It goes without saying that the open world genre has become mainstream. Even games such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda which were considered linear have opened up to the concept of roaming a massive living breathing world. For Ghost Recon, it’s the beginning but you would be forgiven if you thought otherwise.
Ubisoft are known to crafting their open worlds. Assassin’s Creed and recently The Division have shown that. With Ghost Recon: Wildlands they took it to the extreme Just Cause level with lands that spam multiple terrains. You will see jungles, deserts, and towns in abundance in this modern new take on the popular military shooter. I recall the early days of playing Ghost Recon on the original Xbox and being exceptionally difficult due to its combat realism. The good news is that mode is here along with an easier “Arcade mode” for people like me who tend to prefer that. But while that’s all well and good not much can be said regarding the game itself.
The problem with Wildlands isn’t the content. On the contrary, this game is loaded with missions and side-ops that will keep you going. The problem has to do with the game’s vibe. This may sound confusing but allow me to elaborate. See, when playing open world games it’s not enough to just create roads, towns, and jungles but to create an atmosphere that will captivate you. In comparison, The Division’s empty New York streets with its foggy and snowy weather gave the world a sense of purpose and made it stand out. The world was a character and in the process The Division made you feel like you’re in this isolated quarantine zone on the brink. But with Wildlands you just get…locations. None of which really sort of reflects the game’s tone properly and instead just serves as filler between missions. If you want a deeper elaboration on this I recommend checking out my old video on why Shenmue’s world stands out despite it being pseudo open world.
And similar to The Division, Wildlands is pretty boring when played alone. The AI does a great job to fill the gap, and some cases make the game way easier than it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a military grunt sent in to fix a country by doing open world missions. However not all of them are generic. A lot of missions require thinking and strategy especially when playing the game’s more realistic difficulty setting (which I recommend if you want to get the real fun out of it). For instance recon is highly encouraged using your binoculars or a drone to survey the area of guards. You can then sync targets to your AI or partners and do a ‘sync-kill’ so no one gets altered. The feeling of being synced in general is great feeling that is if your friends are willing to co-operate properly. In the event you are found you’ll have to deal with an onslaught of troopers that will greatly outweigh you in their level. During these scenarios I usually ended up running away or restarting the mission. Sadly you can’t restart a checkpoint which can often lead to frustrating moments. For example, in the first mission I had to rescue someone and the preferred mode of transport would have been the helicopter (since the delivery point was relatively far). The helicopter accidentally got blown up due to a small skirmish and was left with driving all the way there. A checkpoint restart would have helped a lot in this case.
Driving is also not that fun, at least in the beginning area. Due to the amount of hills in Bolivia you will constantly be turning. Plenty of times I resorted to simply driving off the cliff even if it risked killing me or damaging my car. Using a helicopter is the ideal mode of transport just be sure you always have one ready.
Aside from your typical missions, you also get your typical upgrade trees. It’s not to the level of The Division but it does the job. I do have to point out however that upgrading weapons is a joy thanks to the amount of detail and customization you can do to each gun.
Wildlands also has a narrative. I usually talk about these first but in Wildlands it doesn’t feel that important. They do a great job with an opening CG animation of the drug lord El Sueno and how he destabilize the Bolivian government thanks to his drug ring called Santa Blanca. Due to the growing influence and reaching across borders, the USA sends it A-Team to take down Santa Blanca and everyone in it. You slowly begin working your way from the bottom taking down all the other high commanders until you reach El Sueno himself. It does a decent job of setting up the premise but as you start playing you slowly lose interest in what’s going on and just focus on the task at hand or leveling up your character.
From the PC front, Wildlands is a great port all around. The game maintains a steady FPS and plenty of options including Nvidia’s new terrain technology. While some areas of driving around I did notice a few hiccups in frame pacing, however it still manages to stay on top. Keep in mind this was before Nvidia released its game ready drivers.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Wildlands but it does nothing much to stand out either. Ubisoft is promising a lot of content and support for this but I fear the appeal won’t last long due to its forgettable plot and equally forgettable setting. Military buffs or those itching to play an open world military game like the long forgotten Mercenaries may find some fun to be had here. All in all though Ghost Recon: Wildlands is just safe.