Massively on the Go: Splatoon 3’s Splatfest was a rocky start

    
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So we’ve finally had Splatoon 3‘s first real Splatfest. While the pre-launch demo gave me plenty to look forward to, it was also obvious there were other factors: three factions instead of two, Salmon Run always being up, and new content types possibly distracting some players participating at all, not just in Splatfest but in online play at all.

Splatfests have been the guts of Splatoon as a series, serving as not only a kind of monthly community event but the final ones serving to guide the sequels. In fact, it seems because Chaos won Splatoon 2’s final Splatfest, Splatoon 3 takes place in a fairly chaotic land. Getting Splatfest working is a big deal, and while the last one tends to make the biggest overall impact, the first one helps guide the course.

Splatfest changes from Splat 2

While Splatoon 2 had some good changes via updates after launching, Splat 3 naturally brings some new additions to the game, which we’ll discuss later. I do want to briefly make a few comparisons, though.

The first and most palpable is having three teams. While you previously had a 50/50 chance of accidentally choosing the same team as other friends and family, there’s a one-in-three odds of that happening now. While my friends list was filled with people on my team, of the people I know in real life (or, admittedly, through Animal Crossing), not one of them was able to play/win with me. Not even when the new 4v2v2 Tricolor Battle opened could I team up with friends who were also “losing” to the current champs.

But almost equally noticeable were the disconnects. I remember a certain comment from a reader about connection issues after Splat2’s launch, and while I was fine at the time, I do remember disconnects happening. Splat 3’s are feeling not only more frequent but also punishing, as my disconnects led to a few timeouts where I was unable to re-queue. It’s painful, especially since unlike in the Splatoon 1 days, Switch players now have to pay subscription fees to connect. While it’s cheaper than the competition, players sadly get what they pay for, and its frustrating, especially for games with ranks or that impose punishments for something players can’t really control.

On the brighter side, there’s also pre-event participation. We’ll talk about it more below, but having about a week to make at least some impact on the results is a big benefit, especially for adults who may not be able to play weekends because of work or social/family obligations. I, of course, threw all those out the window in the name of super snails coverage, but as other games also host at least monthly community events, I’m happy at least one company is looking out for me.

There’s also the Salmon Run availability impact, Tableturf card battles luring people away from multiplayer as the still-fresh-and-rewarding storymode is there, plus Badges people may be trying to earn during battle. What it really comes down to, though, is that Splatoon 3 offers so much more content than Splat 2 that Splatfest can feel a bit alienating for non-PvP fans.

While the new catalog system means nearly any online multiplayer activity helps your team, Turf Wars are still the only way to grind out your title. Salmon Runners may help earn conch shells for their team; as a kind of point system that also functions as gacha tokens, super snail rewards are the event’s big draw. These are for kitting out your PvP gear. Between the titles ranking up only in PvP and rewards being largely related to PvP, it’s a shame Nintendo hasn’t given each niche its own way to not only contribute to Splatfest but be rewarded. I’m noting this as a future update is supposed to bring online multiplayer to the card game, and my concern is that the card players will similarly be left in the dust.

Some of this we obviously knew from various pre-release information, but the Splatfest test weekend pre-launch also gave us a few ideas of how this might play out. As always, though, a test is just a test. The game is now live, and while Nintendo did already make some post-test changes like any reasonable company would, there are still some issues.

Changes from the Test-Splat

Of all the test weekend changes, the worst is that Tricolor Battle appearances were nerfed to the ground, even from an attacker’s point of view. Nintendo said the frequency would be lowered, but I almost never got to play it despite only queueing for it once it was available. I was able to participate twice. Since matches are so short, it’s nearly impossible for most people to learn it or appreciate it, making the mode feel like a waste. It’s nice that players are sent into regular Splatfest Turf Wars instead of waiting forever for a game, but it’s a huge disappointment.

And I wasn’t the only one. People across social media noted just getting into a match was difficult. Post-release, I’m not seeing as many complaints about the actual battles, just that the mode is rare as heck. To put it into perspective, I participated in a 10x Battle and a 100x Battle, both of which are supposed to be rare. The fact that I got into just as many multiplier battles as I did regular Tricolor battles isn’t a good sign.

It especially doesn’t help that the Tricolor battles seemed like a new major feature. Others elsewhere notice that it logically makes little sense to reduce the mode’s frequency because of this. That being said, the mode’s lack of popularity also made some people on the winning side completely avoid the mode, only exacerbating the situation.

Given the pre-event bug, I had half hoped that this first Splatfest would award all three sides evenly, and I say that as a Team Gear person (this Splatfest’s overall winner). Nintendo probably should have run tests significantly sooner, not only to handle the connection issues but to address balancing the “fun” of this mode, which largely seems to do with how points are being handled. Between the complaints about the mode being infrequent and missed versus complaints about scoring, I’d wager the mode is generally a success, but more hardcore players are upset only about their Clout scores being in danger.

This is exactly what a beta is for, and while I applaud Nintendo for at least making an effort instead of sending mode out as is, its being the last major console maker to really go online is showing.

That being said, the game having all its systems online helped round out the experience. Clearly some parts were, ah, less than ideal, but the full game has gear to grind, card games to work, other modes to jump into, and what felt like a bigger audience.

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The full force of Splatfest in Splatoon 3

While the test weekend was fun enough, it didn’t give players a full scope of what Splatfest meant. As previously noted, the catalog plays a big role in this. Each new level you gain gives conch shells, both before and during Splatfest. The catalog kind of acts like a battle pass, giving three months worth of exclusive rewards and (hopefully) motivation to grind those levels in. Splatfest also gives a 1.2 xp modifier, making that grind a bit easier.

While Salmon Run players benefit from that too, PvP is still the name of the game. Admittedly, after some very bad games, I did a few Runs myself, and it was a nice little escape. I also often forget that Salmon Run gives out lots of cash and ability chunks, so if I saw something in the shop or Splatnet and needed cash fast, I’d hop out of turf wars to make some gold, bug that new armor piece, and then jump back in. It made Splatfest feel more whole, but only because I play all aspects of the game.

As previously noted, the nerfed appearance of my beloved Tricolor Battles is a sore spot, but one interesting thing I noted was that my Pro Turfbattle results were better than my open Turfbattles. I’m not sure how the queue and internal match-making differs, but the results were noticeable.

Open battles felt incredibly problematic: People were not painting their bases at all, or were clearly using a new weapon they had no idea how to handle, and I say that as someone who used a few weapons I was less steady with myself. It often felt like I was the only capable person on the team not zerg rushing to die. In fact, I’d check some of the opponents in the game’s overworld after a match and find people had kitted out their Splatfest shirts (which you lose at the event’s end) with major investments, like adding Ninja Squid. It seemed as if strong players may have avoided Pro for easier games. I normally do pretty well when I casually queue, but my Splatfest losses were ridiculous.

Pro, on the other hand, had far fewer issues. I was often at least 50/50 for wins, or the matches would be much closer. Again, this is just my feeling, as the above breakdown does make it seem like my team did pretty well in open. But I have a feeling those of us on Team Gear (purple) who tried to do the Tricolor Battle instead of Pro may have had our losses added to open when the game sent us there instead of to the Tricolor battles we were queue for.

I wonder if adding a Tricolor Pro option may help Nintendo out in the future. Again, I’m not sure where all of the above numbers are coming from, but Team Fun (green) clearly had skilled players. A system where the skilled players looking for an even match can meet other likeminded players might help make a more positive experience for those involved, as well as help benefit smaller teams, which Team Fun was.

Overall, Splatoon 3’s first Splatfest felt rough. The negative aspects probably stood out more just because the game has so many more options that aren’t directly involved with Splatfest. However, it’s because of these new options that Splatfest feels bigger than ever. If Nintendo could just fix the connection issues, give non-PvP players (and future card duelers) unique ways to promote their team in their desired play-style, and make the Tricolor Battles work, the game could really shine. For now, there’s a few paint splotches here and there, but the game is still a gem thus far.

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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