Valve sapping mah enthusiasm! A look at the Spy/Sniper update

25 05 2009

Ok so like I said earlier Valve put out the new “Spy vs. Sniper” update for Team Fortress 2. Feelings are mixed amongst many longtime players; partially because of the content in the update, but mostly because of how Valve chose to change the way we unlock new class items. Personally I’m not sure what to think, yet I can’t help but feel the new system will be not only a polarizing change, but possibly a bad one. Also it’s really hard to not say “you got someone’s MMO in my TF2” under this new system, but perhaps I should explain. Also there will be an actual review of the new maps and items contained within the update at the end of this, so settle in.

See, the old system for unlocking the new class items in TF2 was that you would have to earn certain “milestones” by accomplishing X number of achievements (I think the standard was somewhere along the lines of milestones being after 10, 17, and 21 achievements). Granted some people would use achievement farming servers to get the items without having to actually play. Essentially an achievement farm was a server set up with a lot of bots for the purposes of getting kill-based achievements, as well as a few control points and some intelligence breifcases for the capturing achievements. Of course, it’s really more the loss of the players who decided to get their items this way, because to me, having achievements that gave you a goal to strive to (and thus increase your skill naturally) would only serve to help someone play better. Granted the time commitment is a bit much though, in fact I only unlocked all of the Scout’s class equipment (partially because that’s my favorite class and partially because that’s all I was playing at for the most part) through playing normally, and in fact had not unlocked anything else by the time the new update landed.

The new update changed all of this however. In an effort to curb the achievement farming, all the new class items, plus the old ones, would now be delivered to players through a random drop system, based entirely on how much time one has been playing (over the last 2 weeks). Granted all of the older items can still be unlocked with achievement milestones, but there are no milestones for the sniper and spy. This presents a problem. No longer are players rewarded for their skill, and having to wait for random chance to give you an item, which may not even be the one you want, is frustrating to many. I’ll give as an example one of my friends. He mainly plays a sniper. He’s damn good at it. So naturally he wanted to get the Huntsman (the new bow the sniper gets). However since he can’t be adequately rewarded for his skill, he instead has to wait for a bunch of random dice rolls to eventually decide he deserves to get it, rather than some random other item. He got 4 duplicates of other items before he got the bow yesterday, after almost 30 hours of playing. Fortunately at around hour 20 he got the Dead Ringer spy watch upgrade and found amazing success with it to tide him over until he finally got the bow, but you see the point I’m getting at. This is exacerbated by the fact he had over half the Sniper achievements accomplished through normal play, because again, he’s good. But again, he wasn’t actually rewarded for being that good, and as such the achievements no longer mean something. Even though I myself have unlocked almost all the items and found one of the ultra-rare hats, I didn’t’ feel like I had actually accomplished anything. I had just finally gotten lucky. Heck, other people had probably gotten everything just by spectating in afk-friendly servers. Yes that’s right, a new form of farming has cropped up because even people just spectating will unlock new items. That’s not encouraging play in the least, let me tell you.

What’s really making this system feel really MMO-esque, however, is news that they plan to give us weapons that have slightly different attributes from other weapons of the exact same design, hence all the unlocked weapons having levels. And they plan to do this because they plan to introduce a system whereby people will be able to trade weapons amongst each other, hence all the duplicates we keep getting. This, is not a good idea. TF2 is a good game because it is balanced (for the most part but I won’t go into another tirade on the Pyro’s Backburner). Having weapons carrying vastly different attributes from other weapons of the exact same make will serve to damage this balance, perhaps irreparably. Especially if they start doing, “unique” items. I mean imagine if they made a unique and ultra-rare Scattergun (the default one) for The Scout that has the knockback power of his unlock weapon, The Force ‘a Nature? The weapon would be too powerful, first off. And again, balance would be broken. And balance has always been hard for them to maintain, especially given how badly they nerfed the Ambassador (new Spy revolver) after just one day, but I’ll get to that…right now in fact.

Reviews of the new Items for this update

Now that I have most of the items and have played on all the new maps, let’s get down to brass tacks.

The Huntsman: The Huntsman is the new bow for the sniper. Carrying only 13 shots (effectively making the ammo half that of the sniper rifle), and having to compensate for arrow flight time, the weapon is nonetheless excellent. It can still do deadly headshots, as well as pin people to walls when it kills them. The only thing you have to look out for is holding down the fire button too long (since you have to “charge” a shot) and thus causing your character’s hand to shake and the aim to be ruined.

The Razorback: This one-use shield protects against a backstab and also stuns the spy’s knife for 2 seconds. Now this one I don’t have yet, but many are saying they don’t think it’s worth the speed decrease your character suffers. Personally I think the fact that the shield is electrified should at least damage the spy a bit.

Jarate: Ok so Valve decided their april fool’s joke weapon was actually not a joke at all, and thus the Sniper can throw a jar of urine at his enemies, causing them to take 35% more damage, short-out spy cloaks, and put out people on fire. Yes it’s kinda gross, yes it’s slapstick, but then again this game has never been about seriousness. I think this will probably be a limited utility weapon for those Snipers who wish to play a larger defensive role or even take the offensive at times.

The Ambassador: The Ambassador is the Spy’s new revolver, pretty much a handcannon (in theory). It does a “mini-crit” on a headshot (and in fact you can get specialized headshot kills with it if you’re good enough) but it fires a bit slower and also every shot causes the gun’s spread to fluctuate wildly, ruining accuracy. Some tweaks definitely need to be made because right now it’s doing less damage than it was designed to (the idea was more damage at a decreased firing rate), because they nerfed it hard just one day after release. Mostly because of bugs (and there were many in this update) Other than that though i think it’s really interesting and once the problems are sorted out it should be a very effective weapon.

The Cloak & Dagger: The first of two upgraded spy watches for the Spy, this one allows spies to recharge their cloak, while cloaked, as long as they stand still. It also drains differently depending on how fast you’re moving (crouching and moving will have it drain less quickly). In effect this allows spies to become strategists that can pick their moment to strike far more effectively, especially on maps with long time limits or no time limit at all. I had an impressive 16-point run with this watch, and aside from a very long recharge time, I have no complaints. The long recharge time is probably to offset how useful it is.

The Dead Ringer: The other watch for the spy generates a fake corpse upon taking a nonlethal hit, and instantly cloaks the spy for 8 seconds. This then recharges every 15 seconds. The downside to this item is that spies lose their normal cloaking capability, but my friend who unlocked this watch enjoys it immensely, saying how it completely has redefined how he plays spy. And I have witnessed this new way he plays first-hand, being able to win in 3 to 1 odds even. Best part about this watch though is that, if you’re on fire and it drops your fake body, the fake body will remain on fire, while you yourself are not. In most cases of course, you could still get hit by the fire while cloaked.

Hats: Every class now has an ultra-rare hat/headgear they can be awarded through the same random drop system. I was lucky enough to get the spy’s fedora. These hats do not do anything stat-wise, and are merely for looks. Personally I think it’s a cool idea.

As for the maps, I’ve enjoyed them. The new payload race mode is an ultra-intense battle between teams each trying to get their cart to the finish first, and the two new arena maps are amazingly unique and interesting. Hoodoo, the new payload map, is all right I guess, it’s a lot more compacted and corridor heavy than the other payload maps, which makes for a much different play style.

Anyway my final thoughts on the update are as thus. Given the multitude of bugs (Ambassador shooting through doors, bugged achievements, missing capture point names on Sawmill), it may have been a better idea to hold off on this update, or at least QA it a bit better. Also I feel like we were a bit swindled by the new unlock system, especially after all the hype they did with the buildup to the release. Fortunately my enjoyment of the game was not permanently ruined, but I have to hope Valve takes a look at the outcry from this new system, as well as the many AFK servers, and rethinks their strategy.




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