Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands Review; An open world tactical shooter with multiplayer elements that is set in modern times, a stark departure from prior entries in the series. Wildlands seemingly rips itself from most of which made the series popular, its futuristic weaponry and linear storytelling, in favor of a more open world and casual experience.
Release date: March 7th, 2017
Approximate Size: 49.2 GB
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a beautiful cross between Netflix show Narcos and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, with some elements of The Division and Far Cry peppered in. None of which is a negative but in many cases it fails to impress as the elements it tries to replicate’s original origin once did. In this fictional rendition of Bolivia, beautifully recreated, you are sent in as part of a secret American military Op called Ghosts after an undercover D.E.A. agent is murdered. From here the game gives you an opening cinematic to set the foundation of the story and, from there, you are free to explore and proceed forward at your own pace and desire. In short, the country of Bolivia has become a Narco state under the rule of El Sueño and it’s your job to help the rebels in taking back their land. To bring down this drug empire, an empire Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria himself probably foresaw building one day, you are tasked with interrupting the flow of business. The cartel is broken into four major categories: Security, Smuggling, Influence, and Production. The game shows this with a web display showing how everyone is connected and the routes to reach El Sueño.
The map is broken up into sections, twenty or so, and each section belongs to one of the four categories mentioned above. The process of moving forward in the game is simple, you reach a section and get information. Once you get information, by either finding documents or interrogating those who work with the cartel, a mission will pop up. You take care of a couple of missions, usually anywhere between five to six, and you get the final mission of that area which usually involves one of the members in the interconnected Narco web.
The story is there if you want it but for those who simply want to go out into the world to wreak havoc aren’t bombarded with it. However, those who get invested in this Hollywood inspired story are greatly rewarded. Each cartel member has a backstory, fleshed out, and revealed through verbal updates from your contact Bowman, through audio files, through beautifully constructed videos, and from the design of the world itself. No two Narcos are the same and many of them are a different breed of vile than many are used to. In short, this open world game manages to not compromise story for player freedom and this makes me happy. Happy and grateful.
After taking your time creating your character, a decent amount of options but don’t expect something on the level of Dragon Age, Nor does the game need it, you are thrown into the world to approach it however you want. There is no hand holding and this deserves praise because as we slowly leave that era where games held our hands, some games still can’t manage to fully let go. Wildlands respects you as a player and allows you to maneuver through the world however you see fit. However, for returning fans of the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series, this game can be a turn off. This is not the same Ghost Recon and it takes a large departure from the series.
Whether this is the natural progression of the series or if it’s to cater to a more casual audience isn’t for me to decide but I do feel the need to mention this to players from the old series coming into this new entry. Your character carries a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and a sidearm. You can mix and match the weapons you want and customize the weapons however you want. Do you want a pink AK? Go ahead. Want a golden sniper rifle? It’s there.
Player freedom is a common theme to this game and being able to strip down a weapon and change out parts isn’t as intimidating as it used to be in older games. Everything is streamlined and fluid and I found myself changing weapon parts and experimenting with weapons than in other games where I simply equipped whatever did the most damage. This is a testament to Wildlands doing something right. Night vision, binoculars, a drone, and many more items round out your equipment. Unless I missed it, it’s an odd omission to not be able to use this customization on your teammates. The game also sports some light RPG elements as you collect items and complete missions to unlock skill points that can add abilities such as increasing the range on your drone to giving you some more stamina. This is good but I feel as if it shouldn’t be so restrictive and obvious.
Other games grant you these without you knowing and with as much progress as the game makes in its genre, this is one example of them taking a step back. the way its set up now forces the player to go out of his way to look for skill points or to repeat one of the redundant rebel side missions. I would have preferred them to not have so many to search the giant map for or add more variety to the repetitive rebel missions. Many of the rebel specific aids, like calling in an airstrike, have to be unlocked by repeating these rebel missions. It’s not like their bad missions, they’re actually pretty realistic, but how many times do I have to steal an airplane and fly it across the land to a rebel base before they can do it themselves? The answer is never and far too many times. This will be annoying and feel pointless to the completionists out there and, if we’re maintaining honesty and integrity, I eventually decided not to even bother with the rebel missions and only collected skill points in close proximity as I did a mission. That’s not to say the leveling up system is bad, it’s not, it’s just flawed.
As I leveled up my character I felt more like a super soldier and it felt great to be able to do things I couldn’t do before and even had me questioning a few times how I ever played the game before that point. That’s good gameplay coupled with decent unlockable skills. You can really play this game however you want, whether that’s playing tactically or dropping from a helicopter guns blazing feeling like Rambo. I’ve played both ways and each route is satisfying in its own right. there is nothing like having a drone mark your enemies and then tagging some so that you’re A.I. teammates take them out silently. There is also nothing more satisfying than lowering a helicopter into a base and lighting everyone up before they can even know what hit them. One of my most satisfying moments was when I needed to eliminate a target and wanted to try something new.
I kept my distance and sent my drone to scan the area, as I did so I found the target out in the open and held down my command wheel to order an airstrike on said target. Mission complete without shooting a single bullet or being detected. It’s this level of creativity and freedom that make this game so satisfying and encouraging to try new things. It’s also another reason why the negatives can stick out so much because they break the largely pleasant experience.
The A.I. in this game is bad, sometimes even ridiculously so, and can lead to some frustrations. Teammates get lost, get stuck in environments, can’t follow orders, and appear and disappear like a specter. It breaks the experience to see a squad member clipping in a wall, then need to be revived, and then appear inside my vehicle all while I’m in the animation to enter the said vehicle. Other times, it’s hilarious. The A.I. will run into the open and allow you to fill them with lead, they will also appear out of nowhere, and if you cleared out an area before engaging in a nearby mission, like protecting a rebel generator, they will respawn from that area. There are times where I try to make logical sense of it in my head but, as the player, I shouldn’t have to. This isn’t game breaking, just noticeable and interrupts the immersion. I would expect them to be able to do the simplest of things, like take cover or, in the case of my teammates, drive the car for me but that apparently requires schooling. This just makes the game too easy at times and has me only count on my teammates for healing when I did from cars appearing out of nowhere and crashing into me. even still, there is a great deal of tension and stress as my life slowly withers away and my teammate is standing over me looking for enemies that aren’t there before healing me.
Gameplay wise, the game feels great with the character feeling weighty and complete freedom on how you tackle the world but some questionable design and gameplay choices and a terrible A.I. can potentially ruin the experience. It would help if your squad mates had some personality or if you could give them some through customization. Unfortunately, they are bland and not much help, thankfully, this does not prevent the game from being terrific and fun.
Wildlands doesn’t have any completive multiplayer as of the writing of this review, although it is rumored to come. But it does have a form of multiplayer in the form of Co-Op. All my complaints regarding teammate A.I. is completely eradicated when playing with real players and this is the perfect way to play this game. Exploring, interrogating, and entering firefights with your friends is where you’ll get the most enjoyment out of this game. I was surprised to encounter no lag when playing with three of my friends and even more impressed with the lack of performance issues, other than the ones already there when playing offline, and it’s pretty much the same experience as offline play. The game does, however, become way too easy as you and your friends plow through the A.I. rather effortlessly. This also invokes classic Ghost Recon in a sense. In prior games you could sort of manipulate how a firefight would go based on the orders you give your squad mates and you set the pace of the fight. Online, it’s the sort of the same. Each member explains where they’re going to go and you plan out a strategy and execute it. It’s like executing the perfect heist and it feels damn good and damn rewarding. You also retain the chaotic beauty of the new Ghost Recon when you, or one of your friends, mistakenly gets seen and all hell breaks loose.
Online, at times, can crank that chaos to several above what offline could ever dream of because instead of one super soldier running around, there is four. The only real complaints I have about Co-Op is the easy difficulty and the fact that if you are only playing with one other friend, the other two squad members disappear. The latter wouldn’t bother me as much if the voices of these missing members didn’t engage in dialogue as we maneuver through the world. It’s odd and causes Wildlands to take a paranormal turn.
Let me start off this section by stating that this is a truly remarkable and beautiful game, even at 900p on Xbox One. It has amazing draw distance, one of the best to date, which makes something like in-game pop up really stick out when you’re playing. There is just an odd feeling to see flora appear out of nowhere as you walk down a road and this can break your immersion when there isn’t much going on and you are trying to get to point B from point A. Despite this and the occasional hiccups, the game does more things right than it does not. The world feels organic and real, textures are, for the most part, well done and when the vegetation isn’t spawning from another dimension, it is incredibly detailed.
At times, when you’re deep into playing, you can forget that this is a world of numbers and not that of reality. Speaking of textures, there are a few that aren’t as spectacular as others and I can understand that it’s to be expected from a game world so massive and believe me, it’s massive. Weather effects are threatening and scream with ferocious power as lightening decorates the sky and thunder announce its presence. Rain pours down with force, the starry sky is mesmerizingly beautiful, and the sun beats down with enough blazing heat to cause you to sweat out of the game. It’s these elements that they do so well that helps you to overlook the things that aren’t done so well, like the water. In all of the environment, I feel the rivers and large bodies of water could have used a lot more work… A lot.
Water looks bland, lifeless, and lacks the polish that was put into the mountains of the tundra, the different detailed buildings, and the thick forests that populate certain areas. With so much detailed variety, the water simply sticks out. For the most part, Bolivia has never looked better in a virtual world. Character models are perfect but they also aren’t bad. Your created character, your three comrades, and all those who have significant importance to the story look well done. It’s the other characters who suffer in the giant world. NPC’s and enemy A.I. serve their purpose and aren’t as polished as the main cast but in the heat of the battle, it didn’t distract me. It’s only jarring when you take the time to inspect them. Vehicles are varied and detailed more than I expected to find and animals were less detailed than I thought and few and far between. At least they are identifiable and this really would only bother those who are wandering around the world looking for them. It didn’t bother me but for the sake of the review, it should be mentioned.
Also worth noting that the effects of the game, everything ranging from fire to explosions to debris are all well detailed and done. It was more than enough to impress me and when other games fail to reach these standards, it’s noticeable. Ghost Recon Wildlands is overall a beautiful game with a few imperfections and its impressive that it has such few issues given how large the game world is and, yes, it’s all explorable.
Let’s start with the voice acting because from all the different subcategories in sound, it’s the most inconsistent and polarizing. There are times where it is great, like when you’re listening to Bowman give you some back story on a Narco or when their video package is played so you can learn why they are the way they are. It’s fantastic when you’re listening to the radio and the host is openly boasting about how they’ll find those who betray them and will kill them. It’s done in a realistic way and it’s a reminder in the most mundane task, such as driving, that this is a country run by a drug lord and you need to liberate it. There are also times when I question why they would greenlight a particular set of dialogue, like conversations between cartel members and the conversations you and your squad members engage in.
Other sounds in the game serve their purpose. Guns each sound different from one another based on type and caliber, helicopters have a great directional sound that can really confuse you if you don’t see it because the sound will bounce all around you, and cars all sound as one would expect. No complaints in this area but nothing exactly spectacular either. There is no real soundtrack to the game besides the occasional song on the radio, those these are well done. The game chooses instead to take the approach of using ambient sounds to make this world look and feel real and it’s done well. there is some music when you engage in firefights but it’s nothing too epic nor is it overbearing and in the heat of battle you barely notice it. If I had to find something to gripe about when it comes to sound, it would be the crunching sound that is made when a bullet hits an enemy. It doesn’t bother me when the target is a few feet away but when I can hear the splatter from several yards away from my sniper rifle, well, it just seems unrealistic. However, it’s not enough to ruin the game in any way.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is a great game that does more good than it does bad. The vehicles may not control well, it may lack charm and polish in some areas, and it may have some performance issues with its terrible A.I. and repetitive side missions but despite all this, it’s still a great game.
It’s a deep story filled third-person shooter, that can switch to first person any given moment, offering the player complete freedom to play tactically or in a chaotic way, it’s your call. It’s an ambitious game with different scenic vistas that you can explore at your leisure and offers upwards of thirty hours of gameplay for the main story. There is no question you will get the bang for your buck whether you sit down and lose yourself in this massive world for hours or choose to play it in bursts. It may not be perfect but the things it does well, it does really well.