Removing the Santa Blanca Cartel from power.
It has been a while since the last Ghost Recon game from Ubisoft, but the teasing of an open-world tactical shooter has finally become a reality with Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Roam the Bolivian wilderness and take down cartel bosses as you work your way up the chain and get closer to taking out the big boss and ending this Narco state for good.
As one might expect, players take on the role of an elite black ops operative known as a Ghost. Along with three other players in co-op, or three AI controlled Ghosts in single player, the player will be dropped into the beautiful South American country of Bolivia and charged with removing the threat of the Santa Blanca Cartel. The Cartel, led by the amusingly over-the-top El Sueno, pretty much have complete control of the country and are unchallenged as they supply their drugs to much of the world. This depiction of Bolivia as being a violent and lawless place, although fictional as far as I am concerned, did cause offense with the Bolivian government, raising the question of why Ubisoft didn’t set Wildlands in an imagined country. Whatever the reason, and not even going into the underlying politics regarding the US sending troops into a foreign country without invitation, Bolivia is the real star of Wildlands.
The open-world in Wildlands is absolutely massive. I have no idea of the actual topography of Bolivia, but I can imagine that Ubisoft put a lot of research into creating this huge playground for gamers to enjoy, and if the real Bolivia is anything like this game world, then it is truly blessed with beauty. The fact that the world is just so large really can’t be understated – mile upon mile of stunning forest, desert and mountain covered terrain, interspersed with various villages or installations, are all at the players fingertips. This vastness is best seen from the sky, but is just as enjoyable on the ground as the day/night cycle keeps on turning and the full featured weather system keeps things changing from hour to hour. Wildlands’ world really is quite spectacular.
There are plenty of different ways to explore Bolivia, with a wide range of vehicles available for the player to borrow. Perhaps the best way to travel though, is by helicopter. Aside from the possible tactical uses in missions, the chopper just makes traversing the map that bit quicker. Traveling along the networks of roads and tracks in a car or on a motorbike is a lot of fun, but this is a big country and many objectives will be separated by vast distances, and the difficult terrain can often make finding a viable route from A to B take a lot longer than it should.
Not that there is a shortage of things to do should the player become lost along the way. The map is broken up into smaller chunks, which are still quite massive, and then littered with icons representing all manner of distractions. This map with all of its little icons can be somewhat overwhelming to begin with – it is difficult to know where to start. The players will find themselves disrupting the operations of the Cartel and taking out lesser Cartel members while gathering intel on the next target up the chain. The story missions are laid out for the player to approach in any order they wish, in true open-world style, but players are also free to go off looking for collectibles or optional missions that will help to improve the players’ character with new skills or abilities, or to build the relationship and membership of the rebel faction that are also battling to take the Cartel from power. For players who really like to do everything in a game, there are dozens upon dozens of hours of play here.
That freedom to approach the order of missions however the player wants carries through to the missions themselves. For the Ghost Recon veterans, the team can sneak up to an enemy installation, scan the area with a drone and tag any enemy troops that can be seen, and then perform a devastating “Sync Shot” to simultaneously take down the soldiers with tactical precision. However, if the player chooses to roll up and face the enemy head on, or sneak around the side and take them out with silenced pistols, or simply drop in the middle with a helicopter, the choice is theirs. This freedom does take away from the traditional Ghost Recon experience somewhat, but this is something that is expected from an open-world game.
The mission structure, which generally consists of getting something, finding something or killing someone, can become quite repetitive through the course of the game, but that is no surprise given the size of the map and the number of missions available. However, the repetition is compounded when playing alone with the AI squad mates. While they are quite capable as companions and can be ordered to do certain things, there is a limit to their autonomy that can make the single player game something of a grind.
But Ghost Recon: Wildlands was designed and built around co-op play, and the very nature of being with three other real world players lifts the repetition of the missions. It is easy to drop into a game with random players, but don’t be surprised if they go off to do their own thing. The best way to play is with three friends that will work with the player to approach missions together. There is still a choice of how to approach each individual mission, but it is here that players can really re-enact the Ghost Recon experience.
Wildlands is not the most polished of games. I am sure that this in large part comes down to the technical requirements of running such a massive game world, but it can occasionally be a little choppy, the draw distance is not always what you would hope for, and some graphical anomalies can be found, but none of this really takes away from the experience.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is not a particularly good Ghost Recon game. It seems to lack the identity and squad-based tactical precision of previous games in the series. However, if taken as an open-world Ubisoft game, it works quite well and compares favorably with the likes of Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed or The Division. Given the abundance of stand out open-world titles just recently, Wildlands does struggle to shine, but anyone who has played any of the recent Ubisoft open-world games will know what to expect here and the massive amount of content will keep them busy for hours to come.