GHOST RECON WILDLANDS
Plan well if you want to avoid a Ca-llama-ty
You’d better hope you’ve got some really good friends for this four-player co-op return to the Clancyverse. Not just people you like or get on with, but people who, when you say ‘go over there, hide and don’t shoot anyone’, will actually go over there, hide and not shoot anyone. It’s a sensitive balance. Wildlands’ open-world Bolivia-set drug lord hunting won’t cut you any slack if yer buddy Johnny Kill ‘Em All suddenly decides to go rogue and pepper the nearest bad guy with loud, attention-grabbing bulletry.
It’s not unforgiving in a ruthless way, it’s just big. Actual real world big, not videogame big. So for the first time in an action-focused military shooter like Ghost Recon, scale is more of an enemy than, well, the enemy. Go in without a coherent plan and you’ll get split up, the gunfire will come from all directions and chaos will stamp all over your finely tuned scheme. It’s far from a military sim level of realism but the size of the spaces you have to control can be large, and shooting the first person you see is a recipe for disaster. You’ll die because you panic when a ton of enemies appear. Or because you stop working as a team and just start firing in all directions like a military sprinkler. Ever seen one of those scenes in a war movie when a soldier breaks down and curls up sobbing behind a wall as war happens all over the place? That’s you playing Ghost Recon Wildlands badly.
This scale is obvious from the start: the world stretches off across undulating mountains, there are lakes covered in flamingos that scatter as you clatter past in a stolen truck, llamas running across the hills and more. Not to mention enemy bases, safe houses, intel sites and rebel outposts. There’s an abundance of opportunities and, most importantly, space for you to use. “When you look at real special operations teams and how they function, it’s not just going in and hitting a target, it’s you planning out your own operation,” explains narrative director Sam Strachman. “You are gathering the intel, you’re following your leads, you’re going it about it how you want.”
That’s the approach Wildlands is taking here with its massive, countrysized map. Settling into Bolivia and working out the best approach to what’s ahead may take a while. Our early attempts to blunder through gung-ho style ended repeatedly in disaster until we learned to work more as a group – marking targets, forming a strategy and trying to thin the numbers as silently as possible
“For the first time in an action game, scale is more of an enemy than the actual enemy”
“If you don’t communicate with teammates, you’ll get very literally shot to pieces”
before going loud. Most importantly, continued communication is vital when enemies pour in from all angles or a previously missed sniper or helicopter makes its presence known. Talking about loadouts is also hella helpful. It’s no good having a team full of snipers if everyone wants to tank. This is a game where strategising is best started in the locker room, and then continued on the trip to the mission, and before anyone pulls a trigger, and all the time the shooting’s actually happening. Basically, if you don’t communicate with your friends you’ll get very literally shot to pieces. Better together There is a single-player mode but despite Ubi’s insistence that the game can be played in any combination, we’ve yet to be convinced that going it alone will capture much of the fun of co-op teamwork. As AI, your team don’t feel hugely smart. In a game with so much freedom, angles to cover and possibilities, the ‘point-and-shoot’ nature of your NPC back-up feels functional but not much more, leaving you to do most of the work. It’s okay, it just doesn’t feel like an advance on anything you’ve seen before. Considering the excellent job in worldbuilding here it’s a shame to have soldiers teleport in and out of cars, or vaulting walls to run in front of enemies because their pathfinding decided that was the quickest way.
No, from what we’ve played this is a world best enjoyed with friends, and everything’s open more or less from the start. “Here’s the sandbox, here are your toys, now go play how you want,” is how Strachman puts it. There are 100-plus story missions you can access in any order across 11 distinct ecosystems like mountains, salt flats, snowy areas, swamps and more. The only truly gated content – the stuff you can’t access until you reach a certain point – are four final sub bosses and the top dog of the drug cartel, El Sueño himself. With that scale and openness you have to really earn your place here.
That’s because progression in Wildlands is as much about learning the lay of the land as it is unlocking new guns and skills. Those sub bosses have multiple underlings to work through, with the Bolivian drug trade split over four different areas: Production makes the cocaine; Smuggling gets it out (and the money in); Security protects it all; and, finally, Influence creates the propaganda. Depending on the missions you find and complete, you’ll learn more about these wings and try to compromise them to various extents.
You will also obviously improve your team and become better equipped for more dangerous areas and enemies. “There are multiple dimensions to our levelling and progression system,” explains Strachman. “On the one hand you have different skills that you can unlock for your Ghost,” he says, highlighting things like physical skills (faster aiming, better damage resistance and the like) or drone skills (things like more range, or vision modes), and squad skills to improve the team when you’re playing singleplayer (this might make an NPC squad play better, we didn’t have time to find out. If it does then it’s hiding away crucial smarts you need up front). But it’s not just about your crew: “You also have this parallel progression system of Rebel Resources,” adds Strachman. “As you go around the world and do these side-quests, you’ll be able to loot different kinds of resources that you can put towards different rebel skills.” These effectively act as extra troop, supply and attack resources you can use, like summoning rebels to attack certain places or calling in mortar attacks and vehicles.
There’s something potentially exciting here simply because of the scale of everything. During one mission – a chopper raid on a safe house to extract a target – a storm suddenly blows up. Rain pours, the sky closes in and lightning picks out the silhouettes of distant ridges. It’s hard not to buy into the promise at moments like that. There are a few reservations, like the AI and some odd physics (self-righting cars, for example, and odd helicopter controls) but hopefully these will eventually seem trivial in the (very) grand scheme of things.
Main Half the fun in Wildlands is kitting out your soldier in increasingly more specialist gear.
below As fun as it would be, it’s not possible to ride the llamas.