Fun With Friends, Gets Boring Solo
Developer: Ubisoft Paris, Massive Entertainment
Platform Reviewed: Xbox One
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Acquired via: Purchase by Reviewer
I played the open beta for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands like about 6.8 million other people did. It was enjoyable for the amount of time I played it then. Now that I have the final version, I still enjoy it but not nearly as much as I thought I would.
The setting for this game is Bolivia. You are part of a Special Operations outfit called The Ghosts, and you are there to take down the Santa Blanca drug cartel. They are ruthless and have corrupted the government of Bolivia. All you have to help you are your handler and a rebel group that you have to convince to help you.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands drops you into an open-world sandbox that is immense. There are 20 provinces on the Bolivian map, and all of them are huge and packed with things to do. There are plenty of enemies you can either shoot on sight or interrogate first. Each province houses at least one Santa Blanca boss you must eliminate. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of enemy bases that contain tons of weapons, attachments, and resources.
Bolivia itself looks great. This isn’t just an area with only rainforests. You will cross deserts, mountains, lakes, and swamps as well. Each has its own effects on travel and combat. If you’re traveling through a desert, you’re out in the open and unable to find effective cover when under attack. The triple-canopy cover of jungles keeps helicopters off of you and allow you to fire and move guerilla-style. If there’s a camp on a mountain, hiking up an adjacent peak can give you a higher vantage point by which you can spot enemy troops and take them out from above.
The entire map is accessible from the very beginning. Unlike Just Cause 3, you don’t have to liberate all locations in a province before you can advance the story. You choose whether you want to take out all the enemy outposts for more Intel or weapons, or just head for the boss of the province once you find out their location. That level of freedom makes exploration more fun.
What isn’t fun is the lack of variety in missions. After a couple hours of playing, it gets real tedious. You can only blow up so many buildings, extract so many prisoners, or steal Intel so many times before it gets old. There’s little variety in enemies as well. Apart from the regular grunts, you will find heavy-armored thugs and snipers. That’s it. Helicopters will occasionally appear and make your squad’s lives miserable, but there isn’t a grenadier, RPG launcher, or anything else to worry about.
The vehicles are also a mess to maneuver with. Like most other sandbox games, driving is too touchy. I got the hang of it after a lot of practice. The learning curve for the helicopter, however, was steep. Taking off and getting the chopper level and cruising takes a lot of finesse and is frustrating the first few times I tried it. Bolivia is huge, and a lot of it needs to be crossed with a vehicle. There are quite a few fast-travel locations, but there’s still a lot of space in between them. Vehicle travel beats walking, so you’ll have to deal with the frustrating handling regardless.
The tediousness of the travel and mission variety are worse when playing solo. In single-player mode, you squad mates are AI-controlled. They can be useful allies, but you have to micromanage almost everything they do. Without orders, they’ll just stand there picking their noses unless attacked. Issuing commands to get them to a useful position gets on my nerves. The one very useful thing they do is called Sync Shot. If you mark targets with your scope or your drone, you can get your AI buddies to lock onto them. Once they have a clear shot, you can order the kill. Sync Shot allows your squad to drop up to four targets in one simultaneous volley. That can be very useful.
Even here, though, strange things happen. When setting up a Sync Shot, your AI mates gain some odd powers. In one case, I had a squad mate warn me of an enemy gunman on the second floor of a building. There was no way he could see the enemy because the enemy was behind a wall. Also, some targets get dropped during a Sync Shot that was not in anyone’s line of sight. Unless they can curve bullets like in Wanted, I call bullshit.
One area where they do help is when you’re down. Like DBNO in Rainbow Six: Siege, you can be incapacitated but revived by a squad mate. They’re very good about getting to you, too. I can’t think of a time where I bled out because one of the AI operatives didn’t reach me in time.
The combat is engaging. Ubisoft went with a realistic portrayal of combat, which means targets go down with a well-placed headshot or 3 or so rounds otherwise. That’s much better than The Division, where you would often empty an entire magazine on two enemies. The realism extends to the weapons. Although you can modify them with certain upgrades, they don’t add really exotic abilities. You can customize them until they look the way you want them, but the gun porn doesn’t go farther than that. These weapons are supposed to be realistic and they act that way. The realism is pretty good, which makes your AI-controlled mates’ ability to shoot enemies from around corners even sillier.
The optimal way to play Ghost Recon: Wildlands is in co-op. You may lose the Sync Shot ability and have to depend on your mates to have half a brain, but it really helps break up the monotony. With four human players, you can try out strategies the AI wouldn’t handle. Maybe you want to plink off grunts from all four corners or blaze in on a chopper while your teammates tear through a base entrance in a land vehicle. Of course, if you have someone like Uncle Willy on your team, you’re in trouble.
(Ed note: Be glad there’s no friendly fire in this game. That comment deserves lead on skull!)
Co-op is also seamless. You can jump in and out of matches without fuss. Thankfully, the usual problem of quest completion isn’t a problem here. If someone jumps in that is further along than you, they can still access the missions you’re on whether they did them or not. Any fast points they unlocked are available to you and vice-versa. There isn’t even any loading. Teammates spawn in and out with no headaches.
With all the good things the game does, it’s the repetition that will bore you. Playing solo makes the repetition even worse. That boredom will test your ability to get through the game. By the seventh province, I had to force myself to keep going. By the ninth, I was done. I had mastered the land vehicles and their bad handling by then, but I didn’t even care to drive anymore. As fun as it is to take down cartel members, Ghost Recon: Wildlands ultimately needed much more to keep it interesting.