Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands, one of the many military themed games by Ubisoft to have the brand name of "Tom Clancy", but it's been a few years since seeing a new Ghost Recon game released. The Ghost Recon games based within the Future Soldier realm were back in 2012- 2014. We all know the Ghost Recon series much like it's other Ubisoft brother, Rainbow Six, has been a military themed, third person(Ghost Recon) and/or third person(Rainbow Six) shooter, even though both series have or have had some gameplay elements that dabbed a bit in third/first person gameplay mechanics. However, things have been changed a bit with the newest installment of Ghost Recon. Obviously, if you haven't noticed Wildlands trades in the linear style, cover shooter gameplay that was present in the past game for an open world, shooter environment that is meant to be played however you want it to play. Once you start playing Wildlands, get through the typical "tutorial" level, you are left on your own to choose which area of operation you want to begin in, take on any operation you want to stop the Santa Blanca cartel, rinse and repeat.
First off, to give a bit more insight as to what the game is about though, Wildlands puts you into the role of the new Ghost leader of this game, Nomad, your avatar that you are able to fully customize to look however you want. The Ghosts are a Tier 1 SOF unit within the US Army, similar to the US Navy's SEAL Team Six Red Squadron or the Russian Spetsnaz's KSO unit, but super super secret within the Ghost Recon universe. They are to take no credit for any successful operations and no one is to know of their existence. In Wildlands, their area of operations takes place in Bolivia, where they are tasked by the CIA's Special Activity Division, working with your handler Karen Bowman, and given the responsibility of disrupting the Santa Blanca drug cartel's operations from security, production, influence and smuggling of drugs. You have some help from the "rebels" of course. The head of the Santa Blanca cartel is El Sueno. But, before you can get to him, you have to take out and gather intel from his lieutenants and their underbosses. It's a very typical drug cartel story. Not great, but not terrible. It's a case where the story has been told a thousand times in other games and mediums, both better and worse. However, what makes the story of this game a little bit more engaging is how the leaders within the Santa Blanca cartel are given their own briefings, their own backstory to see where they came from and how they found their way into allying themselves with El Sueno. Yeah... money, power, sex, and fear had a lot to do with it for most of them, but watching the briefing videos for all of them was cool. Even watching how it influences their characters and seeing the decline of the cartel as you take out these key figures is interesting to watch. But, unfortunately that's as far as the story goes. It has enough to engage you, but it never really excels beyond that unfortunately.
So, onto what's most important when people see the advertisements of Ghost Recon Wildlands. If I had to keep it short, the game is fun. Fun, but repetitive. If you're someone who gets easily bored with these types of games, it's best to keep sessions short or play the game mostly on co-op with friends. Although, don't worry this game can 100% be played solo. Your fireteam will just be with 3 AI controlled teammates. Now the repetitiveness doesn't come as a surprise given that this is a modern Ubisoft game that utilizes Ubisoft's universal gameplay mechanics that we've seen in other recent games they've made. As I said before, Wildlands is set in an open world... a big open world. You won't run out of things to do for quite a while, but most of those things involve doing the same thing within each new area. To explain what this means, in my previous paragraph, you're tasked with disrupting the Santa Blanca cartels operations. There are four lieutenants who are in charge of a specific operation within the cartel that insures they influence and remain in power over the Bolivian government, which are security, influence, production and trafficking. Under each of these lieutenants are five underbosses, each one with their own area plus a couple more areas. You do missions to confront the underbosses, you get closer to dealing with the lieutenant and their second in command, which gets you closer to killing El Sueno. In each of these regions you gather intel to reveal the location of new weapons(which there are about several different ones for each type of weapon such as assault rifles, sub-machine guns, LMGS, sniper rifles, etc.), new weapon attachments, "medals" that further improve a skill, skill points, rebel operations to improve rebel related assets, and resources. To those who hopefully remember, this game is similar to Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction in terms of structure with story and gameplay. Not done as well as Mercenaries, but that's another story for a different time. If you've played games like Far Cry or Assassin's Creed, both Ubisoft games, you know what you're in for. You have these collection type tasks to do, and you do it over and over again in each new area. Yes, it's repetitive, but that's the nature of the beast... especially the Ubisoft one. Remember, Wildlands allows you to play however you want. You're free to skip the item hunting and just do story related missions. Missions take place in areas that will 90% of the time have an item to collect. Just remember though, you'll unfortunately miss out on some valuable weapons, attachments, and skills if you choose to skip this because what will end up happening is that the game will start to feel very bare bones. There are skills that you need to absolutely get because of how much more fun they make the game because they either make your operator and/or fireteam operate more efficiently or expand your options on how to approach a mission, and this isn't possible just from leveling up your character alone(I'll get more into this later) because you need to spend skill points. There are weapon attachments that improve weapon handling, accuracy, increased magazine capacity, better combat optics, etc. These are just things that make it hard to not get. And given that the game allows you to customize all of your weapons with the different attachments you've collected and paint each part differently, again, it sucks that the item collecting, or the process of getting to them gets tiresome and puts a halt to story progression, but you have the freedom to do it however and whenever you want to.
Now I know you keep hearing that, "you can play however you want", "it can be played anyway you want it to be", etc. Well, it's true. The game allows you to explore whatever tactical or non-tactical avenue you can think of that's possible in Wildlands. Although it mostly dwindles down to either going in stealthily or going gung ho. There are different types of missions that range from extracting friendly/enemy HVT for interrogation, destroying cartel installations and secret tech, assassination, recon and intel gathering, etc. In Wildlands, you're free to shoot shit up, take a more stealthy and minimalist approach using concealment and suppressors under the cover of night, recon an area with your drone and plan synchronized shots with your AI controlled fireteam/co-op teammates on enemies using sniper rifles, engage in some CQB action, parachute in, find openings in an enemy encampment and infiltrate that way, call in rebel reinforcements to aid you on a raid to act as cannon fodder, call in a mortar barrage, there are several ways to complete missions depending on what the objective is and you're free to switch it up anytime you feel like the game starts to stagnate. When you've explored these different ways and successfully implemented them, you feel rewarded with how patient you were, the planning you put into a mission, how swiftly you executed it or you can't believe that you survived an onslaught of enemy reinforcements after things didn't go as planned. This game does fulfill the guilty pleasure of "role playing" as a Tier 1 operator, given that you're able to customize the look of your player character and your weapons. And once again, like other Ubisoft games, specifically Far Cry and in some cases the most recent Splinter Cell games, you have that kind of freedom. The only penalty you'll ever have is either met with more enemy forces who are searching your last known location or a mission failed from being detected, which again, there are only a few of these missions which are most of the time very easy. Wildlands is both a tactical and non-tactical friendly game. Don't take non-tactical too lightly though, the enemy AI has no problem targeting JUST you and ventilating you in seconds. You can get away with the run n' gun on small checkpoints with less than 5 enemies, but fortified bases and when choppers start coming in, you're going to have to be revived a few times before you just get a game over and respawn at the nearest spawn location. You still need to utilize cover/terrain and have good situational awareness in this game. You'll need to find both obstacles and the environment to physically cover your whole body(you'll notice AI being able to get shots on the smallest of exposed limbs) and you need to know where enemies are coming from in both distant and close quarter areas, because the game unfortunately suffers from the dreaded psychic soldier you've seen in other games. They're super accurate at far ranges even when you're concealed by tall grass and 500 meters away(camouflage is non-existent in this game, stealth is based on standing/crouched/prone stances and lighting), and occasionally they'll respawn out of nowhere. That's just the enemy AI. Your teammate AI in this game ranges from "hey idiot he's right in front of you" to they can handle it themselves easily with zero problems. This is a disappointing aspect of the game, where even though co-op makes this a non-issue by having human controlled characters, for a series that falls under third person tactical shooter, why are we still given this problem of inconsistent AI controlled teammates, with minimal orders for input? You can order your fireteam around, but it's limited to just four options: "Fire", "Hold Position", "Move There", and "Regroup". It just feels lacking in this regard, and you're supposed to be the team leader, so why would my leadership role be so diminished when the AI automatically executes actions based on whether or not your using stealth or if you get into a firefight when you don't need to issue orders to them to engage in either? The only time you feel you have full control over what they do is when you try to execute synchronized shots, you just have to wait for them to acquire a clear line of sight of the marked target or when you're in a vehicle and you order them to engage any nearby enemy. Luckily, your AI comrades can be revived an infinite number of time, and almost always, they make it back to revive you when you're put into a bleed out state, however you're given a max number of bleed out times before it's game over. Don't worry, game over just means you respawn near the objective and you have to retry the mission. So, there's both some really good and really bad points to having an AI controlled squad over a player controlled one. The AI can make the game easier than it is, by taking care of enemies for you, or they can just make things more annoying by doing nothing.
Earlier, I mentioned the need to find skill points, which are needed to learn new skills, which range from unlocking a grenade launcher, new equipment for use such as C4 or diversion lures, improve your drone's spotting effectiveness, increase drone battery life, make AI teammates more damage resistant, improved scope stability, etc. and each of these skills also have different ranks which further improve that skill. If you hadn't guessed it, Wildlands has a level up system(max level is level 30). Each level gained grants you a skill point to spend. But, it's not enough. Each skill you acquire will need up to 3- 6 skill points to unlock a single higher leveled skill. In addition, these skills require resources. There are four different types of resources to acquire and you'll need quite a bunch of them. That's why gathering intel to reveal skill point pick ups(which can reward either 1 point or 5 points), resource missions and attacking resources convoys(which spawn infinitely throughout the map) are so important. Now you know why it can feel bare bones if you don't try to get some of these goodies. The only skills that don't require resources to upgrade or skill points are rebel skills. Rebel skills are things such as requesting a vehicle drop off, rebel reinforcements/diversion, mortars and spotting(this skill will become your most valuable and used skill). These skills require you to complete rebel operations which include hacking a terminal, defending a radio broadcast, tagging a supply crate that could be on top of a mountain or turning on radio towers. These operations upgrade your rebel skill effectiveness or decrease the cool down time before you can use a rebel skill again. Nothing stellar, they're repetitive, but they're short and sweet. And trust me, they're worth it to upgrade. Having the options to aid you on a mission can help you identify threats you didn't see or help you easily traverse to an objective. I highly recommend upgrading the rebel asset for vehicle drop-offs, so you can unlock a chopper to easily fly across the map when you enter a new area. Now you see my reasoning as to why the game is fun, but repetitive. You're given such a plethora of options to approach missions, which is possible with the bare bones equipment you have in the start, but in order to become a more effective warfighter that has better gear and skills to prolong survivability, you have to put some time into exploring the Bolivian country side that involve doing the same side missions and process of finding intel to reveal the locations of these valuable goods.
Now you have all of this gameplay, the choices in how to approach things. How does the game look and sound? The game looks good for the most part. Nothing exceptional most of the time, but it has it's moments of "that looks great" to "it's not the worst thing, but it could be better". Exploring Bolivia day and night, and with a weather cycle in place, the environment looks beautiful when you catch it in that right moment of the day. Seeing changes in the climate from arid desert, to dense jungle vegetation, and to snow capped mountains . It's fun to look at and it changes up how some missions play out due to difficulty of traversing these different terrains. However, there are concerns with some graphical imperfection such as character models. Character models are passable for the most part. Not the most detailed bunch of people, especially when looked at close up, but they're decent enough. In my experience, I haven't experienced much graphical issues, but sound is a bit different. The game sounds ok for the most part, but I've experienced some issues/glitches in this regard with gun effects sometimes cutting out(gun effects sound really good at times especially when firing indoors), a few conversations replaying every time you respawn, the annoying Santa Blanca radio channel blaring throughout the world, and for some reason, there is just a lack of any music to the game. If there is, it can't be heard too well. When you have this mixed with the massive game world to explore, the game feels empty honestly.
Ghost Recon Wildlands, despite my enjoyment of it, it's a hard game to recommend for what it is. I absolutely enjoyed the game for what it was. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game, completing 91% of it so far, having nearly every single collectible weapon, attachment, etc. Obviously, it kept me engaged long enough to play that much of it. There's three views to how this game may be perceived, there's the Ghost Recon fanbase that may be disappointed with the direction the game took and how it's not like its predecessors(which I completely understand being an MGS fan), there's the crowd who think it's a great game, and then there's the crowd who think this is one of the biggest pieces of shits ever. Taking those views into consideration, to summarize what Ghost Recon Wildlands feels like, it's a shooter that stops short of excelling at what it tries to implement. Earlier in the review, I've made some of those comparisons with other Ubisoft games or Mercenaries. Well, that's what Wildlands feels like. It's a game that takes from several other games like it. It takes a lot of influence from games like Mercenaries or Metal Gear Solid V, with mission structure, freedom of play, some sort of resource management that is utilized, gaining military assets, the game however takes the more bare bones approach to it. Wildlands has it, but it doesn't go further with some of these things, which would have made the game even more enjoyable for me. It would have been great to see Mercenaries' selection of airstrikes make an appearance in this game to help give the Ghost squad more to work with. On the other end with game comparison, there's the unfortunate universal gameplay engine that Ubisoft has put into most of their modern games. Far Cry, Assassin's Creed, the newer Splinter Cell games. Wildlands has stealth gameplay and you've more than likely have already seen it and played it. The stealth in this game feels exactly like Far Cry and Splinter Cell. There's nothing new to adapt to. Hide in a bush, take cover behind a barrier, you just try to avoid the enemy detection meters that pop up on your screen. The game is easy to stealth through most of the time if you wish to do so. It's unfortunate too, because there are certain things that could have made the stealth system more engaging and set it apart from other Ubisoft games like implementing camouflage, like Metal Gear Solid 3 & 4. You have the option to dress your operator however you want with camo pattern clothing, you can even wear a ghillie suit, but it serves no purpose other than to look operator as f***, "Golf Foxtrot Yankee, callsign Dusty, give me a SITREP on that, over". Wearable gear doesn't even affect character mobility or protect you a little against some small arms fire. And being a third person tactical shooter, the game controls a bit on the clunky side. Shooting isn't as smooth or tight compared to other TPS/FPS games, and the cover system doesn't work as effectively, or sometimes doesn't work at all, as them either. Vehicles don't control as well as other open world games where they're more responsive to controller input and the vehicles in Wildlands just don't have the "weight" to them like they do in games like Grand Theft Auto, so driving around can feel slippery sometimes. As you can see, Ghost Recon Wildlands takes so much influence from other games, but Wildlands doesn't do much to do it better. It doesn't do much to set itself apart from those other games by exceeding them or it it just brings in the exact same thing we've seen done in recent games before it such as marking enemies, destroying alarm towers, etc. where, despite having options on how to play, you end up taking the same kind of approach you took in other games like it. Despite that, I still enjoyed the time I put into the game and I would be lying if I said I didn't like this game, but I completely see why some would dismiss the game for its faults. I find it to be a solid game, but the negatives of it, hopefully which can be patched to have better AI and fix some sound issues, it's kind of hard to outright recommend this game completely to a majority of other people. If you can't look past these negatives and put them aside, I'd highly suggest waiting for a price cut, if not that, then the game will probably still remain off your radar of games to play. If you can though, you may actually enjoy the game for what it is like I did, this includes both Ghost Recon fans, who may have been disappointed with the how the series has been going, and newcomers to the series who want an introduction to see what it's like. Yeah, it may lack the same amount of tactical and strategic input from past Ghost Recon games or other deeper military themed games, and the only type of multiplayer it has is limited to co-op campaign missions, but the best you can do with Wildlands, in its current state, is to just have fun.