Cry some more!

When it was announced that Team Fortress 2 was becoming a free-to-play game, the gaming world went into a frenzy. One of Valve’s most recognized properties, most likely due to its widely-loved “Meet the Team” videos rather than its actual merits as a game, was suddenly about to get a flood of new players, and I was right alongside them. I’ll admit that the only reason I got Steam was because I wanted to play Team Fortress 2, and nearly six years later, my Steam library is now full of titles that I’ve owned for several years and will always say, “I’ll get to them eventually.” I have Team Fortress 2 to thank for really getting me into PC gaming, and I’ll always be grateful.

However, Team Fortress 2 has evolved constantly over the past couple of years, and some of the changes haven’t exactly resonated well with me. It still remains as my most played game in my Steam library at just about 400 hours (I know compared to some, that’s not impressive, but cut me some slack).  There’s things they’ve added that I love and there’s things that I hate. Let’s go over some of the most noticeable things to happen with the game since it became free-to-play and determine why I have a love-hate relationship with it.

First off, if you’re looking for different game modes, Team Fortress 2‘s definitely got you covered. The game has quite a number of modes to choose from: King of the Hill, Payload, Capture the Flag, and many more. Since the game became free-to-play, we’ve seen several game modes introduced only to fall by the wayside. The most noticeable has been Mann vs. Machine, the game’s official co-op mode. This was released in 2012 and involved players teaming up to destroy waves upon waves of robots that run off of money. It’s so different from standard Team Fortress 2 that I think it’s actually kind of brilliant. It provides a separate dimension to the game rather than just another tacked on, undeveloped game mode that gets abandoned fairly quickly, because the game already has plenty of those. A couple of game modes have been introduced with one or two maps and then seemingly forgotten about.

Special Delivery was a modified version of the standard Capture the Flag formula where the focus is on holding a specific point long enough to launch a rocket. It only has one official map that isn’t awful, but feels too choked in terms of level design. Special Delivery has promise, but it desperately needs new maps to help develop the mode and open up new possibilities for it. Then there’s Mannpower, which is another Capture the Flag variant, only this time it adds grappling hooks and power-ups. Despite these additions, Mannpower doesn’t really have any pizzazz to it; there just isn’t any substantial game play difference for this mode to matter. Robot Destruction is another mode Valve added and then tossed aside, but this one isn’t even officially finished yet. It’s just lying around in the game’s files, and it’s honestly wasting space. Finally, we have PASS Time and Player Destruction, two modes I haven’t played yet and haven’t felt any inclination to.

What I’m getting at is that the modes that Valve’s added to Team Fortress 2 haven’t been spectacular, but maybe that’s because Valve was focused on its competitive mode, which launched last July. This was obviously done to capitalize on the massive success of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch, multiplayer shooters that have thrived off of their competitive play. Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the game having a competitive mode. It had a solid competitive community before the mode was implemented, and the feature was heavily requested for years. I also think that the game play really suits the competitive mode; it’s the same kind of high-octane objective-based action that made Overwatch boom in popularity.

I just wish that Valve handled it better when it first came out. At first, Valve outright replaced the more casual system that had been in place for nine years—a system that everybody who wasn’t exclusively a competitive player enjoyed. They eventually brought it back, but the fact that Valve was so willing to completely ditch the casual side of Team Fortress 2 set off a red flag in my head. It made me feel like Valve was out of touch with what people wanted with the game. They wanted a competitive mode, not a competitive game, and even though Valve has gone back and rectified this issue, I still can’t shake the feeling that they want so badly for it to compete with Overwatch that they’re willing to abandon everything that drew in players beforehand.

Of course, there’s also the lack of any new weapons in the past few years. Team Fortress 2 had quite a selection of weapons when the game became free, each of which brought a whole new dynamic to the game and allowed you to select how you wanted to play a character. The amount of new weapons being released has dropped substantially, however, and Valve has instead relied on changing the way already existing weapons worked. They’ve been changing weapon stats for a while now, and I don’t mind when they simply tweak weapons for balance, but when you completely change how a weapon works, or at least force players that use that weapon to alter their strategy, it makes the player wonder why you can’t direct your energy into just making new weapons instead of changing up old ones.

In the game’s defense, however, I can totally understand why we haven’t actually gotten any new weapons in a long time. Team Fortress 2 is a game about balance. Everything from weapons, maps, characters, and objectives have been carefully designed to be balanced as best as it could be. I won’t claim that the game is completely balanced, but with the sheer amount of game play mechanics they have to work with, the fact that they’ve been able to balance everything as well as they have is mind blowing in its own right. Adding weapons that add a completely new way to play the game would therefore be incredibly tricky, as every single other game play element would have to be considered. Still, it’s not always pleasant to learn we’re getting a bunch of useless weapon skins in a future update rather than an actual new weapon.

These are just some of the major changes, but it’s clear to see that Team Fortress 2 is a game that’s evolved quite a bit in the time I’ve been playing it. The core game play is still there and is still tremendously fun, so I can always count on the game to deliver on the game play aspect. The finer details and Valve’s design mindset, however, have me more worried than excited for what’s coming in the future. This October marks the tenth anniversary of the game, and I’d love to see a massive content update that would aim to not only celebrate the game’s long history, but provide fans with a fresh new experience that reminds them of why they loved Team Fortress to begin with. Or, you know, we could just get a bunch of hats dropped on us. We’ll see.