Taking place in a fictional version of Bolivia that has been turned into a narco state by a powerful drug cartel known as Santa Blanca (A portrayal that the real-world Bolivian government is not happy about), Ghost Recon Wildlands drops you and your squad of Ghosts smack in the middle of the country with the single objective of bringing the cartel and its leader, El Sueno, to their knees.
You and your squad, either AI controlled or with up to 3 friends in seamless drop in/out online co-op, will accomplish this objective by scouring the game’s 21 provinces for intel on Santa Blanca’s operations and the people that run them, and then use that intel to throw the most massive of monkey wrenches into the works. The provinces can be tackled in non linear fashion; the whole point of the game is to draw out El Sueno so you can feed him a heaping helping of hot lead, and in order to do that you need to take out at least two of the four heads of his operations (Security, Smuggling, Production, and Influence). These operation heads are drawn out by taking down underbosses, which are drawn out by taking down lieutenants or “buchons”. You can choose who you want to draw out and take down in whatever order you wish.
Wildlands’ version of Bolivia is absolutely massive and is teeming with things to find and do. One issue I normally have with open-world games is no matter how large they are, for the most part, the maps begin to feel “samey” after awhile. One of the many things Wildlands does right is changing up the environments. You’ll be fighting the Santa Blanca cartel and the corrupt UNIDAD para-military forces in environments such as lush forests, rolling hills, snowy mountains, deserts, swamps and salt-flats and that goes a long way in giving each region of the map its own identity.
Outside of the main story missions, my romps around the varied environments saw me hunting down cartel medals, which give you bonus points used to purchase skills and upgrades for your fully customizable Ghost, looting weapons as well as parts and accessories to tailor them to your liking using the Gunsmith feature, stealing vehicles loaded with supplies for the local rebels fighting Santa Blanca, and helping the rebels in various other ways, which unlocks a variety of ways they can support you.
Once you start helping out the local guerrillas you can call them in to assist during particularly hairy firefights, cause diversions making it easier to sneak into enemy bases to perform your cartel-crippling antics, drop off vehicles for you to use, and even call in mortar strikes on enemy positions. Like I said, there’s a lot to do, find and unlock in Wildlands and after roughly 30 hours of game time, I’m not even starting to get bored of it yet. Which is good, because despite everything I’ve found and unlocked, in the grand scheme of things it still feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.
Apart from some missions that require you to remain undetected, you are free to tackle your objectives in Bolivia however you see fit, and with the wide range of options available to you, you can get pretty creative. Want to storm a huge, Cartel-held dam to rescue a hostage with 3 of your squad riding in on a front-loader? Do it. Don’t want to get lit up like a Christmas tree trying to sneak into an island-resort to interrogate a Santa Blanca lieutenant? Simple. Grab a chopper and parachute right into the middle of his party. Many games claim to give players freedom in how they approach things but Ghost Recon Wildlands is one of the best examples of player freedom that I can think of. The amount of weapons, gadgets and vehicles at your disposal in addition to the openness of the game world itself keeps the action fresh and makes replaying missions the second, third or fourth time just as fun and engaging as the first. And there’s a good chance you’ll replay missions a fair amount if you enjoy multiplayer.
Let’s face it, as adults it can be difficult to get all of your friends together at the same time to play video games. Different work schedules, familial commitments, having to wait until the rugrats go to bed before you can steal your own damn TV back from them – life happens. Ubisoft solved this problem in the best way possible: no matter what you’re doing in Ghost Recon Wildlands, you’re going to have a good time doing it regardless of how many times you’ve already done it, either on your own or with other friends. For example, during my time with Wildlands I’ve replayed plenty of missions over again because someone would jump into the squad that I was in that hadn’t completed some things that the rest of us had, so we would replay it with them so they could cross it off their list, and it was so fun we never minded replaying the same things a few times. Or if I happened to jump in to a buddies session and he was halfway through completing a province I had yet to step foot in, I could still roll with him and have a blast without feeling like I had missed something.
For as much as I love Ghost Recon Wildlands, it does have some pretty substantial, and in many cases baffling, technical issues. There’s plenty of small, weird bugs. For example, on my screen I can be sitting in a chopper, gleefully awaiting arrival at my squad’s next destination, but on my teammates screen my character can be standing on top of the chopper propeller, or constantly falling out of the chopper and reappearing in my seat. The same thing happens in cars: I’ll be sitting in the backseat on my screen but on a friend’s screen I’ll be chasing the vehicle down the road, and as comical as that is to watch, it really shouldn’t be happening.
And then there are the more baffling bugs. The inexcusable ones that shouldn’t have made it through any Q/A process. For example, my recon buttons, up on the D-pad to launch your drone and down on the D-pad to bring up your binoculars, will randomly stop working, and I’ve confirmed this happened with at least two other people I’ve played with. Also a recurring issue is voice chat just ceasing to work. Either I can hear my team and they can’t hear me or vice versa. Easily avoidable with Party Chat but inexcusable nonetheless. I have found the auto-cover system refusing to place my avatar in cover more than once, often resulting in me getting perforated when I should have been safe, and the last bug I encountered was by far the worst as it impeded mission progress. In a certain mission where you have to tail someone to their base, the character you are supposed to tail will try to get it his vehicle, glitch through it, and then stand there with his thumb up his ass refusing to do anything. It’s worth mentioning that the worst of these bugs only seem to occur during multiplayer sessions, which is unfortunate because while the AI squadmates are perfectly serviceable, this game was clearly designed around, and shines most when playing with friends.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is the most fun I have ever had with a multiplayer game. A statement I do not make lightly. The fact that I can say that with the amount of bugs present at release is a testament to how great this experience is. I just hope Ubisoft patches out the bugs that have no business being there in the first place.