As Rainbow Six Siege transitions to releasing fewer new operators every year, Ubisoft is placing a larger focus on maintaining and improving existing ones. That means total reworks, like the one for Tachanka still planned for 2020, but it also means frequent smaller tweaks to help struggling operators.
Speaking to me for the reveal of Operation Steel Wave, lead game designer Jean-Baptiste Halle shared a few underpowered operators that need buffs. Most notably, Siege’s silent infiltrator Nøkk will soon see a big shuffle to her loadout.
“We’re very likely to change [Nøkk’s] primary weapon and give her a stronger choice,” Halle said. “It’s probably something that’s going to change in the following months.”
To balance Nøkk’s powerful ability to move near-silently and disappear on cameras, Ubi cancelled initial plans to give her an assault rifle. Instead, she’s the only attacker restricted to a short-to-mid range SMG. Nøkk is at her most effective when she can maintain stealth and get in close, a tough job against so many gadgets that disrupt her ability—Lesion’s Gu mines, Ela’s Grzmots, barbed wire, plus the upcoming proximity alarm and Banshee noise generator coming with Steel Wave.
An assault rifle would definitely make Nøkk a comfortable pick in firefights, but Halle didn’t specify what her new weapon choice will be. “Stronger choice” may allude to a harder-hitting SMG—perhaps one that can take an ACOG sight like Jackal’s PDW.
Another operator under the microscope is Oryx, the wall-smashing defender released in March. His Remah Dash and hatch-climbing abilities have failed to make him the imposing roamer he was pitched as, mostly due to how loud and vulnerable he is while doing both. Halle compared Oryx’s current state to Amaru, another attacker whose primary gadget, a grapple hook, often gets her killed with its noise and lethargic operation. Steel Wave brings long-awaited buffs to Amaru that lets her ready her gun faster after hooking through a window and breach hatches automatically as she climbs them. Halle says that Oryx will likely see similar buffs that make his unique abilities useful, but the team is taking more time to analyze him.
“We are absolutely discussing similar changes to the ones we made to Amaru. It’s the same kind of logic. We’re probably punishing him a bit too heavily right now when he dashes through walls,” he said. “We’re probably going to help him take less risk when [using his abilities].” Halle believes that with both Oryx and Amaru, the studio was too conservative with their abilities. “We’re always a bit afraid of adding someone that can potentially enter a room and destroy an entire team in a matter of seconds.” In the meantime, Oryx is getting a tiny quality-of-life change to his dash in Steel Wave, now losing only 5 HP when busting through walls instead of 10.
Caution is understandable when balancing potentially dominant mobility operators, but hopefully Oryx’s larger buffs won’t take as long to realize as Amaru’s. By the time Amaru receives her buffs in Steel Wave, she will have gone over 10 months without a single change to her kit.
Ubi is reacting faster to Kali, one of Siege’s newest attackers that carries a one-hit-down sniper rifle many players find too difficult to use. Her high-powered scope and bullet penetration can be a decisive advantage in rare long-range scenarios, but scoping down tight corridors is a quick way to lose a fight. Ubi is addressing this problem by essentially giving her a better option for close-to-mid range fights in Steel Wave—Clash’s SPSMG9 machine pistol. I anticipate that the SPSMG9 will become Kali’s de-facto primary weapon for most players, with the sniper rifle as a backup for long range. This is a scenario that Halle is willing to embrace.
“It’s totally fine if we see that the sniper rifle isn’t easy to play with for most people. Giving her a new secondary weapon, which becomes sort of her primary weapon, I think is a fine solution,” Halle said. “The reason we made Kali is to be an alternative to Thatcher. That cannot work if she’s not played because of her sniper rifle. So we’d rather give her a better secondary and accept that it’s played as a primary to, hopefully, give her more presence in the meta and make her a successful Thatcher alternative.”
Ubi has spent the year since Warden’s release tweaking his speed, Smart Glasses, and secondary gadgets to be a more viable pick on defense. Despite this, he still has some of the worst pick and win rates among defenders. Many players attribute his shortcomings not to his speed or gadgets, but his weapon. Warden uses the MPX, a statistically weak SMG whose main upside is low recoil.
Players argue that a weak weapon alongside a highly situational gadget is a bad combination that makes Warden a liability more often than an asset. “I think we would agree that he is too weak and too situational right now,” Halle said. He can’t speak to exactly how the balancing team will decide to change Warden, but he believes that giving him a stronger loadout would “certainly make sense.”
Addressing the ‘20-second’ meta
Siege pro players and influencers have recently expressed their discontent with Siege’s current top-level strategy, referred to as the “20-second meta”, that commonly depicts attackers spending most of the round destroying an unreasonable number of defender gadgets before they can safely push the bomb site (making the last 20 seconds the only time that counts, in theory).
The extreme “20-second” scenario described by pros doesn’t necessarily reflect the experiences of most players. The vast majority of Siege matches are played at a lower level where defenders rarely use gadgets as efficiently as the pros. Nonetheless, Halle agrees that this is an issue.
“We’re looking at different things to try and make this better. We have, of course, a balancing team who’s working on adjusting things so that attackers have an easier time clearing utilities and also reduce the amount of utilities on the defender side that cause issues.” A recent patch that removed one of Goyo’s three Volcán shields was the first step of this process. “There are other things we are working on to mitigate this issue. It’s just that we have a bit of lag between the moment we observe the issue and when we can implement the solutions in mind.”
One of those eventual solutions, Halle says, will be the new secondary gadgets announced during the Six Invitational 2020. A new tool will give some attackers the option to bring a weaker alternative to Thatcher's EMP grenades that temporarily disables gadgets. “Having more ways to temporarily disable the utility of defenders is something that’s very interesting to us because it’s less binary. It’s not just having something you need to destroy, it’s more like opening windows of opportunity.” Halle says the new secondary gadget is still too early to discuss in detail, so the “lag” period he describes may last longer than anticipated.
It felt a little ironic to discuss overwhelming defender gadgets as Ubi is preparing to release a defender that fits the same bill: Melusi. She carries three Banshee noise generators that slow attacker movements within their range and pulsate an obnoxious noise. The gadget is completely bulletproof and can only be silenced by explosives or a melee hit. It’s an oppressive deterrent that attackers will want to destroy before pushing a bomb site. Halle believes that making the Banshee vulnerable to melee should balance its power, but admits that it may need tweaking.
In case you missed it, Ubisoft has officially unveiled Siege’s Year 5 Season 2 update, Operation Steel Wave. You can read my hands-on with Ace, Melusi, and the new House rework here.