Pre-order Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Open-world adventures are a tricky thing to get right, as developers need to find the right balance between structured activities and free-roaming exploration. Ubisoft has generally done a good job of finding that balance, especially in its single-player adventures. Multiplayer is harder to get right, and for that, the company has taken an incremental approach, with each new game offering more flexibility. Now, with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Ubisoft is marrying the two by offering a four-player experience that seamlessly shifts between solo play and multiplayer, without missing a beat.
The plot driving Wildlands is right out of the video game villain playbook. The head of a drug cartel is doing big, bad things, and in order to bring freedom to the people of Bolivia, you have to eliminate him and his network.
Promoted as Ubisoft's biggest open-world game to date, Wildlands features 21 regions with 11 distinct ecosystems. You'll find everything from snowy peaks to jungle and desert. There's even an underground mine to explore. The variety in environments is part of the game's promise, with different tactics being required as you move across terrain types.
Missions appear to be organized via region, with 26 different bosses for you to eventually take down. Each has his/her own "mini-story," which allows for flexibility in approach. Wildlands doesn't force you down any specific story path. If you decide to switch up what you're doing and jump into a different mission, you won't be penalized.
That same flexibility applies to vehicles, with the development team applying a mantra of, "If you can see it, you can steal it, and then you can drive it." This includes motorcycles, hovercraft, cars, busses, airplanes, and helicopters. On the one hand, this allows for some fun moments (running over drug dealers with a construction front loader was pretty cool), but on the other, it runs the risk of making it easy to escape the reality of the world. During the handful of hours I spent playing the game, I found that stealing a helicopter was almost like God mode for travel. Flying high above danger meant it was easy to avoid enemy checkpoints and hopscotch from mission to mission.
Specific mission objectives were varied, with goals ranging from retrieving intel to attacking a heavily armed base. You can play through each mission however you choose, though stealth seemed to be much easier than going in guns-a-blazing, especially when playing solo. Interestingly enough, when attacking some of the smaller outposts, Wildlands felt reminiscent of Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4. For the most part, that's a very good thing, though Wildlands also shares the same loose driving mechanics as the Far Cry franchise. It's one of those things that seems to crop up in Ubisoft games; the vehicles look great, but if they have four wheels, keeping them on the road and moving at a decent speed is always a challenge. On the upside, you've never seen beat-up minivans that are this durable before. These things can stand up to an ungodly amount of abuse.
In the time I spent with the game, the squad AI seemed pretty robust, with my AI teammates holding their own and even managing to revive me without getting shot up. You can issue general commands, which is great for micromanagers, but when in the middle of an assault, I found myself letting them do their thing and playing the game as if I were entirely solo. I don't recall my AI teammates asking for help, so you shouldn't have to worry about babysitting them if you choose to focus on solo play.
All that said, it was the multiplayer session that stood out as the best part of my time with Wildlands. There is no doubt that the development team incorporated lessons from The Division because playing with three other people felt superb. Planning, coordinating, and assaulting a base with a full squad of four felt incredibly satisfying. Unlike the solo play, where I generally ignored my squadmates, in co-op, the squad was integral to the experience. It just feels good to have one person lay down cover while another person flanks for the kill or to drive a pickup while your teammates lean out the doors with guns at the ready.
Multiplayer reveals a few minor flaws in the gameplay, though, such as requiring all four squad members to pick up the in-game collectibles. You would think that one person in your squad grabbing something would do the job. There's also an area that's designed to be one-way thanks to a 10-foot drop. In single-player, you'd think nothing of it, but with four human players at the helm, we spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to climb up ("Can I get on your back?) before we realized it was a game design limitation.
Given that we only got to play two of the 21 regions in the game, it's safe to say that we only scratched the surface of Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The multiplayer is enticing and will probably be the main draw, with the single-player experience filling in the gaps for times when your gaming party has other responsibilities to tend to.
Editor's Note: Interested in checking out Ghost Recon: Wildlands for yourself? You can give the game some hands-on play time during the beta this weekend.
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