When Ghost Recon Wildlands came out in March, many fans of the series were immediately worried Ubisoft had wasted a popular Tom Clancy license to create an open world clone of Grand Theft Auto in an attempt to appeal to new players. The main fear was that Wildlands wouldn’t force players to think tactically about their combat approaches, opting to run into repetitive scenarios and complete objectives by blowing enemies up with little effort, which, considering how strategic previous games in the series were, makes complete sense. Thankfully, however, this wasn’t the case with Wildlands, which instead encouraged players to crank up the difficulty and turn off most of the heads-up display for a grueling tactical experience.
Unfortunately, this design choice wasn’t something that the development team behind Wildlands carried into the game’s first piece of downloadable content — Narco Road — which has you infiltrating a set of gangs under the control of a new kingpin, called El Invisible, to bring down his smuggling operation. To do so, you won’t be destroying his caches of cocaine or tearing down his various gang leaders located around the map. You’ll be driving nitro-equipped cars and completing drifting challenges in monster trucks to earn followers instead, which will earn you the respect of his three bosses and give you a shot at taking him out yourself.
Needless to say, this narrative is a major departure from the joint task force Operation Kingslayer players experienced in the base game. Which, to be fair, was a smart decision, since it ended on a high note. But rather than create a new set of tactical missions which brought out the best aspects of the game’s moment-to-moment gameplay, Ubisoft opted to strip every player of their equipment and force them into one of the worst parts of Wildlands: driving.
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching or playing Wildlands for yourself, you’re probably already aware of how rough the driving is in the game, regardless of the control scheme being used. Cars, trucks, and bikes rarely handle well until you’ve got the hang of it — where even then they can spin out or turn abruptly if you ease the stick a millimeter in the wrong direction. Naturally, this problem carries into the new vehicles at the heart of Narco Road, causing massive monster trucks and supped up racing cars to control like an unsteady train taking a corner at 200 miles per hour.
The new vehicles handle very poorly once you’ve reached high speeds or take damage from your enemies, often swerving off randomly to the left or right when you’re driving towards an objective. What’s frustrating about this lack of control is that nearly everything you do in Narco Road forces you to jump gigantic ramps for air, drift around corners with perfect precision, and complete mission objectives that require your vehicle to handle properly — which leads to plenty of mission failed screens and restarted challenges to gain the followers needed to proceed.
During my time with the DLC, I consistently encountered instances where the game required me to jump gaps or run over specific target locations to advance, only to have my monster truck dive to the left mere moments before completing them. This happened to me nearly every step of the way through Narco Road, regardless of how I approached the mission or what type of vehicle I used to finish an objective.
Granted, poor mission design also caused a lot of these instances, which often put me into the middle of a combat scenario or heavily fortified area while chasing a target across the map. Take the Flying High main mission for example, where you have to follow a Unidad helicopter over a few SAM missile sites to listen in on a location for Eddie’s drug stash. On Extreme difficulty, I was consistently being shot down by the four SAMs located around the helicopter’s flight path, forcing me to crank the difficulty down to Normal to even complete the mission.
What’s a shame is that the missions involving racing, spying on a target, or retrieving an objective from inside a base overshadow the best moments of Narco Road, like your first boss Eddie’s pool party. Here, you’re required to fend off a massive Unidad attack force while escorting him to safety, which requires the same level of tactical planning and coordination that you’d expect from the base game. It’s epic, grueling, and engaging, despite the cheesy lines of dialogue. Unlike the rest of the missions leading up to it in the main campaign.
When you wrap all the uneven missions and vehicle-based open world activities into a DLC package with overly obnoxious dialogue, it’s nothing more than a disappointing departure from everything that made Ghost Recon Wildlands great at launch. The lack of tactical challenge, refined driving mechanics, and mission design, which highlights the worst aspects of the game, make Narco Road a red flag that I hope encourages Ubisoft to return to the gameplay Wildlands excels at when the next piece of downloadable content launches later this year.