Open world games often offer a tonne of playability. Games like GTA or Far Cry often allow you to play on ignoring the story completely, or after completing it, allow you to free roam doing whatever you want. GTA, for instance, sucked a lot of hours from me. The main storylines, though, often didn’t encourage a lot of replay-ability. You play through the storyline and do whatever you want after that. You could start all over again but I doubt many people did. For whatever reason, Ghost Recon Wildlands for me was different – I played through the main storyline three times in a row.
This is part of my series - End to End Game reviews. These reviews are of games that I’ve completed from start to finish - sometimes including some DLC, but for the most part focusing on the main storyline. I don’t always finish games, or if I do, its normally long after the games have come out so these reviews are full of spoilers as I reckon most readers will either have completed the game themselves or no longer care about any spoiled storylines. If I’ve taken the time to finish a game these reviews are going to bias towards games that I’ve liked and have enjoyed playing. Mostly I write these reviews as a way to memorialize my playthrough of the game in question.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is Ubisoft’s latest instalment in the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series and released at the start of 2017. Ubisoft said that the tactical shooter was amongst the biggest open world game they’ve ever published. You play as Nomad, leader of a team of “ghosts”, on Operation Kingslayer to combat the Mexican drug cartel - Santa Blanca - that has taken over Bolivia.
I really enjoyed the game – enough to play through the main storyline three times. Straight away I was blown away by the world that game lives in. A night/day cycle, dynamic weather, and a map that was bigger than anything I think I’d ever played. I loved how the map felt unique wherever you were - I never felt like I was trudging through the same place twice.
The throwaway cartel recruits that you gun down by the thousands (depending on your gameplay style and how long you stayed in each area) were easily the worst part of the game. How the cartel recruited so many people was beyond my comprehension. I know it’s a game and everything but with the amazing level of details the game went into with the rifles and the vehicles, it felt like the enemies were an afterthought. I probably killed a million white t-shirted cartel members, and it made little difference to anyone. As the game advanced, and we brought down various parts of the cartel’s drug-producing apparatus. The story insinuated that this was making a big impact on the cartel, I saw no difference in the game.
The lack of permanence was also a big deal for me. You take out cartel strongholds, call in some rebels, or free them from their prison cells only for the cartel to be back as soon as you turn your back. It was infuriating. What was the point in clearing a village that wasn’t on the storyline? Zero. Even by partway my first playthrough, I couldn’t have cared less for a place unless it had something to offer me. By the second, I had stopped helping the rebels because although it increased the number of rebel vehicles on the roads, it meant almost nothing to me. Some kind of territory holding system would really have been appreciated.
Locations and Characters
Probably the most important and best aspect of the game is the enormous map you find yourself traversing. Flying becomes your best friend, even though I feel like you lose a lot of the feel of the game by constantly being in the air. On my third playthrough, I flew everywhere, sometimes landing under heavy enemy fire to reduce travelling time. Though it did feel pretty bad ass dropping in, killing a load of cartel members and flying out to the next engagement. Inaccurate as that is in real life.
The game version of Bolivia is divided up into huge distinct areas under the control off various cartel underbosses. These different landscapes were the best thing about the game. From finding cool little locations high in the mountains, to fishing huts in the middle of the jungle, the environment was pretty special. Again though, it was a pity that there was so little permanence. The areas had so many throwaway, cookie-cutter enemies that reappeared almost instantly. But driving down the roads or flying over the mountains was a pretty great experience. I didn’t even mind hiking my character over long distances if I had to because the detailed map was special to look at.
Your own character, Nomad, you can style any way you want – the options seemed pretty endless. I played a couple of times with a few completely different characters. This helped me role-play distinct styles on each playthrough.
That said, in the single-player campaign, you play with three utterly forgettable characters, and I’m not sure it’s not deliberate. In a game that encourages you to play online with a couple of friends, or much more likely - random folks from the internet, do you want to have to lose a good NPC and replace them with some random you just got matched with? Still, I didn’t want to play with random folks that often, so I got used to not knowing which ghost was which unless their name showed up. I knew nothing about them. I learned almost nothing from the stories they randomly regurgitated during the odd hike to an adjacent village or road. In fact, the day I found out that you didn’t have to wait for your AI teammates to get into a vehicle before you left was a very happy day. Once you got far enough away they teleported straight into their seats.
Your CIA handler, Karen Bowman, and the various allies in the Kataris 26, and even the enemy bosses were a different matter. Their stories were well put together. Every so often they appeared on the radio and it added to the immersion and the feeling that these characters were out there, waiting for me. The storyline missions were based around taking down these enemies using various methods. Even Ricky Sandoval, the CIA agent whose death brings you to Bolivia in the first place, has a fleshed out story. You learn more about him by collecting his tapes that are spread around the game world.
While the map in this game might be one of my favourites, there are some great moments in this story. I loved the Nidia Flores story arc, especially loved the assault mission on her house. I did it a couple of ways but the way it develops is always pretty good.
Another great location in the game is the La Santera’s Chapel and the mission to steal El Sueño’s bible. The chapel is huge on the outside but small enough on the inside and swarming with cartel soldiers. The house is pretty cool too and there’s an excellent basement. I loved how it was tucked into the mountainside and storyline was pretty funny.
I loved the whole Koani province and the Boston Reed backstory that you learned through various intel and missions. Koani itself was full of small plane crashes with interesting backstories. The mountains were littered with them and there was an interesting story arc that came to an end here.
The radio was pretty excellent in the earlier parts of the game. You were stuck listening to DJ Perico for a lot of the game so I was really happy that they got this right. It’s not GTA good, but still a good distraction.
So I mostly loved the single player aspect of the game. But it wasn’t until my second playthrough that I started matching with other online players. If you got matched with some decent players it really made a big difference to the game. You could coordinate some excellent takedowns. Plus there are some excellent players out there - various missions were much easier. Maybe it was a pilot who knew what they were doing or a sniper that was super talented. It was enjoyable to not have to worry about a dodgy decision made by some random AI teammate.
I enjoyed Wildlands. its replay-ability was as something that I didn’t expect, I thought it would be more like GTA and end up free roaming after the storyline was complete. Yeah, it has some massive problems but overall the game world makes up for that. Flying around in a helicopter, dropping in and taking out some cartel members was a lot of fun. There are some great moments, and areas, and as a whole, I really enjoyed the game.