Thoughts On Team Fortress 2’s Gun Mettle Update

You might have forgotten Team Fortress 2 exists, but the same can’t be said of the 50-odd-thousand people that are playing it as I write this. Last week Valve rolled out the games 33rd(!) major update, ‘Gun Mettle’ bringing a new comic, new maps, balance changes and a 3 month long event. I spycrabbed my way back in to check it out.

The focus of the update is on the Gun Mettle Campaign, which costs $6 to buy into and provides contracts twice a week for the next 3 months (or longer if Valve feel like it). In Valve’s words, these are ‘skill-based contracts, with one-of-a-kind weapons and exclusive weapon cases as rewards’. These are mostly class specific affairs which are fulfilled by either earning points with that class or more quickly by completing advanced objectives, such as earning taking 1,000 damage as a Heavy or killing airborne enemies as the Soldier. Completing a contract nets you a gun with a unique paint job which you can examine in game with a button press, CS:GO style. In addition, points earned towards each contract also level up your ‘Campaign Coin’, which appears next to your name on the scoreboard and shows off what a great little mercenary you are.

It’s a simple idea, but a neat way of encouraging old and new players to experiment with all of the classes. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in TF2, but nearly all of them have been with the Spy. Being coaxed out of my comfort zone proved to be rewarding very quickly; I managed to complete my contract by airblasting a crit rocket back into a Soldier’s’ face. Being the other side of 1v1 fights involving a Pyro and a Spy for a change was also immensely satisfying. Better still, equipping the Backburner allowed me to play as a pseudo Spy, sneaking around the map until pouncing and delivering critical hits from behind. Even if players were aware before that these sorts of things were possible, they might not have appreciated their effectiveness or the sheer fun that’s to be had in variety. Earning a snazzy shotgun as a backup weapon is a nice incentive to mix it up, though for the most part completing the contracts is a reward in and of itself.

The new maps introduced with the update vary in quality, as you might expect. Valve’s own offering, Powerhouse, is a fairly standard symmetrical capture point map. It’s only got 3 points, making matches shorter and more tense, with one team always only one point away from victory. The other maps are all community designed. Snowplough is a capture point map disguised as a payload one: the blue team has to get the titular snowplough to the other side of the map via a railway track, sending it hurtling forward by capturing control points along the way. Rather than a normal timer, every 30 seconds that the train remains stationary a rock or car is bashed into it by a mechanism from above. If the snowplough takes ten hits, it’s game over. The setup lends more drama to a close capture, the visual flair and countdown that accompanies each hit underlining either victory or defeat.

Suijin is the weakest of the new additions, a king of the hill map which has players fighting in an oriental temple. The control point is inside an easily defendable pagoda, making it trivial for the team that captures it first to pop some sentries or a heavy in each corner and keep it until the timer runs down. It’s a shame, because it’s one of the most visually distinct environments in the official map list. My favourite new addition is Borneo, an alpine themed payload map which is full of stairs and corners that are perfect for leaping down or around as a Spy. It’s no Badwater Basin, but serves well enough as my new hunting ground for the time being.

Valve have also made some pretty big balance changes, the most major of which seem to target my dear old Spy. Forgive me a little eulogy to the Dead Ringer, which now cloaks you for half the time and reduces damage by 50% rather than 90%. To make matters worse, you can’t pick up ammo – which would normally extend your cloak duration – while using it anymore, cutting off many of the routes I’m used to running while staying invisible. It’s not all doom and gloom though; certain other weapons that previously went ignored by myself and other players have been revitalised with entirely new mechanics, such as the Big Earner which now provides a 3 second speed boost on a successful backstab. Outside the Spyo-sphere, Engineers now have an easier time building things quickly and can repair their mini sentries. There’s a whole host of other tweaks which I’m sure will have some players howling with frustration and others cackling with joy, which you can check out at the bottom over here.

Lastly, Valve have added a weapon pick up system that allows you to swap your gun with ones dropped by dead members of the same class. It’s intended for less experienced players to have a go with items they don’t yet own themselves, but using some new weapons effectively requires squatting in a corner for a while to read the description. In the past, it’s taken me minutes to comprehend some of the more convoluted gizmos from the comfort of the main menu: I don’t envy new players the task.

To some extent, the same can be said for returning players. There’s undeniably a lot going on in a game of TF2. Pyros bash sappers off of sentry guns with hammers, Demomen charge across the map wielding exploding bottles of liquor, Medics run around with symbols flashing above their heads. Parsing all of this nonsense is next to impossible, but crucially also unnecessary – at its heart TF2 remains a fairly simple shooter. Yes, some of the many, many weapons that have been added in the 8 years since the games launch can be perplexing, but it’s only in rare cases that knowing the complexities of an opponent’s weapon really matters. For the most part all you need to do is point and shoot. Despite the vast arsenal that’s built up, I haven’t encountered anything that feels overpowered. Even so, if you find yourself dying again and again to someone using a weapon you don’t have, nowadays every weapon can be bought for pennies on the steam market, so it’s easy to level the playing field.

Miraculously, I haven’t mentioned hats once so far in this article. The hat bloat is real. For me at least, they just don’t feel special anymore: now that there are so many ways of making your character look unique, uniqueness doesn’t hold the same value. That said, the expanding wardrobe is part of a frivolity that fades into the background but is nonetheless appreciated. As much as people complain about how generic gruff military men have come to dominate multiplayer shooters, it’s easy to forget how true that can be. By comparison, all of the characters in TF2 have character, and it’s testament to Valves initial design that this shines through, past the giant lollipops and sentient bread. TF2 is as fun as it ever was, and while the Gun Mettle is no revolution, now is as good a time as any to jump back in.

If anyone needs me I’ll be in the corner, cradling my Dead Ringer.

37 Comments

  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    Dead Ringer? Good riddance I say. But what about the poor Caber? What will the Royal Highlander Kamikaze Corps do now?

  2. Kitsunin says:

    Hmm, I feel like if they made its decloak sound less deafening, the Dead Ringer would still be a very interesting tool. As it stands, even with the new speed boost it seems a bit overnerfed. It was too much before, for sure, but it’s better to give something a more interesting role than to make it nearly worthless. Not that I can say with confidence these changes make it worthless since I’m a pretty terrible spy.

  3. LionsPhil says:

    Christ alive, is that a pile of nerfs. On what servers were sentries being repaired too easily?

    • Jalan says:

      Indeed.

      The first time I played when this update went live, one of the contracts I had was for the Engineer. I quickly learned just how much of a pain it’s become to play as one now. They’ve made it more palatable to play as a Heavy by comparison, which might as well be a mobile sentry without the addition of the rockets.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I don’t understand why they’d nerf reloading a wrangled sentry when getting people to even consider that (presumably outside of serious co-ordinated clan play) is hard enough. Pubs don’t care, and even for friends it’s boring to hold down M1 and flail a wrench while the other engineer gets to actually aim at things.

        Sounds like they’ve taken a fair bit of mini- out of the minisentry, too. The whole point of it used to be it was a disposable drop-and-run deterrent/distraction you didn’t have to wrench.

        • mechtroid says:

          So, what happened is the Rescue Ranger. Before the nerf, you were able to heal a sentry faster than it could take damage from anything but sticky bombs. Since the damage taken is reduced by 66%, reducing the healing by 66% as well just makes healing as effective as it is without the shield, instead of allowing a single engie to heal the effective HP faster by a factor of three.

        • Jalan says:

          Yeah, I was never big on the mini (I swear I didn’t set out to write it like that) but it has to stink for those that were. I’ve run into a few Engineers while playing as a Heavy since this update who’ve tried to use the mini-sentry and even when it wasn’t me taking them out, it was way too easy for someone playing Scout/etc. to just take it out during the construction phase.

    • Enkinan says:

      Before the patch I played a ton of Gunslinger. Now I only go regular sentry/pistol/Rescue Ranger. The new speed on build times and rebuild times makes life a lot less boring and make an offensive engy much easier for CP maps.

  4. Jalan says:

    Suijin is a haven for Snipers. Even if you feel as though you underperform as a Sniper, you’ll feel like a king on that map.

    I had fun on Snowplow though (recently having it for a contract). At first I thought the map was a little too favorable toward Blue until I realized it was mostly due to the fact that while I was on Red, there was a numbers deficiency going on. Once the auto-balance kicked in, it began to get interesting and I was enjoying myself, even as I was hit full-on by the train on the map.

  5. Monkeh says:

    “reduces damage by 50% rather than 90%.”

    I think you mean “rather than 10%”, otherwise this would be a buff.

    • Janichsan says:

      No, this is correct: before it reduced the damage *by* 90%, i.e. 100 damage became 10 damage. Now it only reduces damage by 50%, i.e. damage is only halved.

      • Monkeh says:

        Bit weird to have that in a sentence after saying “forgive me a little eulogy to the Dead Ringer”, while it’s a buff than..

  6. jellydonut says:

    I have wanted to give TF2 a go again, but every time I tried in the past the bewildering amount of random game mechanics added by new items was too confusing. It’s only gotten worse in the years since..

  7. Kollega says:

    And of course, nobody cares that this update is just a further excercise in “monetizing” and “gamifying” TF2, with your “contract coin” to level up and getting boxes handed to you that can only be opened by paying real money for a key (even if you get it from someone else who paid real money instead of buying it yourself).

    With my desire to have a parodic spy-fi multiplayer shooter with great art direction that I could play without it constantly urging me to pay outrageous amounts of money for junk of questionable value, or spend tons of time and patience trading for junk of questionable value with random people, I honestly feel like a relic of a bygone age. What happened to giving players a high-quality hollistic experience instead of endless reasons to spend money, eh, Valve? >:-[

    • Distec says:

      Kind of agree. On principle, I’m not sure I care for paying six bucks for the opportunity or privilege of ATTEMPTING contracts. At least the MvM tickets would inevitably get burned on some difficulty level.

      I guess the alternative is spending those six bucks for the items directly in the Mann Co store, but I don’t find it to be a pleasant taste either way. Unlike some others, I am still completely capable of enjoying TF2 while ignoring all the Hatz & Dropz business. But it’s still irritating seeing this stuff in the periphery.

      • Jalan says:

        I had similar reservation toward this whole contracts business. Like most people, there’s classes I don’t play because I know I’m not good with them (I have all the subtlety of a pink elephant when I play a Spy, for example) and I was dreading being saddled with contracts for those classes. As it turns out, I had a Spy contract last week and was able to complete it (not without some effort though, obviously) but when it came time to do the bonus point section of the contract I threw in the towel (it was regarding backstabbing people and as it is, I’m lucky to get the backstabs and typically end up with the facestabs which typically end in my death shortly after or during, more often).

        They aren’t that difficult to complete at all.

        I had more trouble with the Engineer contract than anything else thus far (the game has doled out ones for that, Heavy, Demo and Spy to me along with map-specific contracts) and that’s mainly due to the change in how (regular) sentries can be utilized now, especially when you have opposition that decides to go half Spy and half Heavy. Irritating as it was, it required a bit more patience than usual (and picking the right map to accomplish it on – Badlands was where I eventually settled, placing my sentry and a dispenser in my team’s house area near the point and then tried my best to avoid being ambushed by the usual backburning Pyros or a Spy who thought they could slip into the area undetected).

    • drinniol says:

      Yeah, they should continue to support TF2 100% for free and work for no money!

      I never felt forced to spend anything in TF2, but if I did, there’s trading cards to sell.

      • Kollega says:

        I don’t know what you personally think, but Valve literally own around 70% of the PC digital distribution market, and get tens of thousands of new customers and untold amount of money on it every day. The least they could do to thank their endlessly loyal fanbase is update TF2 with new features for free – especially if those features were new maps and gamemodes, as opposed to weapons, cosmetics, and ancillary games-within-a-game like all the things you need to level up. TF2 did just fine – even better, I would say – without all the MMORPG elements first when it came out.

        And yet, instead of this Valve have decided to milk their fanbase to the fullest by basically acting like a stereotypical huckster merchant at a stereotypical we-sell-everything bazaar. When I visit places like that and get accosted with people shouting at me to buy their goods, it doesn’t “force” me to spend anything either, but it’s still annoying.

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          calcifer says:

          The least they could do to thank their endlessly loyal fanbase is update TF2 with new features for free – especially if those features were new maps and gamemodes,

          Just within the last year, they have added 2 entirely new game modes (Robot destruction and Mannpower), started a beta maps program, added several new maps to the game and made dozens of balance changes. But I guess that stuff doesn’t really count when you are bothered by completely optional cosmetics that people might want to pay for.

          • Jalan says:

            I was going to respond with similar but this essentially saves me the trouble (and says it better than I’d intended).

          • Kollega says:

            And there goes my point – that we could have EVEN MORE of that goodness, and perhaps even entirely new map themes like Suijin or Egypt (and indeed, Robot Destruction’s Asteroid), if Valve did not spend most of their resources bloating the game with new weapon effects, chemistry sets, gun camos, and unusuals. As LionsPhil justly noted below, the game is a bloated mess at this point, gameplay-wise and graphics-wise (and also story-wise). And that wouldn’t happen if instead of fleecing the playerbase with cosmetics, Valve put those concept artists and texture artists and 3D modelers onto creating new amazing environments.

            And you know, I am not even against having a few customization options in the game. in an ideal world, Valve could just give the players a few small sets of well-designed cosmetic items for free, to be earned as rewards for exceptional performance or good team-play, instead of making hundreds of them and selling them for real money. Hypothetically, with their millions-a-day profit margins, they could afford to add a dozen different, well-made items for each character and give them away with no strings attached. But apparently, it’s “entitlement” and “naivete” and “socialism” and “heresy” to ask for that.

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            calcifer says:

            I understand that there is a minority who long for the days of the original spy-fi theme and that’s a perfectly valid opinion. I can also sympathize with people who think skins, unusuals etc. are “bloat”.

            But I simply cannot understand your objection to the money making aspects of the game. They give the game for free, keep it updated with free new content for nearly a decade, all payments are hidden behind a shop button on the main menu and even then, none of them are related to gameplay in any way.

            Hypothetically, with their millions-a-day profit margins, they could afford to add a dozen different, well-made items for each character and give them away with no strings attached. But apparently, it’s “entitlement” and “naivete” and “socialism” and “heresy” to ask for that.

            So because the company have other means of money making, TF2 should continuously operate at a loss, as a charity to you (or others like you)? I wouldn’t call it “socialism” or “heresy” as you said, but definitely “naivete” and “entitlement”.

          • Kollega says:

            It’s not even the money-making policy I object to. It’s the way Valve has completely turned TF2 into a money-making vehicle that I find despicable. You want an example of what I wouldn’t object to? Map stamps. Valve could build their funding of the game’s development on voluntary donations to map makers and hat designers, and with the enormity and devotion of TF2’s fanbase, easily break even or operate at a loss that’d be negligible for a hundred-million-dollar company that only employs ~300 people. But instead, they do everything in their power to incentivize the players to spend real money, as often as possible and with no upper limit in sight. And that is what pisses me off in what TF2 has become.

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            calcifer says:

            Valve could build their funding of the game’s development on voluntary donations to map makers and hat designers

            I wish I had the numbers to show you, but the number of people who has bought even a single map stamp is tiny compared to the millions who have played or is playing TF2. You can check it in-game for individual maps yourself. Also, you are against them adding new cosmetics so how would hat designers get donations?

            or operate at a loss that’d be negligible for a hundred-million-dollar company that only employs ~300 people.

            I get that you are pissed at this, and I sympathize, but you are just making my point for me. You want Valve to run TF2 as a charity, and act puzzled when people call it “entitlement” or “socialism”.

          • Kollega says:

            I am not against adding new cosmetics per se. I am against adding new cosmetics every other day. It’s a quality versus quantity issue. And yes, I am pissed. I am pissed beyond all reason because not only Valve have made TF2 microtransaction-based when originally it was a pay-once game, but they have gone completely wacko-jacko in trying to “monetize” and “gamify” it and maximize profits from the game as much as possible, as opposed to keeping it a hollistic masterpiece polished to a mirror shine.

          • Kollega says:

            In short, my problems with TF2 and F2P in general can be summed up in one phrase describing their attitude: “artistic integrity matters not.” And considering what TF2 used to be, it feels like a betrayal of everything the game stood for.

          • belgand says:

            Well, and some of us actually paid for TF2 back when it was released. Before the alternate weapons were added in. Before it went F2P, and long before hats. The game I bought is no longer a game that can be played. That’s pretty annoying right there.

    • Jalan says:

      It’s just the same crate system basically, with a CS:GO-styled take on it. It’s really not a drastic step into territory that the game hasn’t already been in for years now.

      • Jalan says:

        Also, even though I began playing the game after it went F2P despite the fact that I’d bought it while it wasn’t (I bought the Valve Complete Pack and ignored games in it that I thought at the time I’d not enjoy), I have not once felt the need to drop money on it because the game demanded me to do so.

        I also play with stock loadouts, despite having a number of the other weapons available to use. The only exception I made is the rare instance when I play Spy, since I’m so bad with the class that my style of play necessitates the use of the Cloak & Dagger (and even then I’m still rubbish with it).

      • Kollega says:

        And I’ve been protesting against crates exactly since they were introduced in 2010. Apparently, Valve thought that Chinese F2P MMOs where people are encouraged to gamble away untold amounts of time and money are an example of a good business model.

        I get that TF2 needs money to develop, but perhaps Valve could stop introducing more and more real-money sinks, is all I’m saying.

        • Premium User Badge

          calcifer says:

          How is it a problem where nothing you can actuall pay for effects gameplay in any way? It’s all purely cosmetic (hats, weapon reskins, stranges etc.) and completely optional. Chinese F2P MMOs are completely and unashamedly pay-to-win, which is pretty much the exact opposite of TF2.

          • LionsPhil says:

            While none of it may be Magic Homing Gold Bullets, the game has gone from a sleak, cut-down version of TFC, an exercise in careful trimming of the fat, to a big, bloaty, noisy mess of special weapon effects and a graphical cacophany.

            They may as well just put grenades and detpacks and armour and medic diseases back in by this point. (Actually I’m kind of surprised there’s no Medic weapon for the disease mechanic yet, since several others have snuck back in contextually—e.g. the Dead Ringer brought back Feign Death.)

        • Jalan says:

          Wouldn’t that logic apply toward buying any game equating to an encouragement to gamble away both time and money?

          I can respect your dislike of it, I can even empathize with the annoyance of not necessarily being forced to spend your money but having to dismiss things that say you could do so/etc. but I can’t follow the notion that this has made the game unplayable or that they’ve neglected to do anything for those who refuse/just don’t want to spend money since the game went F2P.

          • Kollega says:

            It’s one thing to gamble $5 once on an indie game that may or may not be something fresh and new, or even $30 on a single-A title that looks promising but is not very polished. It’s another to gamble hundreds of dollars on crates when 90% of what you get will be dirt-quality items that you get randomly every half an hour. There’s a difference.

            And the reason F2P made TF2 unplayable is the bloat and the ware-hawking. Valve constantly add new items so that the old players always have something new to buy, regardless of complexity or aesthetics, and the various systems of the game get all up in your face in order to sell you things that neither you nor anyone sane actually needs. When I can buy a brilliant new indie game or a golden oldie from my childhood for five dollars, even getting asked to spend five dollars on one virtual hat is an insult – or in the case of a person like me, who fell head-over-heels in love with TF2’s original aesthetic before it got diluted by camos and unusuals, a spit in the soul.

  8. Stevostin says:

    A bit like Q3 wasn’t that great but RA3 was, TF2 was really my game once I found Orange 3X. I played hundred of hours on that one but now I have totally switched to Survarium. Not the same game at all but you can’t carry the feel of both at the same time.

  9. Klaxon Overdrive says:

    It got me back in playing classes I usually ignored.

    And I’ve already made the price back on the Market selling the contract rewards.

  10. TheRealHankHill says:

    They should have just made a new game rather than ruining the unique feel of vanilla TF2 imo. Also, maybe they could spend some of the ridiculous amount of money they make exploiting peoples gambling habits on TF2 and CSGO by giving us servers that are worth my left sack/fixing their netcode? Not like they don’t have the money for it after sucking the life force of every shut in with little self control of their hat/skin/crate/key money.