I don’t care that it’s not really Ghost Recon. I don’t care that it’s yet another horrible case of terrible American exceptionalism turned into a game. Hell, I only care a little bit about the fact that it paints an entire country as a more or less spineless victim of the War of Drugs.
When it works, Ghost Recon Wildlands is just hella fun. Tearing around the Bolivian hills on a dirt-bike, badly piloting helicopters into innocent mountainsiders, and even the character creation screen… I love it. And the gunplay is oddly, weirdly, deeply satisfying. From stealthy takedowns with a silenced pistol to long-range sniper duels, the whole game is – as my colleague Nathan Lawrence put it – one giant bad-arse simulator. It just makes you feel like name-taking, no-gum-chewing, special operator.
WHEN IT WORKS.
I know there are a lot of people having no issue at all. But I also know there are a lot of people having serious fucking issues, because Ubisoft seems to have forgotten how a lot of people use their PCs these days.
Perfect case in point – the game may not play if it’s installed on a non-OS drive. Which is, you know, a pretty standard way for a lot of people to set up their PCs these days. A nice, trim SSD handles your OS, while a relatively fast, expansive HDD is where you keep your games. But both For Honor and now Wildlands just fall over if they’re not on your main drive.
When I recently reviewed For Honor for PCPP – in print, it’s not online yet – I had the same issue. The game will just hang on the splash screen, for ever; it won’t even tell you what the issue is. It just quietly goes “I CAN’T SEE AN OS, I BETTER SHIT MYSELF!” and sits there, burning clock cycles.
Thankfully, with Wildlands, there are some workarounds – you just need to start the game as Administrator. And defrag your hard-drive. And then verify your files. And then download some more files because apparently yelling “I CAN’T SEE AN OS, I BETTER SHIT MYSELF!” endlessly is a corrupting influence on sensible file structure.
(Also, while I didn’t have this issue, another colleague discovered that even while downloading, uPlay doesn’t announced itself as an active application to the OS, so if you just leave it quietly downloading, your PC will enter sleep mode, and uPlay will cleverly pause the download BECAUSE OF COURSE THAT’S WHAT YOU WANT IT TO DO.)
Anyway, after three hours of futzing about with Wildlands I was able to get into the game, and get most of the way through making a character… before it crashed, of course. And without saving any of my character creation progress. I could start the game back up again, either, because despite crashing to desktop, the GRW.exe was still running, so I had to force-quit out of that before I could start it again.
On the third try, I got through character creation, and into the game. Well, into the loading screen, where it hung on 99% forever, and then crashed again. And again. I got in eventually; one cutscene down and I’m boots-on-the-ground and ready to make the cartel pay and HOLY DUCKSHIT I CRASHED AGAIN.
Figuring that maybe all of this crashing malarkey may be confusing both uPlay and the poor game itself, I thought I’d give my entire system a restart. Some research revealed that the game’s always-on net connection is very finicky. After opening a few ports in my router it started to play much nicer.
This helped, although load times in the game remained… generous, shall we say. But hey, Virtual Drug Bolivia is a big place – give it time, I thought. I gave it time, hoping that that the end result would be more like letting a fine wine breathe… And the game did load. And I did get to play. And fuck me the game really is amazingly pretty, and… stutter. Okay, it’s just a frame-lock, and only a few sec… stutter. Well, this is annoying but I can still pl… STUTTER. Hey, that’s odd, those textures aren’t load… STUTTER.
*the sound of one gamer losing his tiny little mind*
All through this I’m throwing searches into Google like “Ghost Recon Wildlands hanging” or “Ghost Recon Wildlands won’t load” or now “Ghost Recon Wildlands stuttering”, which thankfully did return something useful. If it hadn’t my next search would have been “Ghost Recon Wildlands resale value”.
As it turns it, not only does Wildlands have issues about being on the OS drive, it has issues about being on, well… quite a few PC drives, especially hard disk drives. It turns out that the game loads in its entirety at start up, which kinda makes sense. It’s an open world, and with aircraft and helicopters available almost from the get-go, it makes sense to load as much as possible, to reduce later load times. The game’s view distance also benefits from this.
And, on console, this isn’t a problem. That’s what the game’s been optimised for. But that’s not quite the case on PC. If Wildlands encounters an older, slower drive it just keeps… on… loading… for… ever. One curious user on Ubi’s own Wildlands server discovered this when he let the game load in, and then just left it for ten minutes. It was thrashing his drive, using every skerrig of RAM, and then… it was done. And he could play.
I’d had to install the game from six discs...
Get through two post-release patches...
Trick the game into running from game-drive...
Open a handful of ports...
Turn off antivirus (did I mention that? It’s easy to lose track of all this shittery)...
Re-verify and re-download a couple of gigabyte’s worth of files...
Run the game as admin...
And then let the game calmly yell into the void for ten minutes.
I really want to say that after all this I am now happily headshotting hyper-religious narco-terrorists, BUT… For all that the game does now run for longer, it still crashes. It might be fifteen minutes. It might be an hour. It still stutters, too, and oddly, when it all-up freezes, I can still move the third person camera around the action.
This is at least really awesome for screenshots. But less so for immersion and my dwindling sense of calm. And even after ten minutes of patient loading, there’s still large swathes of Bolivia that look as though they were rendered by a five year-old with wet crayons.
And then let the game calmly yell into the void for ten minutes.
The thing is… I am going to persist. I like the games that Ubi makes – I just can’t stand how often it is those games end up less-than-functional ports on PC. Or how crappy uPlay is as a service. What I think I’m going to have to do is simply wait for a few weeks; let a few more patches roll out for the game. I know I can get lost in these Wildlands.
But… not as the game stands now.
(apologies to all those who are finding the game runs fine, please don’t send me death-threats, that’s so 2014)