"Evolving tactics are a must against Smashers," reads the description for one of Rainbow Six Extraction's Study missions... advice I can only assume was penned by someone who hasn't played a video game in the last 30 years. You see, Smashers are not smart, nor is there any real need for tactics plural when dealing with them — just one will suffice, and it's that 3D action game staple of 'make big enemy run into wall to stun it, hit it in the back' that I guarantee you've encountered more times than you can remember. To be fair, there is a second viable tactic for taking these brutes down, albeit a universal one that applies to more or less every enemy type in Extraction. Before we get into the deeper conversation about Extraction's gameplay loop and whether it's actually good or not, we need to talk about smoke grenades.
Smoke grenades are the very first piece of REACT tech unlocked, available to all Operators from the moment you start the game and equipped by default until you research more gear via progression. None of that extra stuff matters, though, as you will likely never need (or want) to take smokes off, because they are just absurdly powerful. Enemies caught in the smoke just go completely braindead, leading to free (and almost completely safe) instant takedowns on even some of the most challenging foes in the game. Alternatively, they're an amazing defensive tool, too — pop smoke in a choke point as a horde comes your way and it'll fry their weird alien brains (not that they have brains, but whatever) and slow them to a crawl, and combine this with a scanning device to tag them and you can easily pick them off before they even emerge from the gas. Or, if things have taken a turn for the worse and you're in GTFO Mode, drop smoke at your feet as you run away, then laugh as your extraterrestrial nemeses are foiled by a little cloud and you live to fight another day.
Sure, some of the other options for this tech slot are solid picks (you can find more on this in our in-depth Rainbow Six Extraction Operators guide)... mines are always useful when you're faced with an area control objective, or timed explosives can help in setting an entire cluster of Nests to blow at once. But others are too situational to warrant this valuable slot (Field Walls are great, but only useful when Spikers and Tormentors are prevalent, which you'll never know until you make contact), and unless you've got a tight pre-made team all working to specific roles with one dedicated smoker, it's extremely hard to trade smoke grenades for anything else. They're just that good, to the point that Operators who get the extra tech capacity perk are instantly made that much more desirable. It always feels a bit cheap and unsatisfying to see a hulking Smasher come thundering down a corridor only to be thwarted by a cloud of gas and a deadly tap on the shoulder, and whether or not it's a problem per se will come down to personal preference — you can always choose not to use them if you find they cheapen the experience, although if you're having to implement self-imposed restrictions like that, it's probably safe to say that there's a bit of a balance issue.
In fact, I'd take that further and posit that there are notable balance issues throughout Extraction, in everything from Operators to maps and research tasks to objectives. I'll hit that last one first, as it's a good way to launch into talking about what you actually do in Rainbow Six Extraction. After picking your map of choice from the 12 on offer (nine of which need to be unlocked), you're assigned a random trio of objectives — one for each sub-area of the map, which are broken up with airlocks where you can resupply and prep for the next task. At each step, there's a choice to be made. You can extract at any time to bank the XP you've earned so far (as well as a hefty survival bonus), skip straight to the airlock if a particular objective seems too rough, or try your luck even when supplies are running low and risk your Operator going MIA should they go down. This is arguably one of the game's most interesting mechanics, especially when playing with a group — three-person teams make perfect sense once you've been dragged into a debate with your team about whether to cut your losses or press on, as there's no chance of a hung vote and every major decision (like activating airlocks and requesting exfiltration) requires a majority verdict to trigger. It's not every day that a game offers you the option to simply say no to an objective and move on, and it's always a joy to be able to nope out at your leisure. The balance issue I mentioned earlier comes in the fact that even though the game tries to tailor objectives to your team size, it doesn't do a particularly good job with some of them.
Sabotage is a perfect example. For two- or three-player squads, there are two charges to place in adjacent areas, which must be defended from an Archean horde for around two minutes. With three, it's an absolute breeze, since you can have one person in each area with a roamer helping out as needed, while with two, the difficulty feels just about right. Solo, though, even though there's only one charge to defend, it's a nightmare. More often than not, the charge location is somewhere that isn't particularly defensible, and even with an Operator with area denial tools, it's way too easy to be overrun and lose either the charge or your Operator. When playing alone, I actively skip this objective, or even just extract on arrival if it's combined with some other nasty goals. Conversely, Decontamination — which floods an area with mutant Nests that all go haywire and start spewing out enemies the moment one is destroyed — is pretty easy solo as there are only five pods in close proximity to one another to worry about. With a full squad, however, you get 15 of the bloody things to take out quickly and it's incredibly easy to miss a few and get swamped with enemies. In addition, even though there's no friendly fire, contaminated Nests explode in toxic clouds when killed, so trigger-happy allies can be just as deadly as the enemies if you're not properly coordinated. It's mayhem.
The other major offender here is Gateway, a boss objective that only appears in the final area on higher difficulty levels. Here, you face one of three Protean variants that mimic your Operator abilities — the Sledge and Smoke clones are both really easy (if somewhat laborious... fans of The Division's bullet-sponge bosses will feel right at home here) so long as you keep your distance, but the Alibi one is an absolute slog as it summons countless clones across multiple phases. Unless you're fully geared up and ready for Alibi, Gateway might as well be a one-in-three chance to fail the objective. Compounding the issue is the fact that objective rewards are fixed based on position rather than activity, so if you get a lucky roll on your tasks then simply tagging a few Nests may be worth as much XP as taking on those bosses... it's a questionable system at best and one that actively encourages abusing that ability to tap out whenever you like (including the moment you arrive on a map) in order to fish for objective trios that aren't utterly gross.
One thing I will say about Extraction is that the gunplay and general gameplay loop are both superb. Landing a long-range headshot kill through multiple destructible walls never gets old, nor does that payoff after taking your time to methodically tag, fortify, and prime an area when you execute a coordinated team sweep that cleans out the map in a matter of seconds. I played a lot of the older Rainbow Six games back in the day, and playing solo definitely has the same kind of feel as the classic Lone Wolf Terrorist Hunt missions — it's tense, punishing, and one mistake can be all it takes to kill a run. Still, I've not played all that much Siege (the game a lot of the Operators, mechanics, and locations here are pulled from) and having not jumped into the competitive FPS in a good few years, I thought I'd rope in someone a little more familiar with it to get their impressions on Extraction to offer up alongside my own. Kes, I summon thee!
Hello, Kes here reporting for TrueAchievements as the resident ‘expert’ on Rainbow Six Extraction’s sister title, Siege. What first drew me into Siege was the tight-knit tactical chaos it brought to the competitive multiplayer space. I spent a long time with it over many years, before eventually falling out of love with it as it departed the realms of the realistic. It's interesting to me that even only having played for a few hours on my save, Kes was able to identify that longevity issue right off the bat, as it's honestly one of my chief concerns about Extraction as well, and not something we had discussed prior to him jumping into the game. Considering the games I play most — Monster Hunter, FFXIV, Destiny, etc. — it should be pretty apparent that I'm all about the endgame, and while Extraction doesn't have a lot happening on that front right now, I'm hoping ongoing support for the game may fix that later, even though I'm not entirely sure how. Currently, high-level players have just two activities other than the regular missions, both of which are only available with a full squad. Assignments are basically just standard Incursions set to the maximum difficulty and with a rotating set of additional rules and modifiers that changes weekly, not unlike Destiny's Nightfall Strikes only without that dangled carrot of extra loot. Maelstrom Protocol, meanwhile, is more of a gauntlet, effectively three Incursions back-to-back with increasingly dangerous enemies and diminishing supplies, all while limiting the pool of available Operators to just six, again cycling weekly. This one actually does have a unique reward... a hat. An ugly hat. It's also the only mode in the game that currently offers currency with which to buy the store cosmetics without spending real money on them, so at present, coming back to Maelstrom every week to fill your coffers with pretend money with which to make your Operators look daft seems like it is the endgame, which isn't exactly great.
As you can imagine, Extraction’s aliens, removal of competitive PvP combat, and emphasis on AI hordes are rather antithetical to the draw of Siege (inciting the outrage of a very serious gaming community). Strangely, because of this very reason, Extraction actually succeeded in drawing me in the first two hours I spent with it. It takes the best parts of that familiar Siege experience — the gunplay, tight level design, and interleaving gameplay systems — and places them in such a wildly new context that it basically removes all association. That really helps you enjoy what Extraction is all about, which is smartly designed, short levels against some pretty cool enemy types while completing a basic selection of missions.
Luke and I couldn’t stop talking about the density of Extraction. That is essentially what Siege was all about, and Extraction channels that great feeling to give you 15 minutes of delirious, silly fun with any worries that you will take a K/D and W/L hit. I wish I could get a few rounds in with friends to see how it stacks up next to those last 30-second objective pushes in Siege, but it has been fun enough to tempt me into doing so in the future. Even in my single-player experience, I think some of the game design is really smart. This definitely has a tantalising amount of moreishness thanks to its more arcadey, short-form missions. Three areas, three objectives, and a simple risk-reward death system keep gaming sessions understandable and tidy. I love the enemy designs (every enemy you kill suboptimally releases a splodge of Sprawl that slows you down while changing the look of the area — genius) and the subversion of familiar Siege locales populated with fan-favourite characters like Ela, Sledge, and Hibana is pretty cool.
I have serious concerns about longevity compared to Siege, though. It feels like it doesn’t have the endless learning curve of the 5v5 shooter. There, you had to get to grips with every character on different maps against different types of teams playing with different characters in different game modes… you get the picture. Instead, after two hours, I felt like I had an almost total understanding of Extraction’s systems and what was to come. That is great for onboarding, but maybe doesn’t provide the same innate depth of gameplay as Siege. However, Extraction is certainly already feeling better than I was expecting. Hopefully, I can get off this Siege tower and play a few more rounds of Extraction, because it seems like a whole load of fun…
Time to talk about the Operators themselves, and yes, there are more balance issues. With 18 available characters once you unlock the lot, each with their own weapon and ability loadouts, there are obviously going to be both highs and lows. You can sense an attempt to try and balance weaker abilities with stronger weapons in some cases, but it simply doesn't cut it — game-changing special powers are always going to be more of a swing factor than a slightly more powerful weapon, especially when all bar the most powerful Archeans can be dropped with a single weak point shot. Out of the gates, when everyone is still at a low level, some abilities are just straight-up better than others, and while the weaker Operators do often have powerful upgrades towards or at the level cap of ten, getting there can be a chore when everyone around you is doing cool things all the time and you're still waiting for your special move to come online. Nomad is a perfect example. Initially, her airburst mines are kinda pathetic and simply inferior to Ela's stun mines in every way, but push to level seven and a new perk basically punts her way up the tier list, causing the mines to then auto-kill everything but the three hardest enemy types in the game. It's quite the glow-up, but one you'll have to fight for, as in this game, you don't just level up... you can also level down.
Extraction uses a global experience system for overall progress, pooling all Operators' total XP as well as that earned from research missions to calculate your total rank and award new unlocks accordingly. What this means is that when an Operator goes MIA, their XP is no longer factored into the calculation — you don't appear to lose progression unlocks, although it will obviously impede reaching new tiers. Rescue them and you get it all back (plus whatever extra you earned in the process), but fail the MIA recovery mission and it's a different story. You still get them back on your roster, but with 30% of their total XP fully removed, bumping back both personal and overall progression by potentially quite a lot. I've only had it happen a couple of times, but it stings, although max level Operators are immune to this XP hit. Additionally, Operator health carries over between missions, with 100 being the 'pure' health cap and additional healing received in Incursions effectively being a temporary shield that depletes over time. Weakened or rescued characters can't be used if below 50%, but can be healed proportionally to XP earned by other Operators when they complete missions, which basically forces you to either play perfectly (good luck with that) or try out the entire roster. Early on, this is sort of neat and will get you to give all of the Operators a go, but it actually gets worse the more you progress — max level Operators can no longer earn XP for either themselves or overall progression, which leads to a game state that actively deincentivises playing as the characters you like the most and have put most time into, since there's no benefit for doing so.
Given the modern trend for online games releasing in fragile states, I'm pleased to say that we barely had any issues getting a group together to smash out some Extraction. After having Forza Horizon 5 work wonderfully with only a few thousand racers tearing up Mexico only to fall to pieces when the festival gates opened proper to millions, though, I'm reluctant to sing Extraction's praises in this regard until it gets fully stress-tested when it hits Game Pass this week, but the online side of things seems solid so far. Well, mostly — Extraction certainly has a few frustrating idiosyncracies at play. Chief among these is how in-game and Party chat clash. As in Back 4 Blood, voice comms play in both the in-game chat channel as well as any active party you may be in, resulting in horrendous echoing that forces you to just use one or the other. Party chat typically offers better quality audio so tends to be the go-to choice, but muting players in Extraction itself turns out to be weirdly aggressive. It doesn't just kill comms, but also disables seeing muted players using the ping system (which is integral to coordinated, efficient play), meaning you've no choice but to ditch or mute Party chat and just use the in-game chat instead. Hardly ideal, and a really weird interpretation of what 'mute' should mean — it's not like the ping system is particularly abusable or difficult to ignore, so this is a very strange choice. Much like making a Rainbow Six game full of aliens, I guess, so maybe it checks out after all.
Achievement-wise, Extraction is a bit of a grind, but most of the list isn't too bad. The ones relating to completing all research are a little frustrating as research task groups tend to be themed, and getting to the pages relating to specific enemy types means you're simply waiting for that enemy to show up, which is basically random, and then you have to hope that you're able to pull off the specific things required of you. High Score also seems pretty nasty, as my best XP run on max difficulty only came in at around 40k (the goal for this achievement is 55k), so I'm not sure how you're supposed to go about that one without maybe scumming the respawning Nests in a Shutdown objective, or somehow beating the stupid Protean Alibi boss and all its minions at max level, maybe? You'll also need to get every Operator to max level, which I'd estimate to be 50-odd hours optimally, but easily 100+ if you're not braving the tougher difficulties and/or are losing XP by failing to get your friends back after they go MIA. Certainly not a simple list, let's put it that way.
SummaryAs much as I enjoy the moment-to-moment gameplay of Rainbow Six Extraction and have had a blast with it both solo and in co-op, it's impossible to overlook the glaring balance issues and lack of any kind of appealing endgame it has at the moment. Ubisoft does have a great track record for turning decent games into great ones in the long run — just look at Siege or The Division — so I'm hoping we'll see a similarly impressive evolution here eventually. For now, though, Extraction is undeniably entertaining in the short term, but it's the long game that worries me, and I'd love to be proven wrong. When everything comes together here, Extraction somehow manages to capture everything that is great about the Rainbow Six series while also taking by far the most liberties with its premise and structure. That's got to count for something.
* Luke spent around 50 hours shooting alien parasite things, popping 35 of 42 achievements in the process. Three review copies were provided by Ubisoft to facilitate full team play, and played on Xbox Series X.