Single-player fans have enjoyed a number of high-quality open world titles recently, with Horizon: Zero Dawn and Final Fantasy XV leading the way. However, look for open world games to play online with friends and the list next to GTA V is short to say the least. Step forwards, Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
If you’ve recently binged on Netflix’s Narcos series and thought to yourself, ‘Man, this would be great set today as an open world game’ then you’re in luck. Every third word is ‘Sicarios’ or ‘Puta’ and you and your pals are tasked with saving Bolivia from another deluded cocaine kingpin crackpot – no amusing pot belly and moustache this time though – it’s all facial tattoos nowadays.
Ubisoft’s newest entry in the Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series isn’t as sim-sided as you’d expect. You can afford to make more mistakes, eat a few bullets and throw finesse out the window if you choose. Hardcore fans might find things a little watered down and feel it’s all gone a bit Far Cry 3 for their liking, but you can always ramp up the difficulty to bring back the old school vibe.
If you’ve found yourself accusing Ubisoft games of all starting to blend into one, then you might want to look away for a minute, as Ghost Recon: Wildlands borrows heavily from the recent Far Cry games (don’t worry, Ubisoft, I accused Horizon: Zero Dawn of the same thing). Expect enemy tagging (that tracks through buildings), a huge world with land, air and sea vehicles, enemy bases to take down and so on. But hey at least there’s no tower climbing!
If you ploughed a load of hours into Ubisoft’s other shooter, The Division, you might be looking for something different too. Whereas The Division is an RPG shooter, complete with levelled (read: bullet sponge) enemies and tonnes of new elemental weapons and upgrades, Wildlands features accurate weaponry and enemies politely go down with well-placed shots. Headshots mean death, once again. The weapon selection includes the usual categories, but ‘better’ guns are few and far between and I never really strayed from my silenced assault rifle-sniper combo throughout. Much like The Division though, Ubisoft has crafted Wildlands to be enjoyed in co-op. And to be honest, that’s the way I’d recommend you play it.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands can be played solo with three AI partners, or online in co-op with up to three partners. Sadly, the AI bots don’t make up the numbers if you don’t have a full-sized team. That’s a shame as it would have been nice to have an AI minion each to order around if only two players were taking on missions together.
I spent half of my time with the game playing offline to get a feel for both modes. AI partners can be assigned manual targets for synchronised fire, an ability that can be upgraded to have three shots at once. When combined with the remote-controlled drone for overhead enemy tagging, you’ll soon make short work of enemy camps. It’s an ability that’s arguably over-powered.
Other tactical options are pretty poor though. You can bring up a radial menu by holding R1 and point your squad to certain areas. That’s all three of them, there’s no option to send them each to individual spots – truly bewildering. There are also options to hold, follow and fire, but the analogue movements take way too long to register and I generally just left them to it, especially in the middle of a fight as the menu is accessed in real-time.
Support skills from the local rebels are on the same menu and trying to aim where you want them to fire a mortar strike has to be aimed from your position. Why you can’t order a mortar strike from above via your drone is a shocking omission here. I do like how your AI squad spawn into your car automatically, so you don’t have to wait for them though.
Seeing as it’s a Ghost Recon game, you’d think that you’d get a large bonus for completing a mission undetected, especially when it involves sneaking into a base and extracting a combatant against their will to a nearby vehicle. But no, no bonus XP – so they didn’t steal everything from Far Cry. Once you work that out, you may find yourself not giving a damn and just mowing enemies down. It’s much quicker and passes the mission just as well. That said, I still found myself playing stealthily as I enjoyed knowing I’d completed a task without raising the alarm, even if the game didn’t give two shits.
The design of the world and the missions is blown wide open, allowing you to take on the numerous underbosses in any order you choose. Some zones of the map are tougher than others though, so you may want to carefully consider where you’re going to stick your nose in.
This setup greatly benefits playing online. Completed missions done online (whether you’re the host or not) are ticked off on your own campaign’s progress. Resources for the rebels and collectibles picked up by your teammates won’t go into your pot though, so remain eagle-eyed for those popping up on your always busy minimap.
Some missions are much easier with online buddies, especially the irritating ‘defend a radio’ side-missions which can be incredibly tough on your own with enemies attacking on all sides and your AI squad doing a whole lot of nothing to help.
Ubisoft’s huge map of Bolivia often displays some great landscapes (I hope you like rocks and dirt though) and tries to fit in some variety with jungles, swamps, mountains and even a bit of snow. The bases, towns and villages all feel like they rolled off the template truck though and drag the game down.
The world is huge, Ubisoft’s biggest yet apparently. But there’s just no need for so much of it. Progress feels so slow, with so many samey missions one after another. When forced to play offline for a while (while I moved house and was without the internet) it really struggled to maintain my attention like the open world games mentioned at the start of this review.
Take things online though and get a few missions under your belt with some friends or randomers and things feel much more fluid and enjoyable. For a start, you won’t always have to drive, although it’s amusing to see I’m not the only one who hates piloting the ridiculously unlikeable helicopters as everyone piles into the passenger seats ‘not it’ fashion.
Stealth is harder to coordinate online, especially if you don’t want to use a headset, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands manages to be a lot of fun online when things do go wrong. You’ll be chasing fleeing underbosses in your car while a buddy fires out the window, player three might be chasing on a dirt bike, while player four may make the mistake of using the chopper, immediately nose-diving into the road in a fiery mess – but creating a perfect roadblock to bring an end to that particular narco’s run! It all works out in the end.
- Great, easy going fun online
- Open approach to campaign path
- No Division-style bullet-sponge enemies
- Helicopter controls are awful
- AI commands feel way too basic
- Campaign is too repetitive to play alone
The Short Version: Offline play can feel repetitive and formulaic and the AI isn’t much help beyond the admittedly cool synchronised shots. But head online and there’s enormous fun to be had playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands in co-op as the unpredictable nature of playing with people means missions can range from carefully executed stealth to all out war.