Ghost Recon Wildlands: Just Cause With Friends

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Last week, a good friend of mine picked up a copy of the latest in the long running Ghost Recon series, Wildlands. Since the first game in the series hit store shelves in 2001, the franchise has ventured into almost every possible genre, be it a third person action game, a Facebook game, even a free to play mmo (offline since December of last year. If in that time, Ubisoft was trying to find the perfect fit, I think they've finally found it in the enormous open world and emergent gameplay of Wildlands.

The game takes place in a fictionalized Bolivia, where a cartel called Santa Blanca has taken over large swaths of the country. As part of a small group of elite soldiers, you are tasked to dismantle the cartel by eliminating key members until you can get to El Sueno, the big boss at the center of it all. Each member has other people working for them, smaller figures in the cartel known as Buchons. Most of the game is spent eliminating these smaller figures to draw out the underbosses one by one.

The beauty of Wildlands lies in how this structure is implemented. Rather than force the player into following a predetermined route through the cartel members, the player is allowed complete autonomy in choosing what activities to pursue and which targets to go after. This is done in one of the largest open worlds I've seen from Ubisoft. The "Play Your Way" cliche may be tired, but I've not seen a game that embraced this kind of freedom of choice while still delivering an interesting story.

The story elements in Wildlands really shine in the personal relationships of the cartel members and the way your team takes advantage of and manipulates those relationships to dismantle the cartel. There is a certain moral grey area that you occupy for the majority of the game that I think is under represented in these sorts of games. Normally there is no question that you are the good guy, forever occupying the moral high ground, but in WIldlands, things are never quite so cut and dry.

Unfortunately, as interesting as the story can be, the dialogue for it is usually conveyed in some of the stodgiest voice acting I've heard in a long time. Line delivery, especially that of the male protagonist is flat as can be and lines that are supposed to be funny die before they've even gotten started. The AI Squadmates have some idle banter for those long road trips from one cartel boss to another, and there is a strange disdain among my squadmates for any other division of the US Military, as if that is the only way they know to communicate that they too were from a military background.

Weird lines aside though, it is the emergent gameplay that constantly occurs that has really cemented Wildlands as a permanent resident of my library. At any given time, the rebels in an area could attack the cartel, turning a quiet snatch and grab mission into an intense firefight, with bullets from either side whizzing overhead. There is a certain level of chaos that the game that persists throughout the various provinces as a result, and keeps the gameplay from feeling stale and reminds me a lot of Just Cause 3. Add  a friend or two from the Drop in/out co-op menu and you've got an endlessly enjoyable recipe for ludicrous emergent gameplay.

I'll have more on Wildlands as I play more of it. I'm somewhere around the 30 hour mark and nowhere near completing the game, as I've spent most of my time tracking down new weapons and attachments. So far though, I'm really happy with the game, especially the cooperative end of it.