Impressions: Ghost Recon Wildlands Special Operation 2 DLC

The Special Operations 2 DLC expansion for Ghost Recon Wildlands has officially arrived, bringing with it new Ghost War PvP features, a new PvE experience called Ghost Mode, and a special Rainbow Six Siege crossover event. Being an avid Wildlands player, I decided to put the Special Operations 2 DLC through its paces and I came away reasonably impressed with what it offers to PvP and PvE players alike. However, as has been the case with past Wildlands content expansions, it’s also painfully obvious that, in many ways, Special Operations 2 is ultimately designed to wheedle more money out of dedicated players.

Operation Archangel

Similar to the Splinter Cell-themed crossover mission from earlier this year, Ghost Recon Wildlands players who have reached the Caimanes region in the main campaign can now undertake a new standalone story mission called Operation Archangel. The mission involves working alongside Rainbow Six Siege operators Twitch and Valkyrie to help them track down their missing compatriot, the operator Caveira, who has started massacring Santa Blanca cartel members for unknown reasons.

Thankfully, the three-part mission isn’t nearly as unforgiving as the previously implemented Predator and Splinter Cell missions were, and it can be completed with relative ease even when you’re playing solo with AI squadmates. Finishing Operation Archangel allows players to equip Caveira’s gloves and perform her signature CQC move (revealing all nearby enemies in the process). There’s also a series of optional solo and community challenges for players who want to really test themselves while tracking down Caveira.

Ghost Mode

Speaking of testing yourself, Special Operation 2’s standout feature is undoubtedly the free new PvE-centric Ghost Mode. In Ghost Mode, players roll up a new character and replay the base Wildlands story campaign, but with a few added twists. Players must deal with more unforgiving combat conditions such as friendly fire and realistic reloading, and the mode’s permadeath mechanic means that if the player is killed, all their campaign progress is lost for good.

The experience can be made even more unforgiving by disabling the HUD and/or AI teammates (these features are available in the standard campaign as well), giving players who crave a difficult and realistic tactical shooter experience exactly what they’ve been asking for. Every major cartel boss a player takes down in Ghost Mode awards prestige credits, and completing more long-term objectives like dismantling sections of the Santa Blanca operation unlocks pieces of a new exoskeleton cosmetic set that’s sure to make other players envious.

Speaking of prestige credits, they tie into what is perhaps my favorite part of the Special Operation 2 expansion.  

Prestige credit economy

Ubisoft has overhauled Ghost Recon Wildlands’ prestige system and prestige credit economy to better serve players who prefer PvE gameplay. Now, players can earn prestige credits by completing objectives in both the default story campaign and Ghost Mode, and any objectives already completed grant credits retroactively. In fact, if it’s been a while since you last played Wildlands, you’ll likely have a large pile of prestige credits waiting for you when you log in after downloading the Special Operation 2 update.

Prestige credits can still naturally be earned once a player reaches rank 50 in the Ghost War PvP experience, and the maximum prestige rank has been raised from 10 to 999, giving dedicated players many new summits to climb. As for the prestige credits themselves, they can be spent on specialty Ghost War perks and classes, prestige crates containing cosmetic items (more on those later), and new armament packs for each of the Ghost War classes that unlock new weapons and equipment.

In short, there’s now a lot more synergy between Wildlands’ PvE and PvP components thanks to the revamped prestige system.  

Ghost War 

Along with two new maps and new observer tools, Special Operation 2 adds two brand new classes to Ghost War: the Surgeon and Toxic. Speaking as someone whose own PvP skills are somewhat lacking, I found both of the new classes to be welcome additions since they can be effectively utilized even by players who aren’t good at winning direct firefights.

The Toxic, which is themed around Rainbow Six Siege operator Smoke, can deploy clouds of harmful gas using an aerial drone, allowing them to put pressure on enemy players or even flush them out of buildings. However, Toxic players also have to be careful since the gas can hurt friendly players, and it’s not opaque like the Guerrilla’s smoke drone charges, so it can’t really be used to cloak allies. If there’s a pesky enemy player trying to secure a recon tower or camping a downed ally though, the Toxic’s gas drone can effectively deny them the advantage.

The Surgeon, meanwhile, is based off of Siege operator Doc, and like Doc they can employ a special stim pistol that allows them to heal and revive friendly players from a distance. I was grateful to have immediate access to the Surgeon since Wildlands’ one other healing-focused class, the Medic, isn’t unlocked until you reach rank 25 in Ghost War. The stim pistol can be a little unwieldy if you’re trying to heal a teammate who’s frantically running around, but when the chips are down it can also be a real life-saver.   

The almighty dollar

Sadly, not everything about Special Operation 2 is positive. Currently, only owners of the $30 Year Two Pass can access the new Ghost War classes and Ghost Mode, and that restriction won’t lift for an entire week. Such has always been the case with new Ghost War classes, but considering how long fans have been requesting a new PvE experience like Ghost Mode, it feels a little mean to make them pony up if they don’t want to wait a whole week to play it.

Even if you already own the Year Two Pass, you’ll still have to fork over some extra dough if you want to experience everything that Special Operation 2 has to offer. Along with the Operation Archangel mission, Ubisoft also added in a new Rainbow Six Siege item pack as well as a series of additional Siege-themed items like new clothing options and icons (the latter being complete, non-customizable skins of other Rainbow Six Siege operators).

However, while some fans assumed that the Rainbow Six Siege pack would be given out for free to Year Two Pass owners, such is not the case. Regardless of whether you own the Year Two Pass or not, you’ll have to pay for the $20 in credits needed for the Rainbow Six Siege pack if you want access to its unique items. The rest of the new Siege stock is also locked behind randomized battle crates, and your chances of getting a specific item you want have also been drastically lowered due to the new addition of new item types such as emotes, victory poses, and voice lines.

A quick perusal of the official Ghost Recon subreddit shows that the Wildlands playerbase isn’t very happy about how the new cosmetic items were implemented, and it’s hard to blame them. Granted, the Year Two Pass offers a fair amount of value for its $30 price tag (value that hasn’t even been fully realized yet since two more year two expansions are still on the way), but it still feels scummy to lock Special Operation 2’s most desirable cosmetics (the Rainbow Six Siege pack) behind a separate $20 paywall. Worse, as other developers are finally starting to move away from the greedy practice of loot boxes, Ubisoft is instead doubling down by locking the rest of Wildlands’ Siege stock behind battle crates that are now even more diluted with useless junk like emotes and voice lines.

I won’t argue that the Special Operation 2 expansion adds a lot in the way of free content to Ghost Recon Wildlands, but it’s also very much a case of taking the good with the bad. If all you care about is playing through Operation Archangel and/or giving Ghost Mode a try, you can do so without paying a dime (as long as you’re willing to wait through Ghost Mode’s early access period of course).

Similarly, the new Ghost War classes can also be enjoyed without whipping out your wallet if you don’t mind waiting and grinding out the prestige credits to buy them. However, Wildlands has now also become yet another pertinent example of why gamers are so fed up with the random loot box dynamic.

It’s understandable that Ubisoft would want to keep making money off of Wildlands, but when the company continues to so blatantly treat the game’s community like a brain-dead cash cow, said community will inevitably get upset.