If there's one thing Ubisoft knows it's surprise reveals at E3 and how to put together great announcement trailers. To the beat of Imagine Dragon's Friction we were introduced to Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands at the tail end of Ubisoft's E3 press conference. Something entirely new and different for one of Ubisoft's oldest and most successful franchises. Yet somehow it felt very familiar and perfectly in line with what Ubisoft have been doing over the last five or so years...
A lot of Ubisoft games "share DNA", offering similar features or mechanics. The publisher has invested a ton of research and development into open-world games, and in some ways this means that games like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs blend together (even The Crew had familiar elements). Now it seems we'll soon be able to add Ghost Recon to that list.
Critics point to this "Ubisoftification" as something negative, and if you're a completionist these games can certainly be a chore, but on the other hand what's wrong with games that offer lots of things for the player to do? As long as it's left up to the player to decide what to do and how to do it... There's two sides to the coin, but obviously for this title it will be vital to retain as much of Ghost Recon's DNA as possible - and the focus on squad-based tactical action is perhaps what the game offers at its core that's different from the other open-world games Ubisoft has released as of late. It should also be noted that the team is keen on repeating the mantra that there is no side content here, something that Ubisoft's open-world offerings typically overflow with.
The game isn't class based, but instead you'll be able to equip your soldier with appropriate gear and weapons to create your own class. Wildlands is set four years from now and the ghosts are engaged with the war on drugs, taking out cartels in Bolivia. This means we're mainly dealing with current and up-to-date military tech, including personal drones that each soldier is equipped with. The basic concept is that you're tasked with attacking the strongholds of the cartels and taking out the leaders. A bit reminiscent of Pandemic Studios' Mercenaries in a way.
Perhaps the most apt description is that Ghost Recon: Wildlands offers a co-operative take on GTA Online, but here you're playing as the "good guys", and naturally Bolivia isn't Los Santos. Bolivia may not provide you with the sprawling metropolis of Los Santos, but in terms variation there's plenty with dense jungles and mountains as well as more arid desert-like areas. The day and night cycle and the option of going in loud or taking a more stealthy approach reminds us a bit of Metal Gear Solid V, even if going loud has more in common with Far Cry 4 than Hideo Kojima's sandbox finale to the Metal Gear series.
One thing that is interesting and that offers a slightly new angle is the option of creating in-fighting between various factions. The E3 demo showed an example where a cartel was meeting with the corrupt military police, and sniping one on each side was the spark the powderkeg needed to explode.
Progression in Ghost Recon: Wildlands is something that we're still kept in the dark on. The developers told us in an interview that each player would progress their own individual story when playing together so you should theoretically be able to play together with anyone at any point.
Exactly what this means, well, we're not quite sure. It could be that you can repeat missions and that it will only help your progression if you're doing that with a friend. Or it could be that the entire game is procedural and that all the progression is kept with the player (so you progress and open up more challenging missions). The notion that there are no "side missions" is an interesting one. Another take would be that it's all side missions that you can deal with in any order you want. But Ubisoft have yet to detail any overarching narrative, maybe there isn't even one.
Even if it's early days and we're still left in the dark about many of the mechanics and perhaps more importantly about the overarching structure of the game, it should be said that the playable code shown off at E3 looked both polished and pretty complete in terms of features. Some fans may be disappointed that the new Ghost Recon deviates from the formula we've grown used to, and perhaps some are disappointed that it clearly borrows from other open-world games, but having seen Ghost Recon: Wildlands in action we're starting to salivate at the prospect of exploring and exploiting this sandbox with three friends.