Hot off The Division hype/hate train, Ubisoft announced a new entry in the Ghost Recon franchise at E3. As expected, the typically small sandbox tactical shooter made the move to a full, open world, with four players tackling missions with immense freedom. Set in Bolivia, Wildands would tell the story of a Mexican drug cartel who have seized control of the South American country, with U.S. "Ghosts" sent in to liberate it. Ubisoft claimed this would be their largest open world to date, with a 200 square kilometer map divided up into 21 provinces. From the start, players can venture in any direction the like, taking on any mission, in any order.

The scale and freedom of exploration sounded incredibly impressive, but by this point many were skeptical. Watch_Dogs was still fresh on the mind of consumers, so many were unsure of Ubisoft's ability to make due on the promises of this new game. As the years passed, the game progressively looked less and less amazing. Within a few months of release, the game looked far worse than the original gameplay demo, to few people's surprise. It was at this point I became worried about the game. As a huge Tom Clancy fan, I was excited to play Wildlands. The poor showing just weeks from release did little to fuel my enthusiasm, however. 

Things worsened when the beta released to the public. The game controlled very sluggishly, with noticeable input lag. Vehicle controls were floaty and unrealistic, with hatchbacks and trucks having the same level of traction and speed. While the game looked decent, graphically, it was distinctly less pretty compared to the initial demo, and significantly less than the recently released Horizon: Zero Dawn. characters looked awkward, and the customization left something to be desired.

But after the beta ended, I couldn't get it out of my head. For every issue, there was an awesome moment. For every time the camera controls got in the way, there was a time where I took out an entire base without any alerts. Whenever the car handling bothered me, it was met with an exhilarating chase sequence that occurred dynamically. Despite all of the inaccuracies in regards to weapons, gear, and tactics, there was the simple fact I was playing the closest thing to SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals in a decade.

After release, I held off on the game. I wanted to make sure the game launched relatively smoothly. For the most part, barring some co-op sync issues, it did. Not long after, a pre-owned copy of the game found its way into my local GameStop, and I picked it up.

The aforementioned issues were still prevalent in the full game, but many of them required adjustment. Things like input lag and vehicle handling, while the shouldn't be excused, took a little getting used to. Once I did, however, I forgot it was there. In fact, I grew to like the vehicle controls quite a bit. Going back to other open world titles such as Just Cause 3 and even Metal Gear Solid V, and I found myself preferring Wildland's feel. Aiming became as natural as anything else once I got a feel for it, and I was landing shots as easily as any other game.

The story, however, I did not care for. The few cutscenes I didn't skip were boring, and the Far Cry-esque bosses of each region were not my thing. Thankfully, the story is sidelined to the gameplay anyway, so I did not need to keep up with the narrative to have fun. 

Taking down cartel leaders in each province was good fun. While certain mission structures became repetitive over time, being able to pick and choose which missions I wanted to play at will alleviated that a little bit. If I didn't feel like escorting a cargo truck in one region, I could assassinate a target in another. The freedom afforded to me was truly unlike any Ubisoft title I had played prior.

It took me around 50 hours to finish the story, which I played off and on for around four months. Every time I hopped on the game, I had a multitude of things to do. I could search for a new weapon, liberate a region, or complete side missions to level up my support abilities. Even after having finished the main campaign, there are still dozens upon dozens of missions and weapons for me to complete and gather. 

While the game did not look as great as the original trailer, there were some impressive views to take in throughout my playthrough. Bolivia is absolutely massive, and the game's render distance allows you to see for miles in every direction. Flying over the map in a plane or helicopter offers some truly spectacular vistas. 

As a "live" game, Wildlands also received many updates. Over the months, Ubisoft has added a new challenge system, "Tier 1" difficulty, co-op expansions, and even a full competitive multiplayer mode. From my short time with the latter, I did not enjoy it. The tolerable input lag become much less so when other players were factored in, and the map design was pretty bad. However, as it was added way after release, for free, it did not take away from the fun I had in the base game. 

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands I disliked in the beginning. I hated the direction Ubisoft was taking the series, and the graphical downgrade stung. But after getting accustomed to some aspects of the game and looking at it for what it was, and not what I wanted it to be, I had a blast. Patches, tweaks, and new features only improve on a game I was hooked on. With an impressive open world, a wide range of tools and weapons, and a free form mission structure, those were 50+ hours well spent.