On the inside, Ubisoft’s Wildlands is like any other Ghost Recon game. It’s a tactical shooter focusing on a fictional reconnaissance unit executing missions and making as clean an escape as possible. On the outside, however, it is unlike any Ghost Recon game you’ve played before. Suddenly, it’s an open-world where everything goes. At the same time, it brings along a present-day setting, introducing more up-close and personal vendettas into the franchise. You can tell it’s not business as usual.
A far cry from the original
There is some method to this madness though. “I think it is worth knowing that the game is made by a team that has lots of experience on the Ghost Recon franchise. It is the same team that worked on Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. At that time, when we made the transition from one game to the next, we asked ourselves why we would make another one. Is it interesting or do we have more to tell, where do we take the franchise?” Dominic Butler who is the lead game designer for Wildlands said while speaking exclusively with India Today Tech.
It was something that Ubisoft wanted to do for a while. “The idea of making an open world with a 360 approach wasn’t new to the team. And it was (also) kind of done in the level design in some of the previous Ghost Recon games. But, not in the scale that it has been done in Wildlands.”
But the bigger question is why did it take Ubisoft 10 instalments to make an open-world Ghost Recon? Why now? “It was largely a tech issue for the team and one they could not solve (previously). Now, leveraging the power of modern day consoles and modern day PCs we can bring this idea of a massive world which lets you play the way you want, how you want and express yourself through the gameplay,” Dominic explained.
Going into an open world with Ghost Recon can be a risk and comparisons with Just Cause and GTA aren’t helping its case either. In a bid to achieve a “do anything, hijack anything, kill anything” approach, Ubisoft might just have — in some way — compromised with the famed ‘Tom Clancy vibe’ the franchise is known for.
Wildlands dares to go where no other Ubisoft open-world game – be it Assassin’s Creed or even Far Cry – has gone before. It breaks many stereotypes in the process
“I would say that it is (still) absolutely a Ghost Recon game made by the Ghost Recon team and that we are very reverent and respectful of the roots of this franchise. Just prior to our announcement back in 2015, we were able to bring some of our very vocal community members in under NDA and told them, hey guys, we don’t know why you are here yet, but take a look at this. They got to play the game as it was at that period of time and also they got to meet the team. We talked them through our intent, which is pretty much how the game has evolved, and the response that we got back from them was very clear: yes, this is absolutely a Ghost Recon game.”
Freedom or the lack of it
Wildlands gives players the opportunity to lead a make-believe US Special Ops team and disrupt the drug trade of a notorious Mexican cartel, deep inside Ubisoft’s open-world version of Bolivia. The basic squad is a four-man set-up with both solo and co-op modes available. Each agent carries binoculars and a drone for essential recon purposes in addition to their preferred weapon load-out. The inhospitable terrain can, on occasions, make it impossible to traverse on foot, bringing vehicles into the picture of which there are 60 to choose from; for land, air and water.
Although players are free to decide how they want to approach each mission, their actions will have consequences, according to Dominic. Some flexibility – therefore — might just come in handy. “It can seem like the idea you are making something that allows full freedom of choice, can feel like there is no consequence, but there absolutely is. You are not a super-hero or super-villain in this world. You are very much a Special Forces dropped behind enemy lines having to think on your feet, having to dig out information.”
“It’s not a world that (just) allows you to do whatever you want. We have systems that don’t block you from doing something, but they are absolutely reactive.”
The idea of going all guns blazing can make for a great trailer but in reality “if you are going to be doing this, you are going to have alarms going off, you’ll have neighbouring patrols that will see the explosion and they are going to come and investigate. You will have to deal with these guys, and it’s going to escalate very, very quickly.”
Wildlands is so big it (even) has side-missions: a major shift from the usual Ghost Recon. As big as it might sound, players still wouldn’t be able to race over the hills and mountains and through the rivers of its enormous scale.
“In the initial days, when we had the first parts of our vehicles working, we put the vehicles in and started driving around the world and seeing how long it took to cross an area, getting a grip of driving and handling and things like that. Then very quickly, we started having races in the world and doing certain point to point stuff, over the hills and mountains and through the rivers. We were having a lot of fun with it, and the first reaction of the team was that it’s a no-brainer: we have to include the races in the game because they’re so much fun.”
“You could race to death road, you could race across the salt flats, challenge each other but then we looked at it and asked ourselves, why would Special Ops guys, dropped behind enemy lines against vicious drug cartel with this corrupt local government want to do these races? As Special Ops, it just didn’t make sense. We had to be clear in all of our content. Why are the Ghosts here? They are here to take down the Santa Blanca; they are here to grab El Sueno.”
Putting everything into perspective, Ubisoft decided to put in side missions that would (only) ultimately aid the players into becoming a ‘stronger’ organisation before going after the final boss. In this way, whilst the side content remains optional, it always ends up making sense because it’s in aid of supporting the main narrative, according to Dominic.
“It may not directly be after El Sueno, but maybe it’s about gaining more support from the rebels, maybe it’s about attacking Santa Blanca convoys to get resources, to boost other aspects of the game, maybe you are trying to boost yourself and level up your character, get more opportunities, more chances, and more tools to play with. All of that is making you a better Ghost to go after El Sueno,” he added.
And finally…the leap of faith
Wildlands dares to go where no other Ubisoft open-world game – be it Assassin’s Creed or even Far Cry – has gone before. It breaks many stereotypes in the process. “In terms of the narrative, our biggest focus was to make sure as players, people who wanted to play together as friends could drop in and drop out. They could join up with each other whenever they wanted.”
In order to facilitate that, Ubisoft had to devise a system that allowed for a certain amount of autonomy with the story. “We didn’t want to have something which was too reactive that could end up with a situation where let’s say you have been playing for 10 hours and then I want to join you but it’s past a certain narrative point that it blocks us from playing with each other because your world reality has changed. This is something we didn’t want.”
Ubisoft has made sure there’s a constant flow – in the narrative and gameplay — allowing players to have the freedom to drop in and out and to make these decisions about how they are going to approach their missions, about how they are going to load out their characters and whether they want to play solo or co-op.
“It’s about putting the control into the hands of the players, but also kind of trusting them with these systems. Telling them, you can figure this out, you can figure a way around this problem. We have created a situation for you; we’ve given you a goal to achieve. Now, how do you want to do it? Previously, it was about a designer who was thinking a step-by-step story that they wanted a player to play through. Now we’ve put that into the hands of the player,” Dominic reiterated.
Clearly, the game lays forth all these tantalising options for you to go about fulfilling your role, and yet, keeps reminding you time and again, “Hey, that’s not the way to go about it.” Talk about freedom, or rather, the lack of it. All in goodwill sir!
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands will be available starting from March 7 for Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC.