A Team Fortress 2 Relapse
A few years ago, I thought I’d sworn off Team Fortress 2 forever. It had been a few years since its release and I’d had a great deal of enjoyment from the game, but it was time to move onto other things as I became increasingly tired of multiplayer games. Valve had made a tremendous commitment to the game and been steadily releasing updates to it that had transformed the game. In many way it felt like a vastly different game as new modes, maps, weapons and hats (oh so many hats) got bolted on. After a while I’d become overwhelmed trying to keep up with the additions and decided that I’d enjoy TF2 from a distance. The comics and videos that Valve had been releasing in tandem were amusing enough and gave me my TF2 fix.
Every time I thought about giving the game another go to see how it played, I just thought of all the new and exciting ways I would become cannon-fodder to the folk who had kept up with the game; as well as the dizzying array of fancy hats they’d be wearing as they did so. TF2 has perhaps become a victim of its own success; its long life span, huge amounts of updates and dedicated fans have served to intimidate the players like me and scare them off. Stepping back into that world was an unnerving proposition and I’d prepared myself to watching myself be blown up innumerable times before deciding the game wasn’t for me anymore and I should just go back to enjoying the game from a safe distance. It didn’t exactly turn out that way after all. TF2 has been dominating my free gaming time for the last month since re-establishing with it.
Perhaps my biggest mistake was thinking that TF2 had outpaced me, as though the only way to enjoy it properly was to be first in line to try out new updates and become an expert in all. I’d convinced myself that missing an update (say for example, the demo-man’s claymore and shield update from a few years ago) was akin to missing out on an important exposition scene from a film because you left for five minutes to use the loo and now you’re lost in the increasingly confusing plot. Part of the genius of TF2 was that it was easy to pick up but difficult to master. The updates are the same. Other players may have picked up the new gadgets long before you but even if you are using the same basic equipment the game originally shipped with, you can still compete just as well as those with all the new bits and bobs.
I’d assumed everyone would be using super rare items and overpowered weapons that made everything in my basic game inventory obsolete. I imagined hordes of super-skilled players using futuristic tools that I couldn’t fathom the meaning of. In reality, no two players ever seem to have the same load-out and my inventory was more than capable of giving my out-of-touch and unskilled abilities a fighting chance. Indeed once I got back into my groove, to my surprise, I was actually still a fairly decent player. The weapon drop system provided me with a steady stream of new goodies to play with so it wasn’t long before I could tinker with my load-outs in greater detail. It turns out that a good mix of the classic TF2 weapons and newer ones works well to my play style.
The newer game modes that I wasn’t familiar with were fairly easy to get to grips with. Most of the time I found that just following the lead of other players was sufficient to learning the game. On the occasions when I was a bit more lost, the community players were usually more than happy to explain things to me. Particularly with the new Mann vs. Machine update that introduces co-op missions against robots, but also a few new features that I wasn’t expecting, but after being tutored by my team mates, I quickly got the hang of it. Of course the newer maps needed a lot more time to get used to. Most of my game time in the last month has been spent on maps that I’d never seen before, and some of them are really pretty big and confusing. I’m getting used to them slowly but surely.
Above all, I’m pleased to see that the TF2 sense of the ridiculous hasn’t changed. It’s even more ridiculous and weird. On my first game of my TF2 relapse, I was distracted by some teammates jumping and shouting about the place in the distance. Curious, I went to see what was up and to my sheer delight I saw that someone had started a conga line in the middle of a big fire fight, because TF2 is now a game that lets you start a conga line in the middle of a fire fight. Naturally. It makes perfect sense. You can buy new taunts and animations for your player in the TF2 marketplace (incidentally, I’ve not needed to use microtransactions to become relevant in the game at all, I got all my new loot from in-game drops), but that doesn’t mean the people who don’t have those taunts and dances can’t join in when you initiate them. TF2 is as inclusive as it ever was. There are vast amounts of crazy things that have been added into the game; it seems that every game I play, I come across something else that adds to the cumulative TF2 silliness meter. Stay silly TF2, stay silly.
It’s rather good timing on my part that I relapsed around this time of year because Valve will be holding their, now traditional, Scream Fortress event in honour of Halloween. I played one Halloween event briefly (long enough to get a cool ghoulish hat) a few years ago, but I’ve largely missed these events due to my years of TF2phobia. Luckily, Valve have unleashed all of their previous Scream Fortress events into the wild again in anticipation of this years’ offering. I’ve only played one game so far, 2013’s event I believe. It was suitably odd. I helped push a corpse cart around a track in a race to send the opposition’s corpse to hell, periodically fought the Skeleton King, used some spells and then turned into a ghost during a battle in hell. Yeah, that’s Team Fortress 2 for you. It’s insane and hard to explain. Just go with it, you won’t be disappointed.