I’ve played about eleven hours of Ghost Recon Wildlands, sniping enemies and trolling my hapless squadmates. It’s a pretty good time although I’m a bit worried that the fun won’t last forever. Here are some early thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.
At first glance, Wildlands is a basic open world title. But the underlying structure feels more like Mercenaries or even Crackdown. Each area has intel that you collect. This intel unlocks missions that, once completed, let you take down major cartel members. Take down more members of the cartel and you get closer to facing down their leader. It’s a great structure, although Wildlands lacks some of the reckless bombast of these other titles.
Moment to moment play feels like it pulls from the Far Cry series. Wildlands feels like a natural continuation of what the first two games in that series offered: exotic locales with intersecting systems that can evoke meaningful play. I’ve sniped the right person in a courtyard and set two factions against each other. I’ve laid minefields in jungle brush to harass foes. I’ve run miles with a hostage in tow only to execute him in an open field as a passing helicopter finally located us. From time to time, Wildlands can feel like the Far Cry 2 follow up we never got. If only for brief moments.
If you’re playing solo, Wildlands will dump three AI operatives into your squad, but it’s better with a friend. Coordinating fire, communicating enemy positions, or engaging in diversionary tactics is much more exciting with the possibility of human error.
I played around seven hours of cooperative play with my co-worker Riley MacLeod. It was a blast. We’d leap from being stone cold operators to clumsy assholes who rammed each other’s jeeps off cliffs. To enjoy the breadth of experiences that Wildlands can offer, other players are essential. Besides, Wildlands is a massive game. You’ll be less lonely.
I’ve played Wildlands for roughly ten hours. I’ve collected countless piece of intel, killed hundreds of cartel members, assembled a dozen guns, and eliminated a few major targets. According to my statistics, my progress is only at 11%.
The game world is astounding large. Every region has a great deal of missions and bases. It’s not always the most diverse experience—you’ll mostly be shooting people in different places and in slightly different contexts. But damn, there’s definitely a lot of places to go and people to shoot when you get there.
I had a lot of issues with The Division, but one of my more practical concerns was that shooting felt terrible. Pinging bullet sponge enemies and seeing vague numbers fly off them was one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve had. Wildlands avoids this by sticking to the basics.
Guns are snappy to use, with the game switching easily and quickly from a third person perspective to your view down the sights. Impact sounds are understated but make successfully hitting your mark incredibly satisfying. There’s no bullshit: a headshot is a headshot even if an enemy is elite. It feels great to stalk around and pull off a tricky kill.
As you play Wildlands, you will level up your character and earn skill points that can be spent to upgrade technology and abilities. You will also find extra skill points in the world as your explore. In theory, this is fine. But Wildlands adds the additional need to collect resources like medical supplies and oil to level up as well. If you have enough skills points and enough resources, you can take the skill. It’s not too obtuse, but the added convolution can feel a bit stifling.
I don’t really know what a skill system is even doing in a game like this. Ghost Recon strikes me as the perfect series to avoid these extra bells and whistles to focus on weapons and raw player ability instead. The presence of a skill tree adds nothing of value.
Tom Clancy games already put us firmly in the realm of jingoism. Wildlands continues the trend set up by The Division where your role as a hero is entirely contingent on your function as a state-sanctioned killer. As a fictional work, this doesn’t necessarily bother me, but you mostly interact with the world around you by shooting.
I have no problem with digital killing. My problem comes from the fact that games like The Division and Wildlands add an unnecessary level of mystique and even fashion to protagonists who are basically government assassins.
The Splinter Cell series tackled this as well. Sam Fisher was a weary man who was worn into a fine powder as the series progressed. There was ambiguity, hard decisions, and a sad resignation to the idea that security often demands a blood sacrifice. Wildlands lacks that. It wants to be Sicario or even a little bit of Sin Nombre but ends up being a redux of Clear and Present Danger.
Playing Wildlands is a good time. Idly chatting with a friend before getting serious for an infiltration mission might be one of my favorite feelings. There are moments of chaos, sublime and strange times when planning gives way to feverish improvisation and furious gunfights. I’m excited to play tonight and take down another major cartel operator.
But I also don’t know if the magic will hold. With so many targets and such little gameplay variety, I can see it getting to be a real grind without good companions. I’m eager for more but readying myself for the moment where the magic is gone and it becomes just another open world shooter.
I’ll expand on these thoughts with a full review later this week.