This weekend, Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands was free to play – a promotional tool many publishers use to pickup a bit of momentum well into a game’s shelf life. I took the bait.
I wouldn’t say I had avoided Wildlands – the open-world tactical shooter originally released to unremarkable reviews, and I just sorta moved passed it without giving it much thought. However, in true Ubisoft fashion, their developers just kept cracking away. Ubisoft have been persistent and admirable in their post-release support. Games like Rainbow Six Siege, For Honor and Wildlands have genuinely dedicated fan bases – not least because a community has formed around them. This is only possible when developers engage in active dialogue with the fans playing their games, and implement updates based on their feedback.
This isn’t a new tool employed by publishers, but it is the first time I’ve seen it work with games that, by most accounts, didn’t release in the best shape. It’s like mediocre films gaining success by altering the story for the DVD release. And then again for Netflix.
So when I saw Wildlands available this weekend, I thought I’d finally check it out. While I have nothing but praise for Ubisoft’s approach to supporting their fans, their games lately don’t quite hit the mark for me. I had fun playing, but after the first 2 hours, I knew EXACTLY what was in store for the next 30, should I have continued. Ubisoft have a formula for their open-world franchises – big expansive maps that are slowly uncovered as hundreds of points-of-interest dotted in every corner begin to appear.
It’s a tried and tested method. It eliminates the frustrations involved with games of the 90s and 00s where you could spend days looking for secrets and collectables. Now, instead, you are told exactly where to go, and exactly what you’ll find. By rapidly ticking off dozens of activities on an exhaustive checklist you get a false sense of accomplishment. It’s clever, and addictive, and well… boring.
The core of Wildlands is to tactically take down the Santa Blanca drug cartel in Bolivia. The shooting gameplay is solid, and I quite liked the character upgrade system and weapon customisation, but there is zero magic here. Nothing surprising. Just, nothing. Wildlands feels vapid. The writing, and voice acting is truly awful, and the AI resembles what you might expect from a PS2 era game. I wanted so much more.
Everything you do is as a squad of four – AI companions or in online 4 player co-op. I wish I had organised some chums to play with, because the AI trivialises the game. At no point did I feel in danger because your squad-mates will always be their to pick you up and eliminate the threat. After taking down a few outposts as stealthily as I could, I accidentally drove my truck straight into an enemy stronghold and to my surprise, no one seemed alarmed. I swiftly executed whatever drug lord I was sent to take out, and drove out. It took 30 seconds, and was a key story mission. This experience absolutely killed the illusion.
After completing that mission, I proceeded to play more and more carelessly. I would fly my squad into each subsequent mission by helicopter and just cause havoc. Grenades and machine guns aplenty. I basically played Wildlands as a Rambo-simulator. All the stakes were gone.
I think there is a game here that I could get involved with. Had I started on a higher difficulty, with 3 of my friends riding along with me, I might have had a better time. If you didn’t know anything about the lineup of games released in the past 4 or 5 years, and decided to pick up Ghost Recon Wildlands, I’m sure you would be impressed. It looks good, plays well, and has plenty to do. But when you hold it up against titles in the same vein such as Metal Gear Solid 5, things start to fall apart.
I’m glad I checked Wildlands out, but there are better games out there. I hope in the future Ubisoft can break their own mould, and allow their games to gestate for longer. There is a stellar video by YouTuber Jim Sterling about the problems with the current Ubisoft formula that I recommend you check out, too.
Best wishes y’all.