I ask Dominic to explain how this freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want aligns with the way that the game scales in difficulty.
He responds, "There are two layers to the game. One is a progression system that's based around equipping your ghost in a way that best suits your playstyle. Some of it is unlocking new tools and new abilities. Ghosts are really the masters of their environment, so they can shoot any weapon, and drive any vehicle, and they can take whatever they need from the environment. You are also able to unlock new weapons and attachments, and through the gunsmith, you're able to make the weapon your own – so that it really suits the way that you play."
"Layered on top of that, we have a difficulty system that's based around a couple of different axes. Right from the get-go, players can decide whether they want to play the game on a global easy, regular, or hard setting. But then with the provinces in a geographical sense, because players can go wherever they want whenever they want, as you move around the map, you'll be able to see that because certain provinces are related to bosses that are either higher up in the organization, or are involved in security or smuggling, those ones tend to be more difficult, and that will be reflected in the province. So it's a case of you being able to set the difficulty, but also as you move through the world, you're going to see the world change, and you'll also see the challenge change."
"So there will be times when you start out, and maybe you'll want to go west, but that area might have a high difficulty rating. We're not going to block you or say you can't enter this until you reach a certain level. You can go. You're very likely going to die, but that's okay – that's your choice. You do what you want to do. Maybe you find a way through it. Fantastic! That's going to be the story that you'll want to tell. We don't want to artificially block you from doing that, but we definitely have difficulty curves as you move through the world."
Although the game is completely open-ended in terms of what you can tackle and when, I ask Dominic if I'm right in thinking that there's just one overarching goal.
He nods, "The ghosts are here to take down the cartel boss, El Sueno. That's the ultimate goal. He brought the Santa Blanca cartel into Bolivia, and he's a very smart businessman. He's not a stupid guy, and he's not just brutal. He's a lot of other negative things, but he is the one that took them from being a small cartel to really taking over the whole country, making deals with the government, and oppressing the people. He's in complete control of the situation. You're there to take him out, but it's not good enough just to cut the head off the organization, you have to break it down. You need to go after the lieutenants, and their sub-bosses. Everything you're doing is in aid of getting to El Sueno. Even when you're doing side content and optional missions that are supporting the rebels, or going after convoys and raids, or you're looking for equipment and new weapons or loadouts, it's always to make you either better – to improve your equipment or level up your character – or it's to get better support in the world.
I note from my short play experience that the world seems to be very lifelike. How did Dominic's team approach creating the game's environment?
"In terms of research, we looked at everything in popular culture and the media, but we also sent a team of the development staff to Bolivia where they stayed for several weeks. They traveled to different parts of Bolivia specifically to understand not just the coca aspects of the country, which is a very rich part of the culture and heritage. but to also meet with geo-political activists, politicians, law enforcement, farmers, and journalists. We wanted to not only understand the sides that are associated with the cartels and the drugs, but the country itself. Bolivia is this beautiful, very ethnically rich place with a huge history, and we wanted to be able to represent the country authentically and bring it to life. To understand what grows where, and what industries are in the north versus the south, and why these valleys are the best place to grow coca. In fact, mining is a big part of the economy, as are llamas and potatoes, and we've tried to represent that in the game and really bring it to life. So if you haven't been to Bolivia – and that's the majority of the audience – you can still feel like it's a place that makes sense when you travel through it."
I make the observation that there seem to be several different factions in the world, which are in conflict with one another. I ask Dominic how that works.
He explains, "There are the rebels – the people of Bolivia trying to fight back. They're under-funded and under-supported, but you can opt to do missions to help them, and they'll give you support, and you'll start to see them more in events around the world. Then there's the Santa Blanca cartel, who are your main target for the game. You've also got UNIDAD, who are the military wing of the corrupt government. They've been paid off by the cartel, but there's a tenuous link between the two. If they pass each other organically in the world, then you're not going to see any conflict. But if UNIDAD see the Santa Blanca pulling out arms in the middle of the road, they'll start shooting at them. As the game progresses you start getting a three-way faction fight. Which is really interesting and is one of the tools for the player. It's not just direct actions – but there can be indirect ones: You can try to spark a fight without necessarily getting noticed, and let them duke it out."
And with that, my interview time is up. As I pack up my gear, I reflect on my experience playing Ghost Recon Wildlands. To be blunt, I'm really excited. I love what I've seen of its vast, open world – it feels incredibly well realized, and graphically it's very impressive. Better still, though, is the gameplay. I managed to complete a number of the main story missions in the starting zone, and really enjoyed the freedom that I had to tackle them how I wanted. The game basically presents you with an objective, and it's up to you to use your creativity and imagination to figure out a way to achieve it. Whether that's aggressively running and gunning like I did, stealthily moving around and taking out enemies one by one, or sniping targets from afar before closing in, it's your call. The flexibility to play the game in a style of your choosing is a really neat feature, and I'm really interested to tackle some of the more challenging missions later in the game to see just how they'll play out.
I'm happy to report that Ghost Recon Wildlands' gunplay is excellent. Aiming feels precise, and weapons generally have a nice heft to them – I was able to pick up and play the game without feeling the need to fiddle with the control settings. The vehicle mechanics are also solid, and riding motorcycles, driving cars, and flying helicopters was very easy and straightforward. The whole game just feels very well polished and finessed.
I think Ghost Recon Wildlands will be of particular interest to those who like playing with friends. The game's multiplayer co-op mode supports up to four players simultaneously, and seems to be very well thought through. During my play session, I got the opportunity to attempt a mission with three other participants, where we had to work our way into a mine and eliminate a particular individual. As we progressed through the heavily-guarded installation, we improvised different tactics and strategies over voice chat to achieve our goal, and it was really entertaining.
Bottom line, I'm really looking forward to playing Ghost Recon Wildlands when it's released on March 7th. Look for a full review of the game around that time.