July 7, 2008

Team Fortress 2 Achievements and Unlockables

First the Medic. Then the Pyro. Soon, the Heavy. Team Fortress 2 (TF2), an every-man's FPS, has been making me nostalgic for MMO class nerfs and buffs. Every player is a fan of a certain class. It is their class and they can not wait for it to get "updated". Unfortunately, "updates" for one class, are nerfs for another. This holds true in most class-based MMOs and TF2.

Unlockable Weapons

I was quite excited to hear about unlockable weapons for TF2. The game was great already and this was just icing on the cake. TF2 was a complete game at launch. These unlockables were not used in a "patch the game in later" approach that so many MMO failures use. However, Valve has committed a sin that many MMO developers have, and I am a bit miffed on how the unlockable weapons are being rolled out.

Valve decided that unlockables would be rolled out one class at a time. This is reminiscent of MMOs that often choose to update classes one at a time. As one class gets "updated", the other classes suffer. Fortunately, for TF2, the classes are pretty strong and well-balanced to begin with.

Unfortunately, whatever TF2 class receives an update becomes overplayed and it doesn't take long for the "X is overpowered" cries to begin. When the Pyro, the first offensive class to receive unlocks, update came out, every server was filled with Pyros, all trying to unlock the new weapons. As the zerg of Pyros began upgrading their weapons, many players felt that Pyros were unfairly made overpowered.

I play a lot of TF2 and I strongly feel the new Pyro weapons are not overpowered. The problem is that there are a million Pyros running around and when a player constantly dies to the same new weapon, it feels overpowered. The servers are starting to settle down as most die-hard Pyro players have received their goodies, but it will all start over when the Heavy class is updated.


In order to unlock new weapons, players must complete class-specific achievements. Sticking with the over-the-top theme of TF2, the Pyro achievements were a riot. Like the Medic achievements, the majority of the Pyro achievements take actual skill and teamwork to achieve, but an ugly truth hides just under the surface.

The ugly truth is that Valve has no system of official ranked servers and most players simply go to "achievement" servers to cheat. On an achievement server, specifically built for a set of class achievements, it takes a matter of hours to complete all achievements. A feat that would take hundreds of hours in normal play.

To me, this completely invalidates the entire achievement system. Worst of all, the weapon unlocks are directly tied into the achievements system. In order to unlock the new weapons, a player must complete a set number of achievements. Players aren't stupid and achievement servers are big business.

The argument comes up that achievements are a personal goal, but I don't give a damn if a player can say to themselves: "I know I didn't cheat". No one else will care and it won't matter when the player that exploited runs them down with a Level 10 Backburner. Either players cheat, or they suffer at the hands of those that do.

The class updates should be a boon to all players, not just those that cheat. This could easily have been achieved by allowing everyone access to the weapons, completely removing the unlock system. The weapon unlocks should have never been tied to the achievements, as it just promotes the rampant cheating that is occurring.

Valve desperately needed an Official Server system in place prior to these achievements going live. Without a means to control how achievements are gained, there is no merit in any of them. Lack of integrity is wont on the Internet, especially where frags and pwning are concerned.

Its a sad state of affairs for an otherwise great game. The achievements and new weapons themselves are brilliant, but the achievement/unlock system as a whole is just another sad excuse for cheaters to prosper over honest players.