Ghost Recon: Wildlands PC Technical Review

Ghost Recon: Wildlands PC Technical Review

Bolivia has a spooky problem; it’s haunted by ghosts. Not the fun kind of ghosts who’ll leave weird footprints in your living room or stack all the chairs in the kitchen into avant-garde shapes. No, these ghosts are backed by shady US finances and all come with automatic weapons. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Presents … Ghost Recon: Wildlands is released worldwide on 7 March, and it has PC options galore to explore.

So many options and menus in fact that I think, in a slight break from the traditional PC Invasion order of Technical Review events, I’ll just go through them sequentially. You’re in for a whole world of menu screenshots, dear reader. Plus some commentary on what some of the options actually mean, and comments on my experiences with how the game performs.

Here’s the PC I’ve been using to take a look at this title: i5-6600 / 16GB RAM / 4GB 380X (at the time of writing I was using the latest 17.2.1 drivers, 17.3.1 have since come out). Not the top end testing ultra-machines you might see on other sites, but representative of, well, the PC I currently own. If you’re curious about mid-range Ghost Recon: Wildlands performance, you’re in the right place.

You’re also in the right place for Grey Wolf stickers.

To save some time for those who played the closed (or open) beta, options and performance appear to be largely identical. There are a few small differences and additions in the full release (I could never get the benchmark working properly in the beta, for one thing), but based on my experience with both versions you can be pretty sure of getting the same sort of frame-rates as the betas. That’ll be good or bad news, depending upon how you found performance there.

For those who aren’t familiar with the PC graphics (and more) options in the game, join me now for an extensive visit to MenuTown. Starting without our old miscellaneous friend, Gameplay. You can click on any of these images to make them larger, if you wish.

Nothing too fancy here. You can toggle the aiming mode to over the shoulder if you wish, and do things like tell Ghost Recon: Wildlands to cool it with the tutorial messages. The matchmaking filter can be set to ‘Language and mic’ if you wish to stick to players who are both using a mic and potentially speaking your language (handy if you’re serious about this tactical co-op business). In-keeping with that, you can allow people you play with to recommend you to others here too.

Next in line, it’s Keyboard and Mouse control options.

Here’s where you can forlornly mess around with sensitivity settings in the hope of making the helicopters control in slightly more coherent manner. Bad luck, they’re coded that way. Same goes for the now infamously robust vehicles, which can defy almost all laws of physics short of driving vertically up a cliff face.

Vehicular ‘feel’ is certainly strange in this game, but the fact that the control options provide separate sensitivity sliders for driving, drones, choppers, and aircraft (along with separate options to invert the Y axis and so on) shows a commendable flexibility. Same goes for the inclusion of a Left-Handed Mode option.

As well as the usual selection of Crouch and Run toggles, this is where you’ll find the Key Mapping section. Again, divided into separate branches. Want to change the button that launches your mobile scouting drone and absolutely nothing else? Go ahead. Want to extensively alter the entire control scheme to suit a very specific taste? I haven’t tested every possible button combination in the universe, but that sure seems possible.

Aside from things that are out of the control of incremental options (like weird car physics), the Ghost Recon: Wildlands keyboard and mouse controls seem like the optimal way to play. Aiming, obviously, is far superior with the mouse. But things like being able to order your squad around (or call in rebel support) via hotkeys are a boon too. You still have to have the radial menu open when you do this (in part because some of those keys are shared with switching weapons), but it’s still a helpful shortcut.

Switching between controller and keys/mouse on the fly is possible as well, so if you find that the ideal world is keyboard and mouse while on foot but gamepad for vehicles, you can take that approach. Button prompts switch on the fly as well (at least they did for my knock-off 360 pad).

The HUD toggles are similarly broad in scope, allowing you to pretty much turn off every aspect of the UI individually. Again, this allows the player a neat amount of flexibility in terms of what’s shown on screen. They’re all straightforward ‘on or off’ toggles. No ‘fade out over time’ options here, which is a slight shame.

Moving on to what many will feel is the main event, Video and Graphics options. Plus a smattering of Benchmarks.

General stuff first. Ghost Recon: Wildlands will support 4K resolution if your monitor will (or you can downsample if that seems like a wise move). 16:9 and 16:10 aspect ratios are supported, though I don’t know if areas get stretched or cut off with the latter. It’ll run in Fullscreen, Borderless Window or Windowed mode, as desired.

The frame-rate limit counter starts at 30, goes up in increments of ten up to 60, then offers 75, 90, 120, and 144. You have the option to leave it off completely too. Ubisoft really going the extra distance for customisation of the optional in-game frame cap, there.

Also of interest from a PC perspective (literally), is the Field of View slider. Here’s a comparison between the FOV at minimum and right up at 100%. Presently, I’ve settled closer to 50%, as the maximum was creating a bit of a fish-eyed effect when moving the camera around.

FOV at its lowest.
FOV to the max. Hey, I can almost see her legs now.

On then to the more in-depth graphics options. Many of which you will notice I have turned Off, either out of preference (motion blur, please die forever) or because Ghost Recon: Wildlands really makes my 380X earn its keep.

The presets are Low, Medium, High, Very High, and Ultra. A slightly tweaked ‘Medium’ is about all my GPU can cope with; at least without making the concession for better image quality at the cost of locking to 30fps. In what seems to be a trend for Ubisoft, each option provides an accompanying picture showing what effect, say, increasing the Level of Detail will have in a practical sense. Combined with the VRAM bar and the Benchmark tool, this is a pretty dependable way to figure out a decent quality-performance trade off.

Also useful if you want to know what the hell Nvidia’s special Turf Technology is all about. I suppose it’s fitting for a drugs game to have a special setting devoted to grass.

As mentioned at the start of the piece, the Benchmark tool utterly failed to function for me during the closed beta (giving averages of about 11fps even on all Low). Now, however, it works. So here’s what Ghost Recon: Wildlands manages on my machine at Low, Ultra (well, Ultra-ish, I had to turn down terrain quality a notch to get under the VRAM bar), and my slightly boosted Medium settings.

The ‘Low’ Preset.
The ‘Ultra’ Preset (mostly – Terrain detail turned down to get under the VRAM limit)
Effectively the ‘Medium’ preset with some AF and a few things like Motion Blur off.

As you can see, Wildlands will barely manage 60fps at the lowest possible settings on a 380X. Ultra is out of the question, but if you’re willing to go for 30fps and higher image quality then that’s a possibility on GPUs at the lower end of the game’s range. I’ve been happy enough with the 40-50 average afforded by Medium settings. While that’s not ideal, the game does seem consistent with that range (in other words, it’s not fluctuating all over the place from 20 to 60 or anything). That’s true of both the Benchmark and (for now, I’ve only seen the first area) the game itself.

Initial loading times are extremely long, however. That goes for both the Benchmark and the game. Especially so with the main game, which spends a few minutes loading up to what amounts to a friends lobby, and then a few more minutes getting you into the actual game. Quite tedious, but the major benefit here is an apparent lack of any loading beyond this first couple of blocks. This was also from an HDD in my case, so an SSD would undoubtedly help.

There’s quite a bit of texture pop-in too. Most gratuitously straight after loading up, but throughout play as well.

All of this is pretty consistent with the performance I saw in the beta version, so not a whole lot has changed on that front. While we’re at it, here are the Audio options.

I’ve scrolled down beneath the usual set of Voice, Music etc sliders. What you see here are largely Microphone options for co-op play; whether you want to have a permanently Open Mic, or disable voice chat completely, and so on.

PC Invasion will no doubt be recording some co-op once the game is fully released, so I’ll refrain from any conclusions about connectivity until Ghost Recon: Wildlands is at the mercy of launch day. I didn’t run into any major problems during the beta when messing about with fellow Soldier Specter Man Tim McDonald, but that’s not necessarily a true indicator of how the final version may (or may not) function with a full player-base.

Now to make my escape from this article.

Whatever else you want to say about Ubisoft PC versions these days, they’re exhaustive with their toggles, tweaks, and sliders. We’re a picky (‘discerning’, if you prefer) lot in PC land, so there will doubtless be factors affecting someone that I haven’t even considered, but pretty much all the customisation options that I consider important are here in some fashion. There’s full incremental control over the frame cap (which can also be removed entirely). An FOV slider should ease most troubles with the default third-person camera being too close up. Controls can be rebound. The HUD can be essentially eliminated if you desire. 4K is supported if you have the machine power for it.

Performance-wise, Ghost Recon: Wildlands clearly demands a much more powerful GPU than my usually dependable 380X for anything approaching 60fps (or above) at the High/Ultra end of the graphics spectrum. It is, though, pretty consistent about staying in the 40-50fps range at roughly Medium settings. That’s not ideal, but to me seems perfectly playable.

There are some things that can’t be fixed by PC customisation tweaks, like clunky animations and curious vehicle handling (the latter can be mitigated a little), and design choices like the command wheel mean the UI leans towards the console version. But it seems like the majority of desirable options are accounted for in this release.

Overall, it seems the purity of the Ubisoft Cartel’s PC releases is generally on the rise.

Peter’s exfiltration means Tim’s… infiltration?

Tim [McDonald] adds: Hello, it’s me, the one with the really magical computer and the really shit internet connection. I’ve just finished downloading Tom Clancy’s Ghost: Recon Wildlands, as I will forever refer to this game, so I thought you’d like some more information on how it runs.

Peter’s done an excellent job of covering the options and whatnot so I’m not going to bother with that – I’ll just give you some benchmarking numbers. As ever, I’m running on an i7-3820, 16 GB RAM, and a 4GB GeForce GTX 970, so I suppose I’m representing the Nvidia contingent here. Just to clarify, all of the numbers I’m going to give are from the game’s benchmarking tool rather than in-game, although my experiences with the beta lead me to believe that these are likely fairly accurate.

A few months ago I upgraded to a shiny new monitor capable of 2560×1440 resolution and 144FPS, but there is no way in hell I’m getting those with Wildlands, because it’s really demanding. I also prefer Borderless Windowed mode because I can’t ever do just one thing at once and I like to alt-tab, and once again, Wildlands appears determined to foil this plot. At 2560×1440, Low gives me an average of around 65FPS, with drops to 46FPS. Shifting it to native fullscreen improves matters by about five frames, with a 70FPS average and drops to 50FPS, so that’s clearly the way to go here. The rest of the numbers are, as you might expect, going to be fullscreen.

2560×1440 Medium (with Motion Blur turned off) offers up a 51FPS average and a 41FPS low, which is still relatively playable. High drops things to 45FPS average with a 36FPS low, which is where things start to get rather jarring in terms of actually controlling the game. Considering that’s already in the land of not-desirable-for-play, I opted not to even bother with Ultra presets.

So, instead, I tried out 1920×1080 fullscreen, which is obviously a lot more suited to my card. On Low presets this flew along at a 93FPS average with drops to 75FPS; on Medium, 67FPS with drops to 59FPS; on High, 61FPS with drops to 52FPS. In short, if your system is like mine and you’re running in 1920×1080, you’re probably going to be fine. Assuming you’re aiming for a near-constant 60FPS you can probably go with the High presets dropped a little way, or do some fiddling to possibly go beyond High in a few areas at the expense of others.

My graphics card is definitely (and somewhat obviously) the bottleneck, though. The benchmarking tool helpfully shows CPU and GPU usage, and while the CPU merrily chirped along at sub-50% numbers, the GPU was pretty much permanently at 99% usage. Still, none of this performance stuff really surprises me: 2560×1440 is a demanding resolution so I was expecting a bit of a trade-off there.

While I might have hoped for Sniper Elite 4 levels of “how is this even running”, I’m still content with Wildlands. It runs about as I expected – possibly slightly better -and my expectations were for it to be perfectly playable with a bit of tweaking.