Ghost Recon: Wildlands Preview

Last week I was able to sit down and play Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Tom Clancy franchise, Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Wildlands switches things up from previous entries in the series by placing the titular Ghosts in an open world. This obviously changes things quite a bit and provides for experiences that simply were not available before. And while quite the departure from earlier games, a number of staples of the franchise have returned. But it remains to be seen whether or not Wildlands will be a return to form or be at home as a Just Cause game.

If you want to check out more info on Wildlands, checkout our interview with developers Nouredine Abboud and Dominic Butler here.

My playtime started with the beginning of the game when the US Army Special Forces Reconnaissance Unit, known as the Ghosts, is sent into Bolivia to take down Santa Blanca, a Mexican drug cartel that has taken over. Wildlands is looking to give you ample freedom as you take down the cartel and that’s obvious from the start. Immediately after the game’s lengthy opening cutscene, you are given an objective and a map pointing the way to said objective. And that’s pretty much it. You’re not told how to complete it. Wildlands leaves that up to you.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is not only the first Ghost Recon game to go open world, but the first Tom Clancy title to do so. While I never got any hard numbers on how big the game is, I was told that it is the largest open world that Ubisoft has made to date. That world consists of 11 biomes spread across 21 provinces, which are in turn controlled by a total of 26 Santa Blanca bosses. In order to take down the Santa Blanca, you will participate in over 100 main missions as you take down these bosses to disrupt production, smuggling operations, security, and influence. As I said, how you actually accomplish these objectives is your choice. That was really the driving message of the event: your Ghosts, your way.

Given that the game is so open, progressing through the campaign is not like previous titles. Instead of having a dozen or so multi-objective missions, Wildlands’ missions are broken down into smaller bites. For example, my first mission was to find a captured rebel, but it was divided up into parts. My first objective was to simply find and interrogate a Santa Blanca lieutenant. My second objective was then to find and extract the rebel. Because your objectives are often simple, the game doesn’t funnel you down a particular path or play style. The developers want players to approach these objectives from virtually any angle. And with anybody.

One of the standout aspects of the new game that I was told about and witnessed is the drop-in/drop-out co-op. From start to finish, the entire game can be played either solo or with 2-4 friends online and they can join and leave at any time and not mess up your progress. When a player joins, they will simply replace one of your AI squadmates and when they leave, they, in turn, will be replaced.

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I have to say my time with the game was definitely better without additional humans creating extra chaos but that can be said for any cooperative experience where you don’t know the other players and if you’re not communicating well. Which we definitely were not. The important thing is, however, that no players will be locked out of any content if they choose to play the game one way or another. There are no objectives or missions designed solely for solo or co-op play.

Having been a long time fan of and given the changes from earlier games, I was a little hesitant going in Wildlands but was not prepared for just how different the game would feel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the game is unrecognizable as a Ghost Recon game as a number of elements return that were missing from the most recent game, 2012’s Future Soldier. Once again you can easily command your squad of three to move to a location, hold their position, regroup, or attack a specific enemy. Returning from the Advanced Warfare entries in the franchise is the UAV, a remote-controlled tiny eye-in-the-sky that you can deploy to scout out areas. Returning from Future Soldier is Sync Shot, which allows you to mark multiple enemies and shoot them all at the same time for a coordinated takedown.

New to the series is a pretty deep character customization system called CharacterSmith. In addition to being able to customize your weapons with different scopes and muzzles in GunSmith, you can now customize the way your character looks and plays. Continuing the theme of letting you play how you want, Wildlands boasts the option for you to play as a woman or a man and to kit them out with different Kevlar vests, hats, and bandannas, among other things. Beyond that, you can upgrade you character as you play, increasing the number of targets you can tag in Sync Shot, the range of your UAV, and your accuracy with scoped weapons. The result doesn’t appear to be that players will become godlike by the end of the game. The various skills are simply there to let you be better at the play-style you enjoy, be it stealth or blowing everything up.

And that brings up my biggest hesitation: it’s too easy to just blow stuff up and not play tactically. In my limited time with the early portion of the game, I often found that it was easier to just run into an area and shoot my enemies rather than to try and proceed the way a covert operative might. I rarely used quad commands or cover because a bombastic play-style just seemed to work better. Hopefully, that’s not indicative of the rest of the game and there are higher difficulties to play on, but for veterans of the series, it’s worth noting that the game doesn't seem like will force your play as strategically as it has in the past.

In the end, I came away from my time with Ghost Recon: Wildlands conflicted. It's a truly massive game in scope, size, and, potentially, depth. It’s definitely impressive what Ubisoft Paris has created and I have little doubt that it will provide a lot of fun for a lot of people. But my biggest concern is whether or not it will be a good experience for people who have been fans of the series for a long time. Still, two things are certain: this ain't your dad's Ghost Recon and we don't have long to wait and see how it all plays out. Ghost Recon: Wildlands infiltrates stores on March 7, 2017.

Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.