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In Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, you are in charge of four American soldiers, or ghosts, who are fighting behind enemy lines. Your job is to take over the entire country of Bolivia and clear it of the Santa Blanca drug cartel. This is a task that could take the rest of your life.
Over the past five years, Ubisoft has created a vast open world, reproducing the wild lands of Bolivia and 11 different ecosystems, including deserts, jungles, rivers, mountains, villages, and cities. You’ll explore 21 provinces, each with its own boss. As you take out the underbosses, you uncover the bosses higher in the cartel’s hierarchy. Ultimately, you’ll get to El Sueno, the boss of bosses, who moved his cartel from Mexico to Bolivia in order to create a narco state.
Your ghosts are in hostile territory. While their mission seems impossible at the outset, they have stealth on their side, and you can proceed one mission at a time. I played for a few hours, both in single-player mode and with four-player cooperative play. During that time, I made a little headway in one province. I captured a lot of the video and you can see it below.
As you look out at the distant terrain, you can see that the draw distances are huge. You can see forever, and everything under the sun that you see is playable territory. That’s simply amazing.
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How Ubisoft designed the vast game
Ubisoft is OK with this. The French game publisher got the memo a five years ago when it appeared that half of the games in the top 10 were open world games. Ubisoft has been popping out the open worlds one after another, including Watch Dogs 2, Steep, Far Cry Primal, and Tom Clancy’s The Division. In this case, the company’s Ubisoft Paris studio set to work on the vast open world, married with a military shooter and four-player co-op.
“If you look the three basic elements here — a military shooter, a massive open world, and four-player co-op — there’s no other game on the market that has those at the same time,” said Nouredine Abboud, senior producer at Ubisoft in an interview with GamesBeat. “Being able to play a tactical shooter in a big open world where you can move from mission to mission and play the whole story in co-op, or switching back and forth between co-op and single-player, that’s never been done before. ”
If your friends want to join you can, they can hop right in.
“Now, imagine that you only have an hour to play, so you begin to play solo. A friend of your shows up online and asks to join your game,” Abboud said. “They can come into your mission right away, seamlessly, and you’ll play co-op for as long as you want to. If you have some more time, you can go into the public matchmaking and find two other guys to join you. If someone wants to log out and go to sleep, the rest of you can keep playing.”
Ubisoft designed the game so that you could accomplish the goal of taking down the Santa Blanca drug cartel and El Sueno any way you want, said Dominic Butler, lead game designer, in an interview with GamesBeat at a Ubisoft preview event. In fact, you can start a mission, then decide you need more firepower. So you can start that other mission, acquire the firepower such as a helicopter, and then go back to rejoin the other mission in mid-course.
“When we’re building missions in a world like this, where it’s so big and so open, where freedom of choice is core to the player experience, we have to rethink the way we build mission structure traditionally. It’s not just about relating a narrative, telling a story, but also from a gameplay point of view. If we have a target to extract, previously we’d tell you, “Go get a vehicle, take out the guys at this front gate, blow up this generator, grab the guy, get him back to the vehicle.” We’d go step by step and give you lots of clear objectives.”
You have to start somewhere
At the beginning, I crafted my own soldier. I made an Asian character with a mustache, and went into action. The customization opportunities were endless, and you could make characters of either sex. Then I dove into the mountainous Montuyoc region, where Santa Blanca was trying to train an elite army. My team’s job was to stop them.
In my preview session, I started out on a mountain. My first mission was to rescue a man who had some information that I needed. But when I clicked on the marker, I found the target was a few kilometers away on top of another mountain. So the first thing I had to do was drive my jeep on the narrow mountain roads and head up the mountain. I seriously thought that Ubisoft could have made this beginning a little more exciting, but I went along. While I was driving, I listened to the radio station in the car. The DJ was a mouthpiece for the Santa Blanca cartel, and I sensed just how much of this country was against me.
I accidentally ran over a pedestrian who wouldn’t get out of the way. And then I received the warning that killing civilians could turn the population against me, and that could have grave consequences later in the game.
I arrived at the compound and did minimal recon. I could have thrown my drone into the air and then identified each one of the guards and mapped them out. I didn’t bother. I went in shooting, ambushing the first guard I could see. That wasn’t the wisest of moves, but I was testing the system.
I learned that I had to duck into cover or get shot. The nine guards there weren’t a match for me and my three comrades. But I managed to get too close to the guards and got shot once. I had to be revived by a friendly. We took out the guards, freed the captive, and then delivered him to an extraction point. It was a relatively easy, self-contained mission. Then I moved on to the mission below.
Once again, I went in fairly blind and started shooting. If you want, you can put silencers on your gun and then your comrades will copy you. If you go in with guns blazing, they will do so as well. I completed another mission quickly, taking out guards, getting the intel, and then escaping before reinforcements came.
Contact with the rebels
I could have kept doing that, but I received a radio call from the rebel leader. The rebels are a constant nuisance to the Santa Blanca cartel and the country’s military, the Unidad. The cartel and the military are usually in cahoots, but you can play them off against each other. For instance, if both factions are nearby, you can shoot one of them and then hide. The soldiers on both sides will draw their guns and shoot at each other. During that time, you can get your mission done.
In any case, the rebel leader wanted me to hijack some trucks and bring him some supplies. In some provinces, the rebels are weak. In others, they are strong. If you help them out, they will grow stronger and they will help you as well. So I went after some convoys and captured supplies for the rebels. That job proved rather easy. I simply drove up next to the Unidad convoy. My soldiers shot and blew up the accompanying cars, and then shot the convoy truck until the guards gave up. I got the supplies and the rebels were happy. I was expecting a protracted chase, but the convoy truck couldn’t take much damage.
As I completed missions, I picked up skills and applied them to my soldier so I could upgrade my weapons and other capabilities. At first, the rebel leader was disappointed I only had four soldiers. But my leader informed him that was all we needed, as the ghosts were badasses.
Chipping away at the cartel
As I returned to the main story, I found it easy to find out what I needed to do next by looking at the map. I drove to a farm and finally used a drone. It didn’t have much range, but it was able to identify some bad guys. For some reason, it wasn’t guarded well. So I rushed in, got the Intel, and moved on. Then I got shot again and had to be revived.
I found from the Intel that I could uncover a number of targets such as rebel operations, supply dumps, and skill point locations. By completing missions in those locations, I could gather strength. Or I could simply move on to the next main mission.
During the mission briefings, I received instructions from my overseer. But the game had no elaborate cinematics that introduced each new mission. That allowed me to proceed quickly through multiple missions in a relatively short time. On the other hand, I sort of lost interest in the story, or lack of it. In a way, I kind of missed having extended cinematics, rather than just voice overs, between missions.
One of the things I liked is listening to the propaganda on the radio. I also enjoyed the banter between my fellow soldiers. Once in a while, it got serious, like when one soldier disclosed that he was getting a divorce because his wife never knew where he was.
It didn’t feel like it at first, but every mission against the Santa Blanca cartel was weakening their influence in the region. If I got far enough in that task, I would be able to gather intelligence on the region’s boss, and then take that boss out. Then I could go on to liberate another of the 21 regions.
Like I said. It’s an endless mission to take over the country, but the good thing about it is that each of the tiny missions that you perform along the way are compelling. The graphics look awesome, even for an open world, and that was cool.
Soon enough, I got a little braver and tried to fly a helicopter. It wasn’t easy to fly, like you find in a Battlefield game. Rather, you have to learn how to do it right. I could raise or lower the aircraft with one trigger, and then tilt the nose until it started moving toward the direction it was pointing. If I got the angle just right, I would move along. But it took getting used to.
Abboud at Ubisoft said they wanted to make the game challenging and make sure that travel didn’t get boring. So they made the helicopter flying harder and more realistic. I thought that was tough on early users, but it made sense for the long run, given how long the game is. Hopefully, by the time I finish the game, I’ll learn how to fly a helicopter.
I finished my play session in a couple of hours. I didn’t get too far into the missions of a single region. i have no idea how long it will take to finish the whole game. And since the basic gameplay is fun, that’s a good thing, as fans will have no end to their enjoyment.
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