"A Restrospective Review of Wildlands"
My love for this franchise will never die, I swear. It has waned more than once, but it is making a hard left turn back towards pure love again. I don't know that any game will ever come close to holding the special place in my gaming heart that OGR does. For me, it was the perfect FPS Tac-Sim, and it was awesome! Once GR received full mod support the community exploded, the clans grew, the competitions were constant, and these forums were bustling. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I was fourteen when I got a perfectly wrapped box for Christmas in 2001. With a quick shake, I heard the CD case and leaflets knock around the edges of the box and I couldn't have been more excited to get Ghost Recon installed. Don't get me wrong, Rainbow Six was very cool, but I came from a family with more military than law enforcement. Following the events of 9/11 there were few greater heroes in my young mind than the fine members of the US Special Forces that I knew were out kicking ass and taking names. Once my homework was done, I could join them in a future battle - do the math, by OGR's 2008 setting I could have been out of high school, in the military, and trained up for a deployment of my very own! Interestingly enough, I was - so I guess I got the Desert Siege experience.
Fast forward fifteen years, and here I sit just three and a half months away from thirty... and I'm still playing Ghost Recon! How cool is that! OK, my OGR disc (and my DS disc... and my IT disc) are long since scratched up, but they rest peacefully in my binder of computer games from the late 90's and early 2000's alongside Rainbow Six and its various expansions. I still get a giggle when I remember a [GRNET] practice that was interrupted by a house fire my father accidentally set, or the ridiculous antics of Schenk, the efforts it took for me to first understand Rocky over a headset, and even the gratuitous fun that was found in the old M16 vs. AK47 matches. Needless to say, for a lot of reasons, no Ghost Recon (or anything) since has come close to helping me reliving those experiences - mostly, I blame you guys.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a very 2020 spin on our old game and I expected to not like it. When the franchise took a turn towards a third person view I thought these forums may explode. Thankfully, we had already endured the great debate of visible firearms models in Rainbow Six: Raven Shield, so it was easier on everyone, I think. By then most of the OGR Old Guard had moved on and Real Life took hold. Yet, here we are.
I'm currently at 65 hours of solo game time and 70% mission completion in the campaign I am really enjoying the new face of Ghost Recon. It has its quirks, its annoyances, and its special brand lunacy at times, but overall this is a really enjoyable game. An old Army injury has crept up and I'm on week six of ten with a broken foot and still staring down the barrel of surgery, so I enjoy whatever entertainment I can get while cooped up in my master bedroom while I'm home alone with the dogs waiting on the lady to come home from work.
There are times I take my invisible and worthless AI teammates to the highest elevation within 300m of an objective, flip on the NODs, launch the drone and gather intel, and I'm taken back to a [GRNET] appearance in a Stealth Tournament. Who stepped on that mine again? Anyway, I wait, and I watch. Little orange circles bopping around awkwardly... "baby makes three"... "got a generator over here"... "that makes fifteen"... or worse "the drone is being jammed!" With as much affect on my AI buddies as I would have herding cats, I head towards the objective. Inevitably, at least 75% of these attempts end the EXACT same way - with my stupid self pulling a long distance shot with my Mk14 because that sicario was a bit more inside of his tower than I realized, or because he was perfectly situated behind that apparently bulletproof 1/8" thick piece of corrugated tin, but, whatever.
Daytime is where I shine. Get it? Seriously, the day/night cycles of this game are a blast. It completely changes the mood and your tactics. Knowing that the shroud of darkness is hours (minutes) away, my patience run short and that Unidad FOB reminds me of when Agent Smecker recounts the first meeting of Il Duce, the McManus brothers, and Rocco. [REFERENCE - LANGUAGE WARNING] With maxed out rebel assistance I've got my own personal militia, a drone that explodes, mortars falling, and grenades flying. Bring on those helicopters! My Mk249 will take you down!
One of my favorite moments made my laugh the hardest and was caused by sheer panic (textbook Ghost Recon). Remember how in OGR you could get so enveloped in a mission that it could literally startle you? No? Just me? OK. Alright, so SPOLIER ALERT there's a mission in Ocoro where you have to find a fella called "El Emisario." Conveniently he's located at the very top floor of a multi-story mansion that is surrounded by the cartel and Unidad. This place looks like a nightmare to infiltrate once you're done with your drone recon. Playing this as one of the first missions I came across I had no idea where to find this guy. Turns out there's a room that is conveniently blocked by a Unidad soldier with a clipboard. While trying to maneuver my super stealthy drone to see if I could peek past him to find my guy - I'm thinking snipe and run - my girl dog flings all fifty pounds of her body weight into one paw that hits my left hand. My drone goes careening into the Unidad soldier and in my attempts to keep him from being alerted, I panicked - hard. I clicked the mouse. Remember exploding drones?
I'm convinced I'm made, I'm ready for the biggest firefight I have yet to experience. Suddenly in big flashing letters across my screen: "SANTA BLANCA IS ATTACKING UNIDAD" What? Is this for real? I sat perched on the hill gawking at the bloodbath unfolding in front of me. I was in hysterics. When the firing stopped all that was left was an alerted Unidad patrol and one lone Unidad survivor. Since then I've often used rival factions against each other to do my dirty work - I love mortars. OGR would have never allowed that to happen. And who cares? I imagine what that experience would have been like had I been on my headset with three buddies hee-hawing over the madness. Review and Comparison of GRW and OGR
GRW rules the free world when it comes to customizations. Seriously. I drool. Anyone who remembers me and how I got started here knows that I LOVE skin mods. My character looks like me when I was in uniform only with today's beard. We rock our signature sunglasses and MC ballcap and even have a pack that looks a lot like the one I wore daily in Iraq. The ability to "gunsmith" weapons is cool, but it could be WAY cooler. I understand the Dev's desires to make unlocking parts a part of the gameplay - but how far we have come from GR mods with 400 plus KIT files to get that one configuration on that one weapon we so desperately want. I wish they could have accessed more commercial licensing and featured a few more accessories (like an 8x or 12x rifle scope with a zeroing ability), but at least you can design each weapon for what you want. Ultimately, because it is still a video game, for me it's all about the damage. There are rifles I had before my ACR I really preferred to shoot, but the ACR dominates the class that I have unlocked so far in all-around damage and penetration (giggity), so I use it the most. That's a lie. Whatever the Mk14 messes up, the Mk249 cleans up in glorious action movie fashion.
****the following is a rewrite courtesy of a strange glitch, apologies if it doesn't flow as well.... where's my beer?**** Ballistics leave some room for improvement. It's like a Budweiser to me. Is it beer? Yeah. Will it get the job done? Yeah. Is it as satisfying as the hoppy goodness found in a sticky west coast triple IPA? Nah brah. Ballistics in games have always been odd in my opinion (why are sniper rounds so slow?). When I started playing OGR I was a 9th grader raised by two teachers with nary a firearm in the house. Today I'm a combat veteran who is an avid shooter with countless hours on the range and down range. Ballistics are math, and there are hundreds of reliable sources packed with data on how every caliber reacts with different materials, or how trajectory is affected and energy lost over a distance. That big brand video games can't, or won't, replicate this is very strange to me. Each sniper rifle in GRW has the exact same ballistics model. Again, can we get long range scopes we can zero please? I would like to see the ballistics model improved because I'm a nerd mostly. Also, never get rid of that very pleasing sound I hear whenever bullet meets flesh.
Devs, come over here... we need to talk about these vehicles. I need you to take the Battlefield 4 devs out one night (tonight? It is Cinco de Mayo!) and get them to spill the secrets of their vehicle control models. I feel like every airborne vehicle is missing the ability to control at least two of its axes and that is really annoying. I feel like I'm flying a big awkward box that can fall out of the sky really really fast. The land vehicles are tolerable - except the APC, that thing sucks. The motorbikes are well intended and are some pretty staunch off-road beasts, but if one more of them flips me over the handlebars and kills me for hitting a pebble, there will be fisticuffs. The rebel missions and supply raids are always a treat, even if repetitive. Although, it did take this genius a while to remember his drone could do more than make things go "boom" when trying to stop convoys of supplies, so once I swapped for the EMP drone my efficiency went up. While these side missions (radio tower, intimidation etc.) provide interesting banter and a dose of character, they're rather tedious. Once I hit 45 successful missions I stopped doing them altogether. Paired with the clunky aviation mechanics supply raids involving a helicopter or an airplane can be more than a bit frustrating. Oh, and don't you dare let a single SB get near that thing because apparently, they are ALL pilots. Once you do get to the choppa (or plane) just take off and enjoy a nice leisurely fli-
WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THE SAM SITES EVERYWHERE AND WHY WON'T THEY STAY DESTROYED. SB must have some serious cash and same with Unidad. If you've made it to the supply raid mission at the FOB on the runway in Media Luna you feel my pain. Three SAM sites on the runway and three more in the vicinity? Don't forget the ONE that gets you right near the improvised landing strip EVERY TIME too. I know, just "hug the terrain" and you can avoid it. Well, since my airplane flies about as well as a finless fish swims that's not exactly the easiest task. Can the SAM sites have a longer death period too? If I destroy one can it stay dead for a full 7 days/168 hours?
The "Gunsmith" is pretty flipping cool too, and I think it's about 85% complete. Going back to my issue with ballistics, you're very much catering your designs to the game's data instead of Real World tactics. Again, I understand the sacrifice for gameplay and that this isn't really a Tac-Sim but more of a Third Person Strategy game (I guess?), but my cunningly handsome character is so close to being the "real deal" that I want his accessories to match, just like my lady needs her Louis Vuitton's to complete her ensemble. Maybe reach out for some licensing and get us some cool gear? Oh, and throw us veterans a bone could you? With proof of military service, we should be able to access a branch specific patch pack for free (or just a handful specific to our personal service, how cool would that be?). The Cavalry sabers RuinII is currently sporting are as close as I've got to my real sabers, so they'll do for now, but they're just not right. But let me put the sabers on my hat and a 1st Cavalry Division patch on my pack and you'd have one very grateful veteran.
For all my petty griping about the Gunsmith, we sure have come a VERY long way since the days of 400+ KIT files in OGR mods. You remember, when we had to memorize which character class had kit 136 that was the one specific combination of accessories on the one weapon we wanted... Customization has always been a part of the OGR experience. What was once user-driven is now developer led, but I since that's a discussion for a different thread.
Let's talk about the missions themselves, beyond their monotonous objectives (destroy those, kill that guy, sneak into that place, follow them, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war) and their hilarious unpredictability (being on the wrong end of a mortar livens things up), they really are all very unique. Courtesy of the immense and varied terrain every mission is its own head-scratcher. Much like I learned in the Army, it is the same with these missions: You can be smart, or you can be strong - pick one. Given enough time debating with a couple of Scotsmen over the headset I can see how every mission could be accomplished without firing a single shot (unless mandatory). When you're home along with a broken foot and nature is calling, sometimes the best thing to do is fire for effect. The Devs have done an excellent job allowing you to approach the mission as you see fit. Combined with the cooperative gameplay that made OGR so successful and I could see myself wanting to rewatch that episode again. However, when it comes to single player, you're back to the two options real fast.
Helping you increase your real number of options is that cool little skill tree. I see it as an expanded version of the Specialists skill points from OGR. While the skill tree leaves you constantly deprived of the supplies that thirst beast demands, the benefits of the upgraded skills are immediately noticeable. Much like when my male dogs hurries down the steps so he can shove is big nose in the garbage can your desire for supplies will have you hunting out intel caches and harassing SB lieutenants all across Bolivia. Frankly, the intel system is tedious and annoying to me at times, but I understand it. I suppose I'm just cheap and impatient, but I've paid for this game and I want to play all of it as soon as I buy it, not be handicapped at the beginning because I've not proven myself worthy to the game to enjoy all of the benefits. I do confess, it does make sense. The side missions do add extra game time and offer an opportunity to grind and improve your Ghost before heading into the new AO's story line. I'm bad to roam the outskirts looking for easy targets. I like the XP bump and I like bullying the weaker NPCs. Sometimes this means that in my blood-lust I miss things like accessories or weapons cases that a sell-out sicario will reveal afterwards and I'll have to go back and do it all over again - remember that "one episode twice in a year" thing? I'm at the point where I'd love an "Intel Drone" that revealed all the intel in a given AO to me so I can plan my approach to that whole AO accordingly, but maybe I'm just overthinking it? TL;DR: Conclusion All in all I'm happy to see Wildlands wear the Ghost Recon name. While this is no OGR I don't see that anything will be ever again. And why should we expect it to be? Really we should think about what made OGR, OGR.
First and foremost: Community. Time will be the judge as to whether or not the GRW community will ever be akin to the OGR community. I fear that the lack of mod support for this game and the profit producing DLCs were the final nails in the PC Game Community Coffin, also a discussion for a different topic. COOP: Cooperative play was the cornerstone of OGR (did you ever wander into an ADV server? Chaos!), and GRW's utter lack of PvP play shows that Ubisoft still values that in the GR franchise. GRW offers you a wide variety of tools, including a day/night cycle, to let you plan the perfect mission with your friends. In some situations you could have three spotters and one operative where the spotters use drones or other equipment to guide the operative past enemies undetected. Or you can grab a gunship or two and fly on over and just go nuts. Variety: Not only do you have a variety of options in how you want to accomplish your mission, but you have tons of missions to chose from and you can use different means of transportation to get there. You can complete a mission in the frozen peaks in the southwest and head over to your next one in the rain forest of the southeast. While I know it has ZERO impact on gameplay I do love to dress RuinII up depending on climate and terrain because... Customization: Unlock new weapons and accessories, tune your weapon to suit your style and abilities, and then paint it make it look cool! There has to be millions of possible combinations out there when customizing your character and his or her kit. This is why we modded OGR at the very beginning - I made my Ghosts wear black wool for goodness sake! If you get bored with your look or want more accuracy in your rifle, you can change it. Want to dawn El Pulpo's hat? No problem! Once you've unlocked it just hit "I" and then hit "G" and make it so. Dear god hit "I" first. HIT "I" FIRST! DON'T GO STRAIGHT FOR "G" OR YOU'LL KILL PEOPLE. Longevity: Once again, we modded the crap out of OGR. Not only did it make things look super cool, but it kept the game popular and active for several years. Hours and hours of gameplay. I'm 65 hours in and completed 70% of the missions, found 66% of the collectibles, and have killed over 3700 bad guys! And that's just the campaign, I've not even touched Narco Road yet. More DLCs will certainly be on the way if The Division is any indicator.
For those of you who shared the OGR battlefield with me some years ago, I hope you enjoy this game as much as I do. While this game looks and plays almost nothing like OGR, it has its soul. It's an appropriate refresh and reboot to our beloved franchise and while it isn't without fault, it is a very fine start, especially for such a massive undertaking.
OK, now you go drink a beer, you've earned one.
Also, PLEASE add me on Uplay (RuinII if you haven't figure it out yet) and let's get some co-op time in! I have 31 minutes. And with at least four and a half weeks left in this cast, I could use the entertainment.