Rainbow Six Siege Review
These days, December is almost as viable for end-of-year game releases than any of the preceding months. Officially, release season starts in August when the first big-name game goes on sale. It’s been that way for a while now, but it used to be the case that release season ended mid-November, around about the time the latest yearly iterating Call of Duty game dropped.
Rewind four years and December was where games went to die. After being resurrected from the ashes of sadly cancelled Rainbow Six: Patriots, delays, and the absence of marketing because of real-world terror attacks being too closely linked to the content of the game, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege released with more of a pop than a bang in December 2015.
At launch, the potential was there, but it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Today, Siege has a player base of more than 55 million registered fraggers across PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in its fifth year of ongoing live-service support. And as one of the few titles available at launch for both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we thought it was time to revisit Rainbow Six: Siege with an updated review for 2021.
Understanding Rainbow Six Siege
Siege presents like a shooter but, really, it’s a MOBA-shooter, in that order. Like Overwatch, Siege is a team-based game that’s comprised of a roster of unique ‘heroes’. Unlike Overwatch, Siege’s lethality is high – a single headshot frags an enemy player (or a friendly player, for that matter) – and teams are asynchronous.
Siege’s heroes are called Operators, and they’re broken down into attacking and defending roles, where only one Operator can be selected per team. These Operators have one unique gadget or ability and are ranked in terms of three stat tiers of armour and speed. They also share a pool of regular attacking/defending gadgets and a large arsenal of weapons. Siege operators are unlocked by buying a pricier version of the game, investing dollars in the yearly season pass, purchasing them with in-game currency, or grinding your way to enough in-game credits (Renown) to unlock them.
The names of different Siege editions have changed over the years, but the game can be bought in cheapest form where you unlock Operators through the above pathways. Alternatively, you can fork out extra for the Deluxe Edition (includes Year 1 and 2 Operators), Gold Edition (Year 1 and 2 Operators and a Year 5 pass), or Ultimate Edition (Operators for Years 1, 2, 3 and 4 plus a Year 5 season pass).
Counter-Strike vs Siege
Siege may as well be called Counter-Strike 2.0 because of the way it plays. Two teams of five are placed in attacking or defending roles. Unlike Counter-Strike, there’s a preparation phase where defenders reinforce destructible walls and hatches, place down other defensive countermeasures, and prepare for attack. Attackers spend this phase on drones and are tasked with collecting intel about the location of the main area/s of interest and the defensive Operators they’re coming up against.
Defenders are unable to leave the structure they’re tasked with defending. Doing so in the preparation phase means they’re instantly killed, and they’re marked for all attackers after two seconds if they run out during the main round (though risky, this is a viable strategy).
There are three main multiplayer modes in Siege: Secure Area, Bomb, and Hostage. Certain matchmaking playlists limit these modes to Bomb, the main one, which is Counter-Strike’s iconic Demolition mode in reverse: instead of the attacking team planting a bomb, they’re planting a defuser.
A round is won by the defenders if time runs out for the attackers to plant a defuser, secure the area, or rescue the hostage, with overtime allowances for any of those actions that are currently in progress after the round timer hits zero. Attackers win the round by completing those objectives, and either team can win by wiping out the other team.
Unlike Counter-Strike or most other competitive shooters, Siege has a big emphasis on destructibility. This means players can be shot through ‘soft’ walls, ceilings and floors, while that same soft cover can also be partially or completely destroyed to create new ‘rotation’ pathways or lines of sight. Because of this, Siege has a fantastic sense of three-dimensionality in terms of combat and intelligence gathering, whereby it’s viable to attack or defend from above, below, or beside an objective. This leads to a lot of variety of strategies and outcomes when playing the same maps over and over again.
From launch to Year 4
Siege launched with about as much potential as it had pitfalls. It was buggy. The all-important netcode wasn’t up to scratch. Matchmaking and servers were both unstable. None of these are the kind of cons you want in a game that’s mostly about online play and pitched as a live-service offering. But even amid these negatives, the core gameplay loop was fantastic and the potential was clear.
This was enough for me and many others to keep the game installed. But it wasn’t all a straight-line uphill trajectory from launch either, with more than a few moments of two steps forward, one step back. For instance, cheating was once rampant to the point where Ubisoft Montreal sagely introduced a second layer of anti-cheating technology.
Balancing and bugs
The bugs in the game hit a point that Operation Health – a squash-the-bugs-focused update – was the core focus of one quarter, which would have otherwise been dedicated to the release of a new map and two new Operators.
At other times, new Operators like Lion have released in a ridiculously overpowered state, while others like Warden have felt underwhelming to the point where it’s difficult to justify selecting them. On top of this, there was an early trend towards releasing new maps for what felt like the sake of it.
Thankfully, this was later rectified to a smaller mix of new maps and a bigger focus on revamping the existing map pool, either in small or significant ways. This was a particularly savvy move by Ubisoft Montreal because the majority of the new maps haven’t proven to be overly popular.
Proof of quality of life
That may read like a wall of negative, but it’s not so much the case these days because a lot of that has been addressed. There are still persistent bugs, or ones that are newly introduced with major updates, but those tend to be ironed out pretty quickly. Unlike Battlefield V or Anthem, Siege is a shining example of a live-service game where Ubisoft Montreal believes in community transparency (just look at the dev’s detailed patch notes for proof of this) and actively seeks to address problems as they happen.
This is evident in other key ways, too. Attachments used to cost Renown to unlock, and this task had to be performed for each attachment for every new Operator. Nowadays, attachments are unlocked automatically.
Operators have also had a massive expansion of their fictional backstories, evolving from a couple of throwaway sentences for two-dimensional avatars to full-fledged biographies that make them feel like three-dimensional characters. This, reportedly, was a result of fan interest. On top of this, though clearly a shooter that’s balanced from the top down in terms of the competitive scene, there was a push to show that Siege has more to offer than just player-versus-player (PvP) modes.
Operation Chimera might’ve given the Siege community the imbalanced (at the time) Lion, but it also offered a fun-but-short timed co-op event called Outbreak. This idea was repeated in Year 4, albeit in a smaller way, with the Wild West-themed 3v3 showdown Fort Truth.
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Burnt Horizon
The fourth year of Siege’s post-launch content releases started with a bang. For years we’d been asking, and finally Ubisoft Montreal delivered Australian Operators. This meant the developer was finally able to make good on its claim that every continent was represented in its ever-expanding roster of Operators.
Thankfully, it was more than just ticking that box, too. Operation Burnt Horizon saw the introduction of two incredibly viable new operators. Mozzie is a popular defender choice, thanks to his ability to hijack drones, while attacker Gridlock’s anti-roamer gadget provides a peace of mind that ninja-like defenders can’t sneak up on you unannounced.
Operation Burnt Horizon was also significant because it saw the introduction of the Newcomer playlist. One of the biggest cons of Siege is found within its biggest pro: more new content adds depth for the existing player base, but that depth incredibly intimidating for newcomers. The Newcomer playlist lets players below level 50 compete within the deliberately restricted confines of one mode and three core maps.
This is a great space for newcomers to learn the PvP rappelling ropes, even if these friendlier waters have the potential to turn frustratingly bloody for greenhorns when ‘smurf’-account sharks hunt in these waters during the regularly occurring free weekends, weeks or – as of September 2019 (care of the free Uplay+ trial) – longer free-to-play periods.
A similar criticism can be levelled against the so-called Casual playlist, particularly during free periods, where it’s a mix of casual fans, elite sweaty players, and newcomers who missed the memo about the Newcomer playlist. Ubisoft Montreal really should consider fully incentivising or even forcing newbies to stay in the Newcomer playlist until level 50, unless they’re budding up with friends beyond that level in Casual.
Mercifully, it was around the time of Operation Burnt Horizon that the controversial and grind-heavy Starter Edition was removed from PC. Those players who’d purchased it were automatically upgraded to the Standard Edition.
Operation Burnt Horizon summary
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Phantom Sight
Operation Phantom Sight was the second DLC release of Year 4, and it finally marks the time that Ubisoft Montreal stepped away from its randomised Operation name generator and started choosing operation names that are representative of the new attacker and defender. In this instance, “Phantom” is a reference to the silent and invisible-to-cameras attacker Nøkk, while “Sight” is all about James Bond-esque flash-resistant, smoke-penetrating defender Warden.
Nøkk is a viable Operator across playlists, mostly because she doesn’t produce footsteps while her ability is active and she’s invisible to cameras, both of which help to disrupt the popular intel-gathering part of Siege’s gameplay meta. Warden doesn’t fare so well. He’s an incredibly situational Operator, easily replaceable by a range of other defenders, and feels like he should have been released in Year 3 when the terrible trio of Ying, Blitz, and Glaz were at the peak of their attacking prowess.
That said, you will feel pretty godlike as Warden when you clutch a round because you happen to mitigate the blinding properties of a Stun Grenade or pop the last attacker through smoke. The more impressive parts of this season were the Kafe Dostoyevsky map rework, which proves to be a lot of fun for casual fans and a popular choice on the pro scene, as well as the inclusion of reverse friendly fire.
This new system means players are warned when they damage a friendly player, and if you keep attacking friendly players from then on, or kill a player on your team, the damage is reversed. As of Operation Ember Rise, this system has been expanded to groups that party up and play together, meaning anti-team groups can no longer share the damage among themselves to exploit the older system.
Operation Phantom Sight summary
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Ember Rise
The newest season is Operation Ember Rise, and it includes two new Operators who, at first glance, are particularly impressive, but aren’t easy replacement options for any of the current popular choices. New defender Goyo is intended as a Smoke sub, but his static Volcán Shields require a shot to spread flames over an area, which means they aren’t as versatile as Smoke’s Remote Gas Grenades.
He’s still fun to use in Casual, but he’ll likely see a marked drop-off in selection once the appeal of his newness has worn off. The same is likely true of Amaru, even if she’s situationally quite strong. Her Garra Hook (read: grappling hook) is great for fast entries through windows (as long as they haven’t been Castle barricaded) or busted hatches. Unfortunately, she makes a lot of noise on the way in, and it takes a second to get her gun up.
This effectively makes her a free kill if she’s attempting a hot entry, which relegates her ability to known safe areas, or shifting between floors for a surprise flank or verticality-infused defuser defence. That said, her gadget is even more fun than Goyo’s, and the new gameplay afforded by her gadget is a subtle Ubisoft Montreal promise that future Operators will include similarly new abilities.
Operation Ember Rise’s Kanal map rework is one of the best of late, turning something that was once terrifying to play as an attacker into a map that feels a whole lot more balanced and enjoyable for both teams. On top of this, to further help the aspirational pathway from greenhorn to Pro League, Ubisoft Montreal added the Unranked playlist.
This playlist is designed to sit between Casual and Ranked. It plays out exactly like a Ranked match, albeit without players having to worry that their individual or team performance will potentially negatively impact their precious Ranked ranking. Ubisoft Montreal intends it as a playlist that’ll entice Casual players to dip their toe in Ranked structure, and it’s certainly tempting this particular Casual player.
For those who’ve hit the top Diamond ranking in Ranked, Siege also now has a numbered Champions tier that operates on a per platform, per region basis. If you enter this limited stratosphere, you really should consider going pro.
Operation Ember Rise summary
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Shifting Tides
Not long after Siege’s final content drop of Year 4 happened, two of the big names who’d been working on Siege since day dot moved to other games at Ubisoft. Considering these two were the first to talk about the 10-year plan for Siege, it was sad to see them go as much as it was hard to shake the thought of how the future of Siege might be impacted without their guidance.
For the first time in what felt like a long time, Ubisoft Montreal introduced two Operators who felt viable out of the gate. At first glance, new attacker Kali is intended as a Glaz replacement with her one-shot CSRX 300 bolt-action rifle. Her one-shot-frag potential is incredibly appealing across playlists, but the inclusion of an under-barrel explosive device for taking out critical defender gadgets boosts her viability.
New defender Wamai, on the other hand, is clearly intended as a Jäger alternative. Wamai is best kept alive for as long as possible so that he can toss out (and potentially replace) as many Mag-NETs as possible: a projectile-attracting device that resets throwable equipment fuses and is built to save lives or quickly allow for rotation when you see it working its magic. Though not an offensive gadget per se, it further boosts the already strong defensive trap meta.
The other big inclusion of Operation Shifting Tides was a much-needed Theme Park map rework, which quite literally shone a light on the once-poorly illuminated rundown fairground. On top of this, the usual top-to-bottom makeover that reduces pesky spawn peeks, as well as the obliteration of the problematic train room, makes this a joy to see in rotation now rather than something that elicits groans.
Finally, the quality-of-life changes saw the inclusion of limb penetration with a calibre-based logic that means a flashed defender won’t as readily dodge a headshot just because they’re shielding their temporarily blinded eyes. The other minor tweak with big ‘at long last’ consequences was the inclusion of manually exiting rappelling for attackers, meaning no more time lost or accidental deaths because you inconveniently popped off your rope.
Operation Shifting Tides summary
Rainbow Six Siege’s 2019 scorecard
All in all, 2019 was a year that saw Siege go from strength to strength. The Aussie-themed Operation Burnt Horizon was the perfect start to a year of solid Operators, some great map reworks, and quality of life changes that ranged from minor to major, but all have big implications for Siege’s staying power.
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Void Edge
I was concerned when Creative Director Xavier Marquis and Brand Director Alexander Remy left Siege to work on other Ubi projects in late 2019. It seems like Ubisoft anticipated this unease because it made a video to say that everything was okay. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Operation Void Edge was the first time that Operators started to feel out of touch with the Tom Clancy notion of realism.
New attacker Iana doesn’t fare as bad, given she’s at least inspired by near-future sci-fi logic more so than the meme that seemingly inspired Oryx. Iana’s main trick is she uses a remote-controlled holographic copy of herself. Plonk her in a safe corner, then send the time-limited Gemini hologram out to scout ahead a couple of times. While intel-gathering is crucial, so too is time management as an attacker, making Iana’s ability a glorified drone. That’s not the worst thing to have on your side, but she still feels optional.
Defender Oryx, on the other hand, is more useful for his secondary function than his primary ability. That primary ability is the Remah Dash which, as far as soft walls are concerned, turns Oryx into a Kool-Aid Man-like wall smasher. This effectively means you can face-check a room from an unexpected angle, but cluey attackers will make short work of Oryx’s big frame.
On the more practical side of things, his ability is handy for sprinting across lines of sight or for speedy rotations. In more functional terms, Oryx can also climb up through broken hatches. Still, you shouldn’t expect to see either of these Void Edge Operators as popular picks.
On the positive front, the map rework trend continues, this time with Oregon, and it’s more evolution than revolution, which means returning players won’t feel they have to learn the map anew. This tweaking trend continued to balancing changes, which saw some changes to the consistency of barricade debris and drone spawns.
Operation Shifting Tides summary
Rainbow Six Siege Year 4: Operation Steel Wave
While the Void Edge Operators looked the part but played against the grounded Tom Clancy trend, Operation Steel Wave’s new Operators are the inverse. New attacker Ace looks like a year-one Batman spliced with a spelunker, while new defender Melusi looks geared up to fight Clickers in The Last of Us.
Functionally, though, they both fare incredibly well. Ace adds another hard-breaching option for attackers – joining Thermite, Hibana, and Maverick – that’s different enough to make him feel unique. His S.E.L.M.A. Aqua Breachers make quiet work of reinforced hatches and, deployed correctly on reinforced walls, roll out up to three times to make a hole big enough for attackers to squeeze through.
Melusi is another straight-up buff to the prevalent defender trap meta. Her Banshee Shock Defence gadgets automatically slows attackers who enter their radii and lines of sight. Placed correctly in a room, it effectively results in that space being a no-go area. For the attacker who wants to destroy a Banshee, they’ll have to use explosive ordnance or limp close enough to it to bash it. During that slowed assault, though, there’s a good chance the Banshee’s telltale scream will notify a nearby defender of an easy frag.
Though not intended to be one for the Pro League, the House rework is a welcome inclusion for the majority of the Siege player base. The perpetual upstairs renovations in this map pool mainstay have finally been completed which, coupled with some other choice upgrades, makes for a map that feels a lot better balanced than the launch version.
Operation Steel Wave also brings two huge quality-of-life changes. Amaru has been buffed to be a lot more appealing as an entry fragger. Barricades now only break as she goes through them, and internal hatches don’t have to be open for her to traverse upwards. While Amaru’s zippy entrances are already popular in non-Ranked matches, it’ll be interesting to see whether she becomes part of the competitive meta.
The other big change is a new gadget for defenders: the Proximity Alarm. Restricted as a secondary gadget option for a handful of defenders, the Proximity Alarm is perfect for trusting your backside or flank is clear of attackers. It’s easy for attackers to destroy the Proximity Alarm, but shooting also gives away your position so, either way, this new gadget is a powerful intel tool for defenders.
Operation Steel Wave summary
How Rainbow Six Siege ranks in 2020
While the Pro League is on PC (with players spread across Uplay and Steam), the good news is Siege’s 55-million-strong player base is well spread across Xbox One and PlayStation 4, too.
Both Ubisoft Montreal and the ever-growing community are clearly invested in Siege. For the community, that means cosplaying (with cosplaying guides now part of new-season patch notes), investing in Pro League in-game cosmetics that help fund bigger prize pools, and creating hilarious custom modes.
A healthy player count ensures it doesn’t take long to find a game via matchmaking. New additions to the playable roster and tweaks to existing characters mean the best Operators change throughout the year. Additionally, quarterly released content means Siege is a game you can safely keep installed throughout the year. No matter how infrequently you play, the regular content updates mean you can safely check in months or even years later and find something new to enjoy.
If Ubisoft Montreal can continue to improve player onboarding and, ideally, find more ways to incentivise higher-skilled players to stay away from the Casual playlist, Rainbow Six Siege will continue to be the go-to example of a live-service model done right and, with a 10-year plan, will be a shooter that has staying power for years to come.