By the time you’re reading this the war that has consumed Team Fortress 2 for the last week will be coming to a close, as I’m writing this there’s no clear winner or loser, but one thing is certain, it has been a truly epic encounter. Unless you’ve been living in a cave with only dial up access for the last week, you’ve probably noticed that Valve have been working on one of their irregular updates to the venerable online shooter. Each time they’ve tried to outdo themselves with the build up, but this one has really blown the doors off.
Last week Valve laid down the gauntlet to their players, the Soldier and Demoman classes would each be getting three new weapons, as is standard, but a fourth bonus weapon would go to whichever class killed the most of the other by the time the update was rolled out. The initial result was utter chaos, with teams dominated entirely by the two splash damaging classes the servers were a cacophony of explosions were a player was every bit as likely to get caught in a random crossfire as he was to die a purposeful death, but things have become more organised, if no less violent, since, with 24/7 war servers popping up where grim purpose rules. At the time of writing the war has claimed 11,470,648 lives, approximately twice as much as the Vietnam War, and the scores remain close. The more numerous Soldiers stormed into an early lead, at one point taking a lead of nearly half a million, but in the last few days the Demomen, who count amongst their number some of the most skilled TF2 players I’ve ever seen, have clawed things back somehow and are now a mere 15,000 behind, making it far too close to call.
Meanwhile, Valve have not been sitting on their hands, they’ve produced a series of comics outlining the backstory to the war, they’ve put together a contest to design propaganda posters for each side, and of course they’ve been slowly revealing the weapon unlocks we’ve all been lusting after. Personally I’m going to find the urge to go with a sword and shield wielding Demoman near impossible to resist.
I first started playing TF2 around the time of the Pyro update, I’d never been able to get into an online shooter before, I’d always found them too hardcore for me, but TF2 struck exactly the right comprise between challenge and accessibility. Each class played a little differently, allowing new players to find one they were comfortable with, and Valve were committed to maintaining this. The first update (for the Medic) had been somewhat underwhelming, but this one took the Pyro, who at the time was seen as ineffective and pointless, and turned her into an important team player able to deflect rockets back at those who shot them and kill people with a taunt. It showed a commitment to fun that has stuck with the game ever since.
New and sillier weapons have followed, the Heavy now has a sandwich that can restore a portion of his health, the Sniper demoralises enemies by throwing jars of his own urine and the Scout downs and energy drink that sends him into a bullet dodging frenzy. And these updates are not merely for giggles, the sandwich makes the Heavy more survivable if he doesn’t have support from a Medic, and the Scout’s new double shotgun turned him from my worst class into one of my best.
If you, like I, are tired of online shooters that all play like Counter Strike and Modern Warfare, of hostile communities and players so outrageously skilled they spoil everyone elses fun, then I can do no better than to reccommend that you try Team Fortress 2 (which is free this weekend) for a game that never forgets that while the score matters, it comes second to having fun.