Through an admitted sense of naivety, I went into my hands-on session with Ghost Recon: Wildlands with an expectation that it would be The Division in Bolivia. It’s not. It seems bigger, faster, tougher, and certainly more refined.
Most striking is that it feels closer to the tactical mastery that was Advanced Warfighter, although it feels like that game is a century old, such is the evolution of the genre since 2005.
I can’t say for certain that Wildlands will even comes close to that game’s standard, but I certainly see a more grounded experience, challenging as it may have been for a studio making what Ubisoft claims to be its largest ever open world.
The subtle similarities are there. In particular, Wildlands celebrates the series’ tactical roots, something Advanced Warfare perfected but that Future Soldier delegitimised in favour of streamlined individuality. There’s no doubting just how team-centric Wildlands wants to be: I felt in control of a team that I knew I needed to keep alive during a mission.
This has always been a key component of the Ghost Recon experience for solo players. Importantly I feel, Wildlands seems hellbent on offering — at the very least — a competent single-player experience, as focused on the cooperative outing Ubisoft may be. There are finicky issues here that I struggled to seperate from the build’s state and the Ghost Recon franchise more broadly, but nothing I came across that was a straight-up deal breaker.
The core fundamentals of what define the Ghost Recon experience — at least for me — are here: choose your gear, your squad, and approach objectives any which way you like. That’s made easy by an open world that, at least in my playthrough, didn’t seem saturated in the same way Ubisoft’s other open-world outings are.
I think this is an important distinction between Ghost Recon and, say, Assassin’s Creed, although I think an obvious one as collectibles and mundane fetch quests seem at odds with GR‘s obsession with semi-realistic military warfare.
That I could easily mark an objective, approach it from multiple different directions, and then direct my squad using a handful of different tactical strategies suggests to me that Wildlands is a celebratory ode to the series’ origins: I never felt that the game got caught up in its own world — as big as it is — nor that it got lost in directing you towards really specific points of interest.
Advanced Warfighter did that superbly: it invited the player into a structured game world that amplified a deeper layer of player strategy. Wildlands combines the modern, grounded realness of the original game with AW‘s complex mechanics, and the end result feels like something that could be really special.
Concerns still plague my mind, however, and they generally centre around a modern infatuation with accessibility and repetitiveness. I can’t tell whether the solo experience will evolve beyond stronghold battles and interrogation quests, and I’m equally unsure as to whether they will actually remain entertaining.
Further, I’m curious as to how the levelling structure works to naturally progress the experience. My primary fear is that solo experience is designed around a simple tag-and-breach approach, which can get complicated but can’t really evolve beyond the first few hours.
Ten years ago, this approach to a player free-for-all was unique, breaking away from the linear line of story-gameplay progression. The challenge for Ubisoft, certainly, is to ensure that the quieter solo experience remains similarly compelling as what the game offers on the cooperative front. That I imagine is easier said than done.
I’m confident it can, however, if it stays true to the Ghost Recon philosophy of tactical neutrality, in that the game world remains unpredictable and ever-changing, in-step with the natural progression of gear unlockables and squad levelling.
There’s no doubting that Wildlands is going to excel cooperatively. No way Ubisoft makes an open-world, squad-based game without some sort of drop-in, drop-out structure. There’s a similar sense of trial-and-error here next to the solo offering, because the game world is so inviting: all too often would a team request go ignored by another player who just couldn’t resist the urge to plow their 4×4 into a group of unsuspecting bad guys.
So maybe that’s not “trial-and-error” in the traditional sense, but the open world I feel certainly encourages a chaotic approach, because you never quite know what the hell is going to work. In one situation we found ourselves with the high-ground over our marked target, spending a good 30 minutes trying over and over again to take out the security forces, only to find ourselves stuck in the midst of a battle between two competing factions time and time again.
We soon realised that we were standing too close to the main road while planning our attack, which invited over more forces, leading into an all-out orgy of violence. The world doesn’t really tell you these things — which I love — and it’s scary just how, erm, wild this virtual playground felt at times.
That’s ultimately what I feel will differentiate this game from its predecessors more than anything, and certainly help it establish an identity of its own. Taking inspiration from the likes of the original and GRAW is something I feel this game needed to do, but the unpredictability of the game world — alongside the inevitable nature of human error — can make for a stunningly complex experience.
Importantly, much like GRAW, the completion of an objective in Wildlands felt like a genuine achievement, something I feel is an important component of a strategy game that wants to genuinely challenge the player.
Wildlands may have the unfortunate task of reigniting interest in the tired Ghost Recon franchise, but I certainly see the potential for tactical mastery. Just stay away from the damn road!
Ghost Recon: Wildlands launches March 7 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.