Plan well if you want to avoid a Ca-llama-ty

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START/CONTENTS - Leon Hur­ley Pub­lisheR ubisoft De­vel­oper ubisoft paris For­mat Xbox One ETA 7 march 2017

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.”

Wild aban­doned

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.

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