Recently I had the opportunity to fly out to San Francisco, CA courtesy of Ubisoft to check out the next game in the Ghost Recon series, Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The game moves away from the futuristic settings introduced in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and take place in present day Bolivia. Ghost Recon: Wildlands will have the biggest open world to date of any Ubisoft game including The Division and Watch Dogs 2 and will contain twenty-one regions and eleven different ecosystems. Having rarely done anything with any other Ghost Recon game but knowing the changes in setting for Wildlands, I was really looking forward to checking out the game, so let’s see if the game lived up to my expectations or if I was met with disappointment.
The event began with a presentation about the game and the overall goal: hunt down and take out El Sueno, leader of the Carta Blanca Cartel in Bolivia. The team had gone to Bolivia to take note of the various landscapes and environments and used what they saw to create the Bolivia you see in the game. We were told that Wildlands can be played however we want in terms of not only how our characters progress, but how the game itself progresses. The preview event consisted of roughly four hours of play time with the PlayStation 4 version of the game and was split into solo and co-op play. Ubisoft also provided capture devices for each person attending so they could capture footage during the event.
First we got to create our characters. When you first start the game you have the opportunity to customize how your character looks in a variety of aspects including physical look and well as aesthetics such as clothing. We didn’t spend a lot of time here because as we were told in the presentation, you could spend a long time getting your character to look exactly how you want him to, similar to various sports games and their create-a-character options. There are also many different weapons you can pick up and use along the way and you can swap your loadout on the fly at any time. If the situation calls for a sniper rifle and you have one, just go into your load out, grab a sniper rifle, and proceed. You can essentially prepare for any situation on the fly with ease.
Another way to customize your character is with skills. This is essentially nothing new for a lot of gamers: normally you’ll level up, gain skill points, and put those points into various skill trees to gain new benefits or improve the ones you already have. Here it’s a bit different though. Throughout the game you’ll gain skill points which are used to gain and improve your skills, but it takes more than just some skill points. During your missions you’ll come across supply caches that you can tag to gain various other types of supplies needed for those skill upgrades. In other words, it’s more than just wondering where to stick a skill point, but rather how to use the supplies you’ve been tagging during your missions. Do you want to increase your stamina? Maybe you want to increase your resistance do enemy fire for a bit after being revived by a teammate. It honestly took me a few minutes to look over all of the skills to decide how to progress my character, making character customization a rather in depth experience.
After the intro cut scenes were done we got our first mission. As such I hopped into the first vehicle I found, my three AI partners jumped in with me, and we took off towards our first objective by following the path notated on my mini-map. However, that was MY choice. This is where the idea of playing however you wish comes in. As stated, the game has twenty-one regions as well as twenty-six bosses as you work to stop El Sueno. You have the freedom of choice in how you obtain that ultimate goal, including in which order to play through the missions. If one approach doesn’t work, try something else. Maybe you need to wait until nightfall, try approaching the target from a different angle, choose a different weapon loadout, or maybe the weather is a factor. You have the freedom to do what you want, when you want.
That being said, things change depending on what you do. Various elements can change depending on your actions such as how the NPCs respond to you and your crew. In fact, when I asked lead game designer Dominic Butler what the most difficult gameplay element to implement was, instead of one specific element he answered the system as a whole, which makes sense. There are games in which you have a couple of options during certain missions and the rest of the game will change accordingly depending on what you choose, but from a programming standpoint that’s not too difficult to implement I’d imagine. However, in a game where you can do anything anytime in any order and still have the game respond depending on your choices, that can be pretty tough to implement, but it seems that Ghost Recon: Wildlands did a pretty good job at doing it.
Then there’s co-op and I have to say this was my favorite part of the preview event. Every group consisted of four players and we got an hour or so to just run around and do whatever we wanted. We were placed a good ways through the game so we had plenty of weapons, items, and skills to help customize our characters how we wanted. That being said there are a couple of features found in co-op play that you won’t find in solo play…well, sort of for one. Players can drop in and out at any time, similar to the Borderlands series. When we took a break from solo play the team set up all of our stations in co-op so we didn’t quite see how it worked. However, drop in/drop out works well for Wildlands because unlike other games such as Borderlands where the progress of two players could be drastically different, there’s no chance of being over or under leveled. Sure, mission progress might be different and your weapon loadouts and skills could vary from your teammates, but it’s not like you have to worry about taking on missions that are meant for higher experience levels since…well, there are no experience levels.
Something else that initially confused us was when one of us chose a mission to work on. The rest of us each saw that teammates name on the screen with options to join them or dismiss the message. We initially thought he accidentally left the game and we were being asked if we wanted him back in the group, but instead it was him choosing a mission and it asking us if we wanted to join him. That’s right, in co-op you don’t all have to do the same mission. Two people can do one mission while the other two may want to work on another one. Granted that means that it’ll be a bit harder taking on those missions since there’d be only two of you instead of four, but it’s just another way of customizing your experience by doing what you want when you want it to, though I’ve found that four people figuring out how to solve a mission together can lead to some rather hilarious results.
Going through the missions that we did in co-op worked rather well as we were able to communicate with each other and decide on where to position ourselves and swap our weapon loadouts to whatever the situation called for and felt comfortable with. In both solo and co-op there are a few things to help you and your squad out. You can identify enemies by using your binoculars and any enemies spotted will be marked with a colored dot. In solo play you can utilize an ability called Sync Shot where you and your squadmates will fire simultaneously upon any marked enemies, possibly taking down a few at a time. A helpful option with co-op is the ability to mark several enemies with various numbers so you can decide who should concentrate on taking out which enemies and when. As with the rest of the game, it’s however you and your teammates want to do it. It’s also nice that whenever you come across a weapons cache, ammo crate, or supplies, everyone can use them and tag them, not just one person.
I went into this preview event not having played a Tom Clancy game in quite some time and came out wanting more. I’m not typically a first person shooter type of player outside of a few exceptions, but I adapted rather quickly to Ghost Recon: Wildlands…well, except for mixing up the handbrake and exit vehicle buttons leading to some hilarious moments where I chase a jeep downstream. The more I played the more time I wish I had with the game. While Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a military simulator/shooter, it also falls into the realm of an action adventure game. Including the drop-in/drop-out feature was a nice addition as it lets players come and go as they please and be able to play with their friends no matter how far anyone has gotten in the game; you’ll never be over- or under-leveled for missions.
To conclude, Ghost Recon: Wildlands looks great and plays pretty well. There were some things I didn’t have much of a chance to check out as I was focused on progressing through the game to see how things….well, progress. From what I played though, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. The possibilities are virtually limitless on how you can play the game, both solo and co-op, and things will change depending on how you play. While I haven’t played a Tom Clancy game in quite some time, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Wildlands once it’s released in early March.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.