Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands Review
As gamers get pickier about what games they’ll drop their hard earned money on, game companies have to come up with big selling points for their games. For Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, the selling point is that the tactical third-person shooter takes place in a gigantic world spanning the entire country of Bolivia. It also features dozens of story missions and varied gameplay that gives the player the option to go guns out or sneak their way through enemy bases. All of these features sound great on the back of a box, but sometimes bigger isn’t better.
Some issues with Ghost Recon Wildlands are highlighted immediately, as the first mission of the game has the player driving to an enemy base. While taking the long drive there, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of pop-in that was occurring on-screen. Even on a PS4 Pro, Wildlands is constantly marred with minor technical issues, which is a shame since the game generally looks great when all of the textures are loaded in.
Other problems show their ugly head in after hours of play, and most of these revolve around the actual gameplay. Almost every single mission in Ghost Recon Wildlands follows the following formula: the player drives to an enemy base, the player kills all of the enemies, and then they must grab a certain object (be it a hostage or a vehicle) from the base. While this exercise is pretty fun at first, it grows stale rather quickly as only the final mission in each area felt unique.
“It’s a game stuck between genres, afraid to commit to an experience and one that never truly gels due to it.”
On top of the lack of variety, Ghost Recon Wildlands is very rough around the edges. When playing with computer-controlled squad members, they’ll often stand right in front of enemy soldiers. Thankfully, this doesn’t cause an alert, as the squad mates are invisible unless I was spotted. While it’s a positive that the poor artificial intelligence doesn’t result in the player being compromised, this solution to poor programming breaks the illusion of being a squad of super spies. Another issue is that the teammates don’t actually have to be in a position to take sniper shots that I would command them to take, as I often saw them somehow shoot through rocks and get head shots. It’s incredibly sloppy, and that sloppiness ends up defining the gameplay.
Wildlands is very much a jack of all trades, yet master of none. The stealth generally works well, but it’s not nearly as well thought out as other games in the genre. Unlike Metal Gear Solid V, you can’t move bodies around, so eventually dead bodies will be spotted, and alarms will be raised if you aren’t super careful about the order that enemies are disposed of. Meanwhile, the shooting is pretty solid, but it never provides the awesome action moments of a Far Cry game. It’s a game stuck between genres, afraid to commit to an experience and one that never truly gels due to it.
Things get slightly better when playing with an actual person, but be warned that playing with a single human partner will make all of your AI teammates go away (so try to get a group of four if possible). That puts the players at a significant disadvantage, as while the computer-controlled squad members are often annoying they are undoubtedly good assets on the field when it comes to reviving players and sniping. While my favorite moments did come while playing with a friend, it was often at the game’s expense. We laughed at poor mission checkpointing, commiserated when we had to travel five kilometers to the next area, and were entertained when we ran into glitches (I once shot a bird out of the sky only for it to die and float in the air). It certainly provided a good time, but not in the way it was intended to.
As mentioned earlier, the sheer size of Ghost Recon Wildlands’ world ends up being a double-edged sword for the game. While it’s impossible to not be impressed with the amount of mileage that has been mapped out by the developers, it’s not actually all that interesting to traverse. From miles of snowy mountains to giant plains of fields, I often found myself bored while traveling from one objective to another. Despite being one of the largest game worlds, it’s also one of the least interesting ones to be in.
“There’s a huge number of upgrades, intel, and side-missions that litter the map, which means that the next goal is only a few hundred meters away.”
A large part of this is due to the environments lacking any life. When compared to Ubisoft’s own Watch Dogs 2, the difference in the quality of the open world is staggering. The in-game residents of Bolivia only exist to have their cars stolen, and so the AI teammates can scream at the player if an “innocent” gets shot. They never truly exist in the world, as stores will be completely empty, and there’s no real way to interact with them beyond shooting them.
While the citizens of Bolivia are largely ignored, there is some attempt to give personality to the high-ranking members of the Cartel that players are tasked with taking care of. For example, the person training narcos is a discharged United States Ranger that is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Further complicating matters, this soldier is one that the main character once served with. One would think this would lead to an interesting story moment between the two, but that isn’t the case. The player is ordered to shoot the veteran without a second thought, and the story is always paper-thin despite its many attempts at seeming deeper than an average shooter.
If one moment truly encapsulates my experience with Wildlands it’d be when I was traveling to a story mission via helicopter, only to be shot down by an enemy missile. Since I was going to crash, I jumped out of the vehicle I was piloting, deployed my parachute, and landed on the roof of a nearby building below. This exciting moment was killed instantly as it turned out that I couldn’t get down from the roof due to Ubisoft not allowing me to use the context-sensitive climb button, and thus I was stuck there indefinitely until I used the game’s fast travel mechanic to escape. Now I was back at a faraway town, without a helicopter, and once again had to slowly travel to my objective.
Despite all these issues, the sense of progress in Wildlands feels addictive. There’s a huge number of upgrades, intel, and side-missions that litter the map, which means that the next goal is only a few hundred meters away. Even as I grew annoyed at the stale gameplay, I always wanted to get that next weapon attachment and gain a new skill. There’s a lot wrong here, but it also undeniably has its hooks into me.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a game that is hurt by its own ambition. Its blend of genres results in a game that tries to do everything, yet excels at nothing. The sheer scope of the world makes it impossible to be filled with interesting details, and Ubisoft manages to make the entire country of Bolivia feel boring. Nothing fits together as well as it should, and it all results in one very disappointing package.
*** PS4 copy provided by the publisher ***
- Gunplay is generally fun
- Looks good minus texture pops
- Better with friends
- Highly repetitive mission design
- Boring world to explore
- Filled with glitches and technical issues