Video-Game Review: Ghost Recon: Wildlands
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The long-running Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series has been praised for its tactical military shooter gameplay; from Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter in 2006 to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier in 2012, the Ghost Recon franchise has established itself as one of the leading game series in the strategic shooter genre. So it’s somewhat strange that the latest entry in the series, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, has essentially done away with any tactical gameplay in favor of a more hectic free-roam system. That’s not to say that this nonlinear gameplay is bad, in all actuality it’s one of the few games that has managed to execute cooperative free-roam so excellently.
In the Ghost Recon series, you play as a soldier in a fictional squad of the U.S. Army nicknamed “The Ghosts,” and in the latest entry in the series, you take to Bolivia to stop the increasingly powerful drug cartel which has taken over the government. Now, that summary is essentially the only story you’ll get out of the game. As you travel around the massive open world of Bolivia, you’ll be tasked with defeating the several different cartel leaders stationed around the country. You can defeat these leaders in any order you want – the entire map is open right from the start of the game – and while this does give a sense of unlimited freedom right from the get-go, it doesn’t exactly help the narrative. Beyond the overarching goal of taking down the cartel and other minor side quests, there’s no central plot or story to drive you to keep going. At many points, it almost seemed tedious to continue doing missions, as I was no longer doing them to continue the story but I was instead doing them because I needed to fulfill the mission quota of the region I was in.
It doesn’t help that the missions aren’t very exciting in the first place. Every region in the world of Wildlands has several short missions which you must complete before you’re able to take down the cartel leader of that specific region. There are twenty-one regions in the game, each with roughly ten or so missions or challenges and each with one cartel leader; on paper, there’s tons of things you’re able to do. Problem is, once you’ve played through ten missions, you’ve really played through them all. Many missions are essentially copied into several regions, for example, one type of mission has you protecting a radio emitter as it broadcasts an announcement to the people of the region. Almost every region has a mission of this type, so you’ll be protecting a radio emitter twenty times throughout the course of the game. At some points it becomes a chore, especially later in the game when you’re leveled up and can easily handle smaller missions like these.
Where Wildlands shines, however, is in its crazy open-world cooperative gameplay. Wildlands allows you to join up to three friends in its open world, and this connection is seamless, so no making lobbies or starting a multiplayer game from scratch. You can simply hop into your friend’s game at any time, and all the progress you make in their game carries over back to your personal save. Not only does this encourage cooperative play, but it really does eliminate any problems playing online. Gameplay-wise, you and your squad can essentially do whatever you want once you’re in the same game. You can attempt to complete missions together, or just mess around in the open world; you don’t even have to really stick together, any squad member can separate and do their own thing anywhere in the world. I found that the most fun to be had online, though, was in attempting to successfully execute missions as a team with others. As mentioned earlier, many missions are awfully dull and repetitive if done alone. With a squad, however, these missions become a unique experience every time. This is really due to the inability to predict what your teammates are going to do; and so while you may be protecting that radio emitter from earlier, one of your teammates is setting up explosives around the perimeter to blow up incoming tanks while two of your other teammates snipe enemies from a helicopter above. This unpredictability makes for a memorable gameplay experience which is only amplified in Wildlands’ open world of Bolivia, which is filled with unique environments and settings.
All in all, Ghost Recon: Wildlands on its own is a very simple game. While there is an abundance of activities to do, there isn’t much variety in those activities and that makes for a boring affair when playing alone. However, Wildlands makes up for that by offering a unique experience when playing online with others, delivering an immense open world and chaotic gameplay which alleviates the frustration of the repetitive missions and somewhat non-existent story.