A love letter to the venerable video game shotgun

The shotgun is an immortal video game weapon. It’s simple — you click, they die. No arguments.

If its a video game with guns in it, and most of them are, and it doesn’t have a shotgun in it … I mean, what are we even doing here?

Its roots are deep, with the most iconic entry in early gaming coming from DOOM‘s Super Shotgun, a double-barrelled shotgun that deals an intense amount of damage. The price: a slower firing speed than its single-barrel sibling.

Today, the effectiveness of a video game shotgun as a close-quarters-combat weapon is still widely appreciated. Balanced correctly, it is massively effective at vanquishing enemies, usually being a weapon that can one-shot the vast majority of foes in the vast majority of games.

To this point, we have been speaking strictly in terms of single-player action. In its multiplayer incarnation, the video game shotgun sits at the rather awkward intersection of skill and satisfaction.

This year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the first series entry in nine years to put shotguns into the Secondary Weapons category. The last time this occurred was in Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Weapon balance is one of the greatest concerns in Call of Duty. SMG’s and shotguns would typically dominate public games in previous titles; the sheer output of SMG’s and the close range element of shotguns makes these weapons the perfect choice in close-quarters maps, the exact style of map design Call of Duty excels in. They were regularly called overpowered but really, they just gave you an edge.

Perhaps this reallocation of weapon status for shotguns is also to provide a sense of balance to the games premier game mode Blackout, a battle royale game mode on a massive map with a large amount of adversaries.

Or perhaps it’s recognition of a change in pace in the online shooter market.

The approach to putting shotguns in games has been quite interesting when you look at it with perspective.

Whilst the Call of Duty series has previously given the player the freedom of choice, the Battlefield approach has been to see shotguns as optional through a different vein — all classes can use them, but they’re not typical to the Battlefield play style. Where Call of Duty prefers close quarters, Battlefield is all about scale. It’s large maps significantly diminish the effectiveness of close-quarters weaponry.

Meanwhile, Overwatch’s approach to shotguns is also quite unique, albeit due to the games premise as a team shooter. The only hero who uses the weapon is Reaper, a situational hero built for flanking, pouncing, dealing buckets of damage to high health tank heroes before high-tailing it to safety. Reaper is hard countered by any hero that can fight from a distance. Rainbow 6 Siege‘s approach is similar, only giving such weapons to select heroes.

Perhaps EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront had the most extreme shotgun implementations — only one shotgun with a crazy long cool-down equip-able as primary, and another shotgun that could be equipped as a Star Card, which also had a crazy long cool-down, and only had one shot.

So, hypothesis: is the shotgun a tired variant in typical online shooting games?

It’s an easy call to make that the shotgun requires a lower skill ceiling to operate in a game; you click and they die, with the only trade-offs being the range, ammo capacity and sometimes the firing speed. Meanwhile, weapons like assault rifles and sniper rifles require a skill-speed trade-off when using them; higher ammo capacities, greater range, but often less guaranteed stopping power.

It would be interesting to see what happens of the shotgun; whether it’ll stick around in online shooting games, or fade into the background, becoming a bonus or a non-primary weapon of some sort.

Perhaps there’s an array of ways that shotguns can be included in online shooters and not be deemed overpowered; the approaches of Overwatch and Rainbow 6: Siege definitely work, however the trade-off is that those are hero shooters, and give the player less kit customisation in between games.

Perhaps the unique Star Wars: Battlefront approach to including balancing and including shotguns is where we should look to; a player carrying the shotguns in that game did so at the expense of carrying other equipment and gear.

One things for sure though; that guy definitely wasn’t close enough to one shot me. 

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Zachariah Kelly

A Journo from Sydney who loves looking into the why's who's and what's of Video Games.

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