Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars


Review by · May 28, 2024

I know what you’re thinking, dear reader: “This is RPGFan. Why am I reading about some dumb Tom Clancy shooter?” That’s a fair question, and I’m prepared to answer it. First, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is not a shooter! It’s a turn-based tactics game. Second, at its most basic level, it’s essentially Fire Emblem with guns, which is sweet. Third, we could argue about genre definitions and whether this fits, but wouldn’t you rather hear about all the stuff you get to blow up? Conflagrations (the fiery and military types) for the win, am I right? Yeah!

It’s important to note that Shadow Wars’ narrative hits different in 2024 than in 2011 when players first experienced it. The plot involves Russia invading Ukraine and Kazakhstan and the American-led Ghosts intervening to prevent their downfall. This setup is familiar territory for anyone who has played or watched military-themed games or movies: the Russians are traditionally the bad guys, and American exceptionalism saves democracy in Europe. I’ll get a bit deeper into the fine details later, but given the current war in Ukraine, the narrative could be offputting for some players, so fair warning.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a multi-layered narrative title. Shadow Wars refers to the shadowy actions of Russian separatists hoping to overthrow Russia’s—perhaps unbelievably—neutral government for their own evil ends, notably reestablishing the Soviet Union. It also refers to the player-controlled Ghosts, an elite squad of six soldiers known for handling complicated political matters from behind the scenes. You might say they operate from…the shadows.

Soldiers in heavy armor and gas masks in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Shadowy happenings happening here… (image credit: user icytower38 on GiantBomb)

Each of your Ghosts is a distinct class: commando, sniper, gunner, medic, recon, and engineer. Most of these are self-explanatory, though the recon and engineer Ghosts deserve special mention. Enemies can’t directly attack the camouflaged recon Ghost unless they’re directly next to her. The engineer Ghost can deploy a stationary or moveable turret you can command like any other unit. These two Ghosts have the most potential to mix up your strategies, which we’ll revisit.

Each Ghost has class-specific weapons, equipment, skills, and passive abilities. Before each mission, you can adjust weapons and equipment, while passive abilities are always active once you unlock them. Completing mission objectives awards a set number of stars you use to level up your Ghosts, unlocking additional weapons, equipment, and passive abilities in a predefined order. It’s not especially deep: if you complete all the objectives in the game, you can max out your entire team. However, it does give you some flexibility in how your team grows. While each Ghost doesn’t have a classic skill tree, the system still provides some customization by allowing you to choose your team’s loadouts. Each Ghost has multiple primary and secondary weapons and equipment types you can select for each mission. Weapons that cause more damage decrease your Ghosts’ movement and firing ranges. The same is true of armor: increased HP for reduced movement.

Unlike other tactical RPGs like Fire EmblemShadow Wars uses a distance-based combat system. This critical difference dramatically changes how you approach battles. For one thing, you can’t block a unit with another unit. If one unit is in range of an army of enemies, each enemy can hit that unit and vice versa. Damage is influenced by environmental elements, such as elevation and cover, and determined by weapon attributes. Each weapon causes damage in a set range based on the Ghost’s class. Each weapon and class also influence how far a Ghost can move and fire in the same turn.

Units covering different distances in Ghost Recon, including a tank.
Tanks for coming to the fight! (image credit: user consaw on GiantBomb)

For example, the gunner’s heavy-duty machine gun has a chance of causing significant damage at close range, but because it’s a giant chain gun, its actual damage can vary wildly. The sniper’s rifle causes the most damage at long distances but is almost useless in close-range combat. The 3DS’ bottom screen houses this essential information and a map of the current mission. Attacks never miss, but the amount of damage you cause is highly variable due to these interconnected elements.

Another critical difference between this and other SRPGs is Shadow Wars‘ counterattack mechanics. A Ghost’s (and the enemy’s) ability to counterattack varies by class and weapon. Up to three units can counterattack during the defend phase if they’re in range and possess the ability to. This mechanic can make or break your strategy quickly because you can dogpile or get dogpiled in return. Losing any Ghost results in an immediate game over.

One of Shadow Wars‘ strengths is its mission variety. Each mission begins with a clearly defined objective; often, that objective is not just defeating all the enemies. Missions also evolve as you complete objectives (and sometimes even before)! A mission that asks you to defend a specific area will then ask you to escape the map. A mission that requires you to defeat a certain enemy will then require you to blow up specific targets. Secondary objectives are optional but provide additional stars if you complete them. I love that I never knew what to expect. Shadow Wars constantly forces you to adapt and modify your strategies on the fly.

Shadow Wars‘ diverse missions also affect your loadouts. You might plan to defend an objective by equipping your squad with the most potent weapons and equipment possible, but that choice can come back to haunt you when you have to chase down a target later. I wouldn’t say there’s a clear “answer” to any mission, and the game gives you plenty of options for tackling these objectives.

The best way to handle drones is to throw grenades at them.
Those buzzsaw drones will mess you up. (image credit: user icytower38 on GiantBomb)

Some missions also restrict the number of Ghosts you can use or use capture-the-flag mechanics. Capturing flags awards points you can use to charge up Ghosts’ skill meters, reactivate a Ghost to use them again, or call in a devastating airstrike. Your enemies can also capture flags and use points but only to call in reinforcements, which can be devastating, especially on Expert. It’s in your best interest to take—and keep—all the flags, but they sure won’t make it easy on you.

While most of your opposition is human, a deadly enemy appears about halfway through: robotic drones. These enemies resist most attacks except for EMPs, which only certain Ghosts can use. There are machine gun, sniper, and rocket drones, and (perhaps worst of all) the buzzsaw drone, with high movement and attack ranges, and devastating power. It can nearly one-hit kill a Ghost on Expert, but you can’t underestimate them even on easy. When you fight off an entire squad of drones, it feels like you’ve mastered the game’s mechanics. Too bad that feeling is fleeting.

Shadow Wars is a lengthy experience. With three difficulties (you can select any difficulty for any mission) and 37 missions, there’s no shortage of content. Completing missions awards medals that unlock skirmish and multiplayer missions. Medals are specific to each difficulty. While you can replay any mission anytime, your levels and equipment are specific to each mission. You can’t max out your squad, return to the first level, and go all scorched earth. While some mission objectives are recycled, I never got bored because there’s so much variety.

Let’s return to Shadow Wars’ narrative. You’re not playing the game for it. It’s serviceable, but it’s also nothing you haven’t seen before if you played or watched any military-themed content in the last twenty years (and I’m being generous there). As a covert ops unit, the Ghosts receive next to no character development, but I expected that. They each have their little quirks, and the dialogue is often witty, but each Ghost is a typical archetype, and Shadow Wars does nothing to go beyond the expected tropes of its narrative genre.

A character standing in front a turret with a prompt stating that the Y button will show the line of fire.
You’re standing in front of a turret, bro (image credit: user consaw on GiantBomb).

I’m okay with that, but I wish the narrative had tried harder. There’s no sense of intrigue or mystery. The antagonists’ motivations are apparent from the beginning, and even though they somewhat align with a certain Russian dictator’s in the real world, the narrative doesn’t treat the subject meaningfully. The villains have no concerns whatsoever about spouting off their goals and how they intend to accomplish them. The entire narrative is just one big false flag operation, so it’s basically a typical action movie. The narrative gives the designers a reason to build some exciting levels, though.

On the presentation front, Shadow Wars is an early 3DS game and part of the system’s launch lineup. As such, it’s not a showstopper. Its environments are a bit pixelated, and the texture work is a little blurry. It fits with the theme: it’s a gritty military game, so it’s easy to overlook its graphical shortcomings. It boasts strong 3D effects, and the explosions are crisp and bright. Its soundtrack also fits its theme with dramatic strings for tension and a commanding brass section for power. It’s suitable, but the sound effects are better. Gunfire, rumbling tanks, and the constant screams of everyone getting shot are punchy and effective at creating Shadow Wars‘ world-at-war theme.

While Shadow Wars does have a two-player versus mode, it’s unfortunately limited to one system. I was fine with that back in 2001 when Advance Wars made me do it on the Game Boy Advance, but by 2011’s standards, it’s disappointing. There are some interesting twists, like having one player command a zombie army (zombies also appear in the skirmish mode), but this mode reuses maps and scenarios from the campaign and skirmish modes. It can be fun, but it’s mostly a distraction from the campaign and skirmish modes.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars might have flown under players’ radars back in the day. I never hear anyone talking about it. The 3DS’ launch wasn’t especially grand, but Shadow Wars was there on day one to sate strategy fans’ ravenous appetites, and well sated we were! Or at least I was when I got my 3DS that winter. There are better strategy titles on the 3DS, but Shadow Wars has enough twists on the traditional formula that genre fans deserve to give it some love.

A quick note: I completed the campaign on Expert and currently have a 90% completion rate—some skirmish missions are brutal! I’m well acquainted with tactics titles, but I still had to restart some missions multiple times. Either way, there’s plenty here for genre newbies and veterans to enjoy.


Deep combat systems based on distance, mission objectives evolve during gameplay, challenging AI, strong 3D implementation.


Lackluster narrative with zero character development, disappointing multiplayer mode.

Bottom Line

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars' distance-based mechanics offer an engaging twist on the genre's traditions.

Overall Score 77
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Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald

As an editor, Scott is introverted, contemplative, and snarky. It is best to slowly approach him from the front with offerings of baked goods. He has edited a variety of books, articles, and other content, and hopes to someday edit games as well.