Releasing in the same week as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Nintendo Switch itself is a bold move. You could argue that there’s not necessarily a lot of crossover between the audience for BOTW and Wildlands, but there’s no doubt the game would have received a greater share of gamers’ attention had it released at a different time (this review would certainly have reached you sooner at least).
The drone is the real star of all the gear in your backpack, capable of scouting areas and quite easily marking everyone in sight. Once you’ve thrown a few update points into it to increase its range and implement a night vision camera, you’ll quickly find it comfortably encourages a more measured approach.
It’ll get a lot of use, as areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel (either human or otherwise), before moving on to the next location to do it again. There’s a liberal spread of helicopters, which help you get between them quickly, though if you’ve made too much commotion the well-equipped UNIDAD (Bolivian special forces on the cartel’s payroll) will make your life difficult.
Areas generally boil down to kill everyone and pick up some intel, before moving on to the next location to do it again.
The map itself is vast, with 21 regions to explore across the largely mountainous countryside. As a result of being based on a real place, the variety of terrain is less varied and more realistic (read: a tad samey), with roads winding countless times to enable you to ascend some of its highest peaks.
This can prove tiresome if you’re tied to a car or truck, since the vehicle handling is far from refined here, so the sensible option is always to get hold of a chopper. Thankfully, as we mentioned earlier, they aren’t hard to get your hands on, especially once you unlock the perk which spawns one immediately nearby - you do need to be a bit careful to not spawn it inside a mountainside, however...
You’re slowly introduced to an arsenal of new weaponry on your travels, the order in which you unlock equipment depending on where you decide to visit first. The selection is deep but without a lot of character, as even customised weapons feel quite generic, and access to heavy weapons is available only where mounted gun placements are installed in enemy strongholds. If you’re looking for a fire-and-forget rocket launcher to take down that pesky enemy helicopter, then you’re going to be out of luck.
The sheer number of enemies you can come up against is quite staggering, sometimes 30 or 40 in a single compound, which continues to lead you down the road of being methodical rather than rash. To help you out with that, there’s a sync shot mechanic which lets you paint targets and then take them out simultaneously as a team, in what’s essentially a slightly more manual iteration of Splinter Cell’s mark and execute system. The result can be extremely satisfying, though enemies breaking line of sight or taking cover can throw a spanner in the works and shatter the power fantasy.
Throughout the course of the game your character isn’t fully fleshed out in their own right, but, while customisable, nor are they an avatar for yourself; this puts them in an awkward limbo between the two, as you listen to the team’s forgettable, but sadly not ignorable, banter between missions. To expect character development equivalent to that of an RPG might be unfair, but there is a freedom in how your character behaves and inhabits the world, so it’s disappointing to seem little consequence come of your choices in the long run - other than a couple of different endings, depending on your diligence.
Whether this is a game you’ll continue to enjoy weeks and months down the line largely depends on your enjoyment of crossing symbols off a map, as there are quite a few different collectables to gather. That doesn’t help Wildlands break the Ubisoft mould, but then there aren’t any particularly big risks on show here: there’s nothing equivalent to a charismatic villain in Far Cry, or compelling PvP option like The Division’s Dark Zone - though the latter is said to be coming as post-launch DLC.
All of this makes Wildlands feel a little archaic. It looks decent, and plays pretty well, but there’s nothing which truly inspires or feels like it moves the genre, series or Ubisoft’s catalogue forward. It feels like this game could just as easily have come out five years ago with slightly worse graphics and still not have made tremendous waves.
Developers are being pushed harder and further for depth, scale and storytelling every year, and we seem to have reached a stage where a game which is just fundamentally sound doesn’t really cut it any more. If that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll be pleased with a purchase of Wildlands, and for fans who’ve been following its development their expectations should be met, but with Horizon: Zero Dawn, Assassin’s Creed and even Just Cause in a similar ballpark - all of which offer more character - by comparison the game feels a little lifeless. Sticking closer to Ghost Recon's roots may well have served the series better.
What did you think of the game? Let us know in the comments.