First, I want to get out of the way that I understand it's a Tom Clancy game, meaning it's going to come from a particular worldview, feature a metric ton of weaponry, and it's set "five minutes into the future" featuring a conflict that's tipping into catastrophe and it's up to us to save the day. You're not going to get "Spec Ops: The Line," from that concoction. I get it.
At the same time, this is the second game from the Tom Clancy fam that features an open world, which is ostensibly all about freedom and the choices you make to approach each encounter. It's going to be hard to predict what kind of path the player will take, so the story has to be flexible. For some games, that means different endings and choices at certain plot points that you MUST reach in order to progress.
Maybe we'll get those moments in the game, but we didn't in the Division and I'm 85% confident we won't in GRW either. It's just not what Ubisoft has been instructed to do- they were told to make us a humongous open world, so that we could run rampant and create enough noise/wanton destruction as we wish.
Here's the issue: the story and the gameplay don't mix. We all got a good laugh out of the Division's story, in which we were asked to gun down American citizens en masse to protect the good citizens from Looters… as we actively loot the bodies of the people we killed. That same weird, "Really, bruh?" feeling still lingers here.
The setup of the Ghost Recon Wildlands story (spoiler free, and takes into account the events of War Within the Cartel):
A failed attempt at killing the Santa Blanca leadership leads to a DEA agent getting murdered and the SB commander orders the US embassy to be bombed. The CIA handler who botched the entire operation by sending just one guy elects to send in four guys this time to do the job right.
The mission is EXACTLY the same as the movie Sicario: cause a ruckus (translation: kill or capture some dudes, take their stuff) and the bad guy bosses will have to come out into the open. Sure, makes sense. But part of what made Sicario work was having someone there who WASN'T part of that world to say, "Hey, this is kind of fucked up, isn't it? We're compromising the law just to whack these guys… and it's all just for revenge?" The characters grow, they learn, they question and grapple with the mission. At the end, some accept it and others don't. That feels real in a way that GRW doesn't, and Sicario was written by one of the cops from "Sons of Anarchy."
After playing the beta, and especially after playing "Carl Bookhart," I just don't see that happening here. In that mission, the Ghosts suddenly discover that they know the guy they're trying to kill, in fact he used to serve with them. That's great conflict! That's nuance and potentially asks interesting questions, but the entirety of the conflict- the only way it's ever addressed – is through your AI teammates radio chatter for about eleven seconds, and then it's put to bed.
Is that real? Possibly. Probably. I didn't serve. But it would make real world sense, in a way.
Is that the best way to tell a gripping, emotional story? Absolutely not. But you have to do it that way because it's an open world video game, and the developers have been told that the people who play these games don't want to see a cutscene or really talk about this, we'd rather just shoot this guy in the face… or fly a chopper into him, or any of the myriad ways we're encouraged to murder these dudes. That's what they're gleaning from our survey replies and feedback, I'd imagine, because that's what I'm presented with when I play the game, even though I'd far prefer to talk Carl out of working for SB in the way you might find in, say, Mass Effect.
The "Grounded in the real world," ethos of Tom Clancy can't hold up in a world where we want our video games to be explosion playgrounds. And right now, all the Hollywood screenwriters and airport thriller novelists can't fix that, no matter how many "woke" conversations the AI peppers in between jokes about the Delta operator and the Air Force general. Shine a brighter spotlight on that conflict, Tom Clancy writers, or at least force any future creatives to play "Sleeping Dogs," twice before they submit a draft.
TL;DR – Tom Clancy plots and stories are chafing under the new generation of video games, open world in particular. Something has to give, because this story is going to be ignored at best, and backwards tone-deaf 'Murica-fest at worst. I will happily eat my words and post an equally long apology if I play the game and encounter a different result.