For my entire blogging career, I’ve been a part of the MMO blogging community. I’ve followed MMO blogs and written about MMOs almost exclusively. I’ve even been known to hold an attitude of superiority over those gamers who play single player games exclusively, or who prefer console gaming to PC gaming. I don’t play MMOs exclusively, though, and from time-to-time I can get excited about a non-MMO game (The Sims 3 anyone?!). One game I especially love that isn’t a part of the MMO world is Team Fortress 2. The only first person shooter I’ll play, and, for my money, the best.
For those who don’t follow TF2, the game designers have gone through a series of updates over the past year or so. Four of the nine classes for the game have received an update, which includes enhanced achievement goals and special weapon rewards. The fifth class that has been chosen to receive an update is the sniper. The TF2 blog has been dropping hints about what a sniper update might entail.
For the other classes, the weapon rewards were typically improved versions of the standard weapons — pyro’s flamethrower is replaced by a flamethrower that does critical damage when fired from behind, scout’s standard melee-capable baseball bat is replaced by a baseball bat that can knock a ball into an enemy player and stun him, and so on. The designers admitted that they had a difficult time determining what sort of improved weapon to give snipers in place of the standard sniper rifle. The sniper rifle is already ridiculously overpowered if used properly. It functions exactly as you’d imagine: the sniper waits in a concealed area, targets a player who either doesn’t see him or can’t reach him, and fires, causing an instant kill if it’s a headshot. How do you improve on that?
The designers determined that they can’t. At least, they can’t improve on the sniper rifle itself. In a recent blog post, Robin Walker of Valve discussed the problematic nature of the sniper update:
You’re often killed by [the sniper] while you’re engaged with an enemy in the foreground, and most of the time the Sniper is so far away it feels like you couldn’t have dealt with him even if you didn’t have enemies nearby. In fact, the Sniper’s goal is to create that relationship: he specifically wants to fight enemies outside their engagement range, because that’s his primary advantage.
We chose the goal of designing an unlockable that encouraged the Sniper to get a little closer to his target. We want him to give up some of his primary advantage in return for something else, so that enemies he kills feel like they were engaged with them, and feel like they could have survived if they’d just managed to fight a little better.
Enter The Huntsman. This is the first part of the sniper update and was revealed yesterday. It hasn’t been explicitly stated whether The Huntsman will replace the sniper rifle or the sniper’s alternate ranged weapon — the machine gun. Nevertheless, it seems like an intriguing addition to the sniper. For the most part, I’ve found the unlockable weapons to be a bit hit or miss. The heavy’s unlockable gun, for instance, isn’t something I enjoy using. I also think the scout’s unlockable gun has its drawbacks. I think I could enjoy The Huntsman, though.
From the text in the update promo, it sounds as though players who are shot somewhere other than their heads (which would insta-kill them) will be pinned so that the sniper can have a second chance at shooting them. Robin wrote a clarification post saying that, no, The Huntsman doesn’t stun. “It pins dead/dying players.” I’m still confused. Why use the vague term “dead/dying,” if all The Huntsman does is pin dead players to the wall? Doesn’t that term imply that “dying” players, as in players who have been wounded but are still alive, will also be pinned? I’m hoping we’ll get more clarification on this soon. Giving the sniper the ability to pin players who are still alive, allowing him a chance at a second shot, would be extremely powerful. It would also be in line with the scout’s unlockable stun bat, which gives the scout (or his teammates) the opportunity to have a free shot at the enemy.
I haven’t been playing much TF2 lately, mostly because I’ve been playing MMOs instead or doing other leisure activities like writing or reading. The sniper update will be a great excuse to return to the game when it is finally released. I was just starting to play the sniper a lot before my play time decreased, so I’ll be interested to see how the improvements affect my opinion of the class.
It’ll also be fascinating to see how the update affects balance issues in the game. There was a lot of anger about the scout’s seemingly overpowered update, so you can bet there will be plenty of opinions about the sniper unlockables. I think the sniper was pretty middle of the road in terms of power, though, so maybe it won’t be so terrible. It’s not like they’re updating the demoman or the spy, arguably the two most ire-inducing classes. I do not look forward to the day that the demoman gets an unlockable weapon.