This weekend has seen the biggest event of the Rainbow Six: Siege calendar - the Six Invitational - descend on Montreal once more to pit the best teams against one another. It's an annual event that has gotten bigger and bigger with each year, and Ubisoft also uses this as a central focal point to talk about the year ahead. We saw Year 2 content and Operation Velvet Shell when we were in attendance in 2017, Year 3 and Operation Chimera last year, and this year we got a taste of what awaits in Year 4.
Operation Burnt Horizon is kicking things off with the Year 4 Season 1 content, bringing Operators Mozzie (defender) and Gridlock (attacker) into the mix alongside a new map called Outback. We won't dwell too much on the content dropping with this first Australian Operation since we have a dedicated preview based on our hands-on time, and Artwork Presentation Director Alexander Karpazis gave an interview on the new content, as you can see below. What we will say though is that it's a unique way to kick off the year, even if it's a little less extreme than Operation Chimera and the special Outbreak event that started Year 3.
Let's talk about Year 4 as a whole instead. During a briefing at the studio ahead of the esports action kicking off at Place Bell Ubisoft told us that this is "a year of change", but considering last year included elements like major map reworks (Hereford being the highlight) and the aforementioned Outbreak event, we'd say that every year is one of change for Siege. Ubisoft isn't content with status quo, hence why we always get new Operators and maps to keep things fresh, but the changes here are still noteworthy.
For instance Ubisoft is now dedicating teams (or "cells" as they call them) to specific areas of the game that need love and attention, including maps, Operators, playlists, and balancing. These parts of the development team will be solely dedicated to these areas, and this is part of their ongoing commitment to investing in gameplay and mechanics.
To talk about balancing specifically, Lion is in the firing line for these changes, which should come as no surprise considering he was overpowered enough to be banned from the Pro League esports competition altogether. This had to do with his ability to scan the entire map and spot moving enemies, which would appear as silhouettes to him and his teammates, but now these enemies will only appear as tags (like when using a camera for example). Ubisoft has also reduced how long the drone is active, which should help nerf one of the most problematic Operators in the game.
Glaz is getting targeted for changes too. As of right now his thermal scope senses enemies as yellow silhouettes, but with the planned changes this will only be active if you're stationary. Ubisoft explained that this is designed to give players a choice - do you move and push, or do you stay where you are for an easier shot?
Mute is another Operator getting a tweak as well, albeit less extreme than Lion and Glaz. Up until now players knew you could prevent something like a Dokkaebi ring by being near Mute's signal disruptor, but now Ubisoft has made this clearer by showing a little blue symbol on your UI when you're in the disruptor's area of effect, so you can easily plan ahead.
Another cell within Ubisoft's development team will be dedicated to stomping out toxicity as well, something that has been long overdue with Siege. The game has a bit of a reputation online for the toxic parts of its community, especially when it comes to team killing (something that is always an issue for games that allow it). Reverse friendly fire is a feature that brand director Alex Remy was particularly excited to show us, and this should help fight back against those looking to shoot their friends.
This feature is designed to allow leniency for one mistake, but punish those who are repeatedly shooting teammates. This is because damage is reflected back at you when you try to kill a teammate, which can even down and kill you. This is similar to what we've seen in the likes of Call of Duty before, and since Ubisoft acknowledges toxicity is one of the game's biggest issues, we hope this can help with the problem.
It's not just big picture stuff that Ubisoft is aiming for though, as the day-to-day gameplay will also have a few tweaks. The action phase is being reduced from four minutes to three-and-a-half minutes now, for example, and the way you play Ranked will also change. The beta tag is coming off in the first half of 2019, most importantly, and Pick & Ban will be introduced in Season 2 (coming in May) to bring it in line with the way the pros play. There will also be clearer explanations of where you are in terms of skill level and all the rules.
Playlists are a big feature on the way as well, designed to help what Remy calls the "flow of players" through the game. Again, this has a dedicated team working on it, and if you've been feeling a bit intimidated about jumping into Siege you'll be pleased to hear a Newcomer playlist is coming exclusively for players under Level 50.
Here players will get to play on three maps and see tips and tutorials as they go, which is something that Siege definitely needs. Like with every game there are a lot of talented people that can make put newbies off from competing, but this will give those players a chance to learn without being brutalised by the experienced players. The rules are made clear as well, and with Bomb as the only game mode, this provides a safe place to learn the ropes.
For those thinking of jumping in for the first time there's another welcome change, as the team has adapted the prices of the Operators. From now on older Operators are significantly cheaper, and the priciest Operators will be those just released, meaning players can jump in and get to grips with the familiar faces before deciding if they want to get the latest content, which will include obviously the Burnt Horizon Operators as well as other nationalities like Danish, Kenyan, Indian, and Mexican coming this year.
Lastly, with the Six Invitational being the biggest event in Rainbow Six: Siege's history yet again, esports is also a key focus when it comes to the team's plans for 2019. That said, they made it clear that they're not being as dramatic when it comes to changes in Year 4, because that would be rather disruptive for players, who had to adapt to the move from a three-month to six-month Pro League season in Year 3. Pick & Ban was also introduced, let's not forget, a change which is now permeating to the everyday players.
In terms of events we obviously have the Six Invitational which is just wrapping up, and we'll also see the event return next year to Montreal, since Ubisoft enjoys hosting the community celebration in the city where the game is developed. In May we'll see an event in Italy, before a Major takes place in the US in August (a big change from Paris last year), with the game heading to Asia for the first time with an event in November. Much like the Operators themselves, Ubisoft is embracing diversity with the locations of these events.
As a part of what they call "constant innovation" Ubisoft wants to maintain a similar structure with small tweaks, so three-month Challenger leagues will run alongside six-month Pro Leagues, with Minors at places like DreamHack also helping the lower level teams shine. This grassroots commitment has been bolstered this year with the addition of partners such as iBUYPOWER, so expect to see more teams impress us at these smaller events.
Lastly, we have revenue sharing, a model that was introduced last year to give back to the teams that are competing at the top level. Ubisoft is impressed with how this is going and said that the prize pool for the Six Invitational is capped at $2 million USD, with all the money over that amount being redistributed among the other events for the year. This ongoing commitment will probably mean more in-game goodies, so we'll have to wait and see what happens.
What does all of this mean though? Well, it'll be a less disruptive year, that's for sure. Year 3 was a year full of big changes both for the regular players - with map reworks (returning but less dramatically with maps like Kanal) and special events mixing things up in major ways - but also for the esports players who dealt with Pro League changes and the introduction of Pick & Ban. It was a year of disruption perhaps, but with Year 4 Ubisoft is scaling down and making small tweaks on the foundations they've built.
This doesn't mean it'll be a tame year though. New Operators from plenty of exciting and unexplored areas of the world are coming to change the meta as we've come to expect, and Ubisoft is dealing with various points of community concern from friendly fire to Operator rebalancing. With smaller cells dedicated to these areas, we can expect another year for Siege that's more about polish than explosive innovations, but that's exactly what the game needs. Operation Health worked to improve the base game we've come to know and love, and Year 4 is set to strengthen that core further from players at home all the way up to the pro level.