Whilst I do enjoy jumping into multiplayer games every now and then, I’ve always considered myself a single player gamer. Whether it’s a story driven adventure, a competitive sports title, or just an open-world sandbox where I can unleash complete chaos; I’ve always had more fun playing alone and focusing on my own individual experience. Ghost Recon Wildlands has made me completely change that mindset though.
It’s not because Ghost Recon Wildlands’ single player elements aren’t enjoyable, because believe me, I had a ton of fun taking down countless ‘Sicarios’ on my own. It’s not because Ubisoft developed the game with multiplayer in mind either, because the same amount of content is found in the single player mode too. It’s because Ghost Recon Wildlands offers one of the most enthralling, tactical, and outright enjoyable co-operative experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. I’m often guilty of riding high on a video game and getting caught up in my own excitement when playing it, but I genuinely believe that Ghost Recon Wildlands is one of the best co-op games I’ve ever played.
Once again you step into the shoes of the Ghosts, an American four-man team that specialise in covert operations. This time they’ve been sent to Bolivia to take on the murderous Santa Blanca Cartel, led by evil drug lord El Sueño. After bombing the American Embassy and then executing a DEA Agent, the Santa Blanca Cartel have made America’s hit list and the Ghosts are brought in to end their tyrannical regime. With the Bolivian Government on their side though, it means the Ghosts have to operate within the shadows and work their way from the bottom to the top of the Santa Blanca Cartel, taking out all of El Sueño’s henchmen before taking on the big man himself.
Whilst the storyline is fairly run of the mill as far as military shooters go, there’s a surprising amount of depth to each operation you run. El Sueño’s henchmen are each given their own introduction that not only shows their monstrous back story, but also gives them a real heinous personality. These aren’t faceless criminals who are just there to be killed, but actual characters that the game encourages you to dislike. A warning though – some of them are savages. There are some incredibly brutal scenes in the game that show they don’t mess around, with plenty of suffering inflicted upon the poor inhabitants of Bolivia.
Taking down each boss of the Santa Blanca Cartel isn’t an easy task and requires a fair bit of preparation. There’ll always be ‘Major Intel’ locations marked on your map, with these offering a mission related to each boss that builds up towards hunting them down. You’ll need to complete five of these for each boss before you’re able to take them out (or in – it’s not all about killing you know). Every time you ‘deal with’ a boss it weakens El Sueño’s grip on Bolivia, slowly building up to the moment where you’re finally able to take him out.
Of course, whilst the ‘Major Intel’ missions will lead you through the story of Ghost Recon Wildlands, there are a plethora of side-missions on offer too. In true Ubisoft open-world fashion, there are an absolute ton of things to do in the game world outside of the main story. I actually spent hours simply taking down enemy bases and building up my skills before tackling any story missions, proving that you won’t run short of things to do in the game quickly.
Doing this added a greater sense of exploration to the game too; sometimes I’d just be taking out a small outpost on a map, only to end up noticing a bigger one in the distance. This occurred on plenty of occasions, but one instance that stood out was when one of my teammates noticed a Casino just a few hundred metres from an outpost we’d cleared. Upon approaching the Casino, I was given the objective of trashing it to cause some disarray for one of the Santa Blanca Cartel bosses. This was actually one of the story missions for the game, but I found it without having to gather any ‘Major Intel’ first. Discovering this by complete accident showed there’s a natural freedom to Ghost Recon Wildlands that in many ways makes the game feel more believable; whilst you can rely on simply following mission markers time and time again, sometimes just exploring by yourself offered a more enjoyable means of actually progressing through the game.
The mission structure of the game did suffer from a few issues that reminded me of those that plagued the original ‘Assassin’s Creed’ game, thanks to the repetitive rinse-and-repeat nature of the objectives you have to complete to take down the boss of each area. You’ll never feel bored when completing these missions though due to the fact there are so many different ways to approach them. You can sneak in without killing enemies, go in all guns blazing, parachute down from a helicopter, speed in on a vehicle with your partner manning a turret – seriously, you’re limited only by your imagination. Despite these multiple approaches though, it does get to a point where you begin to realise that you are doing a lot of the same things over and over again. This isn’t such a problem when playing co-operatively, but when in single player you’ll notice it a lot more.
The missions where you take down the boss of an area add a lot more original excitement though, with one of my personal favourites tasking me with kidnapping a big influencer for the Santa Blanca Cartel whilst he’s in the middle of performing in a music concert. These missions add something a bit more unique to the game and always feel a lot more epic than the missions that build up to them.
Completing missions or performing feats will see your character level up, in turn earning skill points to unlock new abilities. There are a set of different skill trees you can follow, each of which will improve different facets of your character’s skill set. You could focus on your weapon skills to become more deadly with firearms, or you could level up your drone in order to make scouting a lot easier. Alternatively you could unlock new items such as the parachute to make daring dives from above or mines to take out enemy vehicles. It’s up to you how you decide to level up your character and there’s a diverse range of skills on offer that allow you to have your character suit your play style. It’s certainly something you don’t want to neglect; some of the upgrades are incredibly useful, especially during the game’s tougher missions.
After completing the opening mission you’re given the complete freedom to explore Ghost Recon Wildlands’ massive setting however you please. Everything is split up into different provinces that are ruled over by a different boss, each of which you can take down in any order you like. Be warned though – they are all given a different difficulty rating so it might be worth considering that before taking on anything too tricky to begin with. It certainly isn’t compulsory though, with my decision to take on one of the most difficult bosses first a bit stupid but far from impossible.
Actually exploring Bolivia though is wondrous. The visuals are superb, with some stunning vistas on show throughout the game world. You’ll look down on green farmlands, scale icy mountains, or even sweep across a derelict dry land that looks like it’s cracking apart – I was constantly in awe of what was on show in the game. The weather effects are phenomenal too; I was out flying in a helicopter when a storm hit, completely shrouding the environment in darkness. Lightning strikes in the distance began to brighten the world though and show silhouettes of the mountains I needed to avoid. It was incredibly atmospheric and made it feel like I was exploring this living, breathing world.
At first glance it’s easy to think that you’ll be spending most of your time going through fields and trees, but the sheer variety of environments in the game is not only impressive but constantly gives you something new to look at. The fact that you get to explore these environments with no limitations is just a bonus. Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Bolivia really is one of the most impressively constructed open worlds I’ve visited in gaming.
There’s a huge emphasis on using vehicles in Ghost Recon Wildlands, more so than any other entry in the series thanks to the introduction of a huge open world. You’ll venture the Wildlands in cars, motorbikes, tanks, helicopters, planes – there are over sixty different vehicles in total, offering you a wide variety of means to travel. Vehicles are fun to use but their physics are a bit… interesting. At one point I was riding up an almost vertical mountain in a van, whilst seeing a car bounce down a hill but land perfectly on its wheels was pretty hilarious.
Don’t expect realism when it comes to vehicles, but you shouldn’t let that put you off. It doesn’t take anything away from the game and actually adds an extra sense of enjoyment to it when you’re straying away from completing missions and just exploring the open world. Crossing the bumpy fields of Bolivia or speeding down a mountain on a motorbike with friends is a lot crazier than it should be thanks to the vehicle physics, but it also makes for incredibly satisfying and entertaining gameplay.
When playing in single player you’re given a squad of three AI teammates. I’ll give them credit, they’re incredibly effective in combat and can certainly get you out of a few sticky situations – I lost count of the amount of times I was left downed only to have one of my trusty allies come and revive me. The sync shot is incredibly useful too, allowing you to mark targets and have your team take them out. You can even upgrade it to allow you to mark three targets at a time, making some enemy outposts a cakewalk to take down.
Your teammate’s effectiveness is also their biggest downfall though. Enemies will NEVER detect them – at one point my ally was in plain sight as an enemy walked past him, but he was completely oblivious to his presence and no alarms were raised. Whilst I understand this was probably intentionally designed to cut the risk of any frustrating moments that would be blamed on poor AI, it could really break the immersion of sneaking into an enemy base. Another issue (although certainly a small one) is that your teammates would automatically teleport to you. It’s an understandable piece of gameplay design given the large scale of the world, but seeing your allies suddenly appear in your helicopter mid-flight after leaving them behind looked a little odd in-game.
No matter what you’re doing in Ghost Recon Wildlands, it’s always at its absolute best when being played in co-op. You can play the entirety of the game with up to three other players, allowing for some intense multiplayer action unlike anything I’ve played in a long time. Whilst Ghost Recon Wildlands is certainly competent at providing an enjoyable single player experience, it feels like it was designed with co-op play as the priority. Everything you do in the game is a lot more enjoyable when you’ve got someone else to do it with, whether it’s tactically taking down a base, going all guns blazing in a massive shoot out, or simply exploring the beauty that Bolivia has to offer. If you play Ghost Recon Wildlands with friends you’re going to have an absolute blast.
Ghost Recon Wildlands multiplayer really shines when things start to go wrong. In one instance my co-op partner and I were infiltrating a base, with me taking the stealthy approach and sneaking my way through the base whilst he took out enemies from a distance with a sniper rifle. Everything was going smoothly with no enemies aware of our presence, but things took a turn for the worst when a mistimed sniper shot brought the entire base to our attention. Reinforcements came in fast and strong and I found myself holed up in a building, randomly taking pot shots to slow down the assault of enemies coming my way. With my ammo count whittling away, my partner arrived in the nick of time to give the back-up I needed to survive the situation. It was a hell of a thrill and just one of the many exciting co-op moments I had with the game. Sure, the repercussions of dying aren’t incredibly cruel, but the whole ‘macho’ vibe of the game does give you some incentive to try and be the un-killable alpha male of your co-op squadron.
When playing Ghost Recon Wildlands in single player you’ll find it offers an enjoyable action-packed experience that never does anything bad, but can feel a little repetitive at times. It never stops being enjoyable though, whilst the atmospheric surroundings that Bolivia offers will simply astound you at times. However, there are certainly better single player games out right now that I’d recommend over Ghost Recon Wildlands.
When you jump into the multiplayer mode though it’s a totally different experience. I’ve mentioned it once already and I’ll say it again – I really think that Ghost Recon Wildlands’ co-op action is some of the best I’ve experienced in any video game. You might be doing the same things as you do in the single player campaign, but when carefully orchestrating these operations with a group of friends it becomes one of the most enthralling multiplayer experiences you’ll have in a video game. It really is that good.
If you’re looking for a single player experience there is fun to be had with Ghost Recon Wildlands, but it’s not the game’s strongest point. If you’re looking for some co-op multiplayer action though, you simply NEED to play Ghost Recon Wildlands.
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: 07/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC