August 19, 2008

Team Fortress 2 Arenas: Fight to the Death

The incoming Wargasm is not the only gaming news of importance today. Valve is hard at work supporting Team Fortress 2 (TF2), new game mode included.
TF2 Arena keeps the class diversity of Team Fortress 2 while focusing goals around combat between two teams. Where other game modes lean towards a broad overall strategy for the team over a number of lives, Arena concentrates on the specific tactical choices the teams make in a single fight.

Arena features smaller maps that play out in shorter periods of time. The round ends once one team has no players left in the arena, or when the central capture point has unlocked and been captured. Rounds tend to be very fast and highly competitive, with an emphasis on your team’s class makeup and your plan to counter the opposing team’s class choices. Arena mode is great for smaller matches of three vs. three players, while still comfortably supporting huge knockdown twelve-on-twelve brawls.
This is a feature that I've already seen take shape on Custom Map servers, specifically for fans of the Spy class in TF2.

The Spy class in TF2 is a source of both love and hate. One second a Spy is destroying everything known to be awesome, the next they are randomly eating dirt. For a long while, after the Pyro blitz, playing a Spy was simply suicide. With the Pyro push receding, the life of a Spy has returned to normal sappin' and stabbin'.

However, it is still a high-stress, often maddening experience to play a Spy on a regular basis. Current TF2 maps are too large to effectively stealth into place. Hallways are too crowded to bypass enemy players. Chokepoints are easily spammed making travel to the enemy backside impossible.

Most of these complaints will now be silenced in Arena mode. Fewer players, smaller maps, and a focus on class cohesion and teamwork will result in a new era of Spy gameplay.

I focused on the Spy, but it is only one of many classes in TF2 that will benefit from Arenas. This will actually be a very interesting game mode for all classes. Engineers will be critical against Scout rushes. Pyros will be critical against Spies. The list goes on and on.

One worry that I have is that I feel there is still no true paper to the rock that is the Demoman. Coupled with a Medic, Demomen are absolutely deadly in TF2. Demomen can be killed, but they are by far the top choice for good players and can easily dominate with a good Medic in tow.

Another worry is that critical hits could ruin the day in small skirmish game play that will be found in the arena maps. One critical rocket from a Soldier and it could be lights out for half a team. On the positive side of critical hits, this may make the Kritzkrieg upgrade for Medics a bit more popular.

The Heavy update gets more interesting by the day. I just hope it comes out before I am knee-deep in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.