Even though I was never a fan of Tom Clancy’s books I have been an eager follower of Ubisoft’s games that bear his name. Even with the disappointment of The Division fresh in my mind I was excited to explore the open worlds of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. What I found was a game that paradoxically could be immensely satisfying and utterly banal at the exact same time. I wish that was something that you could be proud of, because it is actually quite an achievement when you think about it. This is a game that has an excellent technical presentation with fairly well crafted mechanics and virtually no soul to give those things context.
The story of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands follows a squad of four American Special Forces operatives as they enter a fictionalized Bolivia in an attempt to take down the vicious leader of one of the biggest drug cartels. The opening is surprisingly strong and seems to promise an interesting story digging into the layers of corruption that foster such an environment, but any hints of this being followed up on are squashed immediately. It is quickly apparent that the story is merely a loose framework meant to guide you from mission to mission.
Even though you are an elite Special Forces unit funded by America you can only acquire guns and parts by finding them on the map, you can only learn to coordinate more than one target at a time with skills points, and your map is littered with waypoint markers that seem to have been placed based on where a child’s cheerios fell from their high chair. You will get a more fulfilling and realized story from Just Cause 3 than you will from Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.
If you strip away the story, though, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is a game that actually plays rather well… for a while. The missions you are presented with are interesting and allow for you to approach them with total freedom of choice. You can carefully and cautiously scout the entire camp with your drone before executing a precision strike against the enemy. You could also equip a grenade launcher to your assault rifle and reenact the opening scenes of Predator if such was your wish. Heck, go and grab the closest helicopter and land it right in the middle of town before jumping out, guns blazing. No matter what your plan is there are few feelings quite as satisfying as watching an enemy base become methodically emptied of its contents. But everything between those moments serves to drag the experience down. Despite all the ways you can tackle your objectives it will become repetitive, and fast.
The missions blend together far sooner than they should, and beating the game is more a test of perseverance than of skill. Grabbing some friends and playing this game in co-op helps immeasurably, and not just because the AI would get lost in their own home. This is a game built from the ground up to be played as a cohesive team, and when you can get that going it does truly shine.
Final thoughts on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands:
On a technical level Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is a good game. The graphics hold up well for an open world game, and the places where it does cut corners are understandable. I am told getting it to run smoothly on a PC can be a chore, but on the consoles it is a smooth experience (provided you are okay with 30 frames per second instead of 60). Additionally great care has been placed into the sound design and music, although not nearly so much into the voice work.
The game is fun to play, too, with a myriad of tactical options put at your fingers right from the beginning. It is unfortunate that these technical achievements are not put to better use. The story falls away quickly (almost immediately after the opening cutscene ends, really) and any investment you might have in the world created here will likewise fade away. I am reminded of Destiny, which had a similarly strong technical presentation, but failed utterly to create an interesting world in which to play the game. Your best bet is to treat the missions in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands as independent entities that you can tackle in bite-sized chunks. Each individual encounter can be entertaining and a test of your tactical abilities, but as a package it falls apart. Ubisoft does have a history of games with bad launches that eventually turn into good, or even great, games, so keep your eyes open and maybe there will be good news in the future for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands.