I don’t think many people would have expected Rainbow Six Siege to turn out to be as big a success story as it has been, and yet just a couple of years after release, it’s sold over 35 million copies, it’s at the heart of a large competitive esports circuit, and Ubisoft are midway through their third year of regular content. Ubisoft are in this for the long haul, and it shows with the next major update Operation Grim Sky.
As with the typical updates, there’s a new map and two new operators – one attacking and one defensive – adding to a game that’s already bursting at the seams with content and doing so in a way that really adds some new and interesting twists to the game.
You might be a little bit surprised by the high tech gear that Clash carries with her into the fight. She’s a British police officer, hailing from the Met, which makes her perhaps the least illustrious character in the game (perhaps this is why she looks so angry on the loading screens?). She carries a full body bullet proof riot shield with tasers attached to the front, which I don’t remember being standard issue during the Tottenham Riots, but will presumably be rolling out to keep the peace in post-Brexit Britain.
It’s a bit of a shift from reality, that’s for certain, but as Craig Robinson, Community Developer at Montreal explained, “Rainbow Six has always been a tactical shooter, not a realistic shooter. So we’re able to take a few creative liberties that if we were considering ourselves more realistic shooter we would not be able to do.”
While there’s plenty of attackers with shields in the game already, many of which featured at launch, what makes Clash stand out as unique is that she’s a defender, and a damned effective one at that. She’s an impenetrable wall that can completely block a doorway, hold a staircase single handed, face off against an entire team and hold them up as the clock ticks down – I did this, and it was hilarious, even if I didn’t survive! It’s a wholly new dynamic to be added to the defensive game manual, and sure to shake things up online.
By contrast Maverick is a little more pedestrian. His back story is full of mystery and intrigue, having gone into deep cover in Afghanistan before returning to dismantle crime organisations with the information he’d gathered, but he’s not as game changing for the attackers as Clash is for the defenders. His big advantage is the ability to pull out a handheld blowtorch and almost silently cut through barricades and walls. That’s great for sneaky play…
But the real centrepiece of the Grim Sky is the remade Hereford map, revitalising one of the original maps from the game. Where it previously looked like a fairly hastily thrown up pre-fab for the Rainbows to run drills in and test their tactical skills, it now looks like an actual building as you might find on a military barracks or WWII airfield, for one thing, but this is much more than applying a lick of paint to the visuals.
Craig said, “Hereford is one of the most iconic maps in Rainbow Six Siege and the novels, because it’s the home base of Team Rainbow. It’s one of the first maps that our team created, it’s one of the first maps we had our internal competitions on, and so being able to take that map and adapt it to all the learnings we’ve taken over the last few years, giving the map a second life as a viable map was a real treat for our devs.”
All of the gameplay surrounding how the map plays and flows has been reconsidered in light how people are now playing the game, how the current meta highlights certain characters, and just how Ubisoft have improved their map design in the last two years. There’s a lot more vertical play, for example, so there’s now more destructible hatches to let people defend from above or drop down quickly, there’s now a second stairwell in the building, adding more options and less predictability to an incoming attack, and the trench down to the basement has moved from one side of the building to the other. All told, it’s an impressive rebuilding effort, and while it’s now easy to get lost in the redesign, it’s kept a lot of the same spirit.
Craig explained, “We had an idea of how Rainbow Six would play pre-launch, and then it went nothing like we had anticipated. It’s really interesting to see how much our players are teaching us about our own game. For example, we thought Tachanka was going to be the most overpowered operative, because he had a huge machine gun, lots of bullets, did a lot of damage, and once the game launched we realised it was the opposite. He’s pretty much a sitting duck and static gameplay just doesn’t work in Rainbow Six. […] Implementing those learnings into map design and operator design is working out pretty well for us so far.”
But if this is the home of Team Rainbow, have we just spent a few matches tearing up their offices? “No, this is more of a training warehouse,” Craig laughed, “and no, their offices are not in the training facility.”
Perhaps the main problem for the game is how it inducts newcomers into the fold. There doesn’t seem to be much waning interest in the game, with plenty of people continuing to play it week in, week out, and passing those sales milestones shows there’s still plenty of appeal for new players, but there’s now a truly baffling number of operators to choose from, and you’ll have tons of new maps to learn the best tactics and tricks on. There’s still the stock Situations from the game’s release, but I feel that sometime soon Ubisoft will need to overhaul the tutorial side of the game.
“The new player experience is something that our team has recognised that we need to improve. When a new player sees Rainbow Six with its third year of content, with a whole slew of maps and over 40 operators, it’s very daunting. We recognise that, and we’re working on implementing tools and features to help improve that and educate our new players. We recently launched a website called R6 Academy – we’re in a soft launch of that right now – and that is designed as a curation platform for tip videos.
In the meantime, Rainbow Six Siege is still going strong, and Grim Sky is just the next step in the long path that Ubisoft have planned for the game. With its release, they’ll be up to 42 Operatives. They want to reach 100, and that means there’s plenty more seasons, plenty more maps, more game overhauls and many more evolutions for the game to go through. As Craig said, “By keeping our game fresh in that way, it helps to keep the experience fresh and exciting over a long period of time.”