“Where do I start?”
Main Missions, Side Missions, Faction Missions, Special Operations a.k.a. PVP or raids? Ok, maybe not the raids ’cause that’s for higher levels, but still, which should I pick? I love open-world games, and Ghost Recon Breakpoint was the latest open-world tactical shooter that I decided to spend my free time on. The story is played on a massive fictional island called Auroa. From snow-capped mountains, wetlands, volcanoes, rivers, ports, to dense forest, the island provides more than 576 kilometres of terrain for players to traverse. This is one big open world with thousands of ways to get through it all, and because of all the possible ways to play and do, how you choose to go about it can be overwhelming. And sometimes, by providing too many options, it can cloud the goal of the game.
There is a sense that Breakpoint’s Main Missions — the events that advance the primary story — seems not so important anymore, and you find yourself happily hunting down the side and faction missions for weeks just to get better equipment, blueprints, collectibles and vanity items. You could, in theory, play through the whole island of Auroa and level your character to the max, all without touching the Main Missions. To add to the lack of urgency in progressing the main story is a bug discovered in November  that crashes the game in a snowy mountain region which hosts one of the main missions. Furthermore, the developer having solved the “altitude bug” chose to delay the rollout of the patch to the bewilderment of the gamers. It seems even the developers are content with only the side missions. What does that say about the priority and quality of the main story and missions if even the creators are content with users having access to only secondary objectives?
Side missions are an important part of an open-world game’s design; they are the side dish to your medium-rare steak, the icing on your matcha-sponge cake. They may be spectacular in their taste but they are only peripheral. You can’t say everything is awesome just because you are content with the scattered potatoes around an uncooked chicken. A broken main story is just not acceptable.
But why would anyone or any company think that is ok? Could it be the main story was not designed as the primary path? An unfortunate postmodern ideal that all missions and stories are equal in value and so there is no single main story that should be considered the only way? It may be labelled as the main mission, but that is just a label sold to consumers like us. Like the surrealist painter, René Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, the words in the image tell the viewer that it is not a pipe even though the image says otherwise. Which is true, the picture or the words? In the case of Breakpoint, just because there is a category for “Main Missions”, does it mean that it is the main missions by design?
Images and words can betray us because motives are often hidden behind the walls of corporations and institutions. The primary objectives are often only revealed through the design and critiques of the product as it lives through the users. Do the developers, programmers, and designers even know the values they are imbuing into the game when they saturated the open-world with what looks like different priority of missions and in fact, they are all fillers; stories with equal payouts and rewards, pathways that neither go further than each other or beyond this tiny island of Auroa?
The massively open-world genre provides creators and developers with a vast canvas for an interactive and immersive experience. But an open-world does not mean a free-for-all. It does not mean all paths, features, and experiences are equal. We need and desire an overarching main story, and this is not just in a game, but it’s also true in our own lives. Our human nature instinctively yearns for a purpose that matters–a story that binds us together with history and rewards us beyond the limitation of time. We are creatures who seek more than equality in values, freewill and tangibles. We need a bit of that metaphysical icing in our experience.
Maybe this is what games like Breakpoint need to evolve toward: A game that moves beyond the open-world gimmick–of quantities in features and side stories–but rather, to invest in the quality of the main mission and the primary storyline. Give us less, but give us something better, something driven.
In some ways, the main story in Breakpoint parallels my feelings of aimlessness and lack of priority in this game. It’s a narrative of how technology became the driving force of the human experience; that humanity must change and adapt to technological trends, or in this case, a gaming trend rather than the other way around. Instead of giving us a richer experience, we are left unsatisfied and scattered. All the stories seem meh in context to each other and at the end of the journey, we are still stuck on this island of Auroa.
Side quests and secondary objectives can contribute to a rich main story and experience, but if the game was designed without a clear directive to double down on a primary narrative and payoff, the game will end up diluted and forgettable. Just like life, nobody wants to spend their precious time in tasks and jobs that go nowhere, and I believe this is the same even in our leisure, we’re inclined to play toward a singular mission for deep satisfaction and joy. Let’s aim for transcendency, not technical mediocrity.