A game brimming with potential, Wildlands provides an intriguing but flawed experience.
My first acquaintance with the Ghost Recon series was ten years ago with the exceptionally brilliant Advanced Warfighter. The series was noted for its deep strategy elements, smart A.I., and an intriguing story-line that spanned across two fantastic entries. The Advanced Warfighter games didn’t feature an open world setting, but instead they relied on tightly designed levels and an in-depth command system to rally your crew forward. The feeling of getting nailed down by the enemy’s suppressing fire while hiding behind a wall or taking down a tank single-handedly when the chips are down… these are the kind of heart pounding moments I expect from a Ghost Recon game. However, the latest iteration in the long running series, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a drastic evolution of the series that has ditched some of these older gameplay mechanics. This is not to say that Wildlands is a bad game, per se- there are some genuinely good ideas at work here. But is it a Ghost Recon game that surpasses its predecessors?
Wildlands is supposed to be Ubisoft’s most ambitious game and I can see that in the map size and the variety of environments. The game takes place in Bolivia and boy, the world size is absolutely massive. Wildlands is by far one of the biggest open world games you will play this generation- but this is precisely where the game’s biggest problem lies. The open world genre is pretty much saturated at this point, and with games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild doing some amazing things in this space, there is very little room for error for other gaming brands. You just can’t copy-paste the open world formula to a series that isn’t built on those pillars unless the gameplay is tuned in such a way that it suits the genre (Metal Gear Solid 5 is one such title that managed to achieve this transition gracefully).
"Travelling from one location to another becomes quite painful, as there is nothing really interesting to do in between. "
When you begin playing Wildlands, it’s hard not to be taken aback by the scope and scale of the in-game world. But once I was done with the sightseeing for the first hour or so, and started doing missions, I began to question the unnecessarily open world structure of the game. Granted there are several side missions such as chasing a convoy or helping out local rebel members, scattered across the map, which may initially encourage you to explore the world, but they all become a collection of mixed experiences after a while.
Travelling from one location to another becomes quite painful, as there is nothing really interesting to do in between. In fact, a few hours in, the game provides you with fast travel spots to anywhere on the map which are unlocked from the beginning, unlike other open world games where the system forces you to reach to that spot before it can be accessed. This option may seem like a welcomed feature and it reduces travel time… but then why have such a huge open world map to begin with? In short, the game’s map is too bloated and seems unnecessary, and it feels like the game recognizes that too.
As mentioned earlier, Ghost Recon Wildlands takes place in Bolivia in the year 2019. Your aim is to take down Santa Blanca, a Mexican drug cartel that is growing in influence in Bolivia so much that its actions are affecting the United States. In order to take down this threat, the government initiates Operation Kingslayer, a joint operation between the CIA, DEA, and JSOC. Wildlands follows an “on the go” story-telling structure. Most of the plot will be revealed through radio conversations and although there are cutscenes, they are far and few in between. Bolivia is divided into different zones and each of them is controlled by a central figure who in turn is supported by several sub-figures. In order to kill the head of the Santa Blanca, the player needs to take down all the sub-bosses. I liked this structure a lot since it adds a bit of linearity to the proceedings and keeps things focused, unlike with the open world. The story, on the other hand, has a few interesting things to say if you are willing to give it time. In many ways it shows the realities of the drug cartels and the threat they pose. It isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it does manage to keep itself on track instead of getting detracted as is the case in many open world games.
"The combat in Wildlands feels largely satisfying. The guns, and the weight to them, feel just about right and the game doesn’t shy away from providing the player with an arsenal of different weaponry such as sniper rifles, assault guns, hand pistols and more powerful items later in the game."
The combat in Wildlands feels largely satisfying. The guns, and the weight to them, feel just about right and the game doesn’t shy away from providing the player with an arsenal of different weaponry such as sniper rifles, assault guns, hand pistols and more powerful items later in the game. Furthermore, you can customize each weapon according to your liking by collecting various accessories parts which are scattered across the world. This adds a level of dynamism to gun play and an exploration factor should you wish to hunt for weapon parts.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, is a bit of a mix bag. I found the AI of enemies ranging from downright laughable to challenging, but the AI of your crew is far better than that of your foes. Although it’s not perfect, they do a reasonable job of getting things done, especially when you are using the “mark and shoot” feature. However this feature seems more like an exploit, rather than something which should be used sparingly. I completed several missions just by relying on the “mark and shoot” feature (enemies can be marked by using drones, binoculars or just by using the gun’s sight). The player and the crew only needs to be several meters away from a base and just by issuing commands the entire location can be cleared in minutes. Things become even easier if you unlock a skill that allows multiple “mark and shoot” takedowns. Although I understand this is merely a different way to play this game, given that this is an easy way out of a mission, I found this to be at odds with the gameplay mechanics. Situations where I should be using stealth or give commands to take out an enemy base, I instead relied on the “mark and shoot” mechanic.
There are also some issues with the stealth itself. In one particular mission, I had to remain undetected while I had to steal a truck. As the game seemingly puts an emphasis on stealth, I actually decided to simply run towards the truck. And guess what? No one detected me and I escaped with the truck in a few seconds. This is a glaring flaw and it just makes things a lot easier and less challenging than it should really be.
"Wildlands has a host of vehicles that players can drive but unfortunately the handling is disappointing. The vehicles just don’t feel right, and they will slide for no apparent reason while pulling the brakes or will move like a boat."
Wildlands has a host of vehicles that players can drive but unfortunately the handling is disappointing. The vehicles just don’t feel right, and they will slide for no apparent reason while pulling the brakes or will move like a boat. There is no sense of speed…they are just there, serving the purpose of mere transportation. Fortunately, air and sea vehicles control much better and at the very least save the vehicle mechanics of the game from turning into a disaster.
Despite its noticeable flaws, Wildlands does three things exceptionally well. The character customization is in-depth with several options ranging from clothes, accessories, face type and much more. This leads to the second thing that the game does well- to further improve your character, the game provides the players with an in-depth skills system such as the ability to take on more bullets before you run out of health, unlock parachuting and grenade launchers, increase reaction time of your crew and make the rebels smarter. But unlike the traditional skills system, the game requires you to tag and collect several collectibles along with XP for unlocking them. This further encourages exploration just like in the case of weapon accessories.
And thirdly, I highly recommend playing the game in co-op mode. The game allows three other Ghosts to join your team. In my experience, the drop in/drop out feature for the co-op worked out really well and I faced no connection issues whatsoever. You can drop in into co-op at any time during your playthrough and matchmaking is fairly quick. Wildlands seems like a game that is tailor made for co-op. The experience is at an all together different level if you are playing with three other good players. Players can plan out stuff, complete different objectives and strategize the best possible way to complete a mission…things which are simply not possible while playing solo.
"When I look back at Wildlands, I see a game with so much potential that is not realized completely."
From a technical perspective, the game runs pretty well. We played the PS4 Pro version and performance was largely locked to 30 fps with noticeable drops during explosions and intense situations such as convoy chases. The game looks reasonably good with the lighting tech as a standout feature. The world suffers from minor pop-ins and texture quality could have been better but I guess that is a compromise for building such a massive open world. Unfortunately, just like most open world games these days, Wildlands suffers from bugs such as clipping. I did not come across something that can be classified as game breaking but minor glitches are annoying and should not be present to begin with.
When I look back at Wildlands, I see a game with so much potential. And fortunately, some of that is realized quite well. But its unnecessarily bloated open world, lackluster stealth mechanics and enemy AI will disappoint players, but there is a ton fun to be had with the game’s co-op mode and combat.
In the end Wildlands is a decent open world shooter game with some flaws. If you can overlook them and have some friends to tag along, it will surely provide you with an intriguing gameplay experience.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Solid combat mechanics, in-depth weapon and character customization, skills system, interesting story, co-op is a complete blast.
Stealth gameplay is unbalanced, unnecessarily huge open world, side missions get boring after a while, ground vehicles controls are bad, enemy AI is laughable at times.
Ghost Recon Wildlands had amazing potential but its unbalanced gameplay mechanics and unnecessarily huge open world stop it from topping its fantastic predecessors.