Massively on the Go: Splatoon 3 is dividing players in fantastic ways


I feel like Splatoon 3‘s release has been oddly quiet, though it’s doing quite well in Japan. Selling over 3.45 million copies in 3 days puts it at nearly double Animal Crossing: New HorizonsThat shouldn’t be surprising, as we’ve previously mentioned many of the Splat team members came from Animal Crossing.

The title’s certainly not been ignored. In addition to revealing that Mario Strikers: Battle League is getting new characters and maps and Nintendo Switch Sports is adding golf with normal and eight-player survivor golf, this week’s Nintendo Direct dropped a note about the first Splatfest, running from September 23rd to September 25th. As we suspected, the biggest thing I’ve seen about Splat3 is that it’s divided the playerbase, but in good ways.

The modes that divide us

My pre-launch concern was whether or not the always-on PvE mode would bring enough new players that it would allow the Tricolor Turf War to divide the Splatfest playerbase. Now, it remains to be seen how Splatfest itself will turn out, but launch has most definitely divided the playerbase.

As usual, there’s a single-player aspect of the game that’s got both a story and (more importantly to some of us) lots of perks: cash, unlockable armor, card packs, decoration items for lockers, and more. I’ve yet to complete it, but to give an idea of how lucrative it is, I got more card packs from the first few levels of the single-player storyline than I did in the first 14 levels of the new trading card game. For players looking for customization options and ways to get the hang of the game, single player may be a good starting point.

And customization is still king. Between the usual swag gear, new titles, and banners, there’s a lot to grind for. Turf War is as accessible as ever, and the new levels are gimmick-light while still feeling fresh. The new Recon Guide lets you preview levels more easily than ever, so check out the new Mahi Mahi Resort, which feels more colorful but also more unique than the original Splat 1 version. You can also explore other game modes, like ranked match modes, which now come in both single-session open Anarchy Battles or the series option, which lets you try to win five battles or flunk out after three losses. That means lobby battlers have a casual, single-ranked battles, and multi-match ranked battles, each with its own queue pool.

Yet queue times are still low. I don’t think I was the only person who jumped straight into ranked matches and Turf War, and yet waiting times were minimal and disconnects for me have been low, and that continued on Monday after the weekend ended. We’ll see how long this lasts, but as my friends list seems to indicate, many people are dividing up their game goals, so the game is looking like it’ll be a slow burn to ultimate “completion,” especially with free content updates.

But perhaps because of my veteran status and rusty skills, the PvP matches I’ve experienced have been brutal. I’m loving the new medals that help me understand where I stand compared to other players on the map for things like inking enemy bases or being the guy everyone uses to fast-travel to. It motivates me to not only keep going but adjust my gameplay. After noticing I had fewer deaths on average in other matches and also being the fast-travel guy, I focused more on sneaking behind enemy lines and creating small paths and patches for people to hide in, which led to a few victories.

But it’s not all about painting faces and taking names. The new Catalogue levels are fun and seem to go up decently in PvP, especially from ranked wins, and the rewards can be quite useful. Yes, there are fun titles and banners, but the Catalogue level 19 reward is a head piece that grants Tenacity and comes with three slots, which is something I specifically want right now. However, my cash struggles are making me feel like I should hit single-player mode.

For series veterans, I know there may be some concern that the single-player game has had little things hidden throughout the levels, such as lost scrolls, which can distract players avoiding spoilers. While Splat 2 made them bonuses not tied to equipment a la Splat 1, the scrolls are also in the overworld now, as are the new skill items, sardinium. This frees players up to focus on getting the levels done while making exploration still viable, but at the players’ pace. It’s a liberating feeling for sure and will probably help me blast through the content once I feel like I can focus on it.

Speaking of vets, while the game tells veteran players that they’ve unlocked some levels and goods upon start-up, you do still have to do your first match as a technical lowbie before gaining your perks. You also need to level up in PvP to tackle PvE, play the card game, and gain access to shops, but it goes by quickly. I’ve spoken to several players who are Splat 2 veterans and only focus on PvE mode, and they’re having a blast.

Admittedly, this is another area I’ve only played a few times in Splat 3, as there’s so much to do. My PvE friends seem to think it’s easier than the Splat 2 version, and that may partially be true because of the new toss mechanic for eggs. Rather than run them to the turn in basket, you can shoot them like basketballs. That means you can score or pass them to another player for the turn-in. Combined with Fish Scales, a loot item for minor customization from a rare spawn mob that appears more often in higher-ranked-tiers of PvE play, Salmon Run seems to have a better game loop than before. It’s disappointing that PvE players can’t battle in gear that looks as good as PvP gear, but there’s clearly an audience.

That being said, for me, Salmon Run is a tad harder now because there’s even more of a learning curve in terms of weapons. There are certain weapons I know I’m just garbage with, alongside others I’m still learning. It does give PvE players mastery skills to focus on, though I often find myself wishing I could choose from specific weapon sets, such as in Monster Hunter’s Arena challenges.

I also dislike a lot of Splat 3’s sets at launch. Consider my Jet Squelcher, which is like a short-range, mid-power sniper rifle that often came with sub-weapon that helped protect allies and a special that packed a huge punch. The new version instead gives me the new Angler, which essentially lets me track a target and that’s rarely helpful for me. The Ink Vac does let me carry some of that protection and a big “punch” when I can get it, but the overall set really makes the weapon feel different than it did in the past two games, and I’m not loving it, so I’ve been experimenting with other weapons.

The new Splatana is an interesting pick. It feels like a much faster version of the Rollers when using their ranged attack, and it can hit about as hard when you charge it. They aren’t feeling as good in terms of painting terrain quickly, but the charged ability also charges you forward if you’re moving while using it. The one unlocked at level 15 includes the Zipcaster, a very ninja-esque move that lets you zip around the terrain (including walls) until it runs out and returns you to its activated site, but it doesn’t pair well with the Splatana just yet. It’s feeling more interesting than the Tri-Stringers, the new bows that also seem similar to faster-firing Rollers but with a much higher skill requirement. They’re awful at painting, and you really seem to need a direct, vertical jump shot to feel their power, but I’m just not the player it’s made for.

But Salmon Run requires you to have at least some mastery of these weapons to be successful. Again, for veteran Grizzco employees from Splat 2, it’s sounding easy enough, but for someone who only uses a handful of weapons, it’s tough but motivating.

The ink on the cards

For me, the biggest new feature is the Tableturf Battles. It kind of reminds me of a board game called Barenpark, except the board’s larger and shared, and the pieces are selected pre-battle. All your pieces must touch (but not overlap), even if it’s just the diagonal tip, and the more squares you have, the more points you get. Fully surrounding an orange piece on all touchable sides (yes, diagonal too unless it’s on the screen’s edge) will get you power to use Special Attacks, allowing you to break the overlap rule, which allows you to take over your opponent’s turf and points.

What’s nice is that despite having boosters, there are no in-game micro-transactions. Repeat cards are turned into a currency, which you can use to unlock more cards, similar to Hearthstone’s crafting option. And also as in HS, you don’t need a ton of cards. In fact, you may have only one of each card.

The card game is fun but single-player only for now. Besides NPCs, you can find “players” around town to challenge, but it’s AI taking over the deck(s) of a real player. There will be a future patch that includes multiplayer, though, so give it a whirl and see what you think.

My advice for now is to focus on denial, forcing your opponents to play in a small a space as possible so they can’t play big cards and are forced to pass. Similarly, don’t ignore the small 1-4 point cards, as sometimes a few well-placed squares will let you get enough power to plow through an enemy’s wall and into walled-off areas.

The rest of the town

While main focal points of Splatoon 3 seem to be single-player mode, casual PvP, ranked PvP, PvE, and card battling, there are other small, neat features to consider. Lockers are a big one; all modes seem to unlock a little something for them. If you’ve got Amiibos for past games, remember to use them, as you can decorate your locker with not only decorative items but gear. I’ve seen some creative lockers that make it look like there’s a person in there, which is always a surprise.

The game’s no MMO, but I had had high hopes for the new lobby ghosts, which are spotty. Sometimes it seems like the other person sees you and you can jump around each other as you might in a proper MMO city, but sometimes other players just suddenly disappear, making the “ghost” aspect far too real in a disappointing way.

The cute-at-times-but-largely-time-consuming hourly updates are no longer required viewing. Players can read the text in the top left corner or allow the broadcast to go full screen. It’s a small change, but the effect is drastic, especially if you’re limited on time.

Speaking of time limits, despite the game being playable in handheld mode, I once again wouldn’t advise most people to play Splatoon 3 on the bus or at the doctor’s office. The gyroscopic controllers that really make the gameplay stand out just demand physical space to play. That being said, Tableturf Wars, being a card game, does not require you to move constantly and risk elbowing strangers. While my personal internet connection to my phone let me play the game away from my TV with little trouble, I’d only recommend playing mobile Splat 3 for the card game.

The other issue is that being unable to easily leave queues means you’re locked into battles. Yes, most last only three minutes max, but re-queuing after a game basically locks you in. You can hit the Home button and essentially use that to interrupt the connection, but it feels unintentional and scuzzy. Only in your first match, and only for about 5 seconds, can you use the Minus button to cancel your queue.

We’ll see how things look after Splatfest, but for now, Splatoon 3 just has way too much content for completionists or people with varied gaming tastes. The PvE Salmon Run mode finally has high-end rewards to motivate continued focus, PvP has short queue times and varied gameplay modes and maps to build on the series’ core experience, soloists have both a story mode and trading card game to enjoy, and TCG fans in the future will have some multiplayer content coming their way sometime in the future. It’s a lot, but so far, there are enough players that Splatoon 3’s multiplayer not only is thriving but has diversified the playerbase.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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