“Usually, there is nothing more pleasing that returning to a place where you have endured hardship.” –Tahir Shah
On a cold winter’s evening six years earlier, the Wildlands open beta drew to a close. By this time, I’d fully finished exploring the starting region and Montuyoc, a high-altitude, barren province distinguished by the presence of a single large lake at its heart, and in the desert terrain, Santa Blanca makes this place home of their training facilities. The desolate, but beautiful landscape here was quite memorable, and when then open beta ended, I was confident that would be the last time I’d ever set foot in Montuyoc. Six years later, my journey through Wildlands has brought me back to Montuyoc: upon venturing into a vast, mountainous landscape devoid of vegetation and gazing out over the nearly-circular lake at the heart of this province, memories came back to me. Back then, I was a half-year into work with my first start-up, and we’d just pivoted away from providing 3D medical visualisations, which had been something I’d specialised in during graduate school, and moved towards use of Apple’s HealthKit SDK to provide clinicians with a means of efficiently capturing surveys from patients. By this point in my career, I had delivered my first-ever iOS app to a Denver-based computational oncology firm, providing the groundwork for their platform to have a patient-facing client, and through discussions with this firm, it was found that there was potential for electronic surveys using HealthKit, then a novel concept, to become widely used. A successful delivery and a clear path forward coincided with the running of Wildlands‘ open beta, and I found myself exploring Montuyoc a day after celebrating the start-up’s early wins (I spent an evening unwinding to handmade pizza and poker with the team). While the start-up would ultimately prove unsuccessful, my desire to return to Wildlands had endured over the years. I had longed to revisit Montuyoc under happier times, and now, with the full game available to me, my decision was to focus on completing the lower-difficulty regions first and build up enough of an arsenal to ensure that while visiting the higher-difficulty regions, I’d be able to evade Santa Blanca and Unidad patrols, or if the need arose, shoot a path to safety. My first incursion into a five-star difficulty region was met with immediate failure, and I had initially wondered if it was feasible for a solo player to explore these regions; in order to gain access to the under-boss and head of the Santa Blanca cartel, one must clear out the buchons in a region, and some of these buchons are located in the more challenging provinces.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried: up until now, I’d depended almost entirely on my own patience, tactics and weapons to complete missions. I typically made use of the drone to scout out a base, entered quietly and slaughtered all within, then completed my objective. However, throughout the course of Wildlands, regions became more difficult. Patrols are more frequent, and bases begin equipping more sophisticated equipment, from alarm systems and gated security to anti-air missile platforms. Using the smaller toolset exclusively was not feasible, and I found myself being downed with nontrivial frequency. As it turns out, while exploring Bolivia, I’d also amassed a sizeable collection of skills and support options, too. The drone can be equipped with an EMP pulse, allowing players to disable alarms and generators from a distance without ever being spotted, or alternatively, outfitted with an explosive payload to deal lethal damage to objectives from afar. The AI squad accompanying players can be upgraded to perform more effectively in firefights and revive players more often. The rebels Nomad team have been helping out, through supply runs and side-missions, become increasingly lethal. When called in, they come in larger numbers and bring better equipment to keep Santa Blanca and Unidad occupied while Nomad completes their assignments. Mortar strikes from rebels allow Nomad to suppress difficult positions, and if one is in need of a ride, the rebels are happy to oblige. By making full use of Wildlands‘ options, players can craft solutions towards handling the mission at hand with greater confidence, and in this way, Wildlands does encourage players to use every tool at their disposal to handle a mission. More often than not, players settle into a routine of using the same tools and strategies to complete their objectives, and while a plethora of options mean players have a choice in how they wish to approach something, it also means that one can step out of their comfort zone to explore what’s available. This is one of the biggest draws about open world games, and in this area, Wildlands excels: by gradually increasing difficulty, the game naturally compels players to reach out and give more options a try, resulting in a significantly deeper and immersive experience.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The whole of Wildlands‘ Bolivia is beautifully-rendered. Here, I stand on the shores of a glacial lake in Inca Camina, a province located in the southwestern corner of the map. Despite being a six-year-old game, Wildlands still looks amazing – one can almost feel the brisk mountain air here. Such a sight was not possible six years earlier during the open beta, as only two regions were available to testers. In the past, Ubisoft tended to run their open betas during February, and full releases came out about a month later.
- For me, open betas have often led me to picking up a title – by giving me a chance to see the gameplay, I was able to make a better call about things. With this being said, I ended up picking up Ubisoft’s titles during sales, and Wildlands was no different. The reasoning for this is that open world games take a bit of time to play through, and I admit that I was dissuaded by the fact that I will need to go back through all of the onboarding sequences and early missions. Once these first few missions are completed, however, the game really opens up.
- While Wildlands and other Ubisoft titles like The Division are built on a game loop that feels repetitive (Wildlands, for instance, is a Ghost Recon branded Far Cry game), the fun of these games comes from the exploration element. There’s enough mission variety such that one is kept on their toes by a mission, and the large number of secondary missions available in each region are, strictly speaking, optional; one doesn’t need to capture every supply convoy or assist the rebels in every support mission in Wildlands in order to build up a toolset capable of taking the fight to Santa Blanca.
- With this being said, taking on the secondary missions is highly useful because it gives players different perks. For instance, investing in the right skills makes a player much harder to detect and gain increased resistance to enemy fire. While a small increase may not appear substantial, being able to survive one additional bullet could mean the difference between successfully ducking behind cover, or dying and being forced to restart a mission. Similarly, unlocking some of the rebel support options can be a game-changer: once I gained access to helicopters, I could call one in and use it to quickly scout out a province, or very rapidly collect all of the weapons and attachments in a region.
- This increased efficacy means that I’m actually down to the last three regions of Wildlands that still require completion, and while I technically can already take the fight to two of the Santa Blanca heads and force El Sueño’s appearance, I am aware that for best results, one should finish off before turning their attention to Santa Blanca’s leader. This was something that, six years ago, I didn’t think I’d get to do for myself. While Wildlands‘ open beta had impressed me, there were specifcs in the gameplay that I hadn’t been fond of, and a decided to sit Wildlands out.
- In particular, I had stated that repetitive missions and wonky controls had diminished my interest in the game. However, these criticisms are only valid in the context of the beta: the retail game has a very wide range of missions. Beyond simple kill assignments, players might be asked to interrogate and intimidate an individual for information, capture and extract a high-value individual, destroy assets valuable to the cartel or my personal favourite, lure out a reclusive foe and shoot them down. Throughout these missions, players may see Bowman do increasingly questionable things to complete her task, and this leads one to wonder what may potentially happen after El Sueño is finally forced into the open.
- On the other hand, my old remarks about the weapon mechanics in the game have remained consistent: weapons handle in a very satisfying manner in Wildlands, and I find immense satisfaction in landing a long-range shot from a distance on an unsuspecting foe. Over the past six years following the Wildlands beta, I found myself wondering more than once as to whether or not I should spring for the game, and last May, a chance sale convinced me that it was finally worth a return to Bolivia with Nomad team. I had originally planned to wait a year and see if Wildlands was right for me, but by 2018, things had become quite difficult on my end, and Wildlands fell to the back of my mind as other priorities appeared.
- Folks reading through the posts I’ve written in February and Mach five years earlier will not see this mentioned anywhere – I don’t believe that it is necessary to write about all of the things in life, but the time has come to share the story of what was happening for me back then. A year after the Wildlands open beta, my startup had made some costly choices, with the chiefest of them being the decision to hire a backend and Android developer who, quite frankly, had no competence in either backend or Android development. Three months after bringing this developer on board, we still had no prototype for an Android app, and the backend was a convoluted mess.
- Despite these setbacks, I had been working on the iOS app that delivered our medical surveys, and this had intrigued a local health supplements manufacturer. Unfortunately, this developer had been invited to join the founder on a presentation, and during said presentation, the developer had stated that our app was incapable of the very things they were asking whereas in reality, I’d already had these features on iOS. The meeting killed any chance of a potential partnership being formed, and with it, any hopes of securing additional funding. This developer was summarily dismissed, but the damage was done. The founder would later confide in me that thanks to the work I had been involved with, there were other irons in the fire, and that the company’s winter would be behind us soon enough.
- By this time five years ago, I attended a presentation of our software prototypes to prospective clients and investors: the university had been interested in the survey platform I’d been working on. This meeting had gone extremely well, and I still remember leaving the university’s medical campus in good spirits on that Friday afternoon – the founder was certain this was going to be our big break. Although things had been positive, and I spent a weekend enjoying The Division, at the time, funds were also starting to become very tight.
- In the end, no deal with the university materialised, and by April, we pivoted yet again – this time, the founder was aiming to land a partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). I recall a day where we’d walked down to their offices, and to them, the prospects of an app that could easily collect data from their clientele was enticing to the point where they had offered us both funding and office space. From a development standpoint, we were well-positioned for this, since at the time, we’d already had the foundations to build a successful app.
- CHMA had hoped that by September of that year, we’d be able to deliver a prototype to them, and it had appeared we were back on track – an agreement was contingent on a working prototype, and we had most of the pieces in place from an app perspective. However, the aforementioned funding for my first start-up had been an issue, and by this point in the year, only I was still around full-time. Further to this, we were having trouble finding any back-end developers for the project. As it turns out, the computational oncology company I’d built an app for a few years earlier had run into a problem: their mobile developer unexpectedly resigned, leaving their app in a position where it couldn’t be released.
- I was therefore brought on board to iron out the remaining list of issues (totalling twelve) and see the app through to its launch on the App Store. The price of this contract would inject a little cash into the start-up and allow us to get a backend developer, and I was told that the assignment wouldn’t be difficult. Longtime readers will be familiar with what happened next: I learnt that the issues in the app stemmed from a much deeper set of problems with the backend that a Winnipeg-based consultancy had developed, and fixing issues in the app made it abundantly clear the Winnipeg team had not delivered.
- To mask this, the Winnipeg team did their best to shift the blame and give the impression that I was not doing my job. During one memorable demo, I had opened the app, only to find that the app was crashing because the expected keys from a JSON were changed. Fortunately for me, I had the presence of mind to record a video of the app working precisely as expected in the hour leading up to the demo, and I also had with me a capture of the Swagger documentation that precisely showed all of the expected keys in the JSON, plus a debug log of what was coming back now. From there on out, the computational oncology company allowed me to keep working on things and see the app to completion, while the Winnipeg team was forced to communicate their intentions more clearly.
- Originally a six week project, the contract to get the app deployed onto the App Store took a grand total of twelve weeks and occupied enough of my time so that we completely missed the deadline for CMHA. By this point, I decided that I’d hit my limit and began looking around for new opportunities. When I had played through the Wildlands beta a year earlier, I had no way of foreseeing that this was the outcome that my first start-up would face, and after I managed to turn things around, I developed an interest to return to Wildlands and revisit the game under different circumstances. There is something cathartic about returning to something under happier times; this is what motivates the page quote.
- Memories flooded back to me when I reached Montuyoc – the region looks identical to its open beta incarnation, right down to the springs adjacent to the large lake. Upon entering this province, I initially wondered if I was inadequately prepared to deal with the foes here; during an earlier session, I accidentally wandered into Media Luna in pursuit of a convoy and found myself overtaken by both Santa Blanca and Unidad forces. It wasn’t until later I learned that Media Luna was a five-star province in terms of difficulty. However, Montuyoc doesn’t have quite the same Unidad presence as does Media Luna, and as such, I was able to complete all of the missions on relatively short order.
- With this being said, having the BFG-50A is a game-changer, and having now unlocked some of the other sniper rifles, I find that against vehicles, the BFG-50A has no peer. Even with vehicle damage bonuses present, the typical sniper rifle takes at least two rounds to destroy a pickup truck or SUV. On the other hand, the BFG-50A can take down all but the heaviest of vehicles in a single shot. This meant it was possible for me to one-shot Unidad helicopters and travel through Montuyoc unchallenged. In this way, I was able to reach and eliminate Carl Bookhart without any difficulty.
- For this post, I’ve decided to check out the other region that I’d long been curious to check out: Koani (not to be confused with KyoAni, the venerable anime studio that’s graced the world with masterpiece anime like K-On! and CLANNAD). Koani is located in the farthest reaches of Wildlands‘ Bolivia and is composed of arid mountains to the east. To the west, the province is dominated by a vast salt pan stretching out as far as the eye can see. In real life, Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt pan and is known for its rich lithium content, which Santa Blanca are mining in Wildlands.
- Owing to engine limitations, Koani’s salt flats do not flood – during rainfall events in Salar de Uyuni, a thin layer of water on the surface of a salt pan creates a breath-taking sight. Wildlands has dynamic weather, and I have noticed that when it rains, the ground does develop wetness rainfall accumulates. However, I’ve never seen rain in Koani before, and even if it did, I don’t think the water will linger on the ground to create a natural mirror of unparalleled beauty.
- My interest in Koani actually comes from YouTube videos I watched shortly after Wildlands released in full – LevelCap had joined a squad with Matimi0 and JackFrags and were playing through Koani in one of their videos. With a squad, Wildlands becomes a veritable riot as dynamic events in the game, coupled with the variability of human players, create for some emergent, unexpected moments in the game that wind up being quite memorable. Besides more people to share amusing moments with, having human players makes taking on some tasks easier, since they are more flexible than the AI squad members.
- With this being said, Wildlands is more than playable from a solo perspective, and it is in this area that Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy-branded games excel – while the games become a significantly more enjoyable experience when played with others, one can still become highly immersed in things when playing on their own. For me, the AI squad-mates are most valuable for their ability to do sync-shots, where one can assign a maximum of three targets that the AI will specifically target. This allows one to swiftly take down up to four people at once without being spotted. While there’s a cooldown here that doesn’t happen when playing with human squadmates, the AI in Wildlands is such that they can reach positions where they’re ready to fire much more quickly than humans can.
- Koani proved to be a fun province to explore and fight through. There was one mission that proved most irksome: the task was to fly a stolen plane from the airfield back over to Media Luna, and it was here that I began to understand why Media Luna was so challenging for me. The entire province is crawling with SAM batteries, and while these automated anti-air missiles are slow-moving and have limited tracking (they can be dodged), they nonetheless pose a threat to helicopters and propeller-powered aircraft. I’ve managed to dodge them before, and losing a helicopter or supply aircraft isn’t usually a problem.
- However, it was very irksome to lose an aircraft during a story mission, forcing me to restart things from a checkpoint. In the end, I managed to complete that particular mission after a few tries. Here, I comment that in Wildlands, flight controls have contributed to some missions being more difficult than others. Helicopters are relatively easy to control, but the single-prop planes are quite tricky to fly, and early in the game, I crashed my share of planes in trying to learn how to use them. While I could have circumvented that by focusing on the helicopter supply missions, I am ultimately glad to have taken some time to familiarise myself with the flight controls because this was helpful in a Koani mission.
- One devious trick I employed as the regions got more difficult was to go and select a mission, but then deselect the mission. This allowed me to find a spot for some missions, clear them out of any hostiles, and then come in and complete whatever my task was without being detected or impeded. This only works in some scenarios, but it did make some of the missions significantly more straightforward to complete. While this might be seen as “gaming the system”, I see it as taking advantage of limitations in the game mechanics to make things a little easier for myself.
- Whereas LevelCap, Matimi0 and JackFrags flew into the train cemetery in a helicopter and alerted the whole place to their presence, then laughed off the ensuing chaos, I snuck in, and with the unerring accuracy on the MDR, picked foes off until I could get close enough to my quarry. There’s no right or wrong way of playing Wildlands, and in fact, thanks to the flexibility available in Wildlands, I am finding myself wondering if one of my friends would’ve been interested in this game, which is admittedly outside of his area of interest. A few months ago, my friend had purchased a new laptop that came with a voucher for a Modern Warfare II promotion, but thanks to hangups with Intel and the retailer, he never got the key for the game.
- It is a shame that my friend wasn’t able to get a complimentary copy of Modern Warfare II; while I have my doubts that Modern Warfare II will receive the same support as Modern Warfare did, the campaign is very enjoyable to play, and the co-op missions, despite not allowing for custom loadouts, offers a bit of fun, even if the variety is limited. Fortunately for my friend, his backlog of games is, like mine, staggeringly large, and at the very least, his current laptop will have no problems in running anything he wishes to. I’d love to be able to co-op with my friend in Wildlands: although the game’s higher-difficulty regions would give him some trouble, I’d be present, and we’d be romping through Bolivia like we owned it in no time at all.
- For the present, however, I am going to continue my journey solo: my friend’s backlog is large enough without me adding to things. This screenshot here captures the scope and scale of the salt flats in Koani: the salt pan is so large that the mountains across the pan are simply not visible, and the blue skies seem to stretch out to infinity. I have driven vehicles here before, and it is quite fun to be able to drive at full speed without worrying about hitting something.
- In the end, aside from a few hiccoughs here and there, I had no trouble beating Koani, and at present, I have only two more regions left to complete before all of the underbosses and section bosses are available. My plan for Wildlands is, after beating El Sueño, I will go back through and look at all of the additional special missions that have appeared on my world map, and then as time permits, I will also explore and write about the Fallen Ghosts DLC. While the MDR and BFG-50A’s performance have already made this DLC worth it, the actual Fallen Ghosts provides more heft to the story and extends out the Wildlands experience further.
- My timing with Wildlands couldn’t be better: we’re on March’s doorstep now, and I have a special post in mind as we approach Girls und Panzer‘s tenth anniversary. Between all of the decade anniversary posts and the fact I’ve joined the local photography association a few months ago, things are going to ramp up as winter recedes and spring arrives: just yesterday, I volunteered to be a videographer for my old Chinese school’s annual banquet event, and while my lack of familiarity with the smartphone stabliser I was loaned meant I messed up a few shots, overall, it was an instructive evening. and I later learnt that the photography association is relatively new to video, making for a valuable learning experience. I could bring something new to the table if I take up videography, all the while learning how to take better landscape photos.
- I believe now, my best move will be to pick up a smartphone stabliser of my own and become comfortable with using one: while I had been looking at getting a DSLR camera, it turns out that my iPhone 14 Pro’s 48 MP camera array is said to be comparable to a DSLR camera for daytime landscape shots. Once I learn more about shot composition and really get into photography, that will be when I invest in a proper full-frame camera. Back in Wildlands, I take aim at Boston Reed’s helicopter. In the absence of the BFG-50A, I imagine one would wait for him to circle the area before using whatever arms they had to shoot him down, but in my case, I was able to blow him out of the sky in a single round. Next I write about Wildlands, I will be dealing with my thoughts on the game and its themes; I’ve seen some interesting things throughout my journey that are worth mentioning.
At the time of writing, I have only five more regions to complete in order to lure out the under-bosses and section heads. Wildlands has proven to be remarkably enjoyable, and at this point, I’ve got enough of a toolset unlocked so that I now approach new regions with confidence, rather than doubt. In this way, I was able to complete Montuyoc a second time and advance to a province that I’d long been curious to visit. In a video dating back almost six years, I watched LevelCap, accompanied by Matimi0 and JackFrags, flying over what seemed to be an endless salt flat in a helicopter. The mission objective was to recon a train cemetery. The three discuss whether or not they’d rather just stay in the air and hammer their foes from below, but a sudden explosion forces them to land. After much laughter, the decision is made to continue on foot, and the video cuts to a medication air transport side-mission. LevelCap, JackFrags and Matimi0 later return to the salt flats to locate an important figure under the cover of darkness. Seeing this level of fun to be had led me to wonder what the remainder of Wildlands was like, and in the present day, I found my answer. The salt flats of Bolivia are set in the Koani province, and having now had the chance to complete the same missions I’d watched years earlier, I can say that, even on my own, Wildlands is a riot, being full of unexpected surprises at every turn. I marvel at how on some missions or escapades, I can sneak through an entire Santa Blanca or Unidad base undetected, and on other occasions, I’ve enjoyed a few good laughs from unexpected deaths resulting from my own carelessness. In fact, my most memorable moment comes from shooting down a Unidad helicopter and turning away, only to get buried by the helicopter’s remains in a way that prevented the AI squad from reviving me. Despite being an older game, Ghost Recon Wildlands is continually refreshing, and at present, I’m on track to finishing the game within a year of purchasing it.