Ubisoft Paris / Massive Entertainment, (studio)
07 March 2017 (released)
16 March 2017
What are you doing, Ubisoft? Hell, do you even know what you’re doing, anymore? I really want to like your games, you know? Sure, they aren’t the most original ideas ever, but dammit, we’ve had some good times in the past, haven’t we? I still like the Assassins Creed series in spite of its faults. I loved Far Cry 4 even though it was only an incremental improvement on FC3. But I hardly know how to explain my exasperation with what you guys have been doing lately. The Division was pants. Watch Dogs 2 was like emptying several buckets of neon paint on Watch Dogs 1 and expecting it to be any better. Sure, the joke of ‘Ubisoft Generic Open-World Shooter’ is thrown around a lot, but I still used to really enjoy your efforts. Do you guys have nothing left in the tank or something?
I guess what I’m trying to convey is this; I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed. And that, to me, perfectly captures in one sentence, everything I feel about Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
For a kick-off, the game does the usual thing of throwing you into a sandbox of a world and letting you go crazy. You can choose any direction to head off in and cause some trouble for the Santa Blanca cartel, or for Unidad. Your primary objective is to assassinate the head of the cartel, and to do that you’ll need to plough through his underbosses and lieutenants. There really isn’t much of a story here, save for the usual ‘American World Police’ stuff. In each area, you gather Intel, which leads to missions that usually involves destroying or capturing something or someone, until the head of that district decides to poke his head out so you can shoot it. There are twenty districts here. Twenty repetitive areas of progression to go through before you get a hold of El Sueno (the big bad guy) himself. I was already bored by the time I got through my third district, and making it tougher is how little you have to play around with at the beginning.
This game does however have a lot of unlockable content. Wait, did I say unlockable? Oh, I’m sorry, this is Ubisoft, so OF COURSE I meant collectible! What is it with Ubisoft and their insane lust for collectibles? Nearly every weapon, attachment, rebel support and skill enhancer must be found out in the world, and even though you can find them easier with Intel that shows you their exact location, it is still an awful slog to go to each one, sneak past or wipe out the locals, then grab what you came for. It actually pains me how repetitive the simple stuff is at times, and don’t even get me started on the supply drops. Basic task is you have to steal a helicopter with the supplies. However, if the enemies have even the slightest suspicion that you are around, someone will take the heli and flee, and at that point you may as well give up, because even if you also came by chopper, you are not recapturing that damn thing. After this happened the second time in a row I gave up the supply drops altogether, as it wasn’t worth the hassle.
And remember how I just mentioned that getting from point A to B can be a slog? It can also be a god-awful nightmare, as it seems Ubisoft still lacks a basic understanding in physics. Whether it’s by car, boat, chopper or plane, there is no such thing as an easy ride in this game, and that’s not even counting the occasional run-ins with the enemy you will have while on the move. Cars feel like hovercraft at all times, and with the constant cliffs that most roads have around here, you will fall off at some point, and you will get angry, even if the car survives. And it is impossible (seemingly) to keep a steady pace with the helicopters in this game. Ubisoft decided to ignore that you use analogue sticks to control the pitch, and instead there are two settings: no pitch, and way-too-far-forward-oh-my-god-we’re-going-to-crash pitch. It’s like Ubisoft wants to make the long, LONG journeys this game entails as painful as possible. The one saving grace in all this is that there are no requirements to unlock fast travel points. You just get close enough and bang, it’s unlocked. And that seems to be true for anywhere on the map, so at least you have that to cut down on travel.
But now we come to the map. It’s big, as was advertised. To those who don’t know, it is the biggest map Ubisoft has ever made. But this causes the game to suffer from the same problems a certain other huge-map game did. Ever heard of FUEL? It was an open-world off-road driving game released way back, and boasted one of the biggest maps around. However, it felt empty and lacking in things to do, in spite of its variety in locales. And here, Ubisoft seems all too happy to let history repeat itself. It doesn’t matter how varied the map looks when you’ve got this little to do; all Ubisoft have managed is a large piece of paper with various shades of green and brown, with some white splotches in the corners.
It’s a damn shame that here is the game where Ubisoft really did a lot of good work with the customization. From the off, you can choose a variety of options to tailor your character (male or female) to your desires. As mentioned, the guns have a heavy amount of custom options to them (provided you’re willing to do the job of finding the parts) and you can paint them all to make them yours. One touch that I do love is that, over time, your clothes and weaponry will suffer from cosmetic wear and tear, as the paint chips off and they get caked in mud and other debris. It doesn’t affect performance in any way, so you can choose to sport it like you’ve been doing some serious work, or keep the guns squeaky clean if you prefer. And the cherry on this small portion of cake is that it can all be done on the fly. Want to change your hoodie for a vest? Get out the sniper and put away the MG? Swap optics? It can all be done in an instant via the touchpad menu, and at no cost or waiting time to you. This is the one portion of the game they nailed, and I have to show credit where it’s due here.
It’s good that the customization is so robust and easy, as co-op really is the core selling point for this game. Ubisoft have even gone so far as to help facilitate teamwork at all times by providing easy commands on the same button as that which summons the rebel help. However, from my perspective it seems unnecessarily hard to just have people drop in to your own game, or to jump into others. I do like that any progress made in others games is carried over to your own, but even so, I wasn’t able to host my own game. It’s likely to just be me misunderstanding how it’s done, but I could see no way to host after I had already started, even though when I went to join others it was usually while they were midway through doing something else. And beyond all that, coop is all too often a selling point on a game that has nothing else to offer and that can sometimes end up exposing all the weak points even worse. Being with real people doesn’t stop the slog from being a slog. It doesn’t make the collectibles any more fun to grab. It just means you don’t have an AI team helping you snipe. And gods help you if you play this game on your own, as the AI is utterly useless for anything except the Sync Shot function. At least they seem to be invisible to the enemy when in stealth.
Oh, and of course there are microtransactions, and some content is exclusive to it. Are you really surprised at this point?
It’s kind of funny to me. I write this review as best I can about Ubisoft’s latest game, but looking through it, I see that a lot of it can be applied to some of their other games in some level. Watch Dogs 2 had the same problem with driving physics, for instance. There has always been a sense of emptiness to their open-world philosophy, even if it isn’t as intense as it is here. There really is nothing bad you can say about this game that someone hasn’t said before about one of their other games. And I can’t even get angry at Ubisoft anymore. I’m just drained, exhausted of the repetition.
But it’s just like I said. I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.
-Bland, generic story
--Wide open world with barely anything to do
---Driving physics are abysmal
---The collectibles, oh god, the collectibles