It was a dark night. Rain was pouring relentlessly from the heavens as a helicopter made its way across the border to Bolivia, going unnoticed against the black clouds. Any of the chopper’s noises were suppressed by the droning rain and constant thunder in the sky. Its destination was a remote location, a secret safe house where an equally secret meeting will be held. The helicopter’s passengers were a group of well-trained covert operatives and their handler. These were the kind of people you only call upon in dire need, when circumstances don’t allow anything other than an elite group of soldiers that can get any job done regardless of difficulty or danger. And all that without ever being noticed. They are effectively ghosts and haunt whomever they have been unleashed on. This time around their target is El Sueño, the biggest and most ruthless drug lord in Bolivia.
And this is where you as the player come in. The story is nothing particularly spectacular, but it provides a good enough canvas for an entertaining open world action game that justifies why you do what you do. I’ve played this game all the way to end in coop mode and this my review of the roughly 75 hours it took.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an open-world 3rd person somewhat loot-shooter with plenty of vehicles, dumb side missions and stuff to collect. As is the case with many of Ubisoft’s open world games, the side missions are not the most interesting ones. But, unlike in Assassin’s Creed for example, it doesn’t feel like everyone’s just too stupid to do things on their own. Technically, it kinda is, but it does not come across that obvious. It’s probably because only the main missions are narrated with video sequences, phone calls or other conversations. A side mission can be to defend a radio transmitter for a certain amount of time until the broadcast has finished. Or to steal supply vehicles and drive or fly them to a specific location. You learn of these missions either by accidentally being in the vicinity or by interviewing informants – exclamation marks on the map. It’s not very immersive, but it speeds up the process which is especially nice in coop. I honestly don’t want to hear the same generic excuse of an explanation for why the mission givers cannot do it by themselves.
These side missions provide some form of resources which are required to acquire the skills from the skills tree. I hadn’t figured out how the experience and level up system worked, but these resources are required to improve the character’s abilities. One can also find weapons and weapon parts, the “loot” element of the game. But this is one of the things that is not well done. Although there are tons of weapons, we only managed to unlock maybe half – if at all. Furthermore, there is no real progression in the weapons. They all differ in some areas but it’s not like the further you progress in the game the more powerful they get. The weapons seem to be based on reality and for the most part it is irrelevant which one of each type you use. A headshot is deadly with either gun, hence all the loot stops being interesting at some point. After some time, I had found a setup that suited my style of playing and I stuck with it for the rest of the game. As much as you can find and collect weapon parts in this game, it won’t make a difference and may only appeal to the completionists.
We had some fun tracking all that stuff down, especially if we were racing each other for who gets there first. But that’s about it. Otherwise weapons and weapon parts are somewhat useless collectibles.
If you don’t take the game as a loot-shooter however, there is a lot to enjoy. As previously mentioned, the story isn’t the most complex or even imaginative one, but the world in which it takes place feels the part. It is well designed and divided into several sections that each look a bit differently. You’ll find dense jungles, snowy mountains, small villages, larger villages, something in between, etc. It is a big world and it’s got enough variety in it to not become boring after the first few hours. Sure, the gameplay is the same everywhere, but the looks change. And the game world is not the only thing that tries to provide variations. For good and for bad, the missions are not simple brute force tank-rush operations where you storm the forts guns blazing. That will likely result in certain death in the bigger areas as enemies will surround you, snipe you, attack you head on, all at the same time. They are not overly smart, but there can be a lot of them. Instead, the game mixes things up and requires you to be quiet from time to time. Sneak into a military base and steal something. Find a person and follow her or him undetected. Rescue someone who is now suddenly in danger because of something you’ve done earlier in the game – which is part of the regular story and has nothing to do with your decisions and in-game consequences. The game really tries to keep you on your toes and not fall into a rut, which is a good thing. This makes the whole adventure feel much more realistic overall.
The most challenging missions are those that require a stealth approach at all costs. You can kill enemies, but you must make sure their dead bodies are not detected. Since you can’t move bodies to hide them, this can be very challenging and frustrating at the same time. One wrong move, one missed shot and you’re made. But these are the missions, that when successfully finished are also the most rewarding ones. It’s a pretty good feeling to sneak through a well-guarded base and pick off enemies one by one at a pace where your opponents have no time to react and won’t ever know what hit them. Even more so in coop where you can sync the attacks with you partner(s).
Unfortunately, the game is also riddled with bugs which, more often than not, were absolute showstoppers. Hence the “for good and for bad”. The most common bug is that the person you need to follow simply doesn’t start moving. They get in their vehicle and then just sit there. There’s no other way than to fail the mission and try again. At some point it’ll resolve itself because in many cases it is related to where you are when you spot that person. From my experience, if you happen to use the drone or binoculars from a safe distance a lot, the chances of the bug increases. The most resilient bug required a very intricate workaround to finish it. I cannot say how many times we had tried it. Let’s just say the fingers on both of my hands are not enough. The objective was to locate a dude and follow him to somebody else, the actual target or place of interest. As soon as you spot the person he would get into his car and not leave. The workaround was to move the car first, unseen, before he gets in. The tricky part about that: he was basically in arm’s reach of that damn thing. And one mustn’t be detected, or the mission was over immediately. Not by the dude, nor by the other enemies around him. The solution was that one of us tried to distract the bulk of enemies in that area with a lure while the other player quickly gets in the car, moves it a meter forward and then hides again. That’s teamwork!
Another weird bug that could only be resolved by restarting the game required us to enter an enemy base undetected, via a stolen vehicle, locate an office and photograph some information and then leave, still undetected. The first time we managed to get the intel without being found out we went for the quickest way out, which was jumping a wall. Apparently, that’s even by design because there were motorcycles placed conveniently next to a ramp right in front of that wall. At first, we didn’t notice the bikes and went straight for that ramp – after failing so many times there was no more patience for trying things out. Well, it didn’t matter how far we got away from that base, the game simply didn’t consider that as being in the clear. We went back in and took the bikes, but that didn’t help either. We went back in again and drove out in the stolen vehicle, but that didn’t help either. We went back in again, clearing all the enemies without being detected, but that didn’t help either. We went back in like a petulant child and cleared out all vehicles as well, parked them in front of the base and then blew them up, but that didn’t help either. Seems like a base without enemies or cars and trucks is still not safe for leaving unnoticed.
The last kind of bug I’ll bring up is more related to the AI of all the NPCs inhabiting the world, pedestrians in particular. This sort of issue can also be found in games like Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry where people will just randomly jump in front of an oncoming vehicle (or horse in AC) in order to get to safety. Maybe Ubisoft is an emo kind of company and deems suicide by car safer than living in a world of guns and violence. It’s funny a few times, but it becomes annoying very quickly, especially since you technically are not allowed to hurt innocent people. Well, technically they hurt themselves. But hey, the game doesn’t consider that an empty base can be left without being seen so what do I know.
Apart from terrible bugs like that, there’s a lot of fun to be had. Just the simple fact that I started to move all the cars for a big bang gave us a big laugh as my gaming partner realized what I was doing. It’s random chaos and sometimes that’s the most fun. Ghost Recon: Wildlands doesn’t restrict you from doing anything and since it’s a world in the modern days and not a medieval setting, just driving or flying around wreaking havoc as a team can be pretty awesome. All cars have their own driving mechanics, so they’ll feel different. It’s not realistic, of course, but it shouldn’t be. It’s fun and believable enough – although you can drive down ledges without killing yourself. Another thing that I really liked was the weapons feedback. Every time you hit an enemy it makes a satisfying sound telling you that you’ve scored a hit. “Satisfying” sounds terrible, come to think of it, but it’s not about a sadistic satisfaction or a fetish. It’s about knowing that you didn’t miss. It sounds like punching a punching bag, so it’s nothing gross or repulsive.
I could go on and describe more details of the game, like the different factions, comment on the graphics (which are good, make sure you have a relatively modern PC) or the voice actors, which I tend to do a lot. So, let’s quickly do that. Really quick. The English voice acting is on point and even taught me a new word: “shitballs”. I really like that. The German translation, from what I remember having seen on YouTube some time in past, is terrible. Don’t play on German, learn English instead. It’s my default recommendation for basically all video games. I don’t know why, but no German translation and voice acting feels natural to me. It’s so bad that it really takes me out of the game to a point where I don’t want to play it. To continue this tangent, let me give you an anecdotal example. Recently I’ve received an Xbox Game Pass for Windows demo subscription with a graphics card (the unfortunately terrible RX 5700 XT I’ve written about) and installed Gears 5. Unlike in Steam, where you can set the language for almost all games (almost because of Batman: Arkham City), the Xbox App doesn’t provide that feature. So, I started the game and immediately after the first few words had been spoken, I skipped all intros and videos and tried to find a language setting. But there is none. At this point I was about to forget about this game, without having played a single second. Luckily the language can be changed in a settings file. But that’s how bad it is in my opinion. And I’m born and raised in Germany.
So, roughly 2000 words in, let me summarize: very fun game but try to play it in coop. Otherwise the collecting stuff may become dull rather quickly. I could imagine playing with four players is even more amazing and allows for greater tactics taking apart huge bases silently. To quote the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.”