After spending the past weekend breaking through walls, disarming bombs, fortifying positions, and wreaking general havoc in the game’s closed beta, one thing is for sure: Rainbow Six Siege is undoubtedly unique and a decidedly different take on a competitive shooter. As refreshing as that is however, it also left me very worried about just how successfully the new formula will manage in the wild when the game launches this December.
While Rainbow Six Siege is nearly guaranteed to find an incredibly passionate following with a small number of players, specifically those that have a full team of five people, I am left doubting just how much of a long term foothold it will find with the general gaming public.
Being an actual beta, the game is certainly still in need of some polish, most notably when it comes to matchmaking, loading times, and even some enemy balancing in the returning players vs. AI mode, Terrorist Hunt. But, all that aside, once into a match the game ran smoothly and everything worked well. The reasons I am worried about the game however, have nothing to do with polish or matchmaking problems. It all comes down to a single design choice: Rainbow Six Siege requires complete and universal cooperation, not simply for your team to succeed, but for the game itself to actually be fun.
To explain what I mean, let me start with the basic set-up of a match. Since Rainbow Six Siege has been confirmed to not have a story campaign, the central experience is going to revolve around multiplayer. 5v5, the matches are set up with one team defending a position and another attacking.
Similar to a MOBA, each player picks a different Operator to play as, different characters available depending on if you are attacking or defending. Much more than simply picking a class, each operator is a named individual with specific perks, specialties, weapons, varying amounts of armor and movement speed, and different roles on the battlefield. My favorite was Blitz, a heavy-armored attacker with a pistol and riot shield that had a flash box on the front, allowing me to lead the way into a room, set off the flash, and blind everyone inside. Because of the different specializations and varying perks, even before the game starts, with just the act of picking characters, it’s already a good idea to be communicating with your team.
Once a round actually gets going, it is split into two parts, the preparation phase, and the action phase. During the preparation phase, the defending team is allowed time to set up defenses and fortify their position, while the attackers control small, fast moving rovers, zipping through the map, looking for the objective. After 45 seconds, the action phase starts, the attackers loose control of their rovers and the four-minute round timer starts counting down.
With each match comprised of the best out of five rounds, each round gives every player only one life. When you die, you’re dead, left to watch the remainder of the round unfold, encouraging everyone to be very careful and actually think before just blasting in, guns blazing. What this leads to in practice is an intense cat-and-mouse game between the two teams, ending in an intense, but distinctly short, shootout. That is, if teammates talk to each other. If not however, which was almost universally the case during my time with the beta, it results in the defenders haphazardly putting up fortifications with no real plan in place, then sitting there, doing nothing, waiting for the attackers to show up, sometime for minutes on end, while the attackers run every direction outside, each player breaking in at different points and hoping for the best.
Simply put, the fun of Rainbow Six Siege, the actual meat of the experience, is communicating with your team and planning. The actual shooting ends up being only a few seconds in rounds that could generally run up to three to four minutes. If playing with friends, talking, planning, coordinating, there absolutely has not been a better shooter experience, anywhere, ever. But when playing alone, matched up with random people online, the entire experience falls apart, because the unfortunate truth is, people don’t like talking to each other online.
Only three matches during my four days with the closed beta featured an entire team with mics. One of those three matches started as four out of the five players with mics, but following a surprising amount of taunting and negative words said towards him, the player without a mic ended up plugging one in just to tell the taunting player to shut up.
In another instance, a rather new player threw a grenade at a garage door, hoping to blow a hole in it. One of our teammates then started yelling at him for being so dumb, because the grenade wont do anything against the metal of the garage door. He was so busy yelling at the player, both forgot to move out of the way of the grenade, and right off the bat, we were down two players for the remainder of the round.
While interactions like this are certainly nothing new in an online environment, and are of course the exception to the norm, that norm being complete silence, I bring them up and use them as examples, because Rainbow Six Siege relies more heavily on player interaction than almost any other shooter out there. If you get a good team, one that coordinates and plans, it is amazing, it is rewarding, and most importantly, it is fun. If not however, it’s none of those things. As I said, it’s a lot of sitting around in silence, waiting for something to happen.
Games requiring cooperation are nothing new. But the more I played, the more Rainbow Six Siege reminded me of last year’s Evolve. Plenty of parallels can be drawn between the two games: the multiplayer focus, the emphasis on the hunt more than the actual shooting, fun systems available to play with, and ultimately, also the unfulfilling experience of playing online with random people. Much in the same way that Evolve made a big splash when first released for being unique and new, I’m sure Rainbow Six Siege will catch many eyes, and open plenty of wallets this December. Like Evolve though, I also see it simply not having the lasting appeal to keep it on the surface of player consciousness in the months following its release as the actual general experience of playing just doesn’t measure up to the game’s full promise, not because of the game, but because of the online interactions.
It’s true, the 5v5, coordination-intense formula has worked remarkably well for MOBAs. And maybe it can for a shooter as well. But something to keep in mind is the fact that there isn’t a $60 pay way keeping you from pulling in a friend for a couple matches of League of Legends.
The mechanics at play and the tools Rainbow Six Siege gives the player to mess around with are incredible, walls splintering and blasting apart, each of the Operators having a distinct feel and purpose. But in the end, I found myself just wishing I could take a break from online, have a team I could control for myself in a single-player, or better yet, plug in a second, third, or forth controller and have a great time with splitscreen. Unfortunately both of these things have been confirmed to not be a part of the final product. And as a result I am left just wondering if I will actually bother picking up the game later this year, or if I might be better off just letting it pass me by.