Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands feels more like a love letter to other Ubisoft franchises rather than a solid Ghost Recon title. The story takes a backseat to repetitive missions, gameplay is ripped out of other Ubisoft titles and ultimately adds nothing new to the open world. Yet, Wildlands somehow remains an incredibly addicting and fun experience to tackle alone or with friends in co-op.
The vacant narrative leaves much to be desired. After an undercover agent is murdered, the Ghosts are set off on a revenge mission against El Sueño, the head of the Santa Blanca cartel. That’s about it.
Every enemy you are set to kill is nothing more than a picture on your world map. There is no real motivation or yearning to take out these cartel members, and El Sueño is one of the least intimidating antagonists I’ve experienced in a game in some time. He never actually shows his face until the last mission of the game, and even then he’s far from compelling or imposing. I understand the idea of making him an entity rather than a headlining character but this does not work at all, and El Sueño comes off as more of a picture that you want off your map rather than a real character. Even if the narrative isn’t the main driving force in this game, it’s rather disappointing that with such an impressive backdrop we’re given such dull and boring characters.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is an outstandingly beautiful game in almost every aspect. Everything from the impressive draw distances to character animations is masterfully crafted. The first thing you’re going to notice is how large this game world is, and with zero loading screens, you can immediately drive from one end of the map to the other without being interrupted.
This is a technical feat that Ubisoft needs to be applauded for. There are little to no graphical hitches or pop-ins, and even when the firefights get to their most intense the framerate stays consistent. In my forty hours with the game I hadn’t noticed any choppiness or stability issues, and in a game world this massive that’s truly impressive.
Each of the 20 provinces holds unique landmarks, from salt flats to mountains, and even underground bunkers. Wildlands sets out to keep this world’s environment appealing, but in reality, these are merely backdrops for the action and don’t affect the gameplay. You will notice all character models outside of the heads of the cartel are extremely bland and forgettable, with all cartel and Unidad soldiers wearing the same outfits. You won’t spend a whole lot of time staring at them, so this isn’t a huge issue, but it does remove impact to your action while adding visual homogeny to each encounter.
To traverse the dangerous lands of Bolivia, you will be taking any vehicle you see fit. Vehicles range from helicopters, trucks, dirt bikes, and even tanks. This is where one of Ghost Recon: Wildlands glaring issues pops up: vehicle controls. The controls are passable at best, and for a game so focused on travel, it’s extremely apparent and frustrating. Helicopters will take a couple of hours to get used to, cars float along the roads with no sense of weight, and occasionally your vehicle will auto-correct its balance mid-air reminding us of driving games from the early 2000’s.
This is in no way fun. Every moment I found myself getting into a car chase or having to drive to a new location felt like a chore. I started to lean heavily on fast traveling far more often due to the poor vehicle controls, and while this wasn’t enough to stop me from playing, it was irritating.
The on-foot segments control closer to Ubisoft’s The Division while adding in that precision Wildlands requires. Every bullet counts while planning and execution are crucial to using the Ghosts to their fullest. Swapping between weapons is as simple as tapping “Y,” while holding “RB” will direct AI units to attack, stand back, or launch mortar strikes. Even when I lost control of a situation, and a mission exploded into an intense firefight, I felt like a real Ghost, getting head shots left and right, with each weapon. The controls fit these situations perfectly with enough assistance to avoid being too punishing but at the same time not too easy. It always felt like I had the controls at my disposal to tackle a mission exactly as I saw fit.
However, the stealth mechanics can be a bit off. There is no alert system in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, once an enemy spots you the entire base knows your location and comes hunting for you. The addition of alarms or an alert system that wasn’t so unforgiving would have been much more welcome in a series that has such a strong focus on stealth. My first instinct to combat this issue was to do each mission at night rather than during the day, but the enemies cone of vision is the same at night, only further hindering your efforts and limiting your vision.
Within the first three to four hours of Wildlands campaign, you’re tasked to gather intelligence, interrogate, and take out high-ranking members of the Santa Blanca cartel. After these initial hours, you will notice these missions repeat themselves in an incredibly obvious way. The game does not attempt to mask the fact that you are collecting the same intel, or progressing through the same story path over and over for your entire playthrough.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands adds an engaging drop-in/drop-out co-op system to spice up the gameplay and distract you from these repetitive missions. Chasing down a cartel member while your friends cover you from a helicopter, or standing back to snipe while your friends sneak in and tag all of the enemies never got old. So often I would find myself sitting down to play the game for an hour only to look up, and I had lost three or four hours in co-op.
This addictive nature is not restricted to co-op, as I found myself playing through the majority of the game in single player. Taking my time to collect every collectible, customize each of my weapons through the seemingly endless customization options, or dismantling the cartel one boss at a time was always fun. The repetitive mission structure was often only a concern in the first few hours of the game, after that my addictive gaming senses kicked in and I had to power through each mission.
It should be noted that there is an upgrade system in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but it’s so incremental that you will rarely notice the difference. By the end of the game you will have unlocked the majority of the upgrades, so no real builds are necessary. In a game so focused on co-op, it would have been nice to need builds for different characters, or abilities that would drastically change the way you took each mission. But that’s not what we get here.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is a strange game. It’s extremely repetitive, has terrible vehicle controls, and wooden characters that you won’t care about for a second. But those issues aside it’s incredibly addictive fun. These problems hold Ghost Recon: Wildlands back from being great and leave us wondering what could have been if Wildlands was given a more dynamic mission structure.