Although Tom Clancy fans have been getting their fix from The Division for the last year or so, it has been almost five years since the last real installment in the Ghost Recon franchise. After a long wait, fans can finally jump into Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands and see if the long wait was worth it for the incredibly ambitious co-op military shooter.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands drops players into a war-torn version of Bolivia, where the drug cartel has overtaken the government and has a stranglehold on the country's economy. The ghosts are on a revenge mission that will take them all over the enormous sandbox, taking out every general in the cartel until they work their way up to the top jefe, El Sueno. Players can tackle this daunting task solo (with the help of AI soldiers) or with a squad of up to three additional friends. The idea of four ghosts taking out an entire cartel is a little ridiculous and Wildlands does feel more like Just Cause than it does Rainbow Six a lot of the time, so don't go into this one expecting a realistic, grounded drama.
Although Wildlands has a focused central narrative, the game allows players to explore the regions on the massive map (have we mentioned how enormous this thing is?) in any order they choose. The fictional version of Bolivia has no regions hidden behind a level lock, although each zone does have a varying difficulty level that changes that number of gang members, corrupted police officers, and other challenges that the ghosts will have to face.
Unlike many other sandbox games with sprawling side quests in each region, every task in Wildlands actually feels like it ties back into the central goal of the game: Taking down El Sueno. Unlike in games like Fallout 4 or Witcher 3 where you would put searching for your loved one on hold to kill some super mutants for a random stranger, every side quest in Wildlands brings players one step closer to taking out the man in charge. This is an incredibly refreshing approach to side missions and helps the game provide a much more focused narrative.
The gameplay itself varies quite a bit based on whether players are solo or playing online with friends. When playing alone with the help of the AI squad, the player must offer commands and call out targets if they want to stay stealthy and avoid loud shoot outs. The AI team members aren't the smartest we've ever seen, but they can manage to get the job done if players spend early skill points on leveling up the squad branch of their talent tree. This gameplay experience is fun at first, but does start to get a bit boring after the first few regions. Playing quarterback and calling out shots for each team member is rewarding when everything goes to plan, but Wildlands is so clearly meant to be played with a real group of friends that it is hard to go back to solo play after a few hours with a squad.
When players team up online the rest of the AI squad immediately disappears. This means that a squad can drop down to two players, but that is still plenty of brains and firepower to get just about any quest done with the right amount of planning. Ubisoft has really nailed co-op objectives here and the game leaves tons of possible solutions to every quest. Players can take a sniper-focused stealth approach, brute force, parachute in, scout with drones, or whatever else they have decided to specialize in. The complete freedom really rewards creativity and makes planning each strike with friends a ton of fun. Even when things go south, there is usually the chance to frantically reorganize and audible into a plan B over voice chat.
Players collect skill points and resources while taking down the cartel and, when combined, these can be used to earn new abilities on a talent tree. The talents vary greatly and include tech upgrades, better squad commands, weapon perks, and more. The game doesn't punish players for trying out different skills either, since there are enough skill points and resources around to eventually become a jack of all trades by the end game.
In addition to skill points, players can also find weapon crates throughout the map to customize their gear. If Wildlands took one note from The Division, it's to let players look and feel unique. The game is overflowing with aesthetic and functional customizations to weapons and gear. The impressive arsenal of weapons all have customizable parts and dozens of unique paints to make them stand out. There are also tons of wardrobe choices so every player doesn't have to look like a generic soldier.
As expected, Wildlands is at its best when players are on voice chat with a group of friends and the team is coming up with creative ways to take down cartel bosses by crashing planes into their mansions or picking off their guards with the help of drone intel. Although the game does stand-up in solo mode with fairly reliable AI partners, the massive world to explore becomes a little lonely and boring without some actual friends along for the ride.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is available no on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.