Dismantling The Cartel Your Way
The Santa Blanca cartel is made of four different operations - Production, Security, Trafficking, and Influence - run by El Sueno's buchones. Production handles the farming and development of the cocaine, led by underboss El Yayo. Once the cocaine has been made and stamped as 100 percent Santa Blanca grade, it's handed to Trafficking, which is lead by Nidia Flores and moves the cocaine within the region and internationally. Production and Trafficking are protected by Santa Blanca's extensive Security operation, El Muro, which translates to 'The Wall'. Finally, there's the Influence wing, which handles local propaganda, including pop culture and religion. It's run by El Sueno's spiritual guru, El Cardenal.
What the Ghosts know about these buchones is that they exist, their codenames, and their rough operations. Everything else? You need to find that in-game.
"The [Ghosts] have a certain amount of information ahead of time. They know their end goal, but they don't have information about every piece of the puzzle along the way," says Butler. "They expected to remain intelligent, to adapt to the situation. In our case, that means you're going to get some information from Karen Bowman, but you're also going to have to be creative."
This means finding clues and documents on stolen laptops and dead bodies. It means the player has to talk to the locals: the citizens, law enforcement, and workers that are willing to turn on Santa Blanca. Or interrogate Santa Blanca cartel members. It means engaging with rebel leaders who are aimed in the same direction. Once you have the information, it's all about building a plan: how do you want to take down your target?
"You end up with a set of missions that are based on simple goals," says Butler. "We got lots of different mission types. Within that, there's the subset based on the player's playstyle. Freedom of choice; to approach those missions the way that you want."
You can tackle a mission in full stealth, use shock and awe, or find a solid middle ground between the two. Perhaps you want to make a diversion to draw enemies away from a specific area, so you can extract a target. You can choose if you want to go in on foot, riding in on motorbikes, or rain death from above in a helicopter.
"You're telling that story with your friends. That's the real joy of the game," Butler says. "That's where we take it to the next level. We're not getting in your way. We're not setting up lots of different gates that you have to pass through."
Underneath each of the buchones are a total of 26 different captains. As an example, Ubisoft highlights one of the Influence captains, El Chido, a famous singer and composer of nacrocorridos. These songs highlight the exploits of the Santa Blanca cartel and comprise a good deal of the in-game radio. In Wildlands, El Chido is planning to have a concert somewhere in Bolivia. It's up to you to find out where.
The Ubisoft demo shows the Ghosts surveilling a meeting with El Chido's agent, via the drone camera. With the drone's record function, you can find out further information that will lead them to El Chido. Alternatively, you can hijack a truck full of El Chido's merchandise, including posters and CDs, fill it with explosives, drive it back to factory storage, and blow it all up. Eventually, you'll disrupt El Chido's original concert venue, forcing him to move to a location that's more advantageous for the Ghosts. Then it's time to extract El Chido and flip him to gain more information on his bosses.
In Ghost Recon: Wildlands, all 26 captains are open from the beginning and you can tackle them in any order. All the story missions are grouped by theme and province, so a player isn't completely overrun with stuff to do. There's a difficulty level for each mission that'll let you know if you need to prepare for a real fight. The only thing that's not unlocked is El Sueno and his underbosses. You need to do some damage before the people in charge show up.
You don't have to do every mission to unlock a buchon though. Many of the missions are there to provide a greater background on the local region or captain. If you want to know more about Ghost Recon: Wildlands' Bolivia, that content is available to you.
"The idea is to present you with a lot of content," says Butler. "With the different characters in each province, we know the players will have an interest in finding out what makes them tick. The extra missions are there. You can see what you need to do and what's just going to add more storyline and motivation."
"You have these running lines of intel," says Strachman. "That are showing you different sides of the mystery before you're finding out who's the boss. It's different with every single province. Sometimes you'll know the boss from the beginning, sometimes the clues are leading us on a path to the boss."
Everything isn't completely freeform though. There will be situations where a mission reset is required: say you kill an extraction target or a person with the specific, needed intel. Freedom of choice doesn't mean you can raze the world of Ghost Recon: Wildlands to the ground and still proceed. Butler and Strachman point to the earlier example of a meeting you have to record with a drone. How you infiltrate and record that meeting is up to you, but if you spook the meeting participants, than that's a mission reset.
"This guy has specific information? If something was to happen to him, we're going to have to reset the mission," Butler says. "We need that guy to give you that info. It's not a full chaos simulator, at some point we will put some restrictions on you. We're trying to give you freedom of choice, but the narrative is important."