E3 2016: Ghost Recon: Wildlands is as expansive as it is unpredictable

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Last year at E3, Ghost Recon: Wildlands was Ubisoft’s big “one last thing” reveal. A reinvention of the tactical shooter franchise, with a focus on co-operative play in a massive open-world that would react to the actions of the titular Ghosts. Enemies would communicate between encampments, missions would span several miles and mobility would be just as important as the weapon in your holster. Ghost Recon: Wildlands promised all of this, but only some of it impressed during my hands-on time with it this year.

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Sitting down with two other players and a Ubisoft representative acting as our handler, the Wildlands demo threw us straight into the thick of things. All four Ghosts had the same (or similar) loadouts, meaning we had to actively assign ourselves roles within the battlefield. This was quickly done by splitting the group of four into two groups of two, with both of them often splitting up when attempting to compete objectives.

The first was a simple snatch and grab of a high value target at a nearby farm, which had just enough enemies for us to all take them out with synchronised sniper shots. With the target secure reinforcements rolled in, and I joined two other Ghosts in holding them off with assault rifle fire while our teammate extracted the information we needed from the target. With the Intel secure, we hopped into an enemy truck close by and set out on the road, with a new (much further away) target now highlighted on our map.

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Driving through the wilderness entrenched roads of the Bolivian setting really sold me on where Wildlands chose to set its roots. It’s lush in places and barren in others, offering a nice variety of both gorgeous scenery and useful cover. Reaching the helicopter we needed and taking to the skies just blew this scale wide open, and it’s clear Wildlands is one of the largest games Ubisoft has attempted to make. It’s breath-taking from high altitude, and a serene breather before the next part of the mission began.

For no other reason than Ubisoft wanting to showcase it, we all decided to parachute out of the chopper once we got close to our new destination – a heavily guarded settlement with a mix of enemies and civilians alike. Wildlands likes to do this often, forcing you to pick your targets in amongst the chaos that ensues once the bullets start flying. While one pair of Ghosts went around the compound to flank some gun nests, my partner and I stood atop a hill overlooking it gathering as much recon as we could before attacking.

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A small airborne drone made this easy, allowing me to swoop in from above and automatically tag enemies for the entire team to see on their heads-up displays. Major landmarks were also tagged, such as a mortar placement, machine gun nests and, most importantly, the room containing the intel we needed. With the land surveyed it was time for my partner and I to move in, after the other Ghost pair began to engage the enemy and draw their attention away from our entry.

This is where things got a little less scripted and a little more chaotic, and sadly where Wildlands started to fall apart a little bit. Walking in straight through the main entrance (arguably not the best choice of entry we could’ve made), my Ghost partner and I quickly came under fire that forced us to split. I was now inside the maze-like favela, creeping around corners cautiously and taking out tangos not focused on my presence at all. At one time a faraway mortar placement (that I had tagged earlier) was causing some grief for my flanking teammates – which was quickly stopped with a well-placed sniper shot from the dense structural cover I found myself in.

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It was at this point that I realised the AI wasn’t really reacting to me meaningfully in any way, and instead choosing to focus their attention on one particular group of Ghosts while I ran rampant behind them. It was strange considering the amount of effort Ubisoft has gone through trying to explain how enemies will realistically counter your own tactics, and how thoughtful planning will be required to execute missions successfully.

This just was not the case at the end of the demo, where a completely accidental entry into the camp had granted me seemingly endless invisibility. It wasn’t long before I was able to make my way across the camp and retrieve the intel we had come searching for, prompting even more enemy forces to engage the camp from nearby. My teammates kept the remaining troops suppressed and as we funnelled to the central round running through the camp. We didn’t wait long for an enemy vehicle to arrive, allowing us to mop up the reinforcements and steal the vehicle for a quick getaway.

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The demo ended at that point, and I couldn’t help but fell a tinge of disappointment. Last year I sat behind closed doors and watched a far more extensive, tactical demo of the very game I had just played, which emphasised stealth and thought a lot more than the mess I had just partaken in. Without some of the intentional scripting from the Ubisoft representative playing with us, it’s tough to say just how the game would have reacted to us all just going in guns blazing without a care, but the last little segment did suggest that it’s not at a point yet where it’s able to punish this sort of thoughtlessness.

This brief time with Wildlands didn’t suggest to me that it’s a bad shooter or a blundering misinterpretation of an open-world. Instead it just solidified my biggest fear with a game trying to be so ambitious with team play. Right now it feels like it’s just far too easy for the experience to devolve into a mindless cover-based shooter. And with all its other interesting mechanics floating about that suggest a much deeper experience is possible, it’s just a little disappointing at the moment.

Last Updated: June 20, 2016

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