It detonates. The game is over.
I expect congratulations but the word ‘DEFEAT’ flashes across my screen. I’m confused. Team members call me a ‘prick’ in the text chat. Then I see the replay of the final moments and realise why.
I watch in horror as my grenade comically bounces off the counter, graces two walls and lands at the groin of a helpless hostage. The hostage I was meant to save. I wince when it goes off.
This was my second night playing Rainbow Six Siege
In my (admittedly shaky) defence, it was also my first time outside the safety net of a newcomer playlist that eases newbies in with a single game mode. My maiden foray into the expanded world of casuals and, as I found out in equally embarrassing and hilarious circumstances, the hostage game mode. This was just one of many brutal lessons I’ve had since starting my Siege journey.
Two months later, I’m now ninety-hours deep and no longer committing hostage manslaughter, but it’s amazing to me I’m playing this game at all, and not just because Siege is a complex tactical shooter with a steep learning curve.
Despite spending countless hours online every weekend playing hide ‘n seek with guns in the original Ghost Recon entries, and taking down terrorists in Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, I’ve largely fallen out of love with online gaming in the years since. The main reason for that drop off, and why I pick my online games carefully, is that people have become increasingly tiring to deal with. Toxicity (dressed as ‘banter’) is too often rampant, and I decided I respect my time too much to spend it arguing with idiots on the internet.
I’ve written for IGN before about how I gravitated towards both Splatoon 2 and PUBG exactly for this reason – the former conveying its most important match info through only two competing colours, and the latter affording me the pace and tension I loved from early Ghost Recon games but with zero need to work in a team.
So, what on earth made me want to try a four-year-old, online-only, team-based shooter in 2019?Initially, circumstantial nostalgia. After a lifetime of playing all my games on consoles, I finally built myself a semi-decent gaming PC. In the huge Steam library I’d apparently amassed from sales ‘just in case’, I realised I owned many of the old tactical shooters I enjoyed back in the old days. In a misty-eyed haze I recently ploughed through the Brothers in Arms series, revisited Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (which surprised me by being a very different game to the one that I played on Xbox 360) and dabbled in a few of the older Rainbow Six entries, and all had me hankering for the old days.
And so, I took a gamble on Rainbow Six Siege the second it went on sale. And what a brutal but rewarding reintroduction to competitive online shooters it has been.
For the uninitiated, Siege’s matches see you and your team swapping between attack and defence each round. As the attacker you have a clear objective, be that to rescue the hostage, stop a bomb with your team’s diffuser or capture a biohazard. As the defender, your objective is to stop the attackers.
Each round begins with a preparation phase. When attacking, you get 30 seconds (less in ranked modes) to use drones to survey the building, identify defending operators and find the objective. When defending, you spend that time fortifying rooms and using your defender’s unique gadget to lay traps, buff your team or nullify attacking breaching methods.
I’ve quickly discovered, with its series-standard few-hits-to-kill and last-player-standing approach, that Siege is a game about narrow margins. Matches are tense, played on a knife’s edge, and often won and lost by milliseconds and millimetres. It rewards careful planning but also quick thought and improvisation, and knowing what to do in every situation takes time to learn, making those early hours feel incredibly daunting.
As with any competitive pastime, though, understanding the basics and doing the simple things well gives you a platform from which to build. Fortifying a room when defending, for example, appears simple – each player gets two wall reinforcements, infinite boards for blocking doors and windows, and whatever gadget their operator has. To encourage you to use all those things, it rewards every action with ‘renown’, Siege’s non-premium in-game currency that you can spend on new characters and cosmetics. Originally, my desire to earn renown quickly, combined with the pressure of the prep timer, had me scrambling to fit in as many actions as I could, but those actions didn’t always fit the map or mode, or even help my team.
When playing in Bomb, for example, where there are two sites to protect instead of one, it’s more useful to demolish the separating walls than to reinforce them so everyone can always see both bombs. Likewise, my compulsion early on to block every single door within the objective’s vicinity could hinder as much as it could help. Instead, slamming down a waist-high shield in at least one out-facing doorway can let your strongest shooters to get a drop on those sneaking the halls and allow roaming defenders to get in and out easily.
I learned most of these things from osmosis, watching what others did and even from getting teamkilled. In the Bomb example I just mentioned, there was a match where one of my own killed me on the first two defensive rounds as I was reinforcing the first wall I saw. While I was initially confused and infuriated at the teamkill, wondering why they hadn’t also offed me in the attacking round in-between, I watched what they did immediately after. Instead of teamkilling others, they punched holes in the walls I was trying to block. Sure, they told me in the jerkiest way possible that I was ruining their strategy and could have used the text chat instead, but you know what? I got what they were laying down and it’s helped me set up rooms better since.And to be fair, the whole situation might have played out differently were any of us using headsets, but it’s still something I’m reluctant to do. Before buying Siege, I researched playing without a mic, finding many threads that indicated that no one really bothered with voice comms in casual playlists anyway, plus it offered other ways to communicate and understand the match.
And while voice comms would obviously be more effective and immediate, the text chat has been enough for unsociable me to exchange short messages and tactical ideas in-game without stealing attention in key moments. A simple ‘ping’ system (which I understand is ‘borrowed’ from Apex Legends after lobbying from fans) lets you mark a sighted enemy’s last-known location too, which is perhaps the most pressing information of all.
There are more subtle ways to understand what’s happening too. Noting what operators your teammates pick and knowing their unique skills can give you a great idea of what’s going to happen around you. If someone picks Rook when defending, for example, there’ll be extra armour for you to don. If someone chooses Valkyrie, there should be extra defensive cameras set up around the objective room so you can spot enemies before they get too close.
Listening can also tell you a lot, not only from noises around the building but from situational operator dialogue too, which helps should you not see everything that happens in the hustle of a prep session. Kapkan, for example, usually lets you know roughly where he’s planted one of his ‘entry-denial devices’, audibly stating when setting traps on doors and windows. The same is true for attackers, so if you hear Ash yell ‘stay clear of the blast area!’ or similar, it’s a good idea to move out of the way of blocked doors or windows before her breaching round explodes.
Not wanting to annoy people while quietly learning the ropes, I’ve so far stuck to that advice of staying in casuals and I feel that’s been the smartest move. People don’t seem to take things as seriously in these playlists, meaning I’ve rarely copped abuse for a silly mistake or lapse in concentration and, honestly, I’ve had more positive interactions than negative with the text chat.
Long-term players have regularly offered friendly advice when spotting things I could improve on when watching my camera after they’re perished – knowing I can cancel reload animations by looking down the sights or how to pull down a teammate’s defensive panelling quickly are things I would not have known without someone telling me. And while I’m not a skilled player by any stretch, I’ve also enjoyed my own gradual transition from helpee to helper, reassuring other nervous newcomers and explaining the basics as others had for me – including one that also accidently killed the hostage in similarly hilarious circumstances as me. ‘I’ve been there, buddy, don’t sweat it.’
I’ve had a lot of laughs in the text chat too. A group of us filled in the time during a hung lobby by making fun of someone with an inappropriate, unrepeatable username, who got booted (and hopefully banned) before the match started. Another night I was accidentally teamkilled by someone playing drunk, and we had such a laugh with his apology that we ended up squading up for the rest of the night.
My favourite moment of comedy so far, however, saw me downed (but not killed) just outside an objective. Slowing the bleed out, I crawled out of harm’s way and watched on as my only surviving teammate took out two and valiantly battled their way across the room under heavy fire to revive me. I hit the match-winning kill the second I was on my feet.
“Like a phoenix from the flames!” I typed into the chat.
“Shut up!” replied my saviour, exiting the lobby before I could remind them that we’d won.
The problem with sticking in casuals, though, is that it casts the widest net in matchmaking, meaning my night-to-night experiences have hinged entirely on who it’s paired me with. In Ranked, at least, you’ll consistently land in rooms with similarly skilled players and feel you’re treading above water most of the time, so if you’re willing to mic up or play with friends that’s the way to go. Whereas for me, it’s been potluck whether I get time-wasting trolls or selfish players on my team, or feel bad for being carried or annihilated by the super-skilled.
And it’s that latter group that feel especially intimidating. As those on your team get eliminated, they can either survey the team’s cameras to ping enemies from the grave or watch your feed. Fewer things in life instil more dread in me than Ubi’s disembodied umpire uttering the words ‘last operator standing’, because I hate knowing that four pairs of eyes are on me, judging my every move. That doesn’t help when there are community in-jokes for these exact situations, such as ‘clutch or kick’, where your team threatens to kick you from the lobby if you don’t win against staggeringly bad odds. This made me choke something chronic in the first week, especially given I was still relatively new to PC gaming and struggling hard with WASD controls and leaning when panicked. That’s much less of a concern now, especially since no one has ever followed through on that threat, and I’ve become privy to the gag since.
Because of that reluctance to step outside my comfort zone, I do have some nights where it feels like nothing I do works – where enemies routinely appear in the exact spot I’d been watching for ages the second I divert my eyes, where others seem to get the first shot no matter what, and where trolls make me wonder why I bother.
The reason I do bother, and have kept bothering, is that the other kind of night more than makes up for it. I’m talking when everything feels like it’s running in slow motion and every shot feels so easy, when I land in groups that know instinctively how to move and work as a team, and when everything I’ve learned feels like second nature. When all these things align, it results in situations that feel like magic.And one fantastic example came recently in the ‘Coastline’ map, where after opening-up the defending site and bagging a headshot, I felt confident enough in my form and my team to take a gamble and rush headfirst into the room to plant the diffuser. Expecting instant death, I was rewarded by a shield-carrying comrade charging in to back me up, protecting me from incoming fire as I worked, while the others filed in to pick off and distract the remaining defenders.
Far removed from the explosive hostage death I caused in my opening, this felt like a heavily planned, practiced and perfectly orchestrated team manoeuvre, but it happened entirely organically. Without voice comms, we were all simply on the same page and working together to win the match, and I’ve experienced fewer more thrilling moments in video games.
With its steep learning curve, dense systems and fascinating meta games, Rainbow Six Siege can be a daunting prospect for newcomers, especially four years after release. Even now, as someone two months in, I still find it a game of exhilarating highs and punishing lows. I learn something new every time I play, though—be that a tactic I hadn’t thought of, an impossible angle from which someone could bring me down, or an interesting way to use the operators’ unique skills—and it feels continually rewarding because of it. That’s a huge factor keeping me coming back, as well as the tension its slim margins conjures.
It blows my mind that, after ninety hours, I’m still playing almost every night and have no desire to stop, especially given I only really tried it out of a misplaced nostalgia for a time I no longer relate to, and an ideal the series is no longer built upon.
So, if you have an interest in Rainbow Six Siege but have been intimidated by its depth or age – or even because you’re unsociable – don’t fret too much and give it a go – you might just make it work for you.
And if you do, be sure to keep an eye out for my six tips for new Rainbow Six Siege players (from a new player) which will be published soon.
Andy Corrigan is a freelance games journalist based in Australia. If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to follow him on Twitter.