Edit 2/2/2018: After playing this game for a significant amount of time I have a few issues with the way some systems in Ghost Recon: Wildlands operate. Firstly, a fairly sizeable chunk of the weapons in the game are locked behind premium currency that can ONLY be earned by spending real money. Secondly, the Narco Road expansion tries a little too hard to be ‘super gnarly bruh’ and succeeds in making most of the vehicles absolutely undrivable. Overall the experience is great with friends, but after having the time to really dig deep into the game it has some major flaws that I have not seen addressed anywhere else.
Ghost Recon is a series that prides itself on the tactical nature of its combat and being slightly open-ended in terms of player choice while still being a relatively ‘on-rails’ storyline. With the newest iteration, Ghost Recon: Wildlands brings back the things that everyone loved about the older games (albeit in a slightly irritating way). While on the whole being a very fun game to play, a lot of the value of Wildlands lies in the multiplayer elements and being able to play with friends versus the solo campaign.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is set in modern-day Bolivia where you, a group of the United States elite special forces, are trying to topple a ruthless drug cartel who has taken control of the Bolivian Government. The cartel, going by the name ‘Santa Blanca’, completely controls the hierarchy of the government and is given complete freedom to do anything they want with virtually no resistance. Bolivian officials attempted to create a special task force called UNIDAD to root out the then-encroaching forces of Santa Blanca. UNIDAD was quickly paid off by Santa Blanca which allowed the cartel to finally gain complete control. Ghost Recon: Wildlands has an engaging enough story to keep you going, rife with intrigue, political drama, and mountains of bullets. The game tries to stay very open-ended by allowing you to tackle any region of the map at any time in a very similar style to Far Cry 3 and 4. Although, this is largely to let you “Create your own story!” by giving you targets with a slim connecting theme and telling you to tackle them in any way you see fit. It reminds me a lot of the Assassin’s Creed games if they had been more open-ended and allowed you to take on any target you wanted at nearly any time. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Too much open-endedness is becoming a theme in the current gaming world with almost every game being released now having “open-ended gameplay” and a story that “you create yourself!” Mixed in with “seamless multiplayer” that redefines the gaming genre” this creates an environment where no single mission in the game has any impact. You won’t see La Gringa commenting on the fact you killed El Muro, the head of El Sueno’s security forces because not everyone plays the same way. This all basically creates an environment where all of the locales are contained in and of themselves and your actions in the grand scheme of things have essentially no effect. You can kill any boss in almost any order, or you can sit and drive around the map for 1000 hours. Either way, the game will wait patiently for you to “get on with it” and get back to shooting baddies in the face. On the whole of things, the single-player story is fairly unremarkable, though this changes when introduced to the multi-player.
The multiplayer experience of Ghost Recon: Wildlands is almost entirely different in feel than playing by yourself. I only really played with one buddy of mine and we had an incredible time trying to be the greatest spec ops team in the world…by dying countless times and accidentally killing our targets a multitude of times in a variety of ways. Our missions would go something like this – “Okay you circle around and I’ll ram the guys from the air with a plane I just hijacked…Don’t worry it’ll be fine.” or “WHOA THIS HELICOPTER HAS MISSILES ON IT” or even “Okay make sure not to hit the target this time, we’ve done this same mission about ten times *thud*.”
This game allows for some great moments to transpire with friends, some of those moments being incredibly awesome; while others are hilarious in just how spectacularly the mission implodes. On the other hand, if you take missions very slowly and methodically you can come out completely unscathed. This is all thanks to Ghost Recon’s incredible sense of detail. For instance, if it’s nighttime, the guards have a drastically reduced view distance; while during the day they can see you coming from about a mile off. If you need to take out a guard silently while he is in line-of-sight of other guards- then just take out the light fixture above his head to cloak the area in darkness and then take the shot. Many, many times during this game I would stop what I was doing just to remark on extremely small details; like the fact that while walking in waist high water, only half of your body is wet. Or the fact that silencers aren’t completely silent and will often give your position away if you aren’t careful. At one point I even noticed that a plane passing by actually eclipsed the sun as it flew above casting a fairly large shadow on the ground I was walking on. These all sound like menial things but in a video game it is absolutely refreshing to see a level of detail that holds up to inspection. Not to mention, it builds the sense of realism to have so many of these small details scattered throughout the game-world. Even something as simple as being able to roll onto your back while using a sniper rifle is something near-revolutionary that this game just throws out there like it’s no big deal.
One of my favorite moments in this game is actually pictured in the title header, but I will show it again below. Out of sheer boredom, I decided to walk across a lake that is almost directly in the center of one of the playable areas. It was only about waist deep, but it was a pretty huge distance across and interestingly enough was inhabited by flocks upon flocks of flamingos. As I walked across the lake I ended up spooking one of the flamingo flocks which spooked another and then another until all of them were flying around above the lake. I kept walking, as I was using this time to take some good atmospheric screen-shots, and out of no-where the same flock of flamingos flies directly overhead, creating this awesome (almost movie-like) effect.
While by no means an action-packed moment, it was something that surprised me by sheer happenstance. Genuinely some of my favorite moments in gaming are those that come unexpectedly while having an adventure of your own, not following the beaten path. Ghost Recon sets up a world in which you can experience such a jarring juxtaposition of beautiful scenery that is being ravaged by terrible people. Even still, the stereotype of the cartel being “terrible people” is often undermined by the protagonist and company who discuss the horrible situation the people native to Bolivia have been subjected to. In one instance in particular, one member of the team asks what any of the other members would do if they had been living in Bolivia during this crisis and had to provide for their family. One of the team members replied with an answer amounting to ‘I would work myself to the bone to provide for my family’ – the typical high-road answer given by anyone not directly in the situation in question. As he says this, your character interrupts him and says ‘And what? Make 3 cents a day on a plantation? I would join the Cartel. It would be a means to an end of providing for my family.’ Which I believe is an extremely important point to make. Wildlands takes steps to make the game feel very human. While you are tasked with killing scores of people, you will always have a thought in the back of your mind that says that some of these people aren’t evil. Some of these men and women are simply trying to survive. I believe that is an extremely important aspect that every wargame needs; an aspect that disappeared with the Call of Duty generation of games.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an incredibly fun romp through the mountains of Bolivia, though the maximum potential for this game lies in having friends to play it with. This game is loads of fun and provides some genuinely great moments of stupidity and heroism. Though I would warn against getting this game for single-player only. As mentioned, this game is light in the way of story and will only really be worth it if you have some friends to experience it with. However, if you do have a few friends who could spare 50 to 60 dollars then I would recommend it for the sheer thrill of being a terrible Ghost Recon team.