Rainbow Six Siege Steel Wave brings pure glory and frustration

Rainbow Six Siege Ace
Rainbow Six Siege Ace (Image credit: Ubisoft)

Rainbow Six Siege Steel Wave Operators

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft has unveiled Operation Steel Wave, the latest seasonal expansion headed to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, once again refreshing the hit tactical shooter. The second update of Year 5 marks the final adhering to the usual template, with two Operators and map rework, ahead of a change in focus. That results in new hard-breaching and trap Operators, Ace and Melusi, warping existing roles through two influential gizmos.

While several recent Operators have failed to achieve lasting impact, both Steel Wave recruits could be game-changing. That includes a new approach to overcoming reinforcements, combining traits of existing allies, paired with a trap defender equally bold but frustrating. With just short of one week hands-on with Steel Wave, we've wrapped up our early thoughts on what's next for Rainbow Six.

Ace fuses water with metal as the next hard breacher

The impending arrival of Steel Wave acquaints the fourth hard breacher with the Rainbow Six roster, once again changing the conversation between attackers and reinforced surfaces. The Norwegian veteran translates years of search and rescue know-how from the Forsvarets Spesialkommando unit to the ominous Nighthaven private military organization, unveiled with Shifting Tides. And like Nighthaven allies Kali and Wamai, his onboarding further diversifies fundamental gameplay roles, with the aid of the S.E.L.M.A. breach charge.

Rainbow Six Siege launched with just one hard breacher, but over the years has emerged as a fundamental class, and intrinsic to any team composition. Each hard-breaching gadget provides a distinct spin on destroying walls and hatches, whether a simple opening from Thermite, complexities of Hibana, or Maverick's handheld blowtorch. Ubisoft impresses with yet another fork of hard breaching through Ace, enabling tactics in the process.

Conceptually, the hydraulic force of the S.E.L.M.A. Aqua Breach is a sizeable departure from past gadgets, and rolls down reinforced surfaces in three stages. The handy throwable canister opens, sprawling arms across the wall, and creating a horizontal opening akin to the dimensions of Mira's Black Mirror. The second stage falls below, expanding the opening's size, with the third and final completing a full, Thermite-sized entry point.

Rainbow Six Siege Ace SELMA Breach

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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AbilityS.E.L.M.A. Aqua Breach
GadgetBreach ChargeSmoke Grenade
Price25,000 Renown600 R6 Credits

Versatility proves to be Ace's most substantial contribution to the lineup. While creating navigable openings when left to completion, prematurely destroying the gadget leaves smaller windows like Hibana. Each detonation also does minimal damage to nearby Operators, substituting explosives for water, making it easy to vault inside with the third detonation still underway. The presence of Ace, a well-placed smoke grenade, and a rushing Blitz assembles a nasty combination.

Despite the aquatic workings behind the S.E.L.M.A., Ace faces the same challenges rivaling other hard breaching Operators. Bandit and Kaid destroy the charge, while Mute prevents detonations if within the radius. The staggered deployment also makes the gadget incredibly fragile, with one well-placed impact grenade knocking it out after the first opening. While highly effective in the right hands, any seasoned player can exploit those weaknesses.

Rainbow Six Siege Ace AK-12

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Ubisoft once again reuses existing weapons from existing Operators, but the headline AK-12 doesn't disappoint. The weapon statistics sit among the best in-game, instantly placing Ace among the best attackers — only previously overlooked due to the weapon's ties with Fuze. Ace also uses NATO sights over the traditional Russian optics, inclusive of the beloved ACOG we know and love. While less viable, the M1014 primary shotgun and P9 handgun complete the set.

It's unclear how Ace will size up against the ever-present Thermite and Hibana, but boasts foundations of an Operator fit across a broad spectrum of players. The arrival of versatile utility, consistently relevant to gameplay, is welcomed, following a string of underperforming attackers. Existing hard breaching favorites will likely stay king, but the flexibility granted by the S.E.L.M.A. carves a dynamic worthy of exploring.

Melusi delivers a conflict of utility and frustration

Rainbow Six Siege Melusi

Source: Ubisoft (Image credit: Source: Ubisoft)

Rainbow Six Siege stresses the value of audio over any other shooter, and its latest defender Melusi leverages that soundscape down to the decibel. Protector of local fauna and the adversary to poachers, she transferred from the South African National Defense Force, and now finds a home with Rainbow. Her presence establishes an unforgiving perimeter halting attackers, exposing enemies through supersonic gadgetry.

Rainbow Six Siege's infamous 20-second meta just got a whole lot worse.

The Banshee Sonic Defense devices provide similar benefits to barbed wire, slowing foes in their tracks, paired with a distinctive sound. With three of these babies around the map, bound to surfaces like floors and walls, smart placement can create a complex web of traps to navigate.

Her gadgets rely on light-of-sight, active around an estimated twelve-meter diameter, and slowing attackers with a droning hum that bleeds into nearby rooms. The effect leaves attackers compromised in the open, kicked out of sprinting, walking at a snail's pace, and hindered by a pulsing on-screen vignette. The distinctive sound travels, too, drawing immediate attention for kill-hungry defenders.

Rainbow Six Siege Melusi T5 SMG

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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AbilityBanshee Sonic Defense
PrimaryT5 SMGSuper 90
GadgetImpact GrenadeDeployable Shield
Price25,000 Renown600 R6 Credits

The Banshee proves challenging to counter, in part due to the bulletproof casing, demanding the same explosives and heavy gadgets as Maestro's Evil Eye cameras. While vulnerable to melee damage, it's hard to get close with that hindered movement.

Melusi couples her kit with the T5 SMG from Lesion and the Super 90 shotgun from Frost — both formidable in the right hands. The RG15 handgun also makes a return, previously used by Bozak sisters, Ela and Zofia, and picked for its integrated reflex sight.

And while it's been some time since I've found an Operator truly overpowered, I'm almost certain Melusi will face a nerf during her Test Server (TS) debut. The coverage of three Banshees proves frustrating, especially with no warning until scrambling to escape the area of effect. Chaining Banshee devices only multiplies those frustrations, requiring the use of substantial utility to counter effectively.

Rainbow Six Siege Melusi Banshee

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Rainbow Six Siege Melusi Banshee Effect

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

That's not touching on the headache-inducing droning sound emitted from the devices, used to disorient players, while notifying those nearby. The low frequency is also hard to directionally pinpoint, but matched with gadgets like the new Proximity Alarm, there's a constant string of nagging audio cues to process.

That spotlights my primary issue surrounding Melusi, accentuating an already prevalent issue within Rainbow Six Siege today. The long-discussed "20-second meta" only worsens with her arrival, referring to the game's wealth of defender gadgets, time spent countering them, and few seconds left to execute a plant.

Maybe I'll adapt to her, and she'll prove more forgiving once new tactics emerge. But I enter Steel Wave wondering, is this the right time for such an Operator? Toning down her sound, slowing effect, or number of Banshees could be on the cards, if powerful over the weeks ahead.

Rainbow Six Siege Steel Wave drops next month

Operation Steel Wave marks the arrival of what looks to be two hugely influential Operators and much welcomed as the game coasts through its fifth year of post-launch support. The breaching utility supplied by Ace proves a welcome change to the conventions of hard breaching, while Melusi brings an appealing new trap device, despite its frustrations. It remains unclear how both perform in broader gameplay, with that TS period likely to impact their long-term reception.

For those with the Year 5 Pass or Uplay+ membership, both Operators will be available at no additional cost with the launch of the latest season, expected this June. Ace and Melusi will later open to the public using Renown or R6 Credits, seven days after release. Let us know your thoughts on Ace and Melusi, and the wider Steel Wave update, in the comments section.

Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.