Seven months after Ghost Recon Wildlands’ debut, the popular open-world cooperative shooter finally has a competitive mode. On October 10, Ubisoft officially launched the free Ghost War update, which pits two teams of four ghosts armed with all the latest Ghost gadgetry against each another at various locations around Bolivia.
Like Rainbow Six Siege before it, Ghost War only has one multiplayer mode with a unique set of rules. The best-of-three-round battles have no other primary objective than neutralize the opposing team. The setup sounds basic, but the interesting rules of engagement and class system help Ghost Wars feel unlike any other competitive experience out there.
Each round starts with teams spawning at opposite ends of the map, which range from dense forests and logging sites to coca farms and quarries. The mode only has eight maps, but variations like weather and time of day inject more variety into the experience. No matter the weather report, taking a cautious approach is critical while getting the lay of the land. The environments are small enough to traverse into hot zones quickly, but large enough to create an element of uncertainty as to what the other team is doing. Did they set up along the perimeter, hoping to get the drop on you from afar? Are they rushing toward the buildings that frequently sit at the center of a map?
Players choose their role from variants based on four classes: marksman (snipers), assault, support (drone operators), and the all-purpose “multiclass.” Each role has a different special ability, and perks that you unlock along the progression scale add further customization. The wide variety of special abilities demands tactical considerations during team composition, not unlike Siege. Do want to create a team built for stealth and diversions, or trust in your shooting skills by taking more offensive-focused roles that neutralize the enemy technology? Customization fans should be happy that you can tweak the look of each class, effectively giving you four distinct visual styles to choose from for each match, but I wish they weren’t class dependent so you could pick your look based on the map/time of day you’re playing.
The Ghost War gunfights have no player respawns, but come with the caveat that you’re never truly dead (just potentially left for dead). At any given point during the skirmish, a teammate can revive you. This leads to interesting scenarios where teams may try to use a downed player as a trap to lure other enemies to their crosshairs (or a strategically placed mine). Downed players can ping areas on the map from the perspective of their fellow teammates, so even if you are incapacitated you can still help your team identify threats.
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I love the pacing of these matches. After a slow and tense build up where teams creep into position, searching for one another with drones and setting up countermeasures, eventually the bullet volleys begin. Sometimes the battles end up being close-quarters, with suppression playing a key role to staying alive. If a hail of bullets is flying your way, only a few select classes can return fire effectively while suppressed, so oftentimes it’s better to head for cover and regroup. Other battles became hide-and-go-seek long-distance firefights. As the rosters dwindle and it becomes harder to locate the enemy position, you can run for a radio tower in the center of the map that reveals the location of all the remaining threats. This location provides minimal cover and everyone on the map sees an indicator that someone is accessing the tower, so activating it requires you expose yourself to gunfire. The rush to reveal the enemy positions is always nerve-wracking.
Sound plays a key role to staying alive in Ghost War. Unless you have a class equipped with a silencer, each time you fire your gun a sound indicator reveals your general position to the opposition. Dense, lush grass fields or forest vegetation can obfuscate your view while you’re trying to shake a marker, making listening for encroaching footsteps a key to survival.
Ghost War is largely a success, but does have some trouble spots. Matchmaking can be problematic, pairing several low-ranking players against veterans. Host migration disrupts the flow of play, and far too many people drop out after only one round with no penalty. The thermal optics are also too powerful, allowing players who equip the perk to easily track enemies through foliage with no real penalty. My other minor gripe is inherent to third-person shooters – players hiding in building doorways can manipulate the camera to get an unrealistic jump on incoming attackers.
As one of the best-selling games of the year, Ghost Recon Wildlands has had a great run already. The addition of Ghost Wars to the mix provides a great incentive to return for those who have already powered through the cooperative campaign and DLC. It doesn’t hurt that the update is free, either.