The Tom Clancy games seem to be everywhere these days and attaching the name to a title seems to have far less clout than a few years ago. I know when speaking to fans most feel like the expectation that comes with the tag has been pecked to death over the years. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the next open world shooter from Ubisoft and sets the player in command of an elite black-ops unit with one task: to take down the drug lords that rule Bolivia unchallenged. So does this brand new IP dazzle us with revolutionary gameplay experiences or fall face first into the digital mud? Let us take a look.
Like any reputable drug operation, the one you are tasked to take down is led by a monster of a man, El Sueno. This guy is a walking cliche of a South American drug lord and under his rule, we have an army of smaller boss figures that handle various wings of his operation. It is your mission to enter into a region, complete objectives, gather Intel/resources and as you might expect - liberate the final boss of their thinky-bits. It has to be said that most of these boss figures are as interesting as I would have expected (not interesting) but a few do stand out in terms of sheer personality. As you uncover photographs, recordings and video files the player builds their knowledge of this particular fiend. You will then pay them a visit (not for a cup of sugar) before moving onto the next zone.
The writers have tried to make all these exploits sound exciting and dangerous but really, this comes down to a paper thin plot that exists to facilitate you murdering everyone you meet packing a weapon: very much like a modern day Predator minus the dreads. The acting and dialogue is also average at best with some ropey lip syncing: something Ubisoft constantly seem to struggle with. Ultimately the story is not a strong point for Wildlands and seeing El Sueno throughout the game would have built some context: because you pretty much don't see him until the end confrontation.
The bigger they are...
So Ubisoft claim this is the biggest open world they have ever created and from what I can see they have: this play area is gargantuan. The entire map covers twenty distinct regions, each with their own unique topography from desert, frozen tundra and lush jungles. On this Ubisoft have nailed it. There is a wonderful sense of altitude when gazing out from the many mountain roads and paths. As the wonderful vistas spread out below you, it's hard not to be impressed with the environments in Wildlands. Little details like how car lights slowly move in the distance or the many atmospheric effects like morning fog really make the visuals shine. There are also a surprising number of unique places to see, from lakes covered in flocking flamingos to enemy prisons surrounded by rocky Mountains.
It is unfortunate that as you move in for a closer look, like Google Earth, you start to see a slightly less beautiful world and a more half-baked affair. Frequent texture pop-in is a problem but admittedly not as bad as the closed beta. Sometimes assets like enemies and vehicles just appear out of thin air: in one situation a car I had acquired just up vanished as soon as I'd disembarked. The feasibility of the world destruction also seems off in some places, fences and small walls break apart but items like lamp posts and small trees are impervious to anything you throw at them. I also think some destructible buildings would have added so much to the combat situations.
Rinse, repeat until the game is complete.
Everyone and their dog is claiming to be 'open world' these days, it's the thing right now and as of late we've seen some gems. The problem with games that let players run in any direction from the word go, is that they can lose focus and run into pacing issues. Ubisoft usually decides to deal with this by scattering icons across the game map like they were confetti. Yes, Wildlands is ginormous but at what cost?
Wildlands is essentially many enemy camps/towns that are connected by a sea of roads and waterways. In each zone, you can either plug away at the main mission (yellow) or take on a range of side missions (green). These can be anything from taking down a convoy of supplies, stealing a helicopter or rescuing some prisoners. The problem is that all these missions (including the main story) usually involve you entering an enemy occupied zone and killing everyone: then moving on to the next. Once you have aced the first region you will know if you like Wildlands because you are essentially doing the exact same thing for the remaining nineteen zones. This is just typical Ubisoft: build an amazing game engine, cram it full with mindless busy work and hype the shit out of it.
Another design choice that has me baffled is a total lack of permanent change. When you clear a town of bad guys they will respawn fives minutes later like nothing had happened. The whole game world is constantly undoing your handy work: I even landed to take out an AA emplacement but by the time I'd collected a skill point and taken off again it was back. It shot me down and I was left feeling like I was wasting my time. I don't want numbers or a new scope for a reward: I want to see the effect I am having on the world I am playing in. Again there is a lack of commitment here from Ubisoft because having a permanent impression on the game world takes more work to get right.
For the most part, the combat here is well designed and can be a great deal of fun. Bullet-drop, sporadic material penetration and good sound work all add a great deal to the experience. Yes, you are making one murderous cake of death after the next but how you make that cake is entirely up to you and that is certainly a saving grace for Wildlands. You can approach combat in many ways from pure stealth to full blown attack.
Metal Gear Semi
As you would hope with a Tom Clancy game the gunplay is well designed and there is plenty of customisation to tinker with. The first thing you will do is create your avatar and while body options are a little light there is a tonne of options regarding gear. You have a main weapon, second weapon and pistol. These can be anything that fits your play style: I usually have an assault rifle, sniper rifle and silenced pistol as standard. In addition, you get to play with other useful (but standard) toys of war: mines, grenades, binoculars and so on. These all work really well and give you plenty of options when deciding how to pick apart an enemy base. You can pause mid-battle and change your load-out at any time which leaves you open to various play styles (but sometimes feels a little too casual). You can also pick up enemy weapons to try other weapon styles or even jump into weapon platforms. There's a decent progression system for you to ponder over as you level up and gain new skill points: which can be spent in conjunction with the many resources you will have to gather as you negotiate the game. Some skills are simply better aiming but some offer game changers like thermal vision, grenade launchers and a parachute.
Wildlands really does remind me of Metal Gear Solid 5 in so many ways, from the way you can plan your attacks to the open-world nature of the game. I do think that both these games have fallen into the trap of making a world that doesn't care much for anything else other than war things. MGS5 was an amazing tactical experience with some mind blowing details: but between missions, the world felt devoid of life and thus empty. Wildlands does at least make an effort here with plenty of civilians running around and going about their lives. The problem is that apart from these token NPCs there is not much else going on. Ultimately MGS5 gave the player far more options to sweat over, more toys to play with and placed all these in a very robust game world.
One of my major problems with Wildlands is how the vehicles handle, bear in mind the size of this gameworld: using vehicles to get around is required. They are awful with a few exceptions. The cars handle like boats fitted with pram wheels and once you go off road it becomes every more unwieldy. Helicopters and planes fair a little better: in fact, I quite like how choppers handle and the way you can parachute out into enemy lines is awesome (and well done). Boats look the part but again the way they move across the water just feels wrong, almost like they are not connected to the water properly. Trials bikes, on the other hand, are spot on in the way they rally around the place and skid around corners. This aspect of the game needed to be responsive and well delivered but unfortunately Ubisoft has dropped the ball here. The best tip I can give you is play the game with mouse and keyboard but also have a controller on standby for helicopters, bikes and parachuting: the switch is seamless and gives your far more control.
Skynet can sleep easy
You play the game with a group of AI-controlled soldiers who will follow you around like a pack of lost puppies. You can give some basic commands such as wait, fire and regroup: but this never feels like enough. If you ever end up away from your squad they will be instantly teleported to your side. Likewise, if you take off in a helicopter or drive away solo within seconds the whole squad will just appear on board: it's magic. This mechanism is a very cheap way of solving a problem because otherwise, work would have had to be done on how a deserted squad would act alone. My take on this is it feels wrong and totally breaks the immersion seeing people teleporting around like this. If I'm being fair the squad do have their uses: the best of these is the sync shot which lets you take down various targets at the same time. This is a very overpowered (but also very satisfying) ability and I know friends who take down entire bases with it. Squad members will also run to resuscitate you when you go into a downed state. Like the poor driving, you will get used to what the squad can and can't do over time: but I would have preferred a more robust AI in place.
If you have any friends with Wildlands this is the way to play it, other players drop into your game and the transition is handled very well. Your puppies will be replaced by a real human and this ramps the fun factor through the roof. Missions will still be displayed to each player separately but if you select a mission the other has done or a skill point you have picked up the other player can still assist. So the co-op systems are great but unfortunately the net code is very choppy, sometimes friends have appeared sat outside vehicles are even riding invisible bikes: I hope this is worked on over time but I doubt it.
Is it PC?
First up a PSA, do not play this game on a mechanical hard drive. It seems only an SSD will cut the cheese and even then there are some awful freezing issues in the opening cut scene on PC. I played the game running on mainly high settings and I'm playing on an i7 (4.2GHZ), 16 GB Ram and a 980GTX. The game does seem to have received some optimisation since the closed beta but there is still much work to do here. There is also a litany of bugs and glitches which plague the gameplay. I have twice now ended up in a hole less than 3ft high, but unable to get out due to the game not seeing the walls as climbable. If you do get micro stutters one way to get rid of this is to flip the game into Fullscreen mode then back to windowless. As I have mentioned, the game's visuals are overall stunning but just be aware you need a beast of a system to run this game at max with good framerates.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a massive game from Ubisoft and on many levels deserves praise. The game world we get to play in is both gigantic and crammed with the kind of busy work we now come to expect from a Ubisoft title. There are also some excellent details that if I'm being honest I didn't expect: like when a conversation with HQ is interrupted by combat, this is acknowledged before the conversation can continue. However, for every success, this title has there is a silly design choice or bug to pull it down. Vehicles should have been given far more attention as they are a bread and butter part of the experience. Likewise, the squad mechanics are basic: maybe Ubisoft just assumed players would be playing co-op and so didn't want to spend too much time on AI? I honestly wish they had either put the work into making the squad so something we've not seen before or not bothered at all.
I am going to lay it down like this: for most players, I would wait until Wildlands is in a sale. Then pick it up with a few friends and play the game as it should be played. The major problem Wildlands has is repetition: you will essentially be doing the same thing from start to finish. For some players they will enjoy this process, methodically picking off the many underlings of El Sueno until the final mission comes around. However, I suspect most gamers will be getting fatigued before the credits roll, especially when playing the game solo. Did I have fun playing Wildlands? Yes, I had a tonne of laughs and good moments but like so many Ubisoft games: they continue to sacrifice quality for quantity.
Thank you for reading my review of Ghost Recon: Wildlands on PC. For more honest and epic reviews for PC gaming please check back soon. As always I would very much appreciate you telling your contacts and friends about my site. You can also keep up to date with all my content by following me on Twitter @riggedforepic