Rainbow Six Siege's newest defender, the 3-speed 1-armor Thunderbird, has pretty much everything going for her. She's fast, carries an aggressive payload of either impact grenades or a nitro cell, and is entering the game with one of the best guns ever seen on defense: Finka's Spear .308 assault rifle. And then there's her primary gadget, a bundle of autonomous healing bots that can periodically restore 30 health to anyone standing near it.
That's a lot of useful stuff all in one place, and a few hours into a closed preview session with Thunderbird, I was starting to get nervous that she'll be overpowered out of the gate. That could be true (her Spear rifle sticks out like a sore thumb among the dinky SMGs that most defenders are stuck with), but I'm not convinced her Kona healing stations will be as overwhelming as they initially seem.
Like any good Siege gadget, the Kona comes with a few risks and counters that could make it fit pretty well in Siege's evolving meta.
I need healing!
For instance, Thunderbird's Kona stations don't only heal teammates. Anyone who steps within a few meters of a charged Kona (each one has a 35-second cooldown between heals) gets blasted with a little healing paintball that restores 30 HP. That's the same as Doc's stim pistol and, like the launch defender, downed players can use a Kona to pick themselves back up. Thunderbird has the potential to do more healing every round than Finka and Doc combined (the Konas have no ammo limit, just a cooldown), but the conditions have to be perfect for them to be useful.
The success of a Kona station will depend on where it's placed: You want to keep it somewhere accessible to your team, but not vulnerable to gunfire and not too close to rooms where attackers can storm in and use it themselves. Based on my time with Thunderbird so far, I also noticed a tendency for defenders to accidentally use a Kona by getting too close, which at full health will overheal them up to 130 and slowly degrade back to 100. That's nice and all, but you're better off keeping your distance until you actually need the Kona after a close scrape. The last thing you want is to desperately need a heal and find that its cooldown has just begun. Striking a balance between accessibility and utility will be tough, especially because the Kona can only be placed on the surface below you (like Mute's jammers).
The Kona does follow some simple logic that helps it prioritize targets—if two people are in its range when it comes off cooldown, it'll stim the one with less HP. You can also overlap their coverage for double the regen. That's what happened in the clip below with two Konas, though as you can see, I was able to take down the anchored Thunderbird and use her healing as an attacker:
Going instantly from near-death at 5 HP to 65 in a single second was unheard of in Siege before now. If the third bot had been there as well, I would've been almost completely restored. That's pretty wild, but at the same time, that moment demonstrates how easily the Kona can fall into the wrong hands (me). And my fight with the Thunderbird that was camping her Konas also illustrates that it doesn't matter how many healing bots have your back in Siege. One headshot is still an instakill. Thunderbird's impact won't be like Overwatch, where constant healing can mathematically ensure you win a fight. All health really does in Siege is give a player some wiggle room to take a few hits and have a fighting chance.
As a frequent anchor on defense, nobody really expects you to clutch a round that started with two or three roaming teammates getting picked off. On a good day I can take out two or three as they push the site, but I typically have so little health by attacker four that all they have to do is tag me anywhere and I'm dead. It's in these situations that I can't wait to have a Kona station around. A single pellet can bulk me up enough to maybe survive the next fight.
A few notable Kona station facts and counters:
- One bullet will destroy it
- IQ can see them above/below ground, and the Kona's restriction to floor placement makes it extra vulnerable
- Thatcher's EMP grenades temporarily disable it
- Twitch's Shock Drone destroys it
- Zero's camera lasers can probably destroy it (though I didn't try)
Thunderbird's healing bots might not always make a difference in a round, but her impressive kit surely can. She chooses between Caveira's SPAS shotgun or Finka's Spear .308 assault rifle, though I can't imagine I'll be taking the middling shotgun often. The Spear is a fairly standard rifle on attack, but it boasts impressive stats against defense's SMG-heavy arsenal. It also benefits from an AR's damage range, meaning Thunderbird can comfortably challenge attackers down long hallways or outside and deal maximum damage, though she is limited to 1X sights only.
The gloves have really come off with Siege weapons lately. Defenders with dominant guns used to be the exception (Maestro's LMG, Jager's 4-16 C), but it increasingly seems like any operator can have any weapon if Ubisoft thinks it'll be fun—Aruni has her DMR, Zero can opt for Bandit's MP7, and Wamai enjoys IQ's AUG. The world's all topsy turvy, but I think I'm okay with it.
Thunderbird pairs her dominant gun with a 3-speed rating and the choice of impact grenades or nitro cell. I suspect she'll be a very popular roamer because of her loadout alone. In that way, Thunderbird feels like the roamer's alternative to Rook—a defender who can keep her teammates alive by plopping down a few gadgets and then forget about it.
Considering how many complicated gadgets we've seen in the game recently, it is nice to have another noob-friendly defender. Her Kona stations might not always save my life, but I'll never complain about having them around.