It’s hard to believe that the first Ghost Recon title is over a decade and a half old, and it’s equally shocking to think that it’s been nearly five years since the most recent entry, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Other Tom Clancy titles have helped fill in that gap, but the typically excellent Ghost Recon sub-franchise has laid dormant. With Wildlands, it’s most certainly back, but it’s almost unrecognizable. Surprisingly, that’s not nearly as dire as it might sound.
Like most of the Ghost Recon series, Wildlands throws you into a troubled, war-torn land that is absolutely overrun with bad guys who need to be dispatched as efficiently as possible. This time around the action takes place in the South American country of Bolivia. Plenty of artistic liberty has been taken with both the landscapes and politics of the region, but the game does its best to fit the story arc into something resembling modern-day world affairs. Thankfully, you’ll be too busy flying helicopters, rescuing rebels, and sniping heavily armed cartel members to care how well it pulls that off.
From the very first seconds of initial mission it’s made clear who your final target is: El Sueño. El Sueño is the top boss and leader of the Santa Blanca cartel, which holds control over the entire region thanks to the massive wealth generated by its thriving cocaine business. Every single thing you do in Wildlands is ultimately just another small step towards finally taking El Sueño down, and even if you pause your story missions for a bit to take care of some side quests, those objectives are still linked to the overarching goal of putting ‘the Boss of Bosses’ six feet under.
Wildlands is an open-world game in every sense of the word, with complete freedom of movement and frequent clashes with both cartel members and nefarious local law enforcement, which also happens to be extremely corrupt. You’re given total control to approach each objective the way you want, whether that means stealthily stalking a jungle hideout while sniping militants or driving a farm tractor into a military base and lobbing grenades at everything that moves. Sometimes stealth is necessary to survival, but other times doing your best impression of Rambo is not only extremely effective, but also a whole lot of fun.
The singular goal structure is really what helps Wildlands separate itself not just from the rest of the Ghost Recon franchise but also from most other story-based open world games. The overworld map is like a directory of the smaller players in the Santa Blanca cartel, and each one has to be taken down in order to make progress, but it really doesn’t matter what order you do it in. Some of the areas of the map might have more enemy reinforcements, heavy units, or simply better tactics than those elsewhere, but there’s no arbitrary walls or invisible barriers stopping you from heading anywhere you want on the massive map.
If you’re playing alone you’re given a compliment of three AI partners. They’re not terribly smart, but they’re definitely useful, and can be commanded to follow orders with reasonable accuracy. However, the game is really meant to be played with friends, and that’s made apparent once you add another player to your squad. As soon as a second human is present, all of your AI partners disappear, taking you from a four-man squad to a duo. Still, two human players are usually enough to carry out just about any mission in a few tries, so it’s not exactly game-breaking, but it’s also never really explained. The only glaring issue is that even after the AI soldiers disappear, they continue to chat and make small talk while traveling around the map. At one point I had just two player-controlled female soldiers in the car, but the drive to the next objective came with a humorous chat between two dudes.