I’ve never once felt drawn to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon franchise. One look at Wildlands during its reveal back at E3 2015, though, was more than enough to spark some attention deep within me. At the conference, Ubisoft showed off a huge open world set in Bolivia, one that was ripe with opportunity for all sorts of shooting shenanigans. What made it all the more enticing was that missions could be undertaken in whatever way a player desired, whether it be a guns blazing approach, or something a little more tactical and stealthy. I tend to combine the two for maximum enjoyment, and the game sure looked like it allowed players to do both as they pleased.
All that isn’t what got my attention however. What did was the fact that this new Ghosts title could be tackled with three human comrades in tow. I don’t know about you, but the thought of taking down a drug cartel with a few buddies along for the ride sure does sound damn enticing, or is that just me?
Anyhow, I did feel some concern along with my excitement. What is shown on stage (or behind closed doors for that matter) and how a product functions out in the public’s hands can be two completely different things. With that in mind, How would Wildlands function when I was alone? Would it be any fun with complete strangers online? And how would its gunplay and stealth feel in real world conditions? I was flown off to a beautiful, albeit very chilly Paris, where I had the opportunity to find the answers to these, and other questions.
Probably my biggest curiosity lay with my very first question; does Wildlands hold up when played alone? All the promotional material, the videos, the blurbs, and everything in-between had me believing that it’s a game that is best experienced with actual teammates.
Look, as much as I love multiplayer in general, sometimes I do just want to get lost in a world and narrative by myself, where I have the time to pick apart and follow every miniscule detail at my own pace. I wouldn’t want that being hampered by AI that doesn’t function correctly, that’s for sure, and the option to go completely solo (ie: without any backup) unfortunately just doesn’t exist. It wouldn’t be a Ghost Recon game if such a thing were possible anyway now would it?
Thankfully, my computer companions were more than up to the task, though a large part of that lay in my ability to command them. A pop-up wheel made doing so on the fly simple enough with basics orders like ‘fire’, ‘hold’, ‘go to’, and ‘regroup’. Curiously, you can’t direct the actions of each ghost individually. It didn’t bother me personally, but I feel that those who are looking to play Wildlands for its tactical side might find the inability to have full control over their team a little disappointing. I know I certainly would’ve appreciated the opportunity to say, place a sniper at a vantage point for example, while having the other two either with me, or at other key overlooks to provide support when needed. That being said, the AI companions are definitely functional, and according to Ubisoft, they’ll adapt to your playstyle. That’s more than likely why my ghosts were a little careless with their stealth, as well as overly eager to put bullets in enemies. A bit more time with the game might’ve let me rectify their behaviour, but unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury.
That I suppose, is why I enjoyed my multiplayer session far more. With human allies at my side, Wildlands opened up in new and exciting ways that I felt it lacked in my solo playtime. There was no need for that pop-up wheel for example. My three journalist comrades and I had open mics to each other, which made coordinating and executing objectives a less static, and much better and more fluid experience overall. That’s not to say that there weren’t bucket loads of chaos at every turn. Try as we might, our best intentions of taking a mission slowly and methodically often, no wait, always turned into a chaotic gun battle where we picked off every enemy in sight within a couple of minutes. This left the path to the objective nice and clear, albeit at the cost of figuring out an interesting or creative way to get there.
This chaos, as fun as it could be, sometimes provided moments of frustration. On one mission, a target we were meant to be extracting kept being killed in the crossfire before we could get to them, resulting in a failure screen whenever it happened. Pinpointing who exactly was responsible, several times I might add, was a mystery that nobody could solve. It took patience and communication to figure out the situation, and establish a plan of action. When that happened, that discussing, planning, and execution, that’s when I really felt Wildlands began to shine and show its potential.
Its real merit I found however, lay not in its narrative, gunplay, or setting, but in its ability to generate unique experiences – stories that players can share with one another. With such a giant map, and multiple ways to explore it, it’s very unlikely that two groups of people will experience a mission in quite the same way. My few hours with the game, both solo and with teammates, were more than enough to show this.
There is the risk of open world fatigue in that regard. Some might argue that there’s just too much to do in Wildlands. After getting a closer look at the map, I can’t say I disagree.
The playground is simply gigantic! Ubisoft’s take on Bolivia has 21 regions, all of which have their own missions, bosses, mini-bosses, collectibles, and more. You do the maths – shortage of content? Believe me, that’s not a concern anybody should be having, but that could well be a problem in keeping people invested and interested in Wildlands for the long run.
I’m confident that won’t be the case though. From the onset, it’s very clear that Ubisoft have poured a ton of time into making each of the environments unique. From the vast plains dotted with trees, forests, and winding dirt roads I experienced, to the salt plains and snowcapped mountains, and everything in between – they all should feel different enough to keep the gameplay interesting throughout its duration.
Besides, there are other hooks to pull players in, like the story itself, or the variery of weapons and the levelling system. The former in particular tickled my fancy in the short time I was exposed to it. During my playtime, both solo and co-op (as a matter of interest, progression is shared between the two, so there’s no need for separate characters for each), I explored the Itacua region. My main goal was to take down a pair of doctors called La Yuri and El Polito. Learning their backstory showed a little depth I hadn’t been expecting.
La Yuri and El Polito met at a state-run hospital, where the former was doing his residency, and the latter, working as a nurse. They fall in love, and inevitably, get married. Awww! Speed up the story a little, and we find out that they later get recruited by the game’s primary antagonist, the Santa Blanca cartel, where they now worked as torture experts for its leader, El Sueño. Well, that was a twist I never saw coming!
Anyways, the point I’m trying to get it as that this torture couple represents just one of the bosses available in Wildlands. Each region has its own big baddie, all with their own accompanying backstory. I do genuinely think that learning about each and how they all tie together will be rather entertaining. The best part is, it’s up to the player to decide in what order they wish to tackle each one.
This brings me back to how the game will be played; solo, or cooperatively. After around three to four hours shared between the two, I realized that they each have pros and cons.
Playing alone means that the story will shine. You’ll be able to follow each cut scene without background chatter, take your time to learn about each character or explore, and make decisions as you see fit. Basically, you’ll have executive control over your experience. The caveat is that you’ll be doing it all by yourself, and you’ll have to direct AI companions around which makes the experience a little more static. The upside is that it’ll force you to play somewhat more tactically, which is actually a good thing.
I do personally think the most enjoyment will come from playing Wildlands with friends. Even ploughing through it with complete strangers online sounds enticing, because there’s no knowing how the game will play out, or what situations may manifest. The only downside then is that the story might be lost in all the chaos. That for me is a bit of problem, because I do enjoy following a good narrative. On top of this, in most cases, tactical play will be chucked straight out of the window.
It’s a bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it? There’s a tied player progression for a reason though, so maybe it’s best to balance out Wildlands with a bit of both. It’s just as easy to hop into a game online as it is to drop out and focus on the story alone. At the very least, however you choose to play the game, know that Bolivia is a big place, and that there’s a plethora of cool stuff to keep you busy in it for a good long time.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands will be out in just a few short weeks, on March the 7th. My time with it in Paris may not have blown my socks off at the time, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t now itching to get back into it. When it does roll around, I’ll be sure to have some friends along for the ride. I may just get rid of them the moment I want to slow down and play a bit more seriously, however.