Once a mission is completed, is there any temptation to go back?
"If the End Game is completing all the missions on Ghost difficulty, it may be hard to convince friends to pursue this without superior loot in prospect"
First attempts at 4-player co-op in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands highlight the pros and cons of the game in a brutal fashion.
With a handful of EXP-points to spend on upgrading our weapon, drone, equipment and squad capabilities, the Ghost Recon: Wildlands experience was about to get real. Assigned three random (respected fellow journalist) players, my missions require excellent real-world verbal communication in addition to cover-and-shoot experience and expertise.
Our instructor had the AI ramped up to Elite, one below the most difficult Ghost setting, so that our enemy would now be more aware and retaliate with greater force. At this stage it is perhaps worth pointing out that, unlike with The Division, health and mobility on both sides of the battle remain neutral – characters are not artificially levelled to necessitate grinding. Mission success in Wildlands is down to decision making and execution, pure and simple.
Or, not so simple as it turned out.
Ubisoft's Responsive Open World
The mission routine in Ghost Recon: Wildlands is different to The Division in a couple of key ways. First, Wildlands is not a shared-world shooter with instanced scenarios, it is played as a regular co-op campaign with difficulty set from the menus. Second, and equally important, is how the method of approach to locations can affect mission outcomes in significant ways.
And so, for our first infiltration of a cartel outpost, we wisely drove by night, stopping short of the facility to scope it out. With night-vision equipped, we coordinated reasonably well to thin the numbers of guards armed with mini-guns. We could’ve parachuted from a chopper, or shot the place to shreds from the air (or tried to) but the ground assault seemed right at the time. Once you’re committed to the strategy, you have to make it work as the team.
Speaking in terms of Destiny, the four-man missions feel something between a Strike and a Raid in many ways, but more free-form and – okay – without colossal bosses to take-down. As a shared activity, though, the beats feel quite familiar, and perfected along similar lines.
Vehicles play a major role in the entertainment value, as well as being a practical concern. Why take the flat-bed truck when an armoured troop carrier is also at hand? One is subtle, the other not so much. Guess which one will raise the alarm, though.
After gathering intel by interrogating a cartel soldier, it was the next stage of the mission that tested the team most of all. Shooting our way in and out of an outpost just about ran smoothly, with few friendly casualties. This was Battlefield or Call of Duty territory. Where the game truly became Ghost Recon is in the attempted exfiltration of a cartel deserter.
Our guy was being guarded by an organised team out in the open somewhere, with spotters and snipers positioned on the rocks and guards patrolling muddy roads close to their cars. The task was simple, but identifying all the components in addition to perfect execution was tough for our new team. The key to this particular puzzle was that the deserter, already out of favour, was dispensable to the cartel. If the group became alerted they would shoot him without a second thought. And so, this needed to be a clean push from start to end.
After countless embarrassing restarts, having risked a gung-ho approach numerous times, the trick was to identify only a handful of threats to sneak away the target unharmed. Or, in our case, cause a distraction with two or three players while one agent made the snatch.
More familiar territory
"Our official hands-on time was up, but even so I think the team would’ve called it a night by that stage. The mission was done. We earned more EXP for upgrades. Catch you all later"
Our group fared much better in the second, allegedly more challenging, mission. Our overall impression was less favourable as a consequence. After a soft interrogation of the deserter, Emilio – presented as a cinematic cut-scene – we learned the identity of a new target; one former army ranger Carl Bookhart, holed up in an abandoned silver mine. We stormed the base from the outside, before hosing our way in and out without much strategic thought.
We worked the entrance tunnels and metal stairwells exceptionally well – the objective always right in front of us: guys to shoot. The action was reminiscent of the Mexican tunnel scenes in Sicario, watching corners, following the sounds of gunfire to provide support to a team that had forgotten the benefits of sticking close together. With flashbangs, frags and heavy firepower, Brookhart was soon smoked out of his hiding place and effortlessly slain.
Our official hands-on time was up, but even so I think the team would’ve called it a night by that stage. The mission was done. We earned more EXP for upgrades. Catch you all later.
Personally speaking, enthusiasm for Ghost Recon: Wildlands centres a lot on the theme of resourceful agents and the potential to shape missions in inventive new ways. One concern is that, unlike The Division, Destiny and to some extent the team-based efforts of Overwatch to gain EXP and improve ranking as a group, the take-away from Wildlands is much more traditional. Your reward is Mission Complete, since there is no loot system as such.
On the one hand this is good, since effort is put into acquiring and upgrading gear that suits a particular playstyle. But if the End Game is completing all the missions on Ghost difficulty, it may be hard to convince friends to pursue this without superior loot in prospect.
Ubisoft recently confirmed a PvP mode to be added after launch, but no details have been shared. Perhaps this will be the key to the game’s longevity owing to bragging rights of the top players, and a go-to destination for people looking to mix things up between grand-scale Battlefield, cat-and-mouse Call of Duty and the grindfests of Destiny and The Division.
These impressions are based on a preview event for Ghost Recon: Wildlands held in Paris earlier this month. Ubisoft paid for travel.