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There is a market for the great open world game where you really care about your character. There must be because they keep trying to make them! I don’t know about you, but when some clever developer creates the world I want to spend time in and not play in doing busy work I’ll be really happy to invest the time, probably the money also. Star Citizen looks promising although we have yet to see the finished product. As a concept though it seems to have a lot going for it. An engaging story, a world that although not large like the Elite Dangerous Milky Way is supposed to be filled with interesting places that feel alive. You have Guild Wars 2 with its impressive story and beautiful world which is only made better with the company of friends. GW2 constantly impresses with the sheer quantity and quality of its dialogue. And then you have Ghost Recon Wildlands – let’s see how it compares.

View of Bolivia with mountains and lake

I decided it was time to write my review detailing my almost two months of time with Ghost Recon Wildlands after watching a documentary called “Columbia” on the BBC. This documentary is set in a country which also has a history with the infamous coca plant and its well known white powder derivative. The documentary reminded me of the game in so many ways. The incredible scenery, very few paved roads, isolated rural villages fending for themselves, the up and down temporary housing and the ever present signs of wealth that contrast this in a disturbing manner. This is all present in GRW. Without a doubt the world Ubisoft has crafted in this game is a beautiful one. The contrast from balmy jungle scenes and dusty roads to mountain peaks to vast lakes is nothing short of stunning.

For sure, this game looks amazing and the mind boggles at the level of detail in the landscape. I feel like there could be amazing things waiting to be discovered out there on the map. Let’s hope this opportunity hasn’t been missed. Having said that, I am at a loss to understand how my i7 4790k and AMD R9 290X Overclocked can only handle 39ish FPS at High, and low 30’s at Very High and sub 30 at Ultra (an older CPU and GPU but not lacking in power and not an issue in any other new games this year). Let’s see what happens when the GTX 1070 goes in later this week.
EDIT – The 1070 allows steady 60 FPS at Very High and 52 / 59 at Ultra.
It is also worth mentioning that the difference between the lowest and highest settings is not something that you will notice a huge amount of difference between. You can happily drop it down to medium and not feel like your experience is impacted. This really important point doesn’t seem to be getting mentioned when people are discussing the performance. Yes, it should be better optimised but it is not the game breaking apocalypse some have portrayed it as.

What is missing or handled in an insensitive manner that sadly stands out more. The notion that a team of 4 special soldiers are going to solve the entire Bolivian drug Cartel problem. It isn’t given the full America F**k Yeah treatment, but it is cringingly close at times. You do “free” rebels who join your fight but you don’t have any real direct control of them, they are just another icon on the map to check off. They might turn up to help you in the odd fight but it is mostly down to you and your three squad mates to save the world.

So far the story hasn’t touched on any of the human aspects of this either. You proceed on your merry way, the odd civilian gets killed without consequence. There is no attempt to include any reference to the impact on the ordinary people, the impact is glossed over and a chance for a compelling narrative line is lost. Does it really have to be endless kill missions with no human story? No time for that when you need to fly a drone over a hacienda for the 22nd time. “And baby makes four”. If a compelling narrative is one your expectations, then much like The Division you may be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it is not that there is no story at all, it’s just that the little there is gets overwhelmed by all the busy work you have to be getting on with in order to actually do the story missions. And let’s face it, sometimes you want Die Hard and sometimes you want you want Inception, so low story and lots of gunfights might be A-OK for you. Just to also say, don’t confuse this with me saying this is an all out action movie, I’d actually describe it to be more like a resource management game with guns.

Also, the portrayal of Bolivia in the game seems to have ticked off a few members of the government. Interior Minister Carlos Romero reaching out to the French embassy with a letter of complaint and following it up with “We have the standing to do it (take legal action), but at first we prefer to go the route of diplomatic negotiation,” Romero said. In response, Ubisoft stated the game was a work of fiction and that it had been set in Bolivia due to the “magnificent landscapes and rich culture”. Nothing at all then to do with the Coca plant?

Audio wise the in-game music is magnificent and well produced. It seamlessly transitions from local area audio to tense “going into the mission” music. What music there is impresses but there needs to be more of it. Bowman chips in every so often over the phone when you enter a new area or when she has some intel for you. The chatter! oh deary me the chatter. Inane banter back and forth between your squad mates might be in character.  But I have to ask, how am I able to know line for line everything the characters or enemies are going to say? That includes the lines in Spanish! The answer is because there is just not a great variety of voice acted lines spoken in the game. Let me be clear, there is no issue with the voice acting, there just is not that much of it. In fairness, the main story missions had slightly more voice budget spent on them, slightly more. But, by the time you are a few hours in you will have heard the same inane jokes and heard the same lines in Spanish from the Unidad officers and the Cartel grunts.

In the traditional Ubisoft open world fashion the map is a sea of various icons representing any number of side missions, or “busy work” as the rest of the world calls it. Deploy drone, spot bad guys, Sniper them as stealthily as possible, get bored of that and go in all guns blazing “looks like they’ve spotted us boss, what now“? Once you have unlocked rebel safe house you can fast travel to them and the need for driving very far at all goes away. In order to unlock new skills, you need Skill Points and resources should as Gasoline, Medical Supplies or Food. These are found throughout the large map and a lot of your time is going to be spent finding these. You can find random containers just by getting close (or unlocking the skill to reveal them) or by doing related missions. These are nearly always:
– Steal a helicopter.
– Stop a convoy on the road.
– Break into a base.
– Turn off a comms tower.
Pinata drone
The in-game DLC allows you to instantly unlock a load of Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles and more. Pretty standard stuff and the prices are reasonable enough. However, I am not sure why you would want to when the best sniper rifle (HTI) is easy to find, as are Assault Rifles. Some of the more ridiculous DLC allows you to drive gold plated cars and vehicles. On the Ubisoft website you can unlock rewards with Ubi Points such as the essential pinata drone described as useful “to taunt your enemies with music and confetti”.

Dying Earth CostumeThe levels of character customization available are very high and I feel like you can create a fairly unique character. If you have a balance of Ubi Points you can unlock some extras like the rater tasty “Dying Earth Costume”. Don’t forget to check out the Ubisoft website as you may quite a balance of points to spend if you don’t normally use them.

Remember how we combined about bullet sponge enemies in The Division? Well, I didn’t at least that was a reason to actually upgrade your weapon. In GRW the starter assault rifle you have kills in one shot if it is a headshot. Errr, isn’t that expected? Yes, a headshot is a headshot and the expected result is instant death. So why change weapons? Stats, glorious stats – that’s why.

Different weapons have different stats for sure, but in practice against squishy human targets, a one-second burst from an assault rifle is going to take down anyone. And again, headshots do what you expect.
This means that the array of different weapons and weapon attachments boil down to just trying to achieve a few things:
– Choosing a scope for the HTI Sniper rifle that you can range find with easily. Remove suppressor and one shot helicopters.
– Choose some form of red dot sight for your chosen Assault Rifle so can see better than with the iron sight.
– Fit things to increase ammo and decrease recoil although neither of the things that these things solve is really an issue.

I guess the tone here is mostly negative or describing some potential positives not fully realised. So I must hate this game, right? Inexplicably, I don’t. And in fact, I have been enjoying it. A proviso here, you are talking to a guy with 70 hours in The Division. I think mostly it comes down to being one of those personalities that actually enjoys having a goal in a game and seeing progress towards it. Seeing tangible changes to your characters strengths and abilities also float my boat. That isn’t going to suit everyone and if you hated The Division I don’t see you liking this a whole lot more. Just like that game, Wildlands is best enjoyed with friends where you can add your own levels of silliness or seriousness, even some RPG stuff if you like. If you played The Division with some friends and had some fun then you’ll likely have a blast with this.

None of this changes any of the criticisms I have. If you are taking the time to develop this huge beautiful world then why not make it an interesting place you want to stay in? What’s wrong with a compelling story to supplement the shooty shooty bang bang? Why oh why do the AI characters in your squad have to be the typical stereotyped GI Joes? If these questions are likely to bother you then maybe wait for a sale or try a friends game out. If you can suspend your disbelief and enjoy this with some friends I am sure you will get you moneys worth. It would just be nice sometimes if the open world bar was set higher than “give them 50 hours”!