Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands

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Who is Tom Clancy anyway?

A good question, and aside from his many gaming titles that he’s put his name to, he’s also an author of many series of military / espionage fiction books. Looking at his list of releases, theres clearly more books than games he’s put his name towards.

Does he write the content given his background? Put simply, no. It appears he has contributed nothing towards this game, other than his brand-name. Does it matter? Not really, but it was interesting to note that this is the 14th installment in the Ghost Recon series. This is very different to the Rainbow Six series which is more urban warfare than the vast, open world shooter which is the setting for Wildlands.

Remembering the Hype

Way back when it was reveled at E3, I recall being amazed at how good it looked. Even considering this was in some form of beta being shown. The internet was buzzing about the graphics of this stunning new game with the clips that were shown. What followed, as we reached closer to release, were rumours of some settings being removed, textures being reduced and a general downgrade in visual appeal. I can only assume this was an attempt to allow the game reach the masses in playable frame rates.

Personally, I can see the reasoning behind this and I’ll come to the graphics shortly. Playing the game now, nearly 2 years to the day after release (Yeah, I know I’m slightly behind with my gaming backlog!), this reduction is effectively negligible. I cant recall exactly how it looked during the E3 reveal anyway and the game played today looks brilliant.

Steam Controller

As I’m covering a lot of my gaming backlog with the Steam Controller where possible, this title screams out for controller usage what with the drones, vehicles, team orders and commands that are just easier to access and remember on some form of controller. My first impression using the controller was not good.

From the start off, this is a Ubisoft title using Uplay launcher. I will point out that I’m not a store launcher / library grumbler, I don’t particularly care which launcher most games are purchased through. Although Uplay do have the rewards system which is a great idea of rewarding your achievements with a discount system for Uplay titles.

I found numerous issues getting the Steam Controller to work well with the game. There is an official Ubisoft template to download, however, this is seriously bugged as you cant use the command wheel in game. Its a vital skill to be able to call upon, so it effectively cancels out this profile from being used. Oddly, you are warned in Big Picture Mode for this game that the Steam Controller isn’t officially supported, but there is an official template to use. Odd doesnt begin to explain it. If you provide an official template, at least make sure it works.

The best profile I found was to use the standard XBox profile for the controller and tweak it as matches your play style. I will provide the profile I used, complete with tweaks in a later post, but the key thing is that it fixes the issue with the Command Wheel.

Finally, and I do wonder how I made it through this far with the controller, I had many input disconnect / input reconnect messages when playing the game or in the menus. This was highly annoying, as you get the steam controller config pop-up appearing numerous times in the game and disappearing. I’ve not had this on any other game, but ensuring that control type in the game settings was set to “All” seemed to make this appear less frequently.

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Graphics

Aside from the E3 hooharr, the graphics in this game really stand out. Bear in mind, its an open world, walk / run / drive / swim / fly wherever you want kind of title, the graphics are surprisingly very good. I was running a 1080ti in 4k, so these results may not be suitable for all cards and at heavy rendering, the fans did seem to hit overdrive to cool things down.

The world itself is vast and is filled with all manner of detailed objects, all of which look great. The foliage looks very good and is great for hiding in, although I’ve encountered grass blowing in the wind which looks very odd. Reminds me of Arma II where you stand in one patch of grass and a whole grid of grass goes flat around you.

This is similar to that, except in the wind, its like watching a series of metronomes all move at the same time. I wish they would have just made them static so I wasn’t lulled into a semi-hypnotic state each time I tried to crawl through it. I did notice a “Turf Effect” setting which I suspect would address this, had it truly bothered me enough.

Thankfully, this really is a minor issue, as the rest of the world is sharp, crisp and punchy. The lighting works well and given the scale of your surroundings, I never once encountered any issues with draw distance.

The game is based on a 24 hour clock, so you can happily go sight-seeing and take in the wonders of this South American country and be amazed at some of the graphical scenes you will encounter.

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Gameplay

Firstly, the map is huge, vast areas of Bolivia are recreated in fantastic detail. Having never been to this South American country, it almost feels like I don’t need to as it’s so very detailed.

The TacMap shows a detailed look at all the various side missions, main missions, collectibles and gives a real sense of this map size.

With such a large gaming area, I really appreciated the fact there are multiple transport routes available to traverse this massive landscape. From motorbikes to cars, trucks to boats, swimming and submarines, the choice of travel for me was helicopter. It was nimble, quick and if you collected the right one, it was armed with a hefty machine gun with unlimited ammo. It’s quite comical to see your passengers heads wobbling too much as you judder this flying machine around the map.

I found the default controls for the helicopter rather sluggish and strange, so changing this in the menus to “Classic Mode” was a big help as it allows you to do much quicker turns and just feels more natural.

There’s also the option to fast travel to various points in the map once you’ve taken out the characters at checkpoints or bases. This is a huge timesaver when you know where you want to go, but I found many times I’d happily get around the island on foot, wheels and by air, causing as much havoc as I felt necessary.

Wildlands Steam Controller

The gameplay with an Xbox style profile worked really well. I’ll upload my actual controller configs shortly, but it felt surprisingly natural with aiming, especially with gyro enabled. Aside from the disconnect issue, I’d still recommend it to be used for the ease at which many additional tools and equipment can be used.  Its clearly been designed for controller use and it worked well even with the Steam Controller set to use mouse and gamepad controls.  Yes, the annoying helpers pop up telling you a key or button, but I’m becoming mentally conditioned to not notice this set-up quirk.

Factions

The premise is essentially to take down a huge drug cartel operating from within Bolivia. The storylines are very detailed, inter-woven through the missions very well. I did find it difficult to determine during the game who was bad, whether I should shoot them or whether they were actually on my side.

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In most cases, I’d shoot first, see whether they’d shoot back and I’d worry about any consequences later. This highlighted a minor issue for me as I would also tend to wipe out some civilians. This mirrors real world too, as in-game, it’s frowned upon and repeated civilian murder will end your game, so please be careful out there. It’s a nice feature as it stops you unloading clips like there’s no tomorrow when you see someone who looks even remotely suspicious.

Your team-mates and radio comms will warn you if there are members of the public in your line of sight and you are allowed it seems to take a couple down as casualties of the drug war, but a needless amount will end your reign of fear.

You can actually help one of the factions in this game, so when you kindly released them from their shackle-pens, will also kindly fight on your side.  This can be very useful when you’re attacking a main base or are just getting swamped.  I’ve probably taken out a few accidentally along the way, which I was also releived to see that this didnt really affect their team-mates mood towards me.

What’s in the Kitbag?

Thankfully, as you are part of an elite military force, you have a decent arsenal of weapons and gadgets to help.  Guns can be earned and found through exploration of the map and completing side missions. They can also be upgraded, painted (although I never understand why this is important in games?) and sound excellent when in use.

Most notably, the best and most likely, highly overused gadget is the drone. This little device will allow you to scope out the area of attack, mark targets and plan your attack path. I upgraded battery and range early as most of the time, I spent it hidden in bushes, grass or disused buildings looking for a path of least resistance.

The Sync Mark was also heavily used. This allows you to command your team to position themselves around a target of your choosing and on your mark, eliminate them. Yes it makes it easier, but with planning and choosing the right moment, it can help you kick start an explosive assault on any base.

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Multiplayer

There are a couple of key multiplayer options from co-op sessions to wave mode.  When played collectively, in co-op mode its an absolute blast.  The open map allows you to pretty much do what you want, whenever, especially if you and your team were all in on the breifing before hand.  The community is still very active today, 2 years on and you’ll generally find a session before long.

Summary

I didnt have high expectations when I picked this up in the Steam sales recently.  I generally like FPS shooters and if you throw in some tactics, a huge-open world and some quality gadgets, you realise how immense this game really is.  It does have some minor drawbacks, be it the somewhat dodgy vehicle handling, or the slightly grindy nature of levelling up, collecting weapons and skills, but the fact its done in such a varied and large map, you dont seem to notice it too much.  I was often side-tracked into stealing another helicopter, or ambushing a base / outpost, I often struggled to even remember what I was trying to do before-hand.

In single-player, I found that I played the game akin to how I play GTA; stealing, attacking and generally not giving a flying monkeys about anything, to suddenly, playing the next section of the map like a ninja botanist, commanding the team to do the kills using my drone and syncshot whilst I performed tree-rubbings in the woods.

Combine this with some very solid, enjoyable multiplayer gameplay (nearly always in ninja botanist mode) and its an excellent game that I can see sitting on my harddrive for a long-time.  Ubisoft are releasing more DLC which can only be a positive move and one which will keep the excellent multiplayer base going.

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