Just so everyone is clear where I'm coming from when writing this review, I like Ghost Recon Wildlands. I think people who write it off as generic either haven't taken enough time with it, or haven't taken any time with it and are unwilling to see the objective ways in which Wildlands improves and expands upon the open-world, third-person shooter formula.
Naturally, I was expecting great things for Wildlands first expansion, Narco Road. In this new game, you infiltrate several gangs from the inside, earn their trust, and learn more about the mysterious "El Invisible," a new drug king pin that no one knows anything about, save for these three gang leaders. It's a serviceable premise, the kind Ubisoft has had no trouble using to create equally serviceable gameplay experiences. That said, Narco Road is irredeemable. Not only does it not bring anything of interest to the table, it also removes aspects that made Wildlands enjoyable in the first place.
The Road To Hell
Ubisoft does a good job of tricking you into believing you're in a different area entirely. The gang territories are shaped differently than any of the provinces from the main game, and that has an impressive disorienting affect on the player. It's so exciting! There's all these new locations to explore!
Except there isn't. You don't play in any new locations in Narco Road. The map from Wildlands has merely been gerrymandered to accommodate these new gangs. Not only that, since there are only three new gangs, the overall map is much smaller. So it's simply a smaller version of the same map with redrawn borders.
It doesn't seem like too much of an ask to create a new area for an expansion, right? That happens all the time, I thought, especially in these sorts of games. Wildlands clearly wasn't the exact size of Bolivia or even a scaled-down model. It was just a square section of the country, which means there was much more outside the borders that could have been used. Hell, why not use some of the provinces in Wildlands that didn't have bosses?
Blips on the Map
One of the things Wildlands did so well was populate the world map with lots of different items and side missions that would meaningfully expand your gameplay, by giving you upgrades, or new weapons, etcetera. In Narco Road, Ubisoft made it clear that they would be adding new types of side missions. That makes sense, and is an admirable step. The problem is, all these new mission types are terrible.
First off, though, all of these missions are just laid out on the map instantly. No longer do you have to gather intel about a given location to find out where things are. They just sort of tell you. With one mission in particular, this gets a little ridiculous. The first new mission is protecting an endangered animal. For some reason, an endangered animal has arrived via airdrop, and you have to make sure it doesn't fall into the hands of poachers and other undesirable sorts (think of yourself as PETA with assault rifles, and you got the idea).
But before you can go do that, you have to get into a specific vehicle to trigger the mission. You follow one waypoint to one particular vehicle, enter that vehicle, and then it will give you a second waypoint to the actual mission with the animal crate. This vehicle has no bearing on the mission, and you don't even have to drive that vehicle to the mission point. You can simply get in the vehicle, then get right out. Are you spotting the unnecessary step?
Then you have a plane mission that literally has you crop-dust (I wish I was joking), which is especially amazing because, if you're playing Narco Road multi-player, your passengers can just twiddle their thumbs, I guess. Then you have a mission that gives you visual clues to the whereabouts of a vehicle that you need to find and then delivered (think Red Dead Redemption's treasure hunter missions) – riveting stuff. Lastly, you have a mission that requires you to transport a mobile methlab. This means that you can't drive the vehicle off the main roads without it catching fire.
Of course, anyone who has played Wildlands can tell you that most vehicles have terrible handling, which makes this whole expansion even more head-scratching. Narco Road is a vehicle-focused expansion that didn't do anything to fix how their vehicles handle. In many cases, they made it ever worse. The standard plane, which was be far the best-handling vehicle in Wildlands, now handles like an RC plane in Narco Road, and there are also input bugs while driving that make pull you in directions you didn't want to go.
*sips champagne* No, I'm not finished.
And what about Weapons? Well you can unlock the location of new weapons, but many of the weapons you find can't be customized. This brings up that thing we learned earlier today, that you are given a pre-set, level 20 character to start the game. You don't get any of the weapons any of your other saves have unlocked, and you don't get to choose your starting skills and abilities. But this isn't even the worst part.
How you unlock weapons in Narco Road is embarrassing. Before you can confront the boss in these gang territories, you have to do a bunch of "cool," "badass" stuff such as jumping a car, drifting and killing rival gang members. When you do this stuff, you gain *drum roll please* Twitter followers. Again, I wish I was joking. Earn enough Twitter followers, and then the boss of that Territory will follow you on Twitter, allowing you to get close to him and have him reveal important information about El Invisible. This is insulting, pandering, nonsense.
What do these bosses reveal? Near as I can figure, nothing at all. Each of these bosses ends up going crazy and killing themselves just as soon as you confront them (after earning their coveted follow). Astoundingly, though, your boss, Karen Bowman, will proclaim a job well done and tell you that you've learned vital information about El Invisible from this fellow. Apparently I missed it, because all I saw was a guy jump out of a plane take off his parachute and flip us off on the way to the ground. Again – not joking. One of the other bosses sets himself on fire to commit suicide. As he rides off on his flaming motorcylce, the protagonist wittily observes "that guy is on fire!" I don't think I need to say it at this point, but I'm not joking.
In fact, I actually had to wonder if Ubisoft was joking, and this was all a big gotcha joke expansion, and the real thing people paid $15 to get (or $40, if you got the season pass) is coming tomorrow. Doesn't seem to be the case. The story in Wildlands was generic and shallow, yes, but the story in Narco Road is downright incomprehensible.
It's hard to find a redeemable quality about Narco Roads. I guess one of the story missions I played was not too bad, a chaotic sequence where I had to disarm a series of bombs in a limited about of time. That's pretty good, right?
Besides that, you play through a bunch of boring, forgettable missions with a story that seems to be written as a total afterthought. Meanwhile, the only thing enticing you to explore is that need to gain Twitter followers, and it's a shame you have to do so many poorly designed side missions in order to hit that magic number. I truly pity anyone who actually spent money to get this.