An Analysis of Ghost Recon Wildlands

February 14, 2018

 

We have to level-design our world and make it interesting to the player by always giving them something new to discover. (Martinez, 2016)

 

 

Ghost Recon Wildlands, developed by Ubisoft Paris, is the tenth instalment of the hugely popular Ghost Recon franchise. The game takes place in Bolivia, a South American nation known for its rugged landscape and breath-taking ecological diversity with an array of interesting locales with pockets of life scattered throughout. The title aimed to produce a vivid recreation of Bolivia to explore which resulted in the open world being one of Ubisoft’s largest whilst retaining the expected Ghost Recon tactical gameplay.

 

 

Open World OF wILDLANDS

 

The open world of Ghost Recon Wildlands features twenty one regions and eleven ecosystems ranging from dense, misty forests lush with foliage or empty, dry deserts. The combination of contrasting environments helps to add variety to such a large title. Each biome feels unique in visuals, tone and lighting whilst retaining the large level design tropes that utilise the standard third person gameplay mechanics primarily, cover. A characteristic of Ubisoft’s pre – production when creating such vast and detailed worlds is to research different aspects of the world they are trying to craft. Due to many of Ubisoft’s titles striving for an element of realism there is a considerable amount of research conducted ensuring that the art, atmosphere and environment composition appear correct to the player, Ghost Recon Wildlands is no different.

 

The above screenshot shows the beautiful landscape in the early morning light.

 

As open world games are large and have multiple layers in them in terms of mission structure, gameplay scenarios, environments and collectibles there needs to be an element of direct research to support the development of such an expansive space. For example Benoit Martinez, Lead Artist and Technical Art Director, spent two weeks in Bolivia to capture reference material for Ghost Recon Wildlands. This allows the developers to understand the underpinnings of the environment and subtle distinctions allowing the developers to create a fictional amalgamation of Bolivia from the ground up. Spending time at the locations in person is translated particularly well as the open world feels like a South American country, the nuances of a country miniaturised in a 3D form is seen in both the environments and the NPCs with each region feel inherently different from the last. There are certain areas within the world that almost feel facsimile’s of the real location, acting as a landmark, The landmarks being created to be accurate to the real life counterparts supports the overall feeling that the player is in Bolivia.  

 

The world allows the player to take on the persona of a “Ghost” with lush foliage hiding the players presence, high rocky vantage points giving sniper lookouts or towns with winding turns for close quarter combat (CQC). The approach that Bolivia has been created encourage players to explore the wilderness and the urban spaces to create their own strategies, and improvise with the resources, weapons and skills they have at their disposal. The world is supported by the different foundations that help in reaching the immersive tactical element, expected in Ghost Recon games including the weather, visual effects and lighting all aiding in the player experience of the open world. For example, there are instances when it starts to rain, the terrain turns muddy, mist appears and disguises the player’s movements this is particularly noticed when the lightning is the only source of light. These often missed aspects of an open world gives the player more presence in the open world, whilst they are small additions they greatly assist the world of Ghost Recon Wildlands. Each of the eleven different biomes has its own climate and its own periodical weather events, including downpours that will cause trees to bend and sway obscuring the player and enemy’s vision, adding movement to the often static environments helping to suggest that the world is an organic component of the game.

 

 The foliage plays a huge part in what makes the world look gorgeous.

 

It is obvious that the developers of Ghost Recon Wildlands aimed to recreate an accurate depiction of Bolivia, I feel that they accomplished that extremely well by paying great attention to what makes an interesting environment to explore. After putting numerous hours in to the game I often find myself walking through forests and towns purely because I enjoy being in the world, a testament to the world that the developers created.

 

 

Enemy Encounters & Compounds

 

The Santa Blanca Cartel and the Unidad military force, the fictional enemy factions within Ghost Recon Wildlands are a prominent figure within the game world. Both factions have small pockets of enemies scattered around the environment that act as a small encounter for the player to approach with most having supplies or a collectible again motivating the player of engaging and exploring the regions to their full. The positions of the 'pocket' encounters are placed in the world in such a way that allows the player to approach it however they may choose.

 

Whilst there are small pockets of enemies spread around the world the main locations of encounters are found in the large enemy compounds where a lot of level design thought has gone into creating points where the player can utilise all of their skills to complete their objective. The compounds give the player options on how to approach it, often they are designed for stealth CQC combat, with cover strategically placed nearby an enemy path to facilitate the player engaging and feeling like a tactical operative, a large part of what makes Ghost Recon Wildlands is capturing the special operative 'feeling' which it does to great success. The micro layout of each compound feels unique with props being placed to help create each compound layout fun and interesting to navigate through whereas on the macro level the towns, cities and terrain feel organic and "correct".

 

An example of strategically placed cover giving the player safety and movement options.

 

It is obvious that the level designer of a compound has considered flanking routes, line of sites, hiding spots and engagement spots creating each compound feel intrinsically different from the last and giving the player a number of options to choose from. When in a compound I often felt there were options on how to approach a situation and if I took my time I could sneak up on the NPC and eliminate him without being seen or "go loud" if I wished. The above example shows how the level designer has placed a concrete barricade providing cover from the patrolling enemy which leads up to the stairs to the metal shack, giving the player an evident path and goal to reach, helping the player move through the space.

 

The below example is of an early game compound in the first region. There is a stark difference between an early game compound and the late game compounds. The early game compounds feature minimal defenses with open multiple openings, fences that can be easily vaulted over, minimal Level Design ingredients and NPCs spread out rather than being grouped up.

 

A birds eye view of an early game compound showing the relatively simple protection and openness of the space.

 

A 2D top down view of the above compound, showing a small amount of potential entry points to the encounter.

 

Whereas in the later stages of the game compounds become much tougher to infiltrate with large concrete walls, multiple Level Design ingredients

and clusters of tougher NPCs. It is evident that the compounds have been designed in a manner that is appropriate for the regions skill level, as the player gets experienced and tougher so does the encounters.

 

 

Design Features of A Compound 

 

Cover placed in such a manner to provide the player cover on a path whilst still retaining that real life feeling. It is obvious these cover pieces have been placed to suggest routes to the player and whilst this is the case the props do not look out of place or abnormal making the compound feel accurate to a real life representation.

 

Strategic cover placement

 

Cover placed in such a manner to provide the player cover on a path whilst still retaining that real life feeling. It is obvious these cover pieces have been placed to suggest routes to the player and whilst this is the case the props do not look out of place or abnormal making the compound feel accurate to a real life representation.

 

Multi layered cover pieces placed to make a path.

 

Above is an example of strategic cover placement made by the level designer in one of the compounds to give the player a path of possible cover options to take to flank the enemy. With each piece of cover leading on to the next, preventing the player from being seen and helping protect them from incoming fire, this micro level detail to cover placement was certainly impressed and greatly appreciated.

 

Harmonious Enemy Archetypes

 

To give each compound a challenging aspect to them the enemy NPC archetypes placed within them are done in a way that aligns with each other, by considering which archetypes are placed in the compound it helps to create an interesting challenge on who to eliminate first. The NPCs such as rushers and snipers create an interesting gameplay element as one forces you out of cover and the other makes you take cover.

 

In addition the consideration of the path of an NPC is also noticeable as there are instances where the NPCs will follow a particular path or will move to different locations in the compound, again adding a layer of challenge and making the player consider the variables whilst moving through what is a small separated level. It is evident that the Level Designer has attempted to make each encounter of NPCs within a compound in a particular fashion to allow the different skills at a player’s disposal be used to their fullest, a key element of Level Design in any game, supporting the game mechanics or features.

 

 

A Large Number of Approaches

 

Often there are a number of different approaches to enter a compound. At times the compound is heavily defended with large concrete walls surrounding the perimeter with a small vaulting point that may be missed or an approach covered by foliage giving the player an opportunity to sneak through the dense jungle, reinforcing the tactical operator feeling. I found one compound feature a small hidden path that lead to the compound, likely one of the many routes into it, not one compound feels identical. By making the approaches feel different it really helps to make the compounds feel new each time, again making the challenge refreshing rather than repetitive. The amount of options to approach a situation in Ghost Recon Wildlands is truly one of the strengths of the title. The Level Designer really pushed this when designing the compounds in the game by opening up these areas to a player’s depiction.

 

A hidden path to a compound making it easier to take a stealthy approach.

 

Level Design Ingredients

 

The Level Design Ingredients featured in compounds, prominently featured in the higher levels have been put in place to add another layer for the player to consider when entering a compound, adding to the overall feel of these often large encounters.

 

Level Design Ingredients Include:

  • Drone Jammers

  • Mortars

  • Alarms

  • Spotlights

  • Explosive ingredients (barrels, gas containers, etc,)

     

The ingredients are placed in the mission area to help stimulate the combat, to make it generally more exciting or challenging. The placement and the amount used increased in the harder regions, helping progression and pushing the player to play a certain way.

 

Conclusion

 

Ghost Recon Wildlands features a world that has been painstakingly crafted in terms of design and art to provide an experience of Bolivia. By utilising state of the art tools it gave the artists and designers an opportunity to create a world that is rife with opportunity. Wildlands, especially at the large macro scale terrain level, it looks like a geology simulation. At the smaller micro level, the overall believability is one of the Wildland’s beat traits. The objects within the world feel they have a purpose and look “right”. Wildlands is a game that features a truly free approach, a great example of systemic design, where every mission or encounter the player partakes in is designed to validate or reinforce the player's overall objective. The fluid nature of how the open world blends flawlessly into the story and main missions is a testament to the world that Ubisoft crafted.

 

 

 

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