Wild and Free
For those of you who don't want to take the time to read the whole thing, basically, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a great, but flawed game that has a ton of potential - doesn't quite play to the strengths it does have, barring the awesome cooperative element for up to 4 friends with complete freedom to choose how they approach every aspect of a mission. It's an open world game, so expect a huge map with a lot to do over 21 provinces - some of them are massive, some smaller and each contain key story missions and other content to dive into.
There's a lot to love, but if you're a long time Ghost Recon fan or a Clancy game fan in general - it might be a little too outside of the normal for you.
Here's our take on why we like it though. Why you should give it a chance, and as always, thanks to Xbox for the code!
Special operations is a fun genre to play around with, and we've had some great games in the Clancy line. From the original Ghost Recon (which was first person) to Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 1 and 2 which took the series into the realm of third person, especially on console, it's been a blast. Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and the like have bolstered the Clancy brand and there's always die-hard fans out there who love their brand the best.
Me I love Splinter Cell, really loved Blacklist and I'm a big Ghost Recon fan. So when I saw Wildlands finally came down the pipe for review, I put a ton of time into it. I haven't completed the main story yet, and I've taken down a single province properly, working on the second. Because to be honest, this game is bloody huge.
It's also fun.
It's somewhat empty though, doesn't feel as alive or as reactive as it was promised to be... but beyond that - it's provided me with countless hours of third person shooter action, the kind of action that I used to love from Mercenaries and Just Cause, only without the over the top destruction, or crazy stunts that Rico are capable of.
Play It Your Way!
You play (callsign) Nomad, a custom Ghost operative that you can design based on a few face templates and features. Whilst it's not as in-depth as say Mass Effect or Saint's Row 3 levels of customisation, what's there is great for the kind of game it is. You can pick Male or female as a gender, choose your Ghost's look from a fairly decent variety of face choices and round it out with a nice array of outfits that cover casual, civilian, military and special operations styles, with paid and free outfits added from time to time.
This customisation plays into the ethos of the game, player choice and freedom to do what you want with very few limitations.
The Ghosts are dropped off in the massive country of Bolivia and given a broad task, from there you get to choose missions in any order and the narrative unfolds organically as you complete the story missions, side tasks (quests) and various other things that Ubisoft are fond of in open worlds.
The idea is that you're working your way through the Santa Blanca Drug Cartel, to El Sueno, the boss of bosses - the big guy in charge, drawing him out and making his life hell by disrupting every aspect of his cartel's hierarchy. The more you dismantle his organisation, the more he wants to come after you and the less his soldiers will have to throw at you when he does.
Or that's the theory, in practise it never actually seems you make a dent in their operational capacity beyond the narrative side of things. After taking down his training regimen in one of the provinces I expected less hardware and less experienced soldiers after a while. This did not seem to be the case, so maybe the world's not as interactive as Ubisoft promised in various interviews and gameplay streams.
A minor thing when you're having this much fun though!
You'll rip through 21 provinces of Bolivia gaining XP to level your Ghost, picking up fuel, meds, comms and other resource points to help you level your skills. The skills allow you to pick the kind of Ghost you want to play, focusing on some key abilities to make your life easier in the long run.
The stealth is pretty good, the AI detection is a bit ropey at times, but it's passable. The run and gun aspect of the game is superb, with decent engagement ranges and bullet drop/physics and there are a nice swathe of vehicles to play with across land, sea and air.
Note: Some folks have issues with the chopper controls, personally, I don't. I can fly the choppers in this game pretty well and it takes a little getting used to. I found that the best way to do it is to hold down the RT, push forward on the left stick, let the chopper build up speed and nose toward the ground, then slowly let back on the left stick and level out - do it right and you get some pretty solid speed, do it wrong and you'll plough the nose of the chopper right into the ground.
Ground vehicles have different handling characteristics, they're arcade in feel, many of them are twitchy and loose - they could do with perhaps a little bit more of a tweak, bring them in line with Watch_Dogs 2, they're almost there.
Water vehicles are pretty solid.
Planes take a lot of practise to fly.
There's a pretty solid auto-save system, you die and you'll roll back to a previous checkpoint or just outside the mission area.
You can also have up to 3 characters, each with their own progression, so you can play with other people and not have to worry about your solo character progress being affected.
The drone is back from Future Soldier and can be customised with a variety of loadouts, used to tag enemies and provide tactical awareness.
There's a difficulty level for everyone, and you can even have different players on different difficulties in co-op.
You can play the game with Aim Down Sights or switch to pure third person view. Personally I like the mix of third person when moving around, and aiming down the sights when using the left trigger. You cannot play the game in first person, only as a hybrid. Which suits me just fine.
Army of 4 (Solo)
At the moment the solo AI isn't brilliant in Wildlands, it's passable and there are times when it's downright helpful. There's also times when it's just totally useless and gets in the way more than it aids you. With no option to disable Midas, Weaver and Holt in single player it can get a little bothersome for some - personally I quite like the way they interact with each other, typical spec-ops mil banter and bravado.
You can give them simple orders to try and maximise their potential, and after a few squad skill tree buys they do become better than they were before. You can also sync-shot just like in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, up to 3 targets which can be engaged by holding down the A button when prompted to do so, or triggered from the next shot you fire. That way you can set up complex takedowns and let the AI handle up to 3 extra tangos.
The AI can't use vehicles beyond sitting in them, or using mounted weapons on trucks/choppers and so on. You'll always be driving.
You can enjoy the game solo even with the dodgy AI, I am.
Army of 4 (Co-op)
Ghost Recon: Wildlands comes alive when you're in a squad of 4 people, all human players, all custom Ghosts and all working together as a team. There's something badass about clearing a whole base of bad guys with your friends, coordinating attacks and synching shots together through voice chat. The multiplayer side of the game is easy to get into, you can invite friends quickly and simply, join their games and everything you do earns you XP even if you've completed that section of the map.
The moment you join or host co-op you're also down to just you and your friends, say there's 2 of you? That's all you get, the other slots are not filled by AI.
Vehicles often come with various gunner emplacements, such as the Blackhawk inspired Unidad attack chopper with twin mounted doorguns. Or the Unidad SUV, with a big minigun. You can also usually shoot from a passenger position on the current vehicle.
I've had a ton of fun with co-op in the game, and it's one of the best implementations of cooperative play in a military style shooter I've seen in a while.
The way that missions are structured means that you can go after them together, or separately and each player can do a mix of side and main missions across the whole of Bolivia. Nothing is locked down and there's complete freedom to do what you want. One player can raise hell in a Unidad base, whilst the others are in another region sneaking around a cartel outpost and slowly taking tangos out of the equation.
It is a lot of fun.
Not Ghost Recon
It isn't Ghost Recon as you would know it, that's fine, things have to change or they stagnate. You can't keep making the same dyed in the wool shooters for years and expect people to love them. I'm pretty happy with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, for what it is, not what I want it to be. That's the key to enjoying it too - it's a great game when you stop comparing it to what Ghost Recon was and start looking at how it lets you play your own way, do what you want (within reason) and have fun with friends when you want to play cooperatively.
It's also a nice looking game, and it runs really well on the Xbox One. I've been playing a while now and I've had very few issues - graphically there has been a slight texture issue now and then on some of the wider views, but Ubisoft have since fixed this issue with a patch. What it's doing though is staggering, this is a game that delivers Bolivia, all 21 regions of it, with mountains and forests and so forth as far as the eye can see. It is doing a massive amount when you look at it, and it's also throwing together an open world that's stunning to look at, especially at night.
The weather effects are also some of the best I've seen since the storms in Red Dead Redemption, and those were terrific.
If you've got an issue with the way military folks speak, then you're going to probably want to avoid Wildlands. The story and the dialogue were crafted by a guy who writes crime novels and stories for a living, who hangs around with spec ops, who talks to gangers and knows the culture and attitude down to a T. The writing is certainly not to everyone's taste, but when the shooting side of things is this much fun, I can forgive it.
The voice work is pretty solid, and El Sueno is played by a famous voice - you might have heard and seen him recently in Daredevil as Wilson Fisk, where he played a very nuanced version of the Kingpin. Vincent D'Onofrio is superb as El Sueno.
The rest of the voice work, hit and miss.
The music is superb as well, the score swells at the right moment, dips into gentler melodies at the right time and provides a solid backdrop for the whole experience.
Guns Guns Guns
Gunsmith is back, it's bigger, better and more complex than ever. It's also easy to use, and along with Charactersmith lets you control every aspect of your Ghost and loadout. Though it's odd to be able to call on a myriad of guns and equipment at the drop of a hat.
Charactersmith lets you save up to 6 outfits, and whilst they have no in-game mechanical effect, they let you look cool.
Ouch, yeah, don't get me started on that topic. I'm not a big fan of them at the best of times and 20 or so dollars for something like a Division pack is approaching Activision levels of DLC. I am not a fan of the in-game store at all.
So I'll just leave that as my one fly in the ointment.
The Final Shot
I feel the game's definitely worth a punt. It gets great fun when you have to adapt your tactics on the fly, comes to total life when you're playing with your buddies out in the Wildlands and it's extremely impressive in terms of landscape and map design.
It's a game I can't wait to see develop, since Ubi have already made changes to the title based on fan feedback. There's also 4v4 PvP coming - so stay tuned for that!
See you in the Wildlands.