often you will find yourself incapacitated with the only team mate that can revive you being a couple dozen kilometers away, so I quickly learned that single player is for completing missions and multiplayer was for screwing around. And you know what? That absolutely works for me.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands manages to be an enormous open world game that still has enough to keep you entertained. Whether you’re attracted to the vehicular tomfoolery or tactical stealth missions, there’s a lot to enjoy, and the game really combines some of the better elements of the open world genre while leaving out the filler. Tom Clancy may make a lot of games for a dead guy, but this is probably my favourite so far.
Also published on Medium.