Game : Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Release date: March 7th, 2017
Developer/Publisher : Ubisoft
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands is Ubisoft's new approach to the franchise, featuring an open world and non-linear approach to the stealth based shooter. It was a vast undertaking, but in the end it really pays off with some great gameplay and variety of options at your disposal along with some minor flaws.
In the game, your team of Ghosts is dropped into Bolivia, where you'll need to take out El Sueno, the head of the Santa Blanca drug cartel. His backstory is surprisingly in depth for a shooter, and the open ended approach to gameplay missions makes the world function as a cohesive ecosystem rather than simply hopping one mission to the next. Everything is tied together in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, especially when it comes to the enemy organizational tree and how you can choose to take down whichever you see fit in any order.
By far the best thing we found in Wildlands was the shooting mechanics. Every gun, although accurate to specs, was still tight and controlled with its functionality. The crosshairs did not jump all over the screen, and this allowed the tactical perspective of taking down multiple enemies in a short amount of time possible. There were no bullet sponge enemies, and this also applied to your character as a few bullets would see you falter. Where this really shined was in co-op, the game's primary focus. Seamless interactions allow you to drop in and out of co-op at any time in order to play with up to 3 other human players. Players are not automatically auto-filled when one drops out, so you may end up running through a mission with only two players. This is where the shooting mechanics stand out, as the pinpoint accuracy and fewer players enhance the realism of the game, which is what Ubisoft has said multiple times was their primary objective with Wildlands.
Solo play on the other hand does always see you with three AI players. You're able to give them only four commands in total and can't order them individually. I would have liked to have seen individual commands, but it would have been only an added bonus and doesn't really detract from the overall gameplay. Although you can play solo the entire game and it IS fun, co-op simply allows many more options to play. One guy can be a sniper up in the mountains outside a compound while three others can parachute in from a helicopter and rain fire from above. If stealth is more your option, simply deploy your drone, tag enemies and melee everyone to avoid detection. I do have to say that for a game based on stealth, there are some odd omissions such as the inability to hide bodies was frustrating. A few times we were able to eliminate enemies with silenced weapons in a near perfect fashion, only to have them spotted by some random grunt walking through the compound. Even if we did manage to take out the generator first to eliminate the ability to call for help, the soldiers within the compound still now knew we were coming. A stash body ability would have been a great help.
If you have played other Ubisoft titles, you'll recognize the open world setup. With 21 regions located throughout Boliva in Wildlands, you best be sure to expect a wide variety of side missions and collectibles. Each time you enter a new area, you'll need to find a yellow icon 'Major Intel' item. These will pop up story missions, along with the ability to locate skill points or tag supplies for the rebels. The audio files you can find may be skipped by players other than those trying for the game completion, but we suggest going for as many as you can since they do provide a decent amount of details on various characters' backstories.
With such a huge world, you won't need to worry about finding what you need as there are essentially unlimited transportation options for you. Vehicles are all over the place, and whether it's tanks, cars, trucks or even helicopters/airplanes, you'll have plenty of variety to accomplish your mission. But it is driving after all, and this seems to be Ubisoft's downfall in recent games. The controls are very delicate, especially when it comes to motorbikes and aerial vehicles. A simple touch of the left stick may send your dirtbike flying off a mountain trail, and it can be very frustrating when you die near the end of a mission. On one hand, driving is not really pivotal to the execution of the game and it merely serves as transportation from one point to another with no real functional aspect. Where it comes into play is when you are simply grinding for collectibles and want to "just get it done" without having to worry about pesky little nuances. That being said, I'm glad that Ubisoft traded off a bit of driving for better shooting mechanics since it's the primary focus in the game.
Your character progression is not as big as Ubisoft's The Division, but it is much more stream lined in order to fit the game. You can be a male or female ghost with a plethora of design/costume options. You have your typical two main weapons and a handgun along with peripherals like grenades, mines, C4 etc. Upgrading your character requires various skill points which you earn from both leveling up and locating throughout the Wildlands. You'll also need to tag supplies and complete various side quests in order to get enough of the necessary items. For example, you may want to upgrade your drone's battery but only have enough rebel supplies to enhance your bullet resistance. With such a huge area (21 regions as noted), you would think this would be a grind, but it's not due to how Ubisoft did such a great job of integrating all of the separate necessities into one, functional entity.
The graphics in Ghost Recon: Wildlands really stood out for both good and bad reasons. Many times I found myself stopped on a cliff side staring at the beautiful landscape. The snow covered mountains bathed in sun light and pristine shadows were incredible, and we nearly used up our hard drive with 'Xbox record that'. The backgrounds looked great and only added to the overall vastness of the game's open world. Some of the up close items, on the other hand, were a bit surprising. You can walk through bushes only to have them not move at all as if they are not even there. Some trees will halt your progress, while other smaller saplings will let you phase right through them. We did find it odd that some areas of the game featured grass and brush that would react to the weather while other areas did not. After all, rain and wind are rain and wind so nature should react accordingly no matter where it is in the game. That doesn't happen unfortunately, and although it doesn't impact the overall gameplay, it does stand out with that "Hold on, wait a minute. Did that just...." type of reaction.
The beauty of Ghost Recon: Wildlands is that it is 2 games in one. Co-op is more stealth based while solo play focuses on more of an action based shooter due to the lack of orders you can provide your AI teammates. The only downfall is that neither of these two setups fully take advantage of their premise. The lack of a hide body ability often makes even a perfect stealth approach faulty, and lack of options in solo play see your AI teammates limited in what they can do. Functionality wise, having to zoom in and aim your main weapon in order to take off your grenade launcher attachment didn't make any sense either.
Fortunately, these things are all minor and don't add up to any game breaking options. All combined together though, they add up to be a minor annoyance. They are relatively easy to fix and we're not sure why Ubisoft didn't do so in development, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands is still a very good game and you'll have hours of enjoyment playing it. It's a solid game in both the shooter and stealth setup (even with the minor annoyances mentioned) and does offer a lot to do. It's only repetitive if your gameplay approach is repetitive, as there is a plethora of options available to you. You are only limited to your imagination for the most part in completing missions throughout Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and its world offers just enough to keep you immersed.
*Note* We do recommend playing on the hardest difficulty setting as well. Although it removes the red areas highlighting enemies on the map, it really makes stealth more of the focus and it's a lot fun