To get the most out of Ghost Recon Wildlands you’ll need to bring friends. Although serviceable as a solo open-world shooter, this is a game that has been crafted with multiplayer in mind and Ubisoft Paris doesn’t want you to forget that. Every time you step foot in its gorgeously exotic sandbox, a prompt to join the matchmaking queue pops up. Connect to an online game and it will point you to add your temporary teammates as friends. Boot Wildlands up next time and these strangers will appear in the launch menu, as if awaiting your summons.
While somewhat intrusive, you can’t really blame Ubisoft Paris for its frequent badgering. Ghost Recon Wildlands becomes supercharged when four players move in sync, communicating via headset as you plan and execute a series of high risk operations. With an open world setting come opportunities rarely afforded by conventional shooters and, of course, the chance to get up to all kinds of hijinks.
Instead of battling terrorist cells in a bid to save the world, this time the Ghosts have been unleashed upon a drug cartel. Led by “the boss of bosses”, El Sueno, the Santa Blanca cartel have upped sticks and barged their way into Bolivia, turning it into a narco-state. Although built up as Wildlands’s big bad, El Sueno doesn’t play much of an active role during the campaign. He’s used as a narrator of sorts while illustrating the cartel’s hierarchy, a web-like network spread between four branches: production, influence, smuggling, and security.
Your task is to destabilise Santa Blanca through a variety of activities scattered across Bolivia. These include story missions as well as an almost endless supply of supply ops. Whether tagging supplies, aiding rebels, breaking morale or unlocking new gear and skills, it all adds up. Although marked between one and five stars (five being the most dangerous) there’s nothing stopping you from going wherever you want in Wildlands.
By exploring this vast sandbox, you’ll uncover dozens of hotspots, the world map quickly filling up with icons. Upon realising just how big Wildlands is and how much there is to do, it can feel overwhelming (and a tad demoralising, truth be told).
No matter which mission you have lined up, most play out in a familiar fashion. Whether by land, air, or sea, you’ll navigate towards the objective area before closing ranks and forming an attack plan. The most efficient and rewarding approach is to scout out enemies and pick them off quietly without raising an alarm. Going in all guns blazing is viable too, though some missions require absolute stealth and precision. It’s these situations that force players to communicate most, making sure no one is seen while in pursuit of the objective.
If, like many, you don’t have three friends readily awaiting your summons, you’ve got two options. Public matchmaking will succeed in proffering up other human players, but there’s plenty that can go wrong. Firstly, without online settings, you can wind up stuck with players of varying skill levels, all at different points in the story. There’s nothing stopping you from working together, but it’s more common to find individual players running to opposite sides of Bolivia with their own agendas. The chances of finding a group that are willing to communicate through voice chat on console are also slim, eradicating an essential layer of tactical play.
Riding solo also has its ups and downs. On one hand, you’re free to pursue whatever missions take your fancy without interruption. With three AI buddies you can also make use of the game’s Sync Shot mechanic, regularly picking out groups of enemies for your squad to gun down with pinpoint precision. Their sharpshooting skills end there, however. In fact, for the most part, your fellow Ghosts will wander aimlessly, as if braindead. Occasionally they’ll burst into action – rushing to revive fallen allies – but lack any real combat prowess.
The guns in Wildlands have a nice light feel to them and, unless playing on a harder difficulty setting, will kill enemies with relative ease. There are plenty of loadout options too, though I mostly found myself sticking with the sniper assault rifle combo. With stealth being such an important factor, I never once felt the need to rock an LMG or shotgun. I doubt very many players will.
Getting around Bolivia is simple enough too, though the vehicle handling can be patchy. On roads it’s fine but with such a vast expanse of terrain to cover, Wildlands seems like the kind of game that would encourage off-roading. Sadly, even when riding a dirtbike or strapped into a buggy, there’s too much swerving and bouncing around in the vehicle handling.
Bolivia itself harbours somes stunning views and plenty of landmarks to soak in. If you’re lucky enough to own a TV or monitor that supports HDR, the foliage and light effects take that immersion to the next layer. While the Ghosts themselves look suitably generic, Ubisoft Paris has put a surprisingly amount of effort into bringing Santa Blanca to life. Even the lower-ranking buchons have their own distinct personalities and appearances.
Despite there being an abundance of civilians that you’ll see in the world, their role is purely superficial. They rarely react to the Ghosts’ presence, even when all hell breaks loose. The Ghosts themselves don’t exactly bring much to the table either. Their constant poor banter and repeated use of words like “shitballs” paints them as jerks with meathead stand-up routines instead of elite operatives.
For small groups of gamers that play together often, Ghost Recon Wildlands seems like a no-brainer and some of the most fun I’ve had in a video game this year. For any lone wolves out there, however, it offers a less appealing all-round package. Ubisoft has pieced together yet another sprawling sandpit to explore yet nothing stands out as truly inventive or remarkable and moving between provinces felt like I was checking items off a shopping list instead of spearheading the American the drug war. At a time where open world games are starting to push boundaries and transform the genre, Ghost Recon is almost at danger of being left behind.
Version Tested: PS4 Pro