The Tom Clancy name has been used for a lot of properties from Splinter Cell to H.A.W.X to The Division. The most memorable titles for me has always been the more tactical-focused games such as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, both of which find their footing in military lingo and a strong emphasis on teamwork. Being a lone wolf is frowned upon, which seems to have become the Ubisoft way of developing Tom Clancy games from now on as Ghost Recon: Wildlands continues the trend of “it’s better with friends” gameplay – for better or worse. All while attempting to wrestle with tonal issues due to a desire for fun during a drug war.
That latter point isn’t unheard of, though. Just Cause has been a series that has frequently managed to convey a fun, stylish game while still being about fairly heavy issues. The difference is that Just Cause‘s gameplay has always matched the tone of the story. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a tactical game where you and three other players (or AI, if you’re playing alone) are working together to take down El Sueno and his drug empire that he has formed in Bolivia. It’s gotten so bad in the country that it has been deemed a narco state, with plenty of backdoor dealings that have allowed it to flourish and remain profitable. As an off-the-books operation entitled Operation Kingslayer, players will work with Karen Bowman to take down El Sueno and his empire through a systemic dismantling of each of its facets: security, influence, smuggling, and production.
Through those, you’ll take out smaller targets to eventually cut off the head of the snake for whichever area of the cocaine operation it applies. There really isn’t much variety in any of the missions though, which consistently feel mundane and uninteresting because there aren’t many variations to them. Occasionally I’d get a mission where I have to do something slightly different, but most objectives are to kill someone, steal something, or interrogate someone. Then they occasionally add a modifier where you can’t be detected (which results in an automatic restart in the general vicinity of the mission). Even doing rebel missions is about as uninteresting as it gets because even though they’re simple tasks like “steal a plane”, they never vary between regions. Whereas at least the main story has the context of the larger narrative behind it, the side content is all very bland and is just there for more things to do.
With a lack of variety in its missions, Ghost Recon Wildlands does offer plenty of customization in its loadouts. Which is a fairly important thing in a game like this; however, I also rarely felt the need to mess with it because of many of the overpowered elements in the game. I equipped a sniper rifle, assault rifle and some frag grenades then proceeded through the game’s procedural gameplay. I even created my own character to adventure with, but after I heard him say a bunch of pretty offensive things in the opening of the game (complete with some of the worst character animation I’ve seen in a AAA game in a while), I didn’t even really want to bother trying to make him look different. I just never felt a connection to my avatar and thus, I found no compelling reason to customize him.
Bolivia is beautiful, though, and completely open for players to explore via helicopter, plane, boat, car, or bike. I frequently used a helicopter and then found it superbly easy to just drop right into the focal point of a mission area, kill a couple enemies, take cover and quickly wrap up the objective. It always felt fun to just be able to finish a mission quickly like that, but it was also exploitative. I abused the overpowered nature of my AI companions by recognizing that being killed means I have one more chance at life through a revive. My comrades would rarely be killed and they could take down enemies around my body no problem. Once you’ve given up on being stealthy, the game has so many systems in place to let you just take out enemies without being killed.
That being said, the game is actually pretty fun to play as a stealth game. You have a drone and binoculars at your disposal so you can mark targets to survey an area. I would then send out a drone and utilize “Sync Shots” (of which you can have up to three) that allow you to select an enemy for your AI companions to kill, and then take out small groups of soldiers or slowly clear the perimeter. You could hypothetically do entire missions without being spotted, but the game recognizes that by having enemies hear gunshots or see a fallen comrade and react appropriately. There are plenty of other commands for you to use when playing with AI companions, but I never saw any purpose for them. You can tag targets yourself without being detected, and Sync Shots have your AI magically taking out targets without being detected. So why use any other commands?
You do unlock a fair amount of other options to employ during combat scenarios, though. Rebels throughout Bolivia are ready and willing to help you fight the Santa Blanca cartels and UNIDAD patrols. But it’s kind of just overkill for scenarios that are already fairly simple to tackle. Sure, I could drop a mortar into an area and take out a couple bad guys. But it would be more satisfying for me to just run in Rambo-style and take them out myself with some backup from my fellow Ghosts. The game tries for destruction, but it never really justifies its use. It also just doesn’t have the potential to be as insane as some of its other elements suggest.
I mentioned it earlier, but Wildlands is a lot like Just Cause. Well, if Just Cause was a game about tactics and undermining an illegal drug empire without being discovered. That’s kind of why this game doesn’t work. It has these weird story beats that feel comical enough to be from Ubisoft’s other franchises like Far Cry and Watch Dogs, but they don’t really blend well with the procedural gameplay. The story’s use of graphic novelesque cinematics and terrible delivery of expletive-laden dialogue clash greatly with a narrative about war. It’s almost self-aware enough where it feels like Wildlands has something to say about the inane nature of what they’re doing in Bolivia, but it can’t quite get out of its self-seriousness long enough to do anything impacting. But hey, this isn’t a game designed around playing solo.
Which brings me to my final point: games are almost always fun with someone else. You have to do more to coerce people into playing your game online. Ghost Recon Wildlands offers very little differences between it and any other team-based online game. With no PvP yet, the game has constricted its audience into only those with mics who either have friends to play with or can stumble into a match with others who have microphones. My experience online was fairly negative with multiple groups of Ghosts wanting to do other things than me, and no microphones being used almost unanimously. And when they were being used, it was to tell people not to play their way. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless your game specifically wants you to play one way like Wildlands seems to frequently push towards.
I enjoyed myself when I turned Ghost Recon Wildlands into a podcast game or just listened to music while driving through Bolivia. The game’s audio is absurdly redundant so it wasn’t difficult to eventually convince myself to bail on it altogether. NPCs repeating dialogue, and El Sueno giving the same tired speeches over the radio were only a couple of the things that made me switch to something more lively. The gameplay is fairly tight, even if it doesn’t change much. I even found some of the actual moments of the story to be compelling, but those happened so few and far between just by the nature of how missions are spread out. Playing solo was the only way I could find a way to appreciate the game for what it is because online it was a bit too much of a crapshoot on whether I’d get a fun experience or an enraging one.
My time with Ghost Recon Wildlands was filled with ups and downs, but overall, I left still wanting another Ghost Recon game. There is promise in the game’s open-world structure, but only because it allows for the player to come at a situation in different ways each time. Unfortunately, it also means that I can still come at a situation the same way, even if in a typical mission-structured campaign I wouldn’t be able to perform the same actions. As with most Ubisoft titles that turn in an advancement on a formula, there are major oversights that just make the game feel less than its ambitions. I had fun when I was playing it, but so much of Wildlands felt like it was working against me.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands
- Plenty of customization for weapons
- This is a beautiful open world environment
- Gameplay is tight
- Never had a good online experience
- Weird tonal issues that seem unnecessarily present
- For a game with no PvP, there's not much of a compelling story
- Overpowered AI teammates make the game pretty easy
- Severe lack of variety