Shields: A Comprehensive Look

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In this opinion, I take a look at the state of shield operators in Rainbow Six, explain why they need to be changed, and suggest a few ways how.

Rainbow Six is a series of tactical shooters that spawned the popular multiplayer first-person shooter Rainbow Six: Siege. Introduced in Rainbow Six: Vegas, shield-wielding operators (henceforth called “shields”) are a staple of Rainbow Six’s emphasis on slow-paced, thought out combat. Allowing their wielders to ward off bullets, the ballistic shield takes the place of the primary weapon slot of an operator, where a deadly accurate DMR or a rapid fire SMG might sit.

Shields use a ballistic shield and pistol simultaneously, but nothing more powerful. Despite its history, the ballistic shield’s current state in the game may cause serious problems in high level play if not properly addressed.

Fatal funnels are cone-shaped sightlines that are the most dangerous to attackers breaching a room. In ideal cases, attackers should be able to open up a variety of entry points to avoid having one singular point in which all breachers must pass through.

However, in cases where hard breach is not available, a shield is what will get you through that point. A shield’s primary focus is to eliminate as many possible sightlines in the fatal funnel to allow the teammate behind them to clear one side without fear of getting shot in the back. This can be powerful in the right situations, turning a death trap into a series of one on one engagements while the shield buys time. 

Additionally, with the presence of anti-reconnaissance operators such as Mute or Mozzie, a shield is a way to gain knowledge of enemy positions and identities that is not countered by jammers or pests, and is affected little by other player-targeted traps or gadgets. Using a shield instead of a drone not only allows the attacking team to bypass defender gadgets, it is faster and safer.

When deploying a drone, one’s body is completely helpless while the player controlling the drone is unable to see through their own eyes, and instead see only through the eyes of their drone. Players controlling drones are unable to control their bodies as well. While two drones are standard issue for the Rainbow lineup, a shield allows reconnaissance at an accelerated pace with full control over their bodies, allowing attackers to seek out defenders playing outside of the site with consistency without having to account for a significant time or player loss.

Image result for rainbow six siege montagne operator video

Lastly, shields must be a hybrid of both reconnaissance and threat elimination. A good shield should be able to both provide intelligence for their team to act on and punish being left unwatched. If a shield is unable to provide a reasonable threat to the defending team, then the shield is unable to draw fire or attention and critically hinders the shield operator’s ability to aid the team.

Because of this, a standard shield is equipped with a sidearm that packs a punch, allowing shields the option to bank on a lucky hipfire shot from the safety of the ballistic shield, or to expose themselves to land a more skill based headshot. Shields are designed to be less lethal than operators who take a primary firearm as a tradeoff for the additional tactical advantage, and this is represented in the shield’s restriction to handgun secondaries.

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Blitz's P12
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Montagne's P9

Currently, shields present too much of a threat in direct confrontations. At the highest levels of play, the statistics that make the most difference are the rate of fire of a weapon, the damage, the magazine size, but most notably, the time it takes to aim down sights with a weapon (henceforth called “ADS time”). Unlike damage, magazine size, and rate of fire, ADS time cannot be compensated for with skill.

At the highest levels of play, one shot is all that is needed, and with an instant kill on a headshot, damage, magazine size, and rate of fire can all be compensated for by landing the first shot on the head. However, how fast one can land a headshot reliably is determined by the weapon’s ADS time.

The first problem with the current state of shields is that the ADS time for shields is not penalized in any way. At the highest level of play, shields do not have any inherent disadvantage in combat. This is problematic due to the immense tactical advantage a shield can bring in the right circumstances. I suggest that ADS time be increased significantly on all shield operators so that they are more aligned with fulfilling their purpose of being a tactical tool and less of a lethal one. It is still important to allow a shield to contain an inherent threat, allowing them to still draw fire, but not enough to effectively combat a threat directly. 

Early Art - Ignore the Weapon Choices
Yes, this is official art. Yes, that's an M870 in Thermite's hands.

Next, I would further reduce a shield’s lethality by removing the ability to hipfire while using a ballistic shield. My first impression was to increase hipfire accuracy, but remove the headshot modifier that would multiply the damage of a headshot while a shield was hipfiring. 

However, Rise Nation coach Brad “Remorce” Hickey pointed out the danger in keeping the current damage of the pistol, but increasing accuracy, as such a change could lead to high level players consistently downing opponents in a few shots from relatively solid cover. 

“The issue isn't headshots, it's that pistols do more damage than most rifles in this game...3 bodyshots is a kill, they'd be wildly powerful1”.

First, Remorce argued that “No hs multiplier on pistols wouldn't be awful, keeping it on high cal pistols.2

Remorce pictured alongside Twoloud and Slashug on Episode 32  of Siege the Show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y30E8VNcuE8
Remorce pictured alongside Twoloud and Slashug on Episode 32 of Siege the Show

Here, I disagree. By reducing the lethality of an entire subclass of weapon instead of specific weapons with minor tweaks, there leaves room for error and need for further tweaking. Additionally, in situations where a player is unable to use their primary weapon, they are at a significant disadvantage without the headshot modifier and with lower damage, even if both players are at the same skill level, without any other benefits.

While the argument could be made that running out of primary ammo or otherwise being unable to use the weapon warrants disadvantage, at higher level play it may as well be a death sentence to switch to your pistol when your opponent is going to land his first shot. I can’t possibly see a reason why pistols would be used at higher level play, instead of when an opponent blunders by either reloading next to or in line of sight of an enemy, or running out of secondary ammo as well. 

His suggestion was to decrease the damage of the pistol as well as decrease hipfire accuracy, but I find that this is an imperfect solution to an underlying problem. The problem with hipfire specifically is not that it is too lethal, it is that it is reliant solely on luck with little risk. Decreasing the lethality, but keeping the luck aspect still keeps the possibility open for consistently landed shots without any test of skill. Instead, I’ve come to favour Rainbow Six Pro League and Six Invitational commentator Devin “mzo” Becker’s idea of removing hipfire altogether.

  • Blitz should lose his melee
  • He should have to ADS (Aim Down Sights) to fire
  • His role should be to get up close, blind, and then ADS to execute so that he is forced to expose himself to flanks or teammates
  • His role should be to quickly execute on solo roamers
  • They can make him as vulnerable to melee as Clash because instead of a taser to counter it, he has flashes
  • Letting him melee has proven to just be garbage

- (Mzo, 20193)

Mzo (via DreamHack)
Mzo at DreamHack Austin 2018

Let’s break this down step by step. First, mzo suggests that Blitz’s only form of lethality should come from aiming down sights. I disagree with melee being taken away from Blitz, but I agree that it is unacceptable in its current form. I suggest changes to the melee system later in this article, so I’ll leave it for now.

The removal of hipfire, however, is a change I agree with. With the additional aforementioned ADS changes, this would allow Blitz to capitalize on an effective use of his unique ability, but not allow him to combat multiple threats effectively while solo. For other, generic shields, forcing them to ADS or melee solves the problem of players being able to score kills exclusively through luck, without impairing a skilled player’s ability to capitalize on unaware, distracted, or otherwise exposed opponents, maintaining the earlier mentioned inherent threat that a shield must contain.

There is an unintended side effect of removing hipfire, however. Currently, at range, shields are countered with firearms by landing a series of damaging but not immediately lethal shots onto exposed extremities, the largest one being the exposed hand aiming a firearm from around the shield. By removing the ability to hipfire, one would also by extension be removing the largest vulnerability a shield has, but maintaining exposure around the shoulders. I believe that this side effect should be left in. I say that the default ballistic shield should better cover the operator behind it now that they aren’t able to use the shield effectively and fire at the same time.

In the case of Blitz, however, mzo said to “Give him elbows poking out and don't let him fully crouch.4” With this, I agree. Blitz is an operator designed around closing gaps quickly and using his ability. He should not be subject to the same protections that normal ballistic shields offer because of his playstyle, but I maintain that the default ballistic shield should offer additional protections without the exposed elbows.

On the subject of Montagne specifically, his ability forces him into a more extreme version of the regular ballistic shield wielder role by further pushing him towards a tactical advantage, but again the operator suffers no inherent disadvantage in direct combat when compared to other shields. Mzo again suggested a change there, saying the following:

As an attacker, he generally gets to choose his engagement distance more so than a defender so it's ok that he can't slow anyone down since he can't be meleed anyways with it extended. He, too, should have a decent weapon if he goes full shield on the back, like an MP5, so that he can choose to engage like a normal operator.

(Mzo5)

Image result for rainbow six siege MP5
GIGN MP5
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GIGN P90

Here, I think mzo hit the nail on the head, mostly. Montagne is an operator meant to be even more of a tradeoff of lethality for tactical advantage. By making Montagne unable to aim down sights at all, this aligns him with his tactical playstyle and away from a lethal one by forcing him to break line of sight and leave the threat range of defenders in order to switch to his secondary. It may seem counterintuitive to also allow access to the MP5, but by allowing Montagne a better weapon like Clash, it gives him some hope in situations where he is able to get away from defenders long enough to switch weapons and re engage.

The way I differ from mzo here is the weapon choice. The MP5 is a tad strong in my opinion, and giving Montagne a P90 instead seems to be an appropriate level of lethality, with the removal of the ACOG as an optic option. The removal of the ACOG is crucial in curbing the possibility of a lethal, long range Montagne, even when facing operators like Rook or Doc who are chosen because of their ACOGs.

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Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight aka ACOG

Another change mzo suggested would be to give shields the chance to be penetrated by bullets, with the chance increasing as the shield takes more damage6, saying “There's just no thought or tactics required if it's unlimited7”. I agree that shields should receive some sort of counter by primary weapons, even if they aren’t immediately able to deal damage with the changes to protection that ballistic shields would offer.

Where I differ in opinion is the reintroduction of a luck based mechanic in the place of a skill based one. The addition of a random chance to penetrate shields again places them into a situation where their ability to assist their team or close the distance is left to luck instead of skill. My suggestion would be to add a health bar to ballistic shields, causing them to partially break when they’ve taken enough damage.

Similar to Blackbeard’s shield, the regular ballistic shield would have a finite health that would drain when taking damage. This would align ballistic shields more fairly with other primary weapons in having limited uses, but the ballistic shields would be more aligned to the ammo count of a primary weapon than to Blackbeard’s shield in terms of how long they would last under use, allowing a shield operator a strong chance of having access to their primary late into the round, but not guaranteeing it.

When the limit is reached, the view port of the shield would shatter -- regardless of where on the shield the bullets land -- but offer increased damage done when hitting the viewport specifically, allowing shield operators to be headshot. By not removing the shield wholesale, I allow operators that have their ability tied to their shield still use them, similar to how Buck may still use his skeleton key while his CAMRS or C8 are out of ammo. However, the viewport breaking would still require a shield to readjust their strategy to rely on their secondary or suffer a quick death by headshot. 

Blitz with Shield by Reddit user u/Shurueder https://www.reddit.com/user/shurueder/
Blitz with Shield by Reddit user u/Shurueder

Shields have also been indirectly made more powerful by decreasing the effectiveness of gadgets that could counter them. Gu mines, carried by Siege’s Lesion, initially provided a counter to shields by dealing an initial ten damage and eight additional damage every two seconds until the operator removed the needle. This worked on all attacking operators, but shields were most affected due to the needle slowing down movement speed, crippling operators like Blitz and Montagne from advancing, and requiring that the shield put their cover behind them to stop taking damage, leaving them open to be shot.

However, since the introduction of Gu mines and Lesion, the mines’ repeating damage was halved from eight to four. Because of this change, shields now have effectively double the time to manoeuvre to cover to remove the needle and counterplay against shields is once again limited. 

My suggested changes would be to increase ADS time on shields and to decrease rotation speed, while under the effects of a Gu mine, concussion via Ela’s Grzmot Mines, and/or a sonic blast from Echo’s Yokai Drones. Only operators currently switched to their shield would experience these effects, so as to not tamper with the intended effects of the gadgets effects on operators with a primary firearm. Additionally, these gadgets should be modified to increase the delay before Montagne can reextend his Le Roc after being stunned. 

Lesion's Gu Mine modeled by the talented Reddit user u/ColdLava303

In this same vein, I propose that nitro cells and impact grenades do increased damage to shields when the explosion impacts the ballistic shield. This damage would be increased from the already reduced damage that shields receive from explosions directly in front of them, bringing them still below the standard damage values but allowing more possibilities with gadget counterplay. In addition, Montagne’s explosive damage reduction should be reduced, but still maintain an edge over other shields. These changes are designed to allow defenders more flexibility in how they deal with shields, but not guaranteeing that the gadgets will secure kills by themselves. 

On the flip side, shields should reduce explosive damage not only to themselves but to those whom the shield is protecting. The damage reduction values would match the ones for the shield themselves, but operators wielding the standard half-height ballistic shield may find themselves having difficulty obstructing explosions with the smaller barrier, even more so with the now non-crouching Blitz. This change is small but brings the shield more in line with its tactical uses.

The C4 is currently one of few tools that deal with a shield operator directly, and even it is not a guarantee

Lastly, the current melee mechanic leads to close quarters combat that is unpredictable at best and frustratingly random at worst. Whenever an operator melees a shield (a fully extended Montagne withstanding), they perform what is called a guard break if they attack from the front, momentarily stunning the shield and allowing a follow-up lethal melee. However, the current melee system interacts in inconsistent ways with the guard break mechanic, sometimes leading to meleeing through shields, guard breaking but not stunning the shield, or both players meleeing each other.

While not necessarily a critique on choices made by game designers, my last suggestion is another look at the guard break mechanic that would result in more consistent encounters at close range with shields that ultimately allows shields to be lethal but not overpower an attentive defender. If a shield and an operator melee each other in a relatively small window, the defender should consistently win. If a defender attempts to shoot a shield while they melee, the defender should win. If the defender is not paying attention to the shield, then the shield should be able to capitalize, but only then.

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Shields feature very prominently in the game art

If one does not understand the different roles each equipment spot provides, it may seem confusing to limit a shield’s lethality. Shields may provide a tactical advantage, but being fully lethal while providing an additional advantage is typical of every operator in the game, is it not? Ash is allowed arguably the best weapon in the game alongside an additional breach launcher. By allowing shields to maintain their lethal capabilities, are they not kept in line with other operators by providing an additional tactical advantage?

No. Shields should not be as lethal as fully combat dedicated operators because shields are allowed an additional ability on top of their shield. The shield’s lack of lethality for a tactical advantage is a trade-off in the primary weapon department, not in the unique ability one. This is what sets apart shields as a reconnaissance-combat hybrid from intelligence operators like Twitch and Mozzie, or Blackbeard whose shield is a gadget, not a primary weapon.

Although their ability allows them to recon an area, that is their unique ability, not their weapon. The shield operators carry an additional gadget, such as Blitz’s flash shield or Fuze’s cluster charges, instead of a shock drone or a pest. Primary weapons often work in conjunction with utility and unique abilities to balance an operator against others. The primary weapon’s function in these cases is to allow the operator to fulfil their purpose (determined by their gadget) when met with opposition. By limiting the lethality of shield operators, it provides an inherent disadvantage to the weapon in exchange for an advantage elsewhere, instead of simply providing an advantage by itself and allowing shields two powerful strategies to deter opposition as opposed to the standard one.

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Fuze is an oft-forgotten and unpicked shield option

In conclusion, shields exist as a counterpart to the wide host of wholly offensive primary weapon options, exchanging brute force and lethality for the ability to assist greatly in the team’s offences and defences by providing intelligence for their teammates, and assisting in the action taken upon it. This is a welcome addition and works to cement the more methodical, cerebral play styles that sets Siege apart from its competitors.

However, in their current state, shields provide no inherent disadvantage to compensate for the tactical advantage the bulletproof surface provides at the highest level. I suggest that a series of changes be made to shields as a whole to better align them with their intended design and circumvent their use as both a shield and a gun interchangeably.