although i’m a huge fan of the advance wars and fire emblem series, i haven’t really spent that much time playing other tactics games (the main exception being a playthrough of the first final fantasy tactics). tom clancy’s ghost recon: shadow wars was one of the launch titles for 3DS, and at the time one of the stronger offering for the platform. it was fairly quickly eclipsed by some first-rate first-party offerings so it took me a while to get back to it, but recently i finished playing through more than half of the game and i finally set it aside.
i got the game pretty close to launch since there wasn’t anything else new on the 3DS i really wanted, and i enjoyed learning how the mechanics worked. unlike other tactics games i’ve played, this one focuses almost solely on guns and as a result the strategy feels unique: shooting at different ranges will increase or decrease your attack, and you have to take sightlines into account and use buildings and bushes as cover. there’s an interesting support system for both the enemies and your team where in certain cases their/your colleagues will team up automatically, and there’s a range of character/weapon-specific abilities: for example, shooting back in response to an attack for 50% damage, or increased damage against machines.
once i learned the ropes, though, and sailed through map after map on the hardest difficulty level (of three), i had to stop playing because the game was just too easy and showed no signs of getting more difficult. perhaps it’s a bit unfair to complain since i’m an advance wars and fire emblem vet, but one of the things that makes this game extremely easy is that you can save at any point. also, although it’s refreshing at first, for the most part it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to complete a mission; the lack of a rankings system makes it too easy to play mildly conservatively and make progress without much mental effort. in terms of mechanics the game leans more towards fire emblem than advance wars particularly because you only control six characters, each with her/his own abilities (and some of which feel quite unique). only having six characters to control at one time already makes the game feel much simpler than other titles, and, on top of that, for a given map each of your characters only has at most two types of weapons, i.e. attacks. characters have a special power meter that collects points and eventually makes a special attack available, but the special attacks are for the most part just the same as regular attacks with twice the damage plus the ability to take another turn, which feels like another simplification. after each stage you earn a fixed number of upgrades you can apply to your mini-army as you choose, and characters are upgraded along pre-defined paths. most of the upgrades were for equipment that i found myself completely ignoring because they offered only slightly increased damage or protection at the cost of mobility, which for a tactics game just didn’t feel like a worthwhile trade-off to me.
what really made me give up playing, though, was the generic plot, lack of character development and interaction, and bland presentation. the graphics are about on par with DS titles, which is understandable since it was a launch title, and the 3D effects are pretty minimal and ho-hum. also, there’s one character in particular who was so absurdly overpowered (she’s invisible and has the highest single attack of any character) that i found myself clearing whole areas with just her and feeling like the others were just bench warmers. the game does a pretty good job of providing a variety of mission objectives and the game mechanics feel somewhat unique, but it feels like the mechanics could have been developed further and balanced better. having a compelling story and characters is pretty much essential in maintaining interest in a game like this, and without any challenges to see me through to the end i’ve had to put this aside and move on to other things. a decent game for newbies to the genre and for a launch title, but tactics vets should probably think twice about getting this.