Even though Tom Clancy is no longer with us, the videogame series that are inspired by his works are going as strong as ever. We’re looking at Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands for the PC, which reinvents cooperative shooting in an open world context.
Between the likes of Rainbow Six Siege, The Division, Steep and For Honor, Ubisoft is clearly following a path that demonstrates a belief in a fusion of traditional single player experiences and the MMO genre. I personally thought that The Division did the best job so far at achieving this goal, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands offers up a similar claim: play solo, or with a team of up to four operatives. Where The Division carefully walks the balance between single and multiplayer, I’d say Wildlands gravitates heavily towards a title that’s best enjoyed with a few human teammates – especially in the long run.
Wildlands takes place in a huge open area that takes the real world country of Bolivia as its source of inspiration and then fictionalizes it with its use of landscapes and protagonists. Leaning more on gameplay than story, the setup is hardly a subtle one. Wildlands’ Bolivia is a war torn country with four major ‘factions’. The Santa Blanca cartel controls the region with their lucrative cocaine trade, while the CIA-backed rebel forces oppose them and try to diminish their power and break up their business.
The armed forces (UNIDAD) are more or less in the cartel’s back pocket, and will not oppose them unless provoked. The fourth ‘faction’ are Bolivia’s civilians, who are caught up in the middle of all this – and then of course there are your Ghosts, who have to navigate this proverbial minefield by protecting the rebels and civilians and attacking both the cartels and the army forces while doing so. The dynamics that are in play between these various factions make for interesting mission setups you can tackle, and help in creating a gameplay experience that is diverse.
Upgrading your characters is done through a combination of experience points gained and items collected. The items required for a particular upgrade are specific, so you can’t randomly tackle missions and expect to get what you need. It’s a system that works well in making you choose focus areas, although critics might argue that it echoes some of Ubisoft’s other open world games a little too much.
Although Wildlands is best enjoyed in multiplayer mode – or at least is more engaging and rewarding that way – it is also perfectly playable for single players. Playing solo, you will be aided by three AI-controlled teammates who are quite competent – in some cases even more so than a lot of human players. The biggest example of that is probably their marksmanship when it comes to taking long range shots, as they never seem to miss. This is particularly useful when using Wildlands’ “sync-shots”, which allow you to tag up to three enemies after which your first shot is the “go” sign for your teammates to take out the others.
Playing solo does drastically change the dynamic of the game though, as it puts you in control instead of forcing you to cooperate – which is where the real heart of Wildlands lies. Nothing beats the sensation of seeing a plan come together for a team working in unison, especially when they’re trying out a new tactic for the first time. Sniping every enemy in sight is great, but forcing cartel members to move in a direction where another teammate has just set up a trap for them is incredible stuff that makes you want to virtually high five your teammates – that doesn’t quite happen when playing with an AI squad.
Online connectivity for Wildlands is of course crucial, and during our playtime the servers performed well. Since most of this was pre-release, matchmaking was a bit hit and miss – but as the floodgates opened on release day this was quickly remedied by a community eager to play and explore. Playing with one or two players, it’s easy to find like-minded players and figure out new tactics together. As groups of four start to find each other and play together on a more regular basis this might get harder, but for now the experience has been a very positive one even though we didn’t start out with a team of four of our own.
In the long run, it’ll be interesting to see how the community develops. Players upgrade on an individual basis despite working in groups, so in the long run you’ll see some pretty big differences in skills and attributes between players. This might see experienced players taking the lead when playing with relative newcomers, or it might create a rift between them. In that sense it helps to boost your stats and skills a little with the single player experience if you’re jumping in a little later, but in these first few days it’s a relatively level playing field.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is also a gorgeous game to look at, though some optimizations will be needed in the next few weeks and months. New Nvidia/AMD drivers will probably help, as will game updates, but a bit of stutter was often present in the most densely populated scenes when we had the game’s details all set to high.
Despite the ‘single player meets multiplayer’ nature that Ubisoft has now employed in many of its games, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an experience unlike any of Ubisoft’s other titles. It’s a tactical shooter that successfully blends an enormous open world environment with accessible yet deep and rewarding cooperative play. It’s a bit of a departure from previous Ghost Recon titles, but it pays off.