Also On: Xbox One, PC
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands is good. It is a good game with good gameplay and a good world that you can explore using its good mechanics. The co-op aspect of Wildlands however is great. I have not had this much fun playing a game with my friends since Borderlands 2 first came out. The satisfaction of hunting a target and wiping out their entire crew with your buddies is second to none. Wildlands was built to be played with other people and it shows throughout the entire experience. If you are someone who is lucky enough to have a team of dedicated players to run through Wildlands with you I am sure it will be one of the most memorable experiences you will have this year. If you are stuck running solo however, you may find the lack of mission variety, frustratingly basic AI and a loose story don’t bring enough to the table to make it worth your time.
Wildlands makes an impression on you right out of the gate by dropping you in the middle of this gigantic open world where you can literally go anywhere you want right away. If you can look out in the distance and see it, you can get there immediately. Upon arriving high level enemies will promptly kill you, but you can get there and that is the point. There are no boundaries in Wildlands and anything goes. You can play however you want, stealthily taking over outposts and assassinating high level cartel members or running in guns blazing on the back of a Humvee and take everyone out. It is designed to allow you to be whoever you want to be and play however you want to play.
The most satisfying way to play however, is co-op. Wildlands is a wild ride of unscripted encounters and insane moments that will leave you laughing and give you stories for the rest of the year. Flying over an outpost undetected with a chopper full of your buddies when all of a sudden one of them decides to bail out and parachute down into the fray, alerting everyone, is a thrill. You have two choices, bail out and save your friend or leave him on his own down there and carry on to the mission. Neither option is wrong in Wildlands eyes. There is no requirement for everyone to be on the same page. This is great if you are playing with friends and frustrating if you are playing with randoms. With your friends, you can split up into teams or run around solo regardless of what your other teammates are doing. I was up late one night playing with my usual crew and they were set on finding this particular piece of gear. I had to be up early and wanted to knock out the boss that I was hunting so I separated from them and snuck into the cartel boss compound and assassinated them with relative ease while my team messed around 7km away searching for a gun. There is no proximity requirement and no need for everyone to be on the same mission with the same objective. For how good that is when playing with a team, it sucks when you are playing with people that you don’t know. If I open the game up to public co-op and random people join with no mic’s and just want to run around blowing things up while I progress to the boss they can, but if I need assistance there is no way to force their hand. They don’t have to help or even be near me. This can get frustrating if you end up paired with the wrong people.
Wildlands is massive in scale and has an enormous amount of content to experience. After close to 55 hours across PS4 and PC, I feel like there is a lot for me still to do. The missions can get repetitive; go take down this base, go interrogate this guy, go steal these supplies, etc. These can get tedious if you let them but if you approach each mission and try something new it keeps it fresh. I spent about 45 minutes trying to get through a Unidad base and assassinate every single NPC in there without ever getting spotted before getting my target. I could have just run in guns blazing and sprinted to the objective, but played it different and had a lot more fun because of that.
Speaking of the Unidad, it is important to note there are 3 factions in the game (four if you count civilians). You have the Cartel, the big baddies that you are fighting against for the majority of the game. You gradually begin to destabilize their influence in Bolivia as you take out bosses and destroy their drug compounds. As they lose power, civilians get happier and more helpful to your cause. The Rebels are the faction that you fight alongside. They can be helped and their power increased by finding supplies out in the world, stealing vehicles, saving their people and generally ruining the Cartels day. This allows you to use them to call in mortar strikes and bring men to bear when you are raiding a camp and not doing so great. Taking the time to help the Rebels in the early game pays off in spades once you reach the late game. Finally, there is the Unidad, a private military group that will fight you just as quick as they will fight the cartel. There is a patrol meter, not unlike the wanted meter in GTA V that shows you if you are being pursued or actively looked for by the Unidad. Again, a strong relationship with the Rebels will help counteract the Unidad’s ability to ruin your day.
Circling back to the single player aspect, there are some serious issues to be found there. The AI that runs your teammates is frustrating at best and downright game ending at worst. They are like sheep in need of constant herding and you don’t have time to deal with that while also fighting against the Cartel and the Unidad and trying to rescue rebels and basically play the game. Playing by yourself leaves you feeling like you are getting less of an experience, which in reality you are. You can access the same amount of Wildlands, you can complete the same missions and beat the game on your own but you really don’t get the same game when you do it by yourself. All of my best experiences with Wildlands were unscripted moments that involved the friends that I was playing with. Sync Shot is a small but effective example of the differences. If you are playing by yourself, you can use Sync Shot to mark up to 4 enemies and take them all out together once you pull the trigger. The AI won’t miss and nobody shoots early. You are guaranteed those 4 kills as long as your shot doesn’t miss. With friends, things can go south in an instant and that’s where half of the fun is. Somebody pulls the trigger too early and the rest of you scramble to catch up, or somebody misses their shot and now you have to go loud. Between that and the satisfaction you feel when you actually do pull it off in sync really makes it a different experience.
In terms of the meat and potatoes of Wildlands, technically it runs very well. On PS4 I noticed a few framerate dips when there was an overabundance of enemies in close proximity, but everything stayed pretty steady. On PC I have found no issues outside of the character creator. Upon initial loading and trying to use the creator I had to wait about 5 minutes before it actually started working the way it was supposed to but after that everything has run flawlessly. The world in Wildlands is beautiful and full of life, I never encountered an area that felt like a repeat or something that a developer put in and forgot about. I raved in my preview about finding llamas on a hillside or seeing villagers going about their business and none of that is lost in the final game. The story is a bit weak and I never really felt a connection to my character or any of the other Ghosts for that matter but it was never an issue. The game itself was more than enough for me and I made enough story and built enough character with my friends to be satisfying.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands proves that Ubisoft has taken what they have learned from all of their previous titles and used it to work for the future. There are noticeable aspects from Rainbow Six, The Division, Assassin's Creed and Far Cry all at work here without ever making Ghost Recon feel like a copy. What may be lacking in the single player elements of the game are made up for over and over again when playing with friends. If you are on the fence about getting this to join with your buddies, bite that bullet and grab this game up. If you don’t have an online connection or anybody to play with, maybe hold off and catch it when it goes on sale.