A Walk Through the Wildlands

Ned Jordan
In Short
A hands-on look at some of the gameplay in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands.

At a recent event at Ubisoft's San Francisco offices, I was given the chance to get some hands-on time with Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands' single-player and multiplayer content. That's a bit misleading, though, since there really is no distinction in the game between single and multiplayer content. The entire game is playable on your own or in co-op, or in a combination of the two. Your squad will always include four soldiers, the only question is whether or not your three squad mates will be controlled by other gamers or the game's AI. The single-player session was really a little time alone to play with the extensive character customization options and get our feet wet in the game's extensive recreation of Bolivia rather than a chance to experience a different mode of gameplay. And I don't use the description 'extensive recreation' lightly, there are twenty-one provinces in the game that encompass eleven distinct biomes - jungles, rugged mountains, the dry Altiplano, if it's in Bolivia, it's probably in the game. Each of these provinces are in of themselves quite large ' after a few hours in the game I had only explored a small portion of the first province.

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So why are you in Bolivia in the first place? Santa Blanca, a Mexican drug cartel led by the ruthless zealot El Sueno, has descended on Bolivia with the vision of turning the entire country into a giant drug production center. He's not far from realizing his dream, controlling vast swaths of the country with his own private army and forcing the civilian population to do his bidding, when you and the other three members of your Ghost Recon squad arrive in the country to put an end to it. The operation is about as convert as they come, your only connection to the US coming in the form of a CIA agent embedded in Bolivia. You're not completely alone, though, a resistance movement has sprung up in Bolivia and, if you give them a hand on occasion, they just might come to your aid in a pinch.

The game strives to make Bolivia an open-world sandbox in which you have a lot of freedom in how (and how quickly) you approach your goal of taking down El Sueno. The entire game map is open to you from the onset, not just in terms of allowing you to travel to any destination that you can see in the game, but also in terms of gameplay - there's no area that's locked behind story milestones. That's not to say that there's no mission structure in the game, but you're free to go where you want, when you want. That doesn't mean that you can waltz in on El Sueno ten minutes into the game and just end things there, though. Each province has a sequence of missions that will ultimately lead you to the cartel's major operative for that province, but you can take on side missions, strike at cartel operations, or explore the world at your leisure.

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The cartel is organized into four primary operations and there are other factions in Bolivia - the citizens, resistance, and the Unidad federal troops - so your actions will have different consequences depending on which operation you strike or which faction is affected by your actions. I didn't have nearly enough time with the game to see how this system changes the game as you play, but through helping the resistance I found that their fighters would join in to help my squad in some battles and I eventually unlocked the ability to give them orders in a fight.

If you've played a recent Far Cry game, then you'll probably feel at home in Wildlands. The game owes a lot to Far Cry for inspiration and while it's not as over-the-top as that series, Wildlands is certainly a departure from the grounded realism of Ghost Recon games past. You are not a bullet sponge, but it will take more than a couple of shots to bring you down, and even then you're given a bleed-out grace period during which anyone on your squad can revive you. And the enemies in Wildlands have an obsession with storing exploding barrels in dangerous places at a level I don't remember seeing in a Ghost Recon game before.

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Like Far Cry games, Wildlands features plenty of base assaults and you can approach them in a number of ways. You can do it in true Ghost Recon style, using a drone to tag the location of enemies, coordinating silenced-weapons fire to take down the sentries, and then stealthily move your way through the base taking out the remaining enemies one by one. Or you could steal an APC from a motor pool, crash it through the front gate, and lay waste to everyone around you while alarm levels rise and increasingly stronger reinforcements are called in. The latter approach certainly will make things harder for you, though, as coordinated attacks will have a much higher success rate. It's a great feeling when you're with a team of players willing to work and coordinate together and you complete a mission with surgical precision. When you're surrounded by AI squad mates you'll do most of the work, but the AI did a competent enough job of tagging along and not blowing the mission with the added bonus that they were always around to revive me in pinch.

You could probably try to stick strictly to the primary missions while playing the game, but you'd probably have a difficult go of it. First, the maps are quite large and so you're going to spend a fair amount of time traversing the countryside in everything from a dirt bike to a light plane. While doing so you'll inevitably come across enemy bases, patrols, or convoys, firefights between the cartel and resistance, and other encounters typical for a country being torn apart from within. And even if you can resist taking on side missions and exploring new locations you probably don't want to. The game has an extensive upgrade system and to take advantage of it you're going to need to earn upgrade points as well as the resource items required to unlock them. Tricking out your drone with additional sensors and capabilities will help you down the road when the missions become more challenging, and earning the parachute upgrade is pretty much a requirement if you plan on traveling by air (trust me, you'll want to travel by air when your next destination sits in the far corner of the map).

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Though I just had a few hours with the game, it was enough time to provide for some memorable moments. I had a blast creating a shortcut on a mountain road while riding a dirt bike by trail-cutting straight down and skipping all of the annoying hairpin turn switchbacks. Landing a chopper on a tiny flat spot on the side of a snow-covered mountain to retrieve an errant supply drop hanging from a nearby rock outcropping was exciting both from a technical standpoint and for the amazing views of the local countryside that it afforded. The most memorable part of my time with the game, though, came in a mission in which you need to steal an exotic sports car from the cartel and deliver it to the resistance. I flew a chopper to the base and as I neared it decided to see how high the game's flight ceiling was. Well, it's really, really high, and once get that high there's only one thing to do: bail out, of course. As the chopper spun out of control I rocketed in freefall towards the small outpost where the car was stored. I waited as long as I could before pulling the ripcord, and then directed the chute to the middle of the outpost and landed right at the door of the garage. I pulled out my weapon, wasted the guard posted at the car before he knew what was happening, and then peeled out of the garage and right through the front gate. Perhaps this isn't the way that an actual Ghost Recon unit would have planned the mission, but you can't argue with success.

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Transmitted: 12/14/2018 3:50:46 PM