Impressions: Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Splinter Cell event has a little something for everyone

Ubisoft has officially begun the Year 2 rollout of new content for Ghost Recon Wildlands, with the first content drop, titled Special Operation 1, being themed around another popular Ubisoft property: the tactical stealth series Splinter Cell. As was previously detailed, Special Operation 1’s standout features include a brand new mode for the game’s PvP-centric Ghost War suite, a new Ghost War class, and a special PvE mission which involves teaming up with the legendary Splinter Cell himself, Sam Fisher. But is the Special Operation 1 content drop worth making a return trip to the in-game region of Bolivia?

Operation Watchman

The new PvE mission is called Operation Watchman and it tasks players with infiltrating a heavily fortified Unidad base in the La Cruz region so they can meet up with Sam Fisher (who is once again voiced by Michael Ironside) and assist him in extracting some sensitive CIA data.

Similar to the Predator crossover mission from earlier this year, the Operation Watchman mission is pretty darn difficult, especially if you’re attempting it while playing in the endgame-centric ‘Tier One’ mode.

The mission is divided into three distinct sections, and failing any of them means you have to redo the entire mission from the beginning. The first section requires that you reach Fisher in the Unidad base’s server room without being detected or eliminating any enemies (and yes, merely knocking an enemy out counts as eliminating them). Then, while Fisher hacks into the Unidad server, you have to fend off an all-out Unidad assault complete with hordes of bad guys, ground vehicles, and missile-firing attack helicopters.

Lastly, with the data in-hand, you have to escape the Unidad base without being killed, something that’s easier said than done given how persistent the Unidad can be. It’s a tall order for sure, but one which is also doable if you plan your approach right (bringing some friends can help as well, but it’s not required).

The Operation Watchman mission is a permanent addition to Wildlands, but if you complete it within the event timeframe (between now and May 16), you’ll earn yourself a pair of Fisher’s iconic night-vision goggles which come with their own special night-vision filter. There’s also a separate community challenge which involves eliminating Unidad soldiers while remaining undetected, and a Task Force challenge that requires you to blow up 15 Unidad vehicles with C4 while playing on Extreme difficulty.

Completing the Task Force challenge awards a Battle Crate (Wildlands’ version of loot boxes) and if the community challenge is completed all players will receive a ‘Fourth Echelon’ equipment patch.   

Sabotage

For Ghost War fans, there’s a brand new game mode called Sabotage. In Sabotage, teams take turns attacking and defending a pair of radio transmitter towers. The attacking team must successfully hack one of the towers and guard it until the hack is complete while the defending team has to successfully shut down any hacking attempts (eliminating the entire enemy team results in a win as well).

While I am admittedly not a big fan of PvP, I did enjoy Sabotage since it allowed me to experience two distinct types of gameplay, attacking and defending, in a single mode. I am far from a competent Ghost War player, but I was still able to help my team regardless of which side we were on by performing support actions like marking the enemy team with the Scout class’s drone while attacking, or booby-trapping the radio towers as the Trapper while on defense.

I doubt Sabotage will make me want to invest in Ghost War longterm, but I’m always supportive of objective-based modes where being a crack shot isn’t required to succeed.

The Echelon Class

The new Echelon class for Ghost War is basically a Wildlands version of the playable spies from Splinter Cell’s Spies vs. Mercs competitive multiplayer mode. While the Echelon can’t clamber along pipes or take down opponents with one-hit melee kills, what they can do is utilize their unique Sonar Goggles and Proximity Mine gadgets to deadly effect.

True to their name, the Sonar Goggles send out a sonar pulse when used, allowing the Echelon to see and mark nearby enemy players even if they’re behind walls or obscured by effects like smoke clouds. The Proximity Mines, meanwhile, can be stuck to almost any surface and automatically detonate when an enemy player strays too close. Proximity Mines can’t be defused, but the tradeoff is that they deal less damage than standard mines.

The Echelon class naturally excels when played as a mobile hit-and-run fighter (there’s a reason they’re in the Assault group of Ghost War classes after all), but they also work when played as a more methodical stationary combatant. In fact, the Sonar Goggles actually work best when you’re standing still, so it pays to approach a combat scenario cautiously at first before beginning your assault.

The Proximity Mines also give the Echelon some support potential, especially if you’re playing an objective-based mode like Sabotage or Uplink. Just note that the Echelon class is also categorized as a high-difficulty class, so it’s probably not the best option to go with if you’re new to the entire Ghost War experience.   

Miscellaneous Additions

Along with the Operation Watchman mission, Sabotage mode, and Echelon class, Special Operation 1 comes with a few other odds and ends as well. If you prefer to play Wildlands’ story campaign by yourself, you can now cosmetically customize your AI teammates to a certain degree (and some players are clearly putting that customization to good use).

What is perhaps the content drop’s one sore spot is the new Splinter Cell Equipment Pack, a piece of paid DLC which grants access to several additional Splinter Cell-themed items including, among other things, a new costume, assault rifle, weapon skin, and special karambit knife melee takedown animation.

The problem is that, currently, the Splinter Cell Equipment Pack can only be obtained by purchasing Ghost Recon Wildlands’ $29.99 Year 2 Pass, a season pass of sorts which mainly benefits Ghost War players by granting early access to new Ghost War classes (including the Echelon).

Those who prefer to stick to Wildlands’ PvE endeavors aren’t happy about being forced to buy a PvP-focused content pass just to get their hands on the Splinter Cell items, especially after the official Ubisoft moderator for the Wildlands Reddit page mistakenly said that it would also be available standalone.

Fortunately, that same moderator has also passed word up the chain that players really want a standalone version of the Splinter Cell Equipment Pack, so here’s hoping Ubisoft will act on those requests.

Overall, the Special Operation 1 update feels like a good balance of different content additions since it gives players of all stripes something new to pursue. While it’s true that you can’t really get the full benefit of the update unless you’re willing to spring for the Year 2 Pass, there’s still a lot of free content to enjoy (and free rewards to earn), and it bears mentioning that this is just the first in a series of four major new updates Ubisoft plans on releasing throughout Wildlands’ second year of operation.

Even though it may skew a little more towards the PvP side of Ghost Recon Wildlands, Special Operation 1 is definitely worth a return trip to Bolivia no matter what type of player you are.