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Ghost Recon: Wildlands casts players as a team of legendary covert operatives deep behind enemy lines in Bolivia. Their mission is one of subterfuge and disruption; to erode the alliance between the Santa Blanca drug cartel and the corrupt government.
Travelling around an open-world, players must complete missions that disrupt the cartel’s drug distribution operation, human trafficking activities, and other criminal enterprises. Bolivia is made up of over 10 distinct regions, and each has its own cartel lieutenant to bring down. All this is in service of drawing out their leader, El Sueno, and taking him out to restore some balance to the region.
Going into a hands-on demo with the alpha version of Wildlands, there was a worry that Ubisoft would be re-purposing design and mechanics; The Division’s cover-based shooting layered on top of Far Cry’s systemic open-world. It wasn’t that, but we left wishing it was.
The world of Wildlands was as advertised: vast and impressive in scale, but it also lacked a distinct visual identity. The rocky red terrain stretching out as far as the eye can see, picturesque blue sky, and rolling mountains make for impressive vistas, but there was plain quality to it all. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect rainbows and neon signs in a place that’s supposed to be a desolate base of operations for a drug gang, but it all started to wash over me quite quickly.
Ubisoft has said the larger game world is made up of many diverse environments, and what we played was a limited portion of the game. With this in mind, we’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt there. What’s harder to overlook was how barebones the shooting felt and how bereft of nuance it was.
Our hands-on with Wildlands was lacking in any sort of interesting gameplay wrinkle. I’m not the kind of person that needs skill trees and special abilities, but the absence of basic tactical maneuvers such as snapping to cover or equipment that makes engagements dynamic in some way only emphasises how basic the core gameplay loop is.
Similarly, the level of strategy required of us to complete our missions was superficial at best. Both parts of our missions took place in desolate makeshift encampments that were simple in design and provided little opportunity or incentive to be tactical.
Our first skirmish occurred on a mission to capture a high-value target. Over 300 people had recently gone missing in San Mateo and their bodies were never found. It was suspected they met their untimely end at the hands of the cartel, and were sent to El Pozolero to be dissolved in caustic soda.
From atop a mountain, our team of four Ghosts surveyed a rundown farmhouse, where our target was hiding. We all summoned a drone and scouted out the area from above. All points of interest were automatically highlighted, revealing our target was standing out in the open surrounded by a few of his goons--not exactly an original tactical scenario.
We coordinated to take out all the guards simultaneously, using sniper rifles to engage from a distance. When they dropped, our target jumped into nearby truck and took off, driving just a few seconds down the road and holing up in a petrol station. We quickly caught up with him and employed the exact same strategy took him into our custody. We used drones to highlight all and snipe all the enemies.
Ubisoft Paris clearly has has an ambition for Wildlands ... Based on what we’ve played however, the core gameplay doesn’t support it.
While a team member interrogated the target for information, the remaining Ghosts held off a small wave of reinforcements; they didn’t present much of a challenge though. Simply walking out into the open with guns blazing was enough to wipe them out. There was very little consideration required beyond pointing and shooting until all the enemies died. Compared to the rest of the Ghost Recon franchise, a series famed for delivering tight and intense firefights that demanded precision and well-thought out strategy, this was worrying.
The second part of our mission required us to infiltrate another non-descript enemy compound. Again, since the area had no distinguishing features or identity, it was difficult to discern what exactly was going on in the location. It could very well be where the cartel produces drugs, but approaching the encampment from above in a chopper, there weren't many discernible indications of this. It looked more like a conveniently walled-off location for a bunch of soldiers to shoot things.
Since the compound was much bigger than the previous locations, there was more opportunity to adopt a variety of different approaches. Our goal was to sneak into a building and hack a laptop for more information. After parachuting out of the chopper and landing in a burned out building nearby, we decided to spread out and infiltrate from all sides, taking out as many enemies without arousing suspicion.
I opted to gain the height advantage by taking out a sniper in a nearby watchtower to spot enemies and provide cover fire, while the others crept through and dispatched enemies. However, since we immediately used their drones to locate everyone, it effectively made my role pointless. Everyone could see all the enemies around them, and my gunfire would have alerted the enemies in the camp to our existence. This meant I simply sat back and watched my teammates walk around and take out people with silenced pistols.
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When combat did break out, the shooting didn’t feel satisfying. Without a cover mechanic, we all just comically ran behind walls and around buildings to avoid damage, popping out to take shots whenever there was a break in enemy fire. It felt more like a run-and-gun shooter than a tactical third-person shooter.
Although we tried to embody different roles, the demo didn’t provide any mechanical support to help define them in a meaningful way. We all had the exact same loadout: suppressed pistol, sniper rifle, assault rifle. Unlike The Division, we didn’t have any unique skills, equipment, or weaponry to help us get our specific jobs done. It was the same rudimentary shooting experience for all of us.
We played through these missions a second time and decided to mount an all-out offensive. The outcome was almost exactly the same: we ran into the farmhouse area and gunned down the guards. Despite the fact that we shot out the truck’s tires, the target still jumped in and managed to drive down to the same petrol station. Shooting out the tires seemed to have no impact.
With the information acquired once again, we jumped into an attack chopper and flew to the second enemy. From the sky, we began showering the camp with bullets from two miniguns, but there was so little feedback from what we were doing that it was difficult to tell if we were being effective. You’d expect two giant machine guns raining down death from above would cause a few explosions or even a panic, but we certainly didn’t see much.
Taking a riskier approach, we steered the chopper into the camp and parachuted out. As we slowly drifted to earth, we watched the aircraft hurtling towards the camp, awaiting a bracing explosion. When it hit the ground, the chopper bounced and came to a safe stop. This moment, and the feeling we had watching our best laid plans come to life with a whimper, captures our overall vapid experience with Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
Ubisoft Paris clearly has has an ambition for Wildlands: to deliver a tactical third-person shooter set in an open-world, where players can team up with friends and complete objectives with total freedom. Based on what we’ve played however, the core gameplay doesn’t have enough texture to support it. It’s a real shame that the studio hasn’t looked to other Ubisoft games such as The Division or Far Cry, as both games could have served as a stronger foundation to build on. As we said, this is clearly early days, and perhaps the game will evolve to better realise the studio’s vision. Time will tell.