Ghost Recon Wildlands offers an interesting juxtaposition of tactical shooter and almost arcade-like sandbox action that’s best played with friends cooperatively. In January, I attended a press event during which I for several hours in solo and co-op, and came away intrigued. That article complements this review nicely, and I would suggest reading it first before this one. Anyway, while having some concerns, the bottomline was that Wildlands was fun, even if it was not the Ghost Recon I’ve come to expect and despite miscellaneous technical and story glitches that pop-up from time to time.
Fast forward to present day with the game released, and unsurprisingly, the same holds true. This is a fun and addictive game, but, it can get repetitive as mission objectives begin to repeat despite taking place across a dozen or so different biomes and involving three other factions. When played in single player, the greatest knock against the experience are you AI squadmates. It’s great to have them with you, as success alone is practically impossible as the Unidad and El Sueno forces ratchet up their numbers and attacks. Yet, the AI, despite having unique appearances and voices, are really hard to invest in and care about. This may not be a point of concern for you depending on what you’re looking for. Personally, in the absence of playing co-op with my real life Ghost buddies whom I have traversed most of the series dating back to the original Xbox, the AI felt more like stand-ins than characters I cared about. The AI feel like bots with artificial personalities, and of course at the end of the day they are, but they cannot think for themselves and that is what bothers me the most. They cannot drive vehicles, they go silenced weapons when you do, go prone when you do, and often say things that are out of place or mis-timed. Giving your AI comrades commands can only be done in one swoop, in other words, you’re giving a command for all three, not individually, which doesn’t do anything to help give them distinction and personality — something you could invest in. Simply looking different and having a different voice isn’t really enough. They’re also able to make impossible shots thanks to the Sync Shot mechanic which allows you to tag enemies with your drone or binoculars and have your squad take them out at your call (with a cooldown timer in between). It becomes standard practice to use this Sync Shot approach to act as the opening to an assault on a camp that you’re about to take over. While the AI may not be able to do much on their own or stand apart from one another, they can take a beating and are typically able to revive you when you’re down. You can be revived once or twice per firefight before it’s game over and back to a checkpoint.
Fortunately for those that like to experiment with their tactics, Wildlands is not very punishing for mistakes. This war against the El Sueno cartel in a fight for Bolivia and to end increasing terrorist attacks around the world gives you and your Ghosts a lot of freedom. A tremendous amount of freedom actually — in what you do and how you go about it. Much has been made about the sheer size of the game, and for good reason. t’s Ubisoft’s biggest open world adventure yet, and it’s indeed sprawling, and beautiful. Objectives are sometimes several kilometers apart, thankfully you can fast travel between waypoints early on, but there are also a variety of vehicles you can commandeer and use, from boats to helicopters to flat bed trucks, motorcycles (although the AI won’t ride these), and others. Driving controls are sloshy and a bit swimmy, and the helicopter remains a nuisance for me given its low speed. Driving physics are very forgiving; steep inclines and rocky roads are no issue typically, and vehicles can take a beating before finally having to be abandoned. If you can see it, you can steal it and use it. Overall, the vehicular aspect of Wildlands is a positive, although when the AI really wants to scoot, it can be tough to keep up with them or coordinate your attack to stop their convoys.
Wildlands has a deep upgrade system that covers the gamut from weapon unlocks, upgrades, and customizations with Gunsmith to other boosts like being able to run longer, sustain more damage, a steadier aim for the sniper rifle, and so forth. You get Skill Points by finding intel and through gaining XP by doing some of the plentiful side missions and finding and tagging supplies and resources to help rebel forces (something that comes in quite handy later when you need their help for a mortar strike while you’re pinned down by the corrupt government security force, Unidad). The upgrades are numerous, and for the most part I’ve had to stop to think about what choice to make each time I’ve had a point to spend, which is good.
By pressing the touchpad button, you can pull up the Tacmap which is loaded with info about all of the missions and points of interest you may want to check out. Your main goal is to take the head off of the El Sueno cartel, but that’s a long ways out — you have to work through many provinces, dozens of sub-bosses, core leaders, and finally the big boss himself (who at the time of this writing I have yet to encounter). This is definitely the type of open world game that you could bounce around between optional and story missions for hours at a time, and the great thing is, it is entirely playable solo and with drop in/out co-op as well. The trick is finding friends to work with together rather than “doing it wrong” and each person trying to take on a whole mission by themselves, which you can do and try to be all lonewolf, but success is hardly guaranteed. Besides, for anyone that played the old Ghost Recons together — I’m specifically referring to GR2 and Summit Strike — playing co-op was the way to go because of the laughs and comradery if nothing else. Of course, that was with couch co-op and LAN play, neither of which is are options here unfortunately.
Regardless of how you play Wildlands, be it solo, with friends or randos online, and in how you approach the game, it’s fun and it looks great. There are some graphical pop-ins and clipping here and there, but nothing deal-breaking. Having played this game on a PS4 Pro in January and now on a launch PS4, I don’t have enough evidence to say for sure if the game was better on the Pro or not, certainly logic would suggest that it is. Perhaps there have been a little bit more graphical pop-ins on my launch PS4, but regardless, the game runs and plays well and I’m sure there will be some patching to polish up more of the rest.
In sum, Ghost Recon Wildlands takes the series to the (vast) open world and largely succeeds. Like its predecessors, it’s best played with friends in co-op, and while it sacrifices some realism, it adds a lot of new opportunities for fun and mayhem against the bad guys.