Traversing the Wild in Ghost Recon Wildlands

With the release of Ghost Recon Wildlands about six weeks away, we were able to get our hands on a close to final build of the game, save for a few bug fixes and minor tweaks that will go into the inevitable day one patch. We had access to two missions, one single player with some AI buddies, and another in co-op, each set in a different district with differing enemy types and weapons available.

So right off the bat, co-op is going to be the way to play Wildlands, especially if you have friends that you can join you. Single player is fine, but the amount of coordination you can have with your AI friends is extremely limited. They will help you in a firefight, and you can use what is called a sync-shot to, well, synchronize multiple kills at the same time. Other than that, though, you’re pretty much on your own to complete the mission. This does make sense when you think about it because if you were able to simply tell your virtual team to complete the objective for you and they were able to do that, it would probably be a boring campaign. The point is that in co-op, you’re able to actually talk to your teammates and execute more nuanced and strategic attacks that you simply cannot do with a team of one.

Co-op could be a ton of fun if you have a group of friends who are willing to play in a strategic and planned manner, rather than a free-for-all. Despite not knowing any of my other teammates, we were still able to coordinate attacks and plans that got us through the mission. We were all buffed up a lot more in the co-op portion, having more gadgets and options at our disposal, so maybe that helped, but there was more we were able to do. Coordinating roles and what guns people were going to use was a huge advantage, as well. One thing the developers noted was that if you’re unable to find a team and end up using the “drop-in drop-out” co-op, the disadvantage of not being to talk to them can be quelled by a system they implemented to give simple commands like “group up” or “go here.” It won’t solve every issue of communication, but it’s the best available option. It’s also worth noting that when you play with others, progress in Wildlands will count for both of you. This means that if one player has played a mission that the other hasn’t, playing that mission over will re-earn them experience while giving the newbie full credit while moving them along the overarching story.

One of the biggest features Ubisoft has been promoting in Wildlands is what they call the complete freedom of choice. In both single player and multiplayer, you’re able to traverse the entire open world from the get-go, meaning that you can take on whichever missions and bosses that you want in any order, although some have higher rankings, so you may want to hold off on some of them. The only thing that’s blocked off will be the endgame boss, El Sueño himself, who is only unlocked after you’ve taken down a certain amount of his cartel. Otherwise, the map is completely open to you. This also means, however, that enemies can do the same; if you’re making enough of a ruckus in one area, you may alert enemies from another who will come to help their friends fight you. Rather than forcing you to play certain missions at night or day, Wildlands also has a day/night cycle, which allows players to choose whether they want to take on the mission in broad daylight, or under the cover of night. While this is a cool idea, sometimes it can be annoying having to wait in real time for the day to change. Overall, though, the freedom of choice aspect is intriguing, and as someone who always likes to use stealthy methods to complete tasks in games, Wildlands does a good job of allowing you to keep quiet or go in hot.

Another of the more interesting pieces of the Wildlands puzzle is the storyline. The concept of having a drug lord essentially take over the entire country of Bolivia and use it to manufacture and sell cocaine is a crazy idea that works well in the context of the Ghosts. Having them infiltrate the narco-state and silently disrupt the operation is fascinating, and it also works from the freedom of choice perspective that Wildlands is all about. You’re able to choose which pieces of the cartel you want to dismantle first, and they’ve taken the time to make the story make sense no matter what order you’ve gone in.

The customization in Wildlands is pretty extensive, both for characters and guns. Before starting the campaign, you can set yourself up as a male or female with a ton of options for skin tones, hair styles, and various clothing and gear. Once you hop into the game your arsenal is pretty limited, but as more guns are unlocked, you can make a trip to the Gunsmith, a returning feature from Ghost Recon Future Soldier, which allows the ability to change many of the different aspects of each gun. Characters will get a primary gun, a secondary, and a sidearm, which means you have a ton of options as to what you bring into the bowels of the cartel.

There were a few things during our playthrough that were somewhat frustrating, though, and while they didn’t necessarily ruin anything, they did leave a sour taste in our mouths. One was the side missions. Side missions would start up without anyone on the team initiating them, and we would end up following a bunch of objectives that were not necessarily for what we wanted to be doing, even though there was the illusion that we were on the main track. We would either finish the side mission and it would say “Side Mission Complete” confusing all of us, or it would say “Side Mission Failed” and we would all shrug and move on to the main story. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad there are going to be side missions as they can be a great way to keep the fun going and to help level up your character, but we want to be able to control what missions are being tracked. It felt like the game was pushing us into situations that we didn’t want to be in right then, and it was slightly aggravating.

Vehicle controls were also a burden as both the ground vehicles and the helicopters have slightly wonky controls. The various jeeps and sedans all have a hard time getting up and down hills, which is extra frustrating considering the amount hills and mountains in Bolivia. We would hold right on the left stick and would just slide down the left side of the mountain. With the helicopters, holding the gas (R2) does something weird and different from your usual copter controls. In something like Battlefield, the gas control will propel you both upward, only pushing you in a direction when using the analog stick. This allows you to hold R2 consistently without having to let go. In Wildlands, you’ll have to let go of the left stick if you want to go vertically and vice versa if you want to move forward. Holding them down simultaneously, the copter does this weird thing where it will wobble up and down. It’s an odd way to control a helicopter, but we watched a few of the developers playing later on during the event, and they were killing it flying low to the ground and doing other crazy stunts.

Ghost Recon Wildlands is designed for a specific audience. Fans of the series will feel right at home with the third-person/first-person hybrid that they’re used to, but you’ll also have to be a fan of strategy and coordination as opposed to running and gunning. Fortunately for those looking for chaos, Wildlands is going to be a lot of fun. Working together and figuring out ways to take out enemies efficiently could be tons of fun as long as you can get passed the couple oddities that it has. For more Ghost Recon Wildlands coverage, stick to Hardcore Gamer throughout the week.