Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands isn’t unique in a lot of areas. It isn’t particularly groundbreaking in terms of bringing new content to the genre of the 3rd person military tactical shooter, but it also isn’t guilty of not trying to be something truly great. Wildlands is a truly massive game. In the spirit of open world sandbox games this ranks right up there with the biggest in terms of size. [Reviewed by Sean Gearhart]
In most accurate estimates the map size is about 576 square kilometers. For reference, ARMA 3 is 270 square kilometers. It covers 21 different regions with most of them having their own unique look to them. If you haven’t played the game yet it is hard to understand how gorgeous this game is in terms of its environment. Staggering mountain landscapes to the amazingly deep jungles and rivers. It is all very picturesque. I must hand it to the developers on how well done the environment is. While it is not new to see beautiful open world games, it is new to see one in a 3rd person tactical shooter of this size and scope. In Ghost Recon Wildlands, the environment is really the crowning achievement. But let us be honest, we don’t buy games just to look at the environment.
Just for those who are wondering, I have currently put over 34 hours into the game since launch and I am at 53% of the story complete. Keep that in mind as you read on.
To avoid spoiling the story aspect of the game let me just say that while it isn’t an entirely original idea it serves its purpose quite well. The player is tasked with dismantling the 4 different wings of the Santa Blanca drug cartel. Security, Trafficking, Distribution and Influence. Each of the games 21 regions falls under one of these wings of the cartel and the player must take out each of the buchon’s and then underbosses to get access to take out the head of each cartel faction.
Once the player has eliminated all the main bosses in the 4 different wings of the cartel the player can then go after the game’s main boss, El Sueno. It is fun to see how the game reacts to the player dismantling the different cartel factions. There is a small backstory to each cartel buchon that leads to a much larger story for each faction’s underboss and main boss. While the game is not story rich, it provides enough to keep the player interested in tackling the different regions until completion. DJ Perico’s time cannot come soon enough!
The leveling system that the game presents is straightforward enough, if not a bit bland. I have no complaints about what categories they chose to allow the player to get skill points to upgrade. They function well enough and skill points are not hard to come by. In fact, you will probably have an excess of them and find yourself with nothing to spend them on. The issue comes from the fact that the game has required that on top of skill points you must attain specific resources in addition to the skill points to upgrade your specific skills. This feels entirely arbitrary to me and unneeded.
They aren’t as monotonous as say, Assassin’s Creed’s ‘go-here-fetch-this’ tasks but they still feel like a grind. They are also in no way attached to the specific skill trees in a way that makes any sense. Why should I need food resources to upgrade my weapon control or why do I need fuel resources to upgrade the lethality of my squad? I am convinced that this is just an attempt to keep the player playing the game after the main story is complete, which in my opinion is not needed as the game still provides plenty of areas to explore and with enemies respawning at major control points, there is always someone to shoot and somewhere to go.
It feels like they didn’t trust the major strength of this game, which is its entire base. Go somewhere and shoot someone or blow something up. These resource side missions are unnecessary. However, the side missions that surround the rebels are not nearly as bad. The player is tasked with completing certain tasks for the rebels which in turn directly lead to strengthening the player’s support from the rebels and directly impacts the player’s ability to call in mortar strikes, car deliveries, troop support and tagging ability from the rebel forces.
Enemy AI is a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. At times, they are unrelentingly brutal. Other times, they can’t seem to figure out where in the world the player is shooting from or how to find you. Though I have noticed this a whole lot less in the final build of the game from what it was in the open beta. Having said this, I would mention that they are not stupid either. The experience this game will provide is heavily tied to the difficulty level you play it on. If a person chooses to play it on the easiest difficulty the player is going to get used to some run and gun tactics and have a pretty hard time later in the game when stealth is a necessity on some harder missions and the run and gun stuff absolutely will not work. It is my recommendation that anyone playing this game do so on the Advanced difficulty.
Enemy AI is smart and lethal but with some good planning is still very beatable. But be warned; mess up and you will die quickly. Fortunately, the punishment for dying is not really all that extreme and the player will more than likely find themselves right outside the mission area they just attempted or at the nearest base if they die during a non-mission open world attack. Let me just say that in my opinion, while this game can be played from a run and gun attitude, I do not think that it should be. The key to a successful mission in this game is planning and utilizing all the tools that the game presents to you to achieve victory. Don’t get me wrong. There are times where outright firefights will occur and you must go loud but that should not be your main approach. This game really excels when you stop treating it like GTA V or Far Cry and treat it like what it is trying to be, a tactical 3rd person shooter.
Let me address one of the concerns that Ghost Recon Wildlands presents. I have heard many arguments about how while the map size is truly massive it isn’t really populated that well and there really isn’t that much to do. While that is partially true when compared to games like GTA V one must keep in mind that this is a fictional Bolivia and the terrain and environments fit very well into how their real-world counterparts are. There are no massive cities. The game does a very good job of filling the areas that it has with people and scenarios that would be accurate to the area that it is portraying. If you are looking for a heavily populated Bolivian Los Santos then you are in the wrong game my friend.
However, it’s not all desert rose and cactus here. While the areas are portrayed quite well to reality, the people that are in those areas just don’t seem like they are really “all there”. Yes, they will react to things that you do. They get scared when you go into a town and just start shooting wildly or they will run and hide when you pull them from a car. They will even jump out of the way if you come hurtling towards them in a vehicle but overall, they are pretty much just lifeless filler for you to either ignore or to mow down on your way to eliminating the cartel. If you accidentally kill one of them, you will get a message on your screen that you have killed a civilian and you might get a nasty radio message from one of your AI controlled squad mates, but that is all that happens.
There are no real-world consequences to killing a civilian. Again, I can understand why the game will not punish you for killing a civilian. It happens all too often. They will run directly into your line of fire as they are escaping the inevitable fire fights that ensue in crowded areas and they will often drive right into the middle of your mission areas or they can often get caught in one of your mortar strikes. The point is that this is a busy world and collateral damage is going to occur and to get punished every time it does would have been wildly frustrating when a great deal of the time it is beyond the player’s control.
In the end, I would have to call this just an area that is, what it is. In my opinion, it is neither a negative nor a positive. It is just the reality of how the game must function to not be overly aggressive with player punishment. It’s a morally grey area. But let’s be honest here; this is a group of 4 soldiers taking on a drug cartel with no rules of engagement. It is not exactly mass on a Sunday morning. Ghost Recon Wildlands doesn’t really claim to be one that cares about the morality issue. BulletsForBolivia.
The player movement mechanics of Ghost Recon Wildlands are functional. They are not particularly intuitive but are not overly complicated either. They are fairly in line with what we have come to expect from most modern day 3rd person tactical shooters. The game does a nice job of allowing the player to choose to either aim in first person mode with their weapon or choose to aim from a pulled back, over-the-shoulder view from either left or right side of the player’s body.
The host of weapon optics that the player can find in-game are a complement to this first person aiming view with some optics even having the ability to switch reticules on the fly. You can even choose to bring the aiming reticule closer to the player’s POV or farther away to provide a better sight picture.
The one major complaint that I have personally comes when we examine the cover system that we find. I really dislike it. I have always preferred a system that allows me to pull into cover with a button press and to stay there until I press a button to get out of cover. For me, the cover system in The Division was pretty much perfect and I really feel that Ghost Recon Wildlands could have benefited massively – no pun intended – from a cover system like what The Division offers.
Instead, what we get with Ghost Recon Wildlands is a move up against cover system that provides little to no shoot-from-cover opportunities. Yes, while behind cover you are safe in certain scenarios and what you choose to take cover behind makes a difference as well but the cover system just feels like an afterthought here and with so many other things being done so well it’s very hard for me to understand why a 3rd person tactical shooter failed to implement a meaningful cover system. With the cover system, they have chosen to go with, blind firing from over cover or around the side of building from cover is impossible without completely exposing the player to incoming fire. This is the one area of the game that I find completely unforgivable.
The vast number of weapons, attachments and loadout options are extremely robust in this game. Player customization is not in short supply here. Ghost Recon Wildlands does a tremendous job of allowing the player to really customize their ghost to how they want to look and how they want to play. While the options are all too vast to cover in this review, I must say that it is right up there with the best in terms of player customization and freedom for playstyle.
A major area of concern for me was weapon mechanics and ballistics. How would the weapons stand out from each other in terms of how they handled? Would they feel distinctly different from one another or would they all feel and shoot pretty much the same? While there isn’t a huge difference in terms of weapon feel within each class of weapon the different classes of weapons are diverse enough and handle differently enough to really make you choose which weapons you want for each scenario, which is a very good thing. I have found myself choosing very thoughtfully and deliberately switching to my sidearm when going into a close combat scenario versus continuing to use my assault rifle and the game does a very nice job of simulating the maneuverability factor of each weapon.
For example, in a close quarter combat scenario inside a building you would not want to use an assault rifle in terms of speed of movement. It is much wiser to stick with an SMG or sidearm when going into a room where speed and stealth matter. In the wide-open spaces, the opposite is true. You pretty much never want to use an SMG in the wide-open spaces of Bolivia. Overall, gun play is satisfying and rewarding. That is a good thing. Considering that 75% of this game is gun play, it had better be!
An issue that I have seen mentioned quite often with regards to the gun play is sniping. Sniping in this game is a bit of a hot topic. No, it is not completely accurate. It’s a game. Not one game out there today gets it totally right. ARMA 3 on PC would be the closest and that is some darn hard work to snipe correctly on that game from any measurable distance. Instead, the ballistics model we get in Ghost Recon Wildlands replicates closer to what we see in the Battlefield series with one major difference. Engagement distances are not as extreme as in Battlefield 4.
Most of the time, sniping in this game will take place at anywhere from 100 yards out to 400 yards. Anything beyond that is risky business as enemies tend to get alerted very quickly if you miss that shot and it goes anywhere near them. I have seen many complaints about the bullet drop in Ghost Recon Wildlands being far too significant. Without going into some exhaustive ballistics and drag coefficient lesson, suffice it to say that for a video game it is closer to reality than not.
What people have been taught in video games with respect to bullet drop comes largely from Battlefield and that is wildly inaccurate. Sniping in Wildlands takes some time and some patience as the player must account for appropriate bullet drop and time for the round to get to the target. Once you have it down though, it is extremely rewarding to hear that bullet hit its target and to get those nice headshot kills. The puzzling thing with regards to sniping in this game is that the developer has chosen not to give the player an optic that is stronger than a 6x magnification scope. For a game this large and this open, it is very puzzling to me why they did not at least give a 10x magnification scope for those inevitable extreme long range kills that players would want to take.
Ghost Recon Wildlands also mysteriously renders AI enemies out of view completely at around the 750-meter mark and with the limitation of scope magnification it really makes those long-distance shots next to an impossibility. I have a hard time thinking that the developer is not purposely restricting us in some way. They surely would have known that given the size of the operating areas and the distance that a player can see in this game that some of us would want to be setting up those insanely long distance sniper shots from over the 1000-meter mark and as it stands now, you really can’t. A bit disappointing in my opinion.
In my opinion I would have to say that UbiSoft has done a great overall job with this game. It isn’t broken on delivery like a lot of new games these days. It serves its own purpose darn well and it is a ton of fun when you play the game how it was designed to be played. It allows for a wealth of variety of ways to do this however and it is up to the player to figure out how it’s best for them to tackle things within the confines of how the game presents itself.
As I stated before, just don’t treat it like GTA V, Far Cry or Just Cause and it will really start to shine for you! So, do I recommend Ghost Recon Wildlands? Yes, I do. It is very hard to not find this game enjoyable. With the scope of the game, the size of the game and what it presents for the player to accomplish you could easily sit down and start to finish get upwards of 50 hours out of the game. It is truly a game that excels at being solid all the way around and today that is a good thing! Is it perfect? No. I have my own complaints as you have been able to read but in the end Ghost Recon Wildlands cannot be all things to all people. Does that mean it’s a bad game? Not at all. In fact, it’s the biggest game launch of 2017 so far. That is saying something quite substantial folks.
[Review by Sean Gearhart]