An Open World Co-Op Shooter
This is a love story. Like one of those classic stories where you’d never expect the two lovers to come together. I first heard about Ghost Recon: Wildlands from a buddy at work sometime towards the end of last year. After having played The Division, I wasn’t really up for another PvE-fest, so I just moved on mentally without a second thought. Fast forward to a month ago, I was convinced to download and try it with a small group of people. Much to my surprise, I had more fun than I expected. By the second beta test I was hooked. When I read PvP was going to be added, I was sold.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the latest in the Ghost Recon series. I’ve never played a single Ghost Recon title, so this was my first. It’s your standard AAA title, retail priced at $59.99, and can be purchased about anywhere. The game itself is a non-linear, open world shooter. There is a quest line, but everything is off rails. And OH how you can go WAY off the rails! More about that in a minute. The world is HUGE, and the playstyle is completely up to you. If you want to go in commando, you can do it. If you want to go all sneaky stealth – you can do that too. This game has more flexibility in play than any title I have ever played. You can change your guns, mods, and even your appearance on the fly. To top everything off, you can play from first person or third person views. There is a lot packed into this game, including online co-op with up to 4 friends. And when you don’t have any friends around, an AI squad deploys to help you out.
What Makes Wildlands Fun
This is going to be another review where the praise outweighs the complaints. The first thing worth mentioning are the small things. The level of detail in this game is incredible. Take the screenshot up top for example. My character is holding his hand up to block his eyes from the dust stirred up by the helicopter landing. Another example are the muffled voices from conversations taking place in the next room. The detail in this game is some next level stuff.
Next in line for praise is the driving. The entire vehicle system is the pinnacle of game design. This is how developers should build time sinks. Vehicles are fun to drive, but easy to wreck. There are two speeds – stop and full speed. Handling varies between cars, trucks, vans, buses, and luxury sports vehicles. Wrecking vehicles decreases performance, so it’s pretty common to swap out during travel. Depending on where you are, this could take some time. It’s a very cleverly disguised time sink, and I enjoy every minute of it. You don’t even realize that you’re being stalled, it just all feels like one fluid motion.
There are several recurring mission types, but one stands out for me. Convoy missions are my new favorite thing to do. High speeds, guns blazing, and cars exploding! They are fast paced and never the same. You can try and run the escorts off the road, or maybe you’ll run past a police checkpoint and pick up and become pursued yourself? You have so little control, and the chaos you can create is legendary. If everything goes right, you can be done in a matter or minutes. If it goes wrong, you can die from the fiery explosion of a gasoline tanker. It’s glorious!
I also want to give some praise to the AI commands specifically. While actively giving your AI squad commands, it is probably some of the best AI I’ve experienced in a game. I’ll dive a little into the passive AI behavior below, just suffice to say that you should always actively manage your AI squad during combat. The non-linear quest system I mentioned before is another standout feature of Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Your mission objectives are simple – rescue a prisoner, steal a boat, interrogate an enemy. Your methods to achieve those mission objectives are completely up to you. Finish the mission without firing a single shot. Spend an hour crawling in the grass doing recon first. You get to write the story script here.
Wildlands keeps track of a multitude of player stats. I love stats in games, but this game provides more useful stats than usual. For example, it keeps track of your average shot distance. This can be helpful in determining whether you’d want an SMG, assault rifle, or sniper rifle. While some people may know what they like, there are some like me who only have a vague idea. With stats like these, you can tailor your loadout to more optimally fit your playstyle. Finally, I want to talk about the visuals. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a non-stop eye candy experience. I don’t know if it’s just the graphics, or maybe a combination of the setting, but every moment of the game looks like a work of art. From the landscapes down to the weapons, everything looks amazing.
What Makes It…Not
I did have some trouble the very first time I played the game. My quest NPC bugged out, and when I tried to start over with a new campaign, I couldn’t create a new character. Since then I haven’t experienced any technical problems like these. Probably the biggest complaint I have is about friends joining your game. When a new player joins your game session, there is an enormous lag spike. This can be especially problematic while driving (see above) or if you’re in the middle of a firefight. Continuing from above with the AI, letting your AI squad follow on you passively holds you back. They won’t take initiative to give you cover fire, and they are never nearby when you want to hurry into a vehicle. It’s like you’re on a mission, and they’re on vacation. Bottom line is, manage your AI when you’re in combat, and prepare for aggravation when you’re not. Probably the biggest annoyance in Wildlands is the down/death mechanic. When you get downed, you must wait for 60 seconds before you can die/respawn. If your teammates can’t get to you, or are 1000 meters away, you’re still forced to wait the entire 60 seconds. It doesn’t come up often, but when it does, it’s extremely irritating.
The Bottom Line
The game as-is has been a hit with me. The promised upcoming free PvP update to Ghost Recon: Wildlands, only makes it better. How PvP will be implemented has yet to be announced, but co-op gameplay is solid enough now to earn a recommendation from me. There is so much to do in Wildlands, and all of it is fun. Even going back to redo old missions is enjoyable thanks to the non-linear system. I’ve yet to find a single zone wall, and have actually been quite distracted from even trying. This is one of the best open world experiences available to-date. Just taking a look at the map, and seeing all the available provinces coming with future updates makes you feel quite small. And I like that.