Bigger is better. That seems to be the motto of most major developers these days, with their open-world extravaganzas such as Watch Dogs 2, Far Cry Primal, The Division, The Witcher 3, Just Cause 3 and many more all hitting the market in recent times, going big to satisfy the masses. You’ll notice publisher Ubisoft have a large involvement in many of the aforementioned titles, and now they want to take Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series to the vast open-world setting too. How do you transfer this long-standing tactical shooter to the open-world successfully? Ubisoft Paris are the people tasked with such a mission in developing Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, but does making the series more open really offer a better experience?
Let’s take a trip to the Wildlands.
Bolivia has become the nexus of the drug trade in South America after the Santa Blanca Cartel transformed the country from top to bottom, taking over, producing mass amounts of cocaine and forcing the local law enforcers, Unidad, to turn a blind eye to it all or risk the wrath of El Sueño’s army. El Sueño is the boss of bosses in the Santa Blanca Cartel, and this narco-terrorist group is only growing stronger. When things go too far and an American agent is killed, the US Goverment decides it’s time for the Ghosts to be sent in to dismantle the cartel piece by piece. You are one of these four Ghosts, and this is Operation Kingslayer.
As the story begins, it lays down a purpose for the overall mission, but after that, it’s mainly just bits and pieces thrown at you in the form of video packages, or pieces of Intel, to give the many members of the Santa Blanca Cartel a back-story each, explaining their roles within this well oiled machine and why they’ll be next on your hit-list. I appreciate the uniqueness of all the underlings I’ve taken down, but I’d sure as hell wish there were a few more cutscenes, especially some as realistic as the opening montage, which by the way looks brilliant.
From the moment I arrived in the heart of this Bolivian nightmare, I couldn’t believe my eyes; the in-game world is massive and the task at hand is an immense one. With 21 territories to explore, and many of them housing a boss of sorts to take down, it’s extremely overwhelming in the best possible way. I cannot stress enough how big it is, in fact, I can easily say it’s the biggest world Ubisoft have ever been associated with and I’m suitably impressed. But I’ll come back to that again later.
Anyway, the aim is to destabilise El Sueño’s business by removing all those underneath him one by one, targeting all the key areas of the cartel – Security, Smuggling, Production and Influence. Story missions will lead you on a merry path towards locating the head honchos of each area, before you go in for the kill, or for an interrogation at the very least, thus ensuring they are no longer a part of the criminal organisation. These missions won’t necessarily become available until you’ve sought out some Intel on the map, with these leading to either doing a spot of hacking or forcibly extracting the information from a person in the know.
There’s certainly a lot of infiltrating base camps and compounds on the agenda for the main missions, but with each of these places looking quite different and the defensive setups all differing, they never become samey in the slightest. One mission may see you sneaking into a place of residence which is sparsely guarded, whereas another will have full-on training bases equipped with alarms, an anti-aircraft system and a drone jammer to contend with – that was a hellish mission for sure.
Aside from the story orientated stuff, which can be pretty intense, there are side missions ensuring something slightly lighter is available. They vary from preventing a convoy from reaching its destination, to switching off antennas, to stealing helicopters – an activity that becomes more difficult when you blow up said helicopter via a mortar strike… oops. Extra help from Rebels is earned via some missions too, things such as the aforementioned mortar strike, vehicle drop-offs and the ability to create a diversion. Don’t be fooled by their generally lesser objectives though, side missions are a key part of Wildlands, mainly due to the resources you can yield from completing them. These resources are split into four categories – Medication, Food Parcels, Gasoline and Comms Tools – and all of these are used in conjunction with skill points to unlock or upgrade skills. You’ll actually find some of the resources during general play too, so it’s best to always be on the lookout.
Skills are vital when it comes to preparing for the tough conflicts ahead, especially in upgrading your drone to better survey areas and spot targets. I don’t know what I’d do without that drone flying in, allowing me to then plan the attack meticulously with teammates; using binoculars just isn’t the same. With 50 skills to unlock, at a cost, you’ll have to scour the map for bonus skill points to pick up, in addition to levelling up, if you wish to have greater equipment like C4, Mines and Grenade Launchers, as well as enhancing the bullet resistance, increasing stamina and gaining Thermal Vision.
Weapons won’t come easy as you’ll have to build your arsenal by locating the many weapon and accessory cases dotted around Bolivia; snipers, assault rifles, SMGs, LMGs, shotguns and pistols will all be found as well as various attachments to improve range and effectiveness. I would’ve liked more range on the sniper rifles, but maybe I’m just spoilt in other games like Sniper Elite. Fortunately, suppressors are supplied from the very beginning – it’d be a bit harsh if you had to blow your cover after every shot taken!
When it comes to allies and enemies, I have to say, the aggression is very high amongst them and most of the time, so is the intelligence. Support from Rebels (who look like hipster human forms of ninja turtles) can be extremely handy – some of whom need releasing from cages in order to lend a hand in a firefight – as they just go in for the kill. As far as enemies go, the Santa Blanca have guys armed with different weapons and higher ranked guys, but given how vast Wildlands is, it would’ve been good to see a tad more variety. But then again, I guess that’s why the Unidad officers are included; they’ll shoot anyone when it kicks off and antagonising them too much sees the Patrol Level raised, to the point where helicopters and hordes of Unidad on foot are hunting you like a pack of wolves following a scent.
I suppose you’ll be wondering about the AI team following you around at all times. Much to my surprise, they are rather useful and listen to your every command – well, the few commands you have like sending them to a position, or getting everyone to regroup. A lot of thought has been put into the script too, with loads of little stories and jokes being told between these teammates at regular intervals. My favourite aspect though are the sync shots; here you can target specific enemies via the drone, binoculars, or down the sight of a gun (first person shooting is an option in this third-person shooter), and tell the squad to engage. Accuracy is certainly their strong point.
The vast landscapes of Bolivia are a real treat on the eyes, something which is truly appreciated with friends sharing the views. Even though there’s a large amount of wilderness and mountainous land, every district has a look which separates it from the rest; a point most notable when moving from rundown slum style areas to vastly richer ones with beautiful complexes and stunning vistas in the background. And there’s great reason to explore them all too…as long as you fancy a spot of collectible finding. Once Intel has been garnered, sometimes rather peacefully, the map will be populated and throughout the areas, Medals and Kingslayer Files are located. I’m not sure I’ve ever had so much to do in one game.
Did I mention that it’s all completely playable in co-op online? Yes, you can grab up to three pals –which is the ideal way personally – or alternatively go it alone with randoms if you want to roll using the matchmaking system which throws you in with others no matter how far into the story they are. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s one of the smoothest co-op experiences I’ve participated in and mates can jump in and out seamlessly. It’s great fun to work tactically with other humans, casing out places before acting on our own orders in sync. It’s also bloody hilarious when a civilian runs your mate over in sheer panic after just surviving a shed load of enemy threats.
I’ve barely had a bad word to say about Wildlands up to this point, but there are some things which must be highlighted. For a tactical cover shooter, the covering part is beyond awful. The game tries to auto-transition you into cover positions behind walls and other obstacles, but generally fails to allow you to peek over or around these with any real success. It looks and feels awkward, but amazingly you can adapt to avoiding cover unless under heavy fire. Driving is just as awkward, feeling much like that found in Watch Dogs 2, and is a very simple affair, except for air vehicles which are awful to handle. Lastly, for some reason, character models don’t look all that great either and things become a lot less beautiful up close. I can get over that though.
Bugs are commonplace in many games of this size, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. I’ve died at the hands of quite a big one, where a whole base was empty during scouting with the drone, only to find a fair few heavily armed people inside doing their usual patrols. There are other bugs causing less hassle such as two cars fighting Transformer style, which is highly amusing.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands does two things brilliantly; it provides a massive game full of content, vast environments and things to do, and it also is a hell of a lot of fun as a co-op game. The tactical nature never becomes too rigid, ensuring you stay in control of how best to tackle a mission. Story-wise, it’s a lot of little bits of storytelling to push you further on into the destabilisation of Santa Blanca, offering just enough to tide you over. All that really holds it back are a few bugs, the less enjoyable method of going it alone and not being able to utilise the cover system.
Wildlands is a great game, and a mammoth sized one at that. Do yourself a favour, grab a few friends and take down the narco-terrorists together. It’s a blast!