The Tom Clancy series Ghost Recon has been a long standing franchise in the shooter genre. As with many titles similar to it the campaigns were typically interesting, full of gadgets and planning, but mostly linear and somewhat predictable. The most recent title, Future Soldier, was delayed numerous times and even felt a little “over cooked” as it contained dated elements and a nauseating amount of somewhat amateur feeling cut scenes. At this year’s E3 Ubisoft made an impressive showing with a new Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and the brand new IP, The Division. Each game brings a unique point of view and identity, appealing to a wide swath of shooter fans. The thing that stood out the most to me with Ghost Recon Wildlands was the significant level of choice given to the player.
Just Along for the Ride
The challenge facing any new shooter is innovation. This is a genre and style of game that has been done, re-done, re-invented, and renewed ten times over. The most common complaint about shooter campaigns is that they all feel the same as you move from cover to cover popping out and shooting predicable AI with the periodical “hop in a vehicle” mission to spice things up. It can start to feel like you contribute very little other than reacting and pushing buttons as the pre-determined scenes and events carry out regardless of what you do. Sure, you may die a lot on a hard mission or move through some with mechanical ease, but the range of player experience is somewhat narrow as everyone gets the same result: eventual advancement. Some games open up the engagement, allowing for flanks and verticality or they create destructible environments, giving room for creativity or surprising exposure to gunfire. Even with some of the attempts to innovate, the genre has started to feel somewhat stagnant. There are two things that I have been advocating for to add depth and more player control: co-op and freedom. Ghost Recon Wildlands looks to add both.
It’s good to have friends
One of my theories is that gaming and the experience is becoming more communal. YouTube channels and Twitch streams are growing in popularity, communities are forming, and game companies are seeing the benefit of having more than lots of sales but rather an engaged and united community. If a game is completely single player it can be run through at the pace chosen by the player and then cast aside the moment they become disinterested. But when a game has a community the range of re-playability is expanded because you can always dive back in or do something new with your friends. It can also become something that is more attached to a group of friends instead of the other way around. Like a group of buddies that go fishing or play basketball together, the sport or activity has become a subtext to their friendship, and a good co-op video game can become just that. I believe this is important for the future of gaming as technology continues to connect us and give us platforms for newer and more creative forms of social interaction.
Freedom ain’t free
Developing a game with lots of choices has to be a daunting task, especially when those choices can end in player frustration or failure. So I know advocating for games with lots of choice and freedom is a hard sell, but with so many games coming out it will be more and more challenging to be distinct. Obviously the new Ghost Recon needs to launch in order for us to see how well the freedom works, but the details are incredibly promising.
First, they are giving players choice with respect to mission order. The gameplay trailer shows a somewhat menacing figure who may be the central villain you are hunting down, or he may just be one king pin among many who reports to a faceless enemy you are hunting down. Given that they aren’t forcing you to play the missions in a specific order there will probably be elements of weakening the enemy’s power, gathering intel, and as the trailer says, turning them against each other. Now, whether or not these decisions are going to impact the game in any way remains unforeseen, but hopefully it isn’t just a matter of picking points on a map and playing in the order that you want. Freedom without impact will seem somewhat disingenuous as many accused Skyrim of.
Second, they are giving you freedom with respect to engagement options. You can choose stealth, distance, full frontal assault, or escort. So you are given a singular objective and it’s up to you and your buddies how you proceed and “write your own story”. This is another area that was probably challenging to develop, and hopefully it doesn’t devolve into chaos for certain approaches while others are seemingly unchallenging. The danger here will be to de-incentivize choice if certain options are more universally effective. I have confidence in their ability to create instances that nudge players in a direction given the buildings, number of enemies, and landscapes. Hopefully things run smoothly so the mechanics of the game go unnoticed and players can feel the immersive consequences of their choices as things don’t go as planned or someone misses their mark. I have high hopes for this game and it’s good to see features many have been asking for as the center piece and foundation of the new Ghost Recon’s identity.
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