We are now a month and change removed from the release of Ghost Recon: Wildlands in early March, and both critical and consumer reception can be summarized with a resounding ‘meh’. To some, the game represents the Ubisoft sandbox formula in its purest form, be that for better or for worse. To others, it marks a major departure from the roots of the Ghost Recon franchise, which historically has been a tactical shooter first, and a woodsman simulator… never. Both of these statements have some truth to them, and it is also true that, even as a devoted open-world game, Wildlands has many failings that other recent sandbox games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild avoid. Despite all these problems, however, there are some great times to be had with this shooter. It just takes a lot of digging to breach the mantle of mediocrity to experience them.
Again calling back to the series’ past as a tactical shooter, to classify Wildlands as one would be… inappropriate. Your ability to command your squadmates has been reduced to a meager set of basic commands that includes telling them to open fire, but does NOT include telling them to hold it. In what I can only assume to be an ill-advised attempt to streamline the strategic mechanics of the game, Ubisoft has instead built a dam, and reduced the flow of communications to your teammates to little more than a bunch of droll conversations about coca plants and an occasional battlecry of “Shitballs!” To put it simply, your squadmates sound and act bored, look like idiots wearing t-shirts and baseball caps in the mountains of Montuyoc, and really only help you in combat when the game compels them to, and not when you do.
Which the game often fails to do.
However, that is not to say that your teammates are useless. If you’re approaching an enemy base with some modicum of stealth, your team’s ability to simultaneously shoot up to three enemies on your command is borderline broken. On paper it makes sense, a feature derived from the Execute function in more recent Splinter Cell iterations, but when applied in-game, your squadmates are able to silently snipe unsuspecting guards through tents, hills, and even hard cover sometimes, so long as they aren’t inside a building. Add in that they will shoot any targets you have marked for them both on manual command, and when you yourself shoot a guard, and you can obliterate half the enemy forces of a camp in an instant. The cooldown after performing the Sync Shot does a little to help curb this dominant strategy, but some tweaks to your squad’s ability to see enemies through concrete would be welcomed.
Despite the many problems with the friendly intelligence in Wildlands, when all the game’s mechanics are in alignment, and you manage to execute a plan to perfection, this game produces a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment unique to the tactical shooter genre that Ghost Recon hails from.
This is what I’m on about.
There is still some DNA left in this game of its past installments. The combat, when it works, strongly resembles the feel of the Advanced Warfighter titles. When you add in rebel forces, or even better, get into a three-way brawl between yourselves, the cartel, and Unidad patrols, the game throws a chaotic bullet festival in your honour, and the resulting firefight is intense and memorable. Coming out of a shootout in one piece is especially rewarding on Extreme difficulty, which you’ll need to play on if you want to rid yourself of the maphack auras around unmarked enemies on the minimap that make lower difficulties far too forgiving.
One of the high points of Wildlands is its character customization. The UI for the whole game in general is clean, concise, and easy to navigate, but the customization menus especially are impressive, allowing for many more additions down the line. You can make your character look like a tacticool airsoft player with fifteen optics and rail gagdets hanging off his gun, or you can deck yourself out like a true cocaine cowboy, weighed down by bling and exotic weaponry taken from defeated bosses of the cartel. I eagerly await future additions to this aspect of the game.
Oh… well, damn.
Spoke too soon, it seems. Unfortunately, the microtransaction bug bit Wildlands just like it did Rainbow Six: Siege. Now, at the moment, there’s no harm and no foul, as far as game balance goes, but I am very concerned that this may affect the PvP update coming soon to Wildlands. Fingers crossed. I should mention that the Base Credits Pack, which gives you 800 credits, can really only get you shortcuts to unlock weapons and attachments you can find in the base game, along with some minor cosmetics and XP boosts. Most of the cosmetic and vehicle packs will run you anywhere from around 1700-2100 credits.
The biggest boat anchor keeping Wildlands tethered down, are the litany of oversights and niggling problems with the game that alone would be insignificant, but together add up to a rage-inducing session. Blatantly unpolished mechanics, poorly implemented features, and obvious cracks in the game’s reality frequently break the immersion and make the game experience frustrating for the player. When I order my squad to assault a convoy from the seats of a jeep and see my teammate, wielding a bolt action sniper rifle, firing it at about 750 RPM, I’m not immersed and I’m not amused. When I call for an armored SUV from the rebel faction, and it spawns on top of my head with an almost taunting ‘beep-beep’ from the keychain, AND it immediately incapacitates me, I’m not immersed and I’m not amused. When a mission VIP that I am assigned to protect charges headlong into the attackers I must fend off with no regard for their own life… well, you know the rest.
Did anyone get the plates of that truck that ran me over?
What irks me so much about the disappointing team AI in Wildlands is that other games, much older games, have done the team command system so much better. One game series for the PS2 that you may have heard about by now (hint, it’s SOCOM) had an amazing team command menu, allowing you to send your squad to multiple areas on the map, and even tell them how to get there (They could move silently, go guns hot, escort you, the squad leader there, it was nuts). Even past Ubisoft titles, like the early Rainbow Six games, had way more intuitive team interfaces, without sacrificing depth.
The one takeaway I get from most of the feedback I’ve seen about this game since its launch, and even during the betas that preceded it, is that enjoying this game hinges on playing it in online co-op with friends. I agree that most of my complaints about the squadmates in singleplayer are negated by playing with others, but some new complaints take their place when more players are added into the mix.
For example, when I joined a friend’s lobby, I spawned to find myself in a region I had never been to before, in the midst of a mission to capture that province’s buchon. This wouldn’t be so bad, I can deal with a minor peek into the future, but for some reason, one of the preceding missions the player must complete to find the buchon completed itself as soon as I joined. A random submarine I was meant to destroy myself blew up of its own volition (something of a habit that unoccupied vehicles have in this game) and I was erroneously awarded XP as well as an exposition dump for my inaction. Me being a completion-focused gamer when it comes to these kinds of shooters, as well as somewhat of a purist, this annoyed me greatly for the next day or two. I can only hope this was some rare glitch and not a common occurrence when joining other people’s sessions.
These are just a choice selection of my gripes with Ghost Recon’s newest flavour, which are too numerous for one article, but despite all my complaints, I’ve had great fun with this game. I just completed it yesterday, and I would never have bothered if I hadn’t been compelled to. The endings weren’t very satisfying, but… well, I don’t want to spoil them, and I’ve reached my negativity quota for this review. The game manages to be a great time-killer when it’s not busy cooking up new ways to screw the player over, and a lot of its flaws can be fixed in due time.
Speaking of screwing me over…
Upcoming DLC, the addition of adversarial multiplayer, and future patches and updates will be key in dictating whether Wildlands comes to be remembered as a salvaged treasure chest, or a poorly constructed model rocket that disintegrated on the launch pad. To cap this one off, I guess I’d say it takes a lot of patience to enjoy Wildlands, but if you’re a seasoned fan of both tactical shooters and open-world games, you can definitely get some bang for your buck out of this game.
Verdict: It’s pretty good in some respects, but downright bad in others.