In 2011, PC Gamer called Team Fortress 2 “the most fun you can have online”. But how true is that statement? Does the game hold up after 14 years?
Team Fortress is one of Valve’s most loved intellectual properties. Although it started off as a paid game with the Orange Box, Valve saw potential in its popularity and made it free-to-play in 2011. Over the last few years, Valve’s active development in the game has dwindled, which has only made the fanbase and love for the game stronger, with people coming together to create community-made updates and to make dedicated communities built on helping people improve or to even expand on pre-existing modes made by Valve themselves.
The game is like any other multiplayer game and has four main gamemodes: control points, payload, king of the hill and capture the flag – but there are also multiple additional gamemodes: Mann vs Machine, territory control, payload race, pass time, mannpower, medieval mode, robot destruction, player destruction etc. It’s clear that valve isn’t shy of trying to expand the already-replayable game as much as possible with new and interesting takes on the universe – which isn’t even limited to the wacky different gamemodes you can play. The ever-so-increasing map pool includes Asteroid, a map set in space, multiple Halloween-based maps where you fight bosses and can get teleported to the underworld to obtain spells and advantages over others, collect beer bottles to deliver to a UFO, and so on. The limitless storytelling possibilities in the crazy universe that has been devised allows for concepts and ideas that wouldn’t normally be possible in other games within the genre.
One of the things that makes the game so great is that it’s silly, ridiculous and doesn’t take itself too serious and Valve is fully aware of that – creating “Meet the Team” videos that perfectly encapsulate the people you can play as within the game.
The nine playable classes can all interact with each other in silly ways, such as being able to conga, high-five, dance, butt heads and more while also having their own unique ways of expressing their personality such as taunts that show the soldier riding a tank, or the scout eating a chicken wing from a bucket. The classes also have their own voice-lines based on certain actions in the game such as capping a control point, dominating an enemy or just interacting with another player with co-op taunts.
Intertwined within these characters are unlockable weapons that have different attributes or abilities that offers a vast amount of different playstyles to be used or experimented with. The Scout’s “mad milk” covers the enemy in milk and if a team player hits them, they’ll get healed, or Engineer’s frontier justice which gains critical hits for every kill the sentry gets until destroyed, or even the Demoman’s “tide turner” which sacrifices his stickybomb launcher to be able to charge players with a shield and bash them for damage. There are so many weapons and playstyles that can be made and adjusted to fit what the player wants to do that it’s actually insane how much freedom there is.
Every class has at least 5 different weapons in each slot that have different abilities, some which completely change how you play the character. I’ve already mentioned Demoman’s shield replacement for his stickybomb launcher but there’s also Soldier’s gunboats that gives him more manoeuvrability if you sacrifice his shotgun as well as a parachute that replaces the same slot. The Engineer has a “wrangler” that replaces his pistol but allows you to manually aim where the sentry shoots, and Sniper’s sniper rifle can be replaced with a bow and arrow which is projectile-based and doesn’t require zoom-in and can be extremely versatile if used expertly.
Trying to review Team Fortress 2 itself is a very daunting task – I’ve been playing it since a few months before it became Free-to-Play in 2011. Between my time playing the game from 2011-2014, it was absolutely fantastic. But, it felt like it really fell off from around 2015 onwards. Frequent updates became less frequent as Valve focused their efforts on Counter-Strike, Dota 2 and their VR technology. “Meet Your Match” was probably, in my opinion, the nail in the coffin and the end of “the Golden Age” of Team Fortress 2. Adding in a competitive mode to try and capitalise on the game’s dedicated (but relatively small in comparison to other Valve properties) competitive scene and then removing quickplay and replacing it with a levelled Valve-server only “Casual” system that shoved community servers into a completely separate tab was probably what caused the most damage. The community was – and always will be – the heart of Team Fortress 2. Moving that to the side to try and make the game more similar to other properties harmed a lot of people’s enjoyment.
One of TF2’s most recognisable features, crates, were replaced with cases that gave graded weapons: exactly like CS:GO. Having stat-graded items on-top of the already existing unique item qualities made things even more complicated, dumb and unnecessary. It was absolutely fine with the unique item qualities – strange, vintage, genuine, haunted, etc. But adding another layer to that – increasing and artificially making items more desirable than before just didn’t sit right with me. I’m sure people will see this as a pointless argument or opinion from me, but I always felt that having the game’s unique identity and just adding CS:GO-esque additions on top of all of that was never right. Although I will admit that adding weapon skins was kind of cool, to me, it basically washed away the antiquity of already skinned weapons such as the Australiums, botkillers and the Golden Wrench.
And now, the biggest flaw of them all, aside from Valve’s lack of care about the game anymore – the bot crisis. Bots join casual servers, aimbot hacks, wallhacks, made the servers lag horrendously, spam music in voice chat, say racial slurs in text chat, and if there’s multiple of them, they can prevent votekicking other bots. Valve TRIED to fix this issue a handful of times but instead made it worse for newer players who couldn’t use text chat or voice chat, or whatever else. If people weren’t turned away from the game after 2016, then the bot crisis certainly turned them away.
Despite all these problems that have watered down the game since its best years, a consistent thing that I’ve always loved are the maps (community created or otherwise) and the amount of customisation available.
Some of the maps in the game are fantastic. Badwater, Hydro (sorry), Sujin, Los Muertos, Lakeside, Swiftwater, Highpass etc. I could go on and on. The amount of different maps and different game modes are incredible and the variety in each one is astounding. Different themes, different unique looks, different everything. However, some maps (Bloodwater, Wutville, Graveyard) can absolutely to go hell.
Cosmetics. Oh boy. The customisation in different loadouts and looks that you can try out is crazy. Some of the item-collisions are horrible and make for some of the funniest and cursed loadouts ever, while some just make for great looking unique identifies for every player. One gripe, however, is Valve pretty much just ditching the items that fit the artstyle and look of TF2 just to add silly and stupid joke items. The “Dancing Doe”, the “Potassium Bonnet” , the “Corpse Carrier”, “Thousand Yard Stare” and that item where it looks like the pyro’s suit got ripped and you can see their underwear. I just don’t get it. What’s the point? There are SOME good items that are based on other games or outside properties, though. The Seared Sorcerer comes to mind. I think the customisation is great, but I wish that the developers would have kept to that unique artstyle that made the game stand out, and not just adding in the highest rated items or maps, there needs to be some quality control.
Team Fortress 2 still has a dedicated community, almost 14 years after initial release but its gone downhill significantly since, 2014, with “Love & War” being its last great update. If I was reviewing the game back in 2014, it would have been an instant 10/10, but in its current state, taking into consideration how it’s fallen off in the last 6-7 years, the story is entirely different. It’s one of my favourite games ever, but seeing how much its changed – for the worse – is one of the saddest things for me to see. It used to be so good, but now it’s just a shell of what it used to be. It’s fun with friends as it always was, but be prepared to engage in a virtual economy down the shitter and a bot crisis that Valve have no clue to solve and a matchmaking/competitive system that would have been better off just never being added in the first place.