Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad is a gacha-style game mixed with a basic squad-based tactics mechanic to create a framework for you to spend inordinate amounts of cash.
The premise here is that all of the various games in the franchise from the Rainbow Six Siege games, the Ghost Recon games, the Division franchise and the Splinter Cell series all coexist in the same universe and that some massive evil organisation called Umbra has risen, prompting all the heroes from these various franchises to team up into a multinational squad to stop them.
You come in as the overall commander of this special task force with the goal of building up, levelling up all these characters and then pitting them in squad-on-squad battles against Umbra troops to – wait for it – save the world. Again.
There is a campaign game for you to get a feel for the game, a multiplayer Arena mode and a host of time-limited special gameplay modes for you to level up in but once you’re done with the main campaign, you’ve pretty much tackled most of the game.
Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad Gameplay
Your diverse team of pan-franchise special operators are apparently the best of the best though you have to work like mad to get them there. In keeping with the gacha-style gameplay, you’ll need to collect a series of character cards, each representing one of these special forces operators and you need to collect enough of them to ‘hire’ them.
Each character has a different rarity so the rarer they are, the bigger punch they pack but they’re also a darned lot harder to find in the wild unless you cough out cold hard cash for bundle packs.
Things get even more complicated as Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad assigns a character class, a faction and, oddly enough, a temperament and preferred weapon for each character; some missions need a specific mix of these traits.
As far as classes are concerned, the game has the usual mix of tropes adapted for a post-modern game with healers, tankers, DPS dealers and support characters and it’s up to you to mix and match them to create the best five-man team you can which makes for a gruelling grind.
To level these characters up, you need to find even more cards. Does the gachatrain end there? Nope. You also have to find even more random crafting items in matches to assemble them into gear to equip them. It’s not a one-off though as you have to keep sourcing as well as crafting better gear for each and every character you own to get them to decent levels.
Some characters, like Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell are not available in normal gameplay and have to be purchased.
Once you’ve sorted out your initial roster, you’re tossed into the core of the gameplay – five-versus-five tactical squad-based combat. Or rather, a facsimile of it. Once you’ve committed to a battle, you have little control over what your teammates do or fire at. They’ll automatically run around healing teammates, shooting at whatever enemy offends them and generally do their own thing with almost zero human intervention.
You can, however, use two out of a selection of six abilities to change the odds in your favour. These abilities have a cooldown timer and you’ll use them frequently in a match such as setting up a temporary energy shield on a teammate to buy time, calling an airstrike or ordering them all to focus fire on a target.
That’s pretty much the sum of your input in a given match and firefights devolve to you picking out and attempting to kill their biggest damage dealers before they kill yours and hoping you have enough armour and hit points to take whatever they can dish out. Once you’re done, rinse and repeat for a thousand more times.
Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad Game balance
The game does a fair job of getting you engrossed with a drip of easy wins until you hit the inevitable difficulty ramp and doling out a few powerful characters from the outset that keep you interested and invested but they rapidly become obsolete over time as you encounter tougher enemies.
Unfortunately, as with all gacha-style games, this is done to encourage you to start buying random boxes and investing in more crafting items to keep yourself at parity with the enemies you face. Not only do you have to contend with gold as an ingame currency that you can shortcut with real-worldcash, you’ll have to deal with a bunch of other ingame currencies, some of which can be earned ingame doled out to you like a slot machine.
Your average gameplay loop has you buffing or upgrading whatever characters you can, then chipping away at the campaign missions or trying to earn enough for weapon upgrades but after the 30 hour mark, things get so tough that you’ll contemplate reaching for a credit card. To limit your attempts at grinding, every mission and firefight you undertake requires energy which can regenerate over time but which you can also shortcut by paying ingame currency.
Assuming you have a lot of time on your hands and the patience of a saint, you can grind your way to success to finish the campaign but beyond that, there isn’t much to look forward to beyond an Arena mode where you go against AI-controlled enemy squad builds.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t evolve beyond this core gameplay loop and the difficulty ramps they introduce are so hard that it makes you want to quit outright. Some purchasable characters
have abilities so game breaking that it boggles the mind how they even managed to get past play testing.
One character called Doc is a healer who can heal teammates from a distance which is blatantly unfair but wait, it gets better! Not only can he heal from afar which is an ability almost no other character in the current roster has yet, he also has the insane ability to resurrect killed teammates from the dead.
This is further compounded by the miniscule sprites in the game that make it difficult to identify which character is which or what abilities they have. Add in a wonky camera that makes it difficult to target some enemies when they’re stacked up next to each other and you have a recipe for frustration. Half the time you’re going in blind and then figuring out who to shoot first in a process of trial and error. Grit your teeth as things get even worse later on.
The whole mechanic of the game is five-on-five squad battles with ingame balance built on this dynamic. However, multiple boss battles in the game involve you fighting not five but 15 hostiles divided into three waves and even before you’re healed up from the last firefight, you have the next wave of angry gun-toting bad guys rappelling in to blow your head off. How is that even remotely balanced? Did we mention some characters have an insane one-shot kill ability?
Tom Clancy’s Elite Squad Verdict
As a gacha-style game, Elite Squad can be forgiven for its shallow gameplay mechanics and need to grind but the gaping plotholes of how all these diverse characters can even conceivably meet in the game make you wonder just what happened in the conceptual stages.
If you’ve played the Division, you’ll know that New York is quarantined and basically almost in ruins from the Dollar Flu virus but everyone in the game is happily traipsing in and out via helicopters to take on the bad guys as if the concept of quarantine was completely foreign to them.
The rest of the gaping plot holes in Elite Squad’s single player campaign are equally bizarre. Whatever immersion you have is broken and for the most part, you’ll be taking everything in the game with a huge grain of salt.
If you have a fair amount of time to spend, Elite Squad will likely entertain you for a good two dozen hours or so and let you while away a few minutes while waiting for the commute but they need more content and way more interactivity in the battle mechanics for it to be entertaining in the long term.
What we liked Interesting mix of franchises from the Tom Clancy metaverse, initially entertaining
What we didn’t Shallow and unbalanced gameplay, massive ramps in difficulty, gaping plot holes
We Say An amusing take on the Tom Clancy metaverse, Elite Squad mashes multiple franchises together into one, adds in a dash of squad-based tactics and gacha-style economics with an insanely high difficulty curve ramp midway which makes it somewhat tolerable but the gaping wide plot holes and shallow gameplay make it something for only the most dedicated players.
Tom Clancy's Elite Squad
Tom Clancy's Elite Squad
An amusing take on the Tom Clancy metaverse, Elite Squad mashes multiple franchises together into one, adds in a dash of squad-based tactics and gacha-style economics with an insanely high difficulty curve ramp midway which makes it somewhat tolerable but the gaping wide plot holes and shallow gameplay make it something for only the most dedicated players.