F***ing devious if you ask me
Poor Tom Clancy. From Clear and Present Danger to Ghost Recon Wildlands. Does the game justify his name? Does the game justify Ghost Recon franchise? My job is to give you my impression, and let you be the judge. I have to admit from playing both the closed and open betas, and at the games release, I can’t name a title that has had a more diverse range of opinions. The scale of love and hate seems to be as wide as the Grand Canyon, with so many factors in between. Even the Bolivian government has issued a statement, as Wildlands paint it as a “narco-state”, which I can’t imagine any country would be too happy about. There have been comparisons from several games to Wildlands. From obvious influences such as the Division, to Just Cause, Far Cry and even *gulp* Destiny. Which I can’t really fault anyone for their opinions. From bugs to politics Wildlands has had its share of controversy. Is it justified? Lets find out.
Wildlands starts with a helicopter ride in the rain. Because what game with amazing visuals doesn’t start a scene with rain? Even the graphics was called into question during the beta. In 1440p with all settings on ultra, the game looks amazing. Very similar to Witcher 3, if you turn on the Nvidia gameworks features it looks even more breathtaking. More screenshots were taken of this game than in my entire screen library so far. The title screenshot is from the very beginning, which promises diverse terrain of which anything you see, you can go to. This may be the largest map of any game created so far. It is 24km by 24km, so about 3x the size of GTAV. But more on the size and provinces later.
The character creation certainly screams the Division, with a few avatars to choose from with clothing/loadout/paintjobs given at a very modest sum at the start, with unlockables along the way that can be found or unlocked by killing the corresponding bad guy. Also given is a handful of weapons, which all fall into two primary and a secondary handheld weapon. The go anywhere do anything formula means weapons can be unlocked in any region at any time, so no grinding to find your favorite here. I fell in love with the HTI sniper rifle, and any good damage/silencer available rifle, usually the ACR or M4A1 tactical. I also swapped over to the M249 if things ever got into heated firefights, which they did 75% of the time I failed my initial stealthy approach.
Each region is broken down into sections of huge sprawling ice-capped mountains, jungle, and rivers. Each region has bosses called buchons, an overboss of that particular group of regions, all united by the big badman of the Santa Blanca cartel himself, El Sueño. Depending on who you talk to the story is either mediocre, or terrible. But atleast they did put effort into it. There are several cutscenes as you progress, giving you background on the cartel and members in general. The intel you collect gives you a bit more insight into who you area going to take down. They do have individual personas. From the beauty queen Nidia Flores who uses girls to smuggle drugs through implants, to La Santera who runs a cult following keeping members in line by fear, down to El Pozolero, who liquifies bodies with the mind of a child, this melting pot of misguided humans are pressured to perform for their boss. The more you progress you will see how they are pressured to produce, and how they respond. To put it lightly, you will have reasons to put these people down.
Each zone is full of cartel baddies, helping with Security, Influence or the Smuggling or Production of cocaine. It paints a pretty clear picture of what happens to citizens of Bolivia who don’t support them, as there are several crucifixes with hanged men in every region. Around each corner and piece of intel there are horror stories of the common population being hung, kidnapped, or worse. Once your helo touches down you are introduced to Pac Katari, the leader of the rebellion in Bolivia. Your CIA handler Bowman says these are your little helpers along the way to achieving your goals in Bolivia. As you help them with raiding supplies, freeing members and weakening the cartel, they help you with supports such as vehicle deliveries, ground troups, and even mortar support. In addition to the cartel they often engage Unidad, the governments militia, but we will get to those GTAV equivalent of police later. The militia and cartel have a toleration policy, but that doesn’t extend very far. You can often see them conversing, and when that gets heated they will turn to violent negotiations.
Almost every province is unique and full of life, and the few that aren’t such as the salt flats and snow capped mountains still offer things to collect and different tactics to stay undetected. Another divided conversation. “Tactics.” This game has the Ghost Recon name, but the “tactical” play you have consists of your drone, stealth, and AI teammates. The drone is a common in todays shooters, so not much explanation is needed there. Stealth. There are several things you can use to stay undetected, but it’s a tossup as to what attracts their attention and how you get spotted. Even in CARTEL vehicles they know its you. Unless you are totally hidden in an APC, this just doesn’t work. Anyone remember Mercenaries 2? Where if you were in a factions vehicle, the only way you were detected was to hang around too close, or do something to attract attention to yourself? THAT is what this game needs. I was very disappointed with this approach being utterly useless. Now for the AI teammates. Where to begin. I actually played the majority of this game solo for the story, and these AI superhumans are kind of a mystery. If you aren’t spotted they can be nose to nose with the enemy but that doesn’t count as being detected. They won’t even shoot each other. You have to open the weapon wheel and tell them to engage (or press F which is the engage/disengage hotkey) or they won’t fire, which is a good thing, but it is still funny to watch them not react to one another. If you go down these guys will turn into the Flash and get you up, and you can set up “sync” shots, which are timed shots in the squad to take down multiple enemies at a time to avoid enemy detection. And their line of sight is another mystery. It is basically a timer, in which unless they are in a building without windows they will find a way to make this shot happen. If this is realistic or tactical is up for debate, but it is fun to watch.
The missions all seem to have a place, with being reasonable approaches on how to counter everything the cartel has built. From intimidation, to blowing up caches, turning members against each other and destabilization, the missions might feel similar but are usually unique to the cartel members role. The ambitiousness of Wildlands is great but can be a bit overwhelming to some. I put over 50 hours into the story before unlocking the underbosses. Simply put there is A LOT to do in this game, and you can make this experience feel special or repetitive depending on your play. I personally loved the movie Sniper with Tom Berenger and Billy Zane, and had this mindset while going into bases and missions. And when I completed or failed this I went full Rambo to finish off what was left. This only works outside of the “do not be detected” missions however, and the “follow” or spy missions which require some luck as well as skill. No doubt the helicopter delivery comes in handy here. It all comes down to the time you want to invest in the game and the fun you have a long the way.
It is definitely more fun with friends. The fam and I spent several hours jumping motorcycles into docks and flinging our bodies as far into the water as possible, as well as coming up with unique ways to teamkill.
Ultimately, Ghost Recon Wildlands is what you make of it. The tools are there to have fun, and if you go into the game with this mindset it will be fun. If you want an open world adventure with tons of things to do, guns and accessories to collect, and baddies to take down, this game is for you. If you treat every mission the same as a monotonous repeat and reuse of missions, it will be. My recommendation would be for simulation fans to look elsewhere, while the lighthearted adventurous types will have a blast. And enjoy the new Crysis of our generation.