by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Welcome Back To Bolivia!
Okay, so I gushed quite a bit over the closed beta of Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Matt Porter and I had a blast sneaking and blasting our way through one of the twenty one provinces of the Bolivian countryside, and I felt it was a good first sign for the reimagining of the series as an open world military action game to break away from the linear cinematic touch of the last few entries to the series. Needless to say, the second I could get my hands on Wildlands I was eager to dive back in and see if my first impression of it held up over the course of the game.
Breath of the Wildlands
In the closed beta, we were able to clear the province of Itacua; it felt like a meaty sized portion on its own, with several side missions, six main missions, and several different collectibles in the form of weapons, weapon attachments, intel files, skill points and special medals, and most importantly resources to aid the rebel cause in the region. The latter will also be used whenever you're upgrading your character's skill trees, so it's very well worth it to keep an eye out for them everywhere you go.
Take what we got in the beta, and multiply that by 21. From low lying plains, to deep jungles, rocky cliffs, snowy mountaintops, an obnoxiously large lake, several rivers, and blinding salt flats are what await you. Not to mention all the enemy compounds, settlements, and even a few towns big enough they could count as cities. The best part of this massive setting is that, as you hop from task to task the map never feels like it's empty or heartless. Whether you're trying to land on a runway blocked by stray cattle, seeing people in mourning at a makeshift memorial, or even finding NPCs investigating plane and helicopter crashes in the middle of nowhere, it feels alive.
That's not to say that the entire map feels particularly useful however. It's huge, it's fun, but unless you're flying it often does take forever to get anywhere. Don't get me wrong, it looks beautiful but even for as much content as they've squeezed into the game a few dozen more optional outposts would've been appreciated.
One Player Army
Considering even some of the worst games can be fun in a co-op setting (and considering a large portion of my beta preview covered the co-op), I thought the best approach to determining the overall quality would be to put co-op on the back burner (it's a blast, be sure) and focus more on a single player approach.
Giving the friendly AI more of a chance, on the hardest difficulty, I've changed my mind on my initial thoughts of them during the beta. In the beta, they seemed pretty useless. In actuality, they're about as useless as you allow them to be. While their order assortment could use more variation, utilizing Hold, Go Here, Regroup, and Fire as a basic go-to (not to mention Sync Shots on marked targets) you can actually get quite a bit out of the otherwise mindless drones.
I cannot stress enough, if you just have them following you that's when they feel useless. Before you advance on any enemy location you're going to want to use your drone to scout the area, and get them into position on one side of the compound while you infiltrate on the other. As you sneak through, mark targets for them to take down from a safe vantage while you do most of the footwork. Should things go sour, which if you're me they often did, give them the order to Fire and they'll start moving towards your position as they engage enemy combatants with deadly efficiency unless they get caught off guard by someone. Having this little strategy in hand made my time in singleplayer nearly as fun as it was in co-op. If you're someone who likes to sit back and snipe, don't worry, I have an answer for that as well. You can use your drone to slowly guide them through the camp between your shots and then let them loose when you see fit.
Critical Weak Point
As fun as the game is to play, I have a major gripe, one that has earned its own section. That would be the overall story for Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The individual intel is fine enough, most offering at least savory bites here and there of a serious story. But far too often, there are moments that just seem entirely out of character for a series that's always been grounded in a serious tone. From the most ridiculous of radio hosts, to some of the drug lords themselves (when you hear a woman talking about how impressed she is by the manhood on a dead body, you're not intimidated; you've just got to roll your eyes), to even the big bad himself El Sueno who is completely covered in tattoos that don't look intimidating, they look silly and try to drive home the fact that he is definitely the main villain. Every time I started to take part of the plot seriously, I was taken aback by another cringeworthy moment in the narrative that would be better placed in the 'story' of a Just Cause game. Much of the story seems comical and draws away from the actual serious moments. I'm just thankful that the gameplay itself gets me past all of that. I'll make my own stories where the writers have let me down here.
Boots On The Ground
Ghost Recon: Wildlands isn't perfect. For its strides forward, it takes some backwards in areas I feel should not be sacrificed. As a co-op title, it's awesome. As a single player experience, it's great. If you're looking for a narrative thriller, or even just a basic interesting story, you won't find it here. What you will find is plenty to see, and plenty to shoot along the way to take down the cartel plague of Bolivia.
Plays well as a co-op or singleplayer experience, great locale variation, plenty to do.
Needs even more enemy outposts to take down, narrative is cringeworthy drivel.