It has always seemed silly to me to write articles about major content updates to a self-proclaimed war-themed hat simulator like Team Fortress 2. Valve's fastidious maintanence of the Team Fortress 2 community, lore, and game play balance is often overshadowed by the stoic pursuit of head ornaments on the part of the players. Despite being the internet's third most played FPS, some Steam users still have the gall to declare that TF2 is "dead". A bustling commune of contributors, busier servers than ever before, and an internal economy so large that it's begun to collapse on itself. Anyone who calls that "dead" should visit a mortuary.
Now, I could probably write a whole piece of the inevitable self-immolation of the TF2 economy. In fact, I probably will. For now, avid TF2 mercs out there have had two large content updates during the month of December 2014. On their own, the End of the Line Update and Smissmas 2014 aren't much to write home about. Together, there's actually something to discuss.
First up is a fan-created TF2 short movie called End of the Line.
Pretty nice for something made by players, huh? It's a nice wintry diversion from the standard American southwest gravel mines and deserts. All those hats and winter clothes that you see on the characters? Those are now in-game cosmetics. For people who care about that sort of thing.
Besides new decorations and a Pool Party Pyro taunt, the End of the Line udpate gives us players a new measure of leaderboard progression in the form of adorable rubber ducks. Players can acquire a Duck Journal from the Mann Co. Store. When equipped, the journal will keep count of all the ducks that are dropped in combat. When ever a player is killed or an objective is completed, rubber ducks scatter across the battle field. Each duck recovered and generated will add Duck XP to the player's journal. After five thousand XP, the Duck Journal will level up. There are twenty meaningless levels to earn. Or you can just World of Warcraft your way to higher levels by purchasing a Duck Token.
Sure, this may be just another way to keep players playing until the end of the contest. And it may not be a very interesting update on its own. Luckily, that's not all that we've been given this past month.
As of December the 22nd, 2014, Valve has been spreading the Smissmas spirit with their new Smissmas 2014 udpate. On the itinerary are twenty-eight winter-themed cosmetics, seven Festive weapon reskins, two new beta maps, and three entirely new weapons.
There are plenty out there who obsess over finding Festive Chargin' Targes, Festive Backburners, and Festive Bonk! Atomic Punches. Even more out there put their own time and money to possess a combover or the Engineer, attractive striped Spy scarves, and Scout's Mom's that fit in your pocket. Those of us over here whose fathers aren't oil barons and have bills to pay instead might focus elsewhere. The weapons.
The Iron Bomber:
This four-barreled Demoman grenade launcher acts as a primary weapon. It launches circular projectiles which, unlike standard grenades, do very little in the bouncing and rolling department. You see, this allows for a little more predictable grenade firing. You have a much better idea of where it will land. The caveat here is that the explosion is twenty percent smaller. Also, grenades the explode on the timer (that is, not directly hitting an enemy) will do ten percent less damage
Clearly, this is a weapon meant for more precise grenading. Instead of lobbing bombs around corners where the enemy team probably is, the Iron Bomber is for those throwing less caution to the wind.
The Quickiebomb Launcher:
This secondary weapon for the Demoman replaces the stock stickybomb launcher. Instead, the bombs have more spikes, and are capable of destroying enemy stickies. The Quickiebombs arm themselves a fifth of a second more quickly. They also disappear after two seconds after landing. More trade-offs: While the charge time for launching these stickies farther is cut in half, they also do fifteen percent less damage. This particular launcher has six bombs per clip instead of the standard eight.
Those are some weird stats right there. Laying sticky traps is impossible with this launcher. Being able to send out explosions farther and more quickly really increases damage output significantly. This one really has my eye. I might craft this one and give it a go soon.
The Panic Attack:
This shotgun can be used by the Solider, Pyro, Heavy or Engineer. Like the Beggar's Bazooka, this shotgun starts out with an empty clip. You must click to load each round and then un-click to fire them all. The spread and damage of these four rounds varies on the player's health.
The Panic Attack loads thirty-four percent faster. As the player's health decreases, the firing rate increases. However, the weapon's damage spread also increases, making for less accurate shooting. This trade-off is most useful for classes in the midst of combat, taking constant damage near their foes. It's the shotgun equivalent of the Equalizer. It's not so useful for defending Engineers or Heavies with pocket Medics. Try this weapon out when playing a rocket-jumping Soldier or combat Engineer.
Outside of these new weapons, there are other new, fun things that Valve has added to TF2 for our playing pleasure. A brand-new game mode called Mannpower. This beta mode uses Capture the Flag modifications of Foundry and Gorge to let us fool around with grappling hooks and power-ups.
In true form to Batman and Legend of Zelda, grappling hooks allows players of all classes to launch a claw attaching to any surface, and reel themselves in at any distance. The player can't attack during this time. There are also smaller details in Mannpower mode, like shorter respawn time and brief invincibility upon coming back to life.
The real hook...I mean, the real unique feature about this mode is the aforementioned power-ups. On the map, players can pick up nine little icons. These icons award specific stat boosts for the duration of that life. Buffs can include double attack power, double defense, health and ammo regeneration, faster projectile speed, faster movement, and more.
As a beta mode, all of the specifics of these power-ups are subject to change. At this point, Valve is letting people play the mode as much as they like, and looking for feedback in the Steam forums. I have yet to play much of this mode. Don't ask me for thoughts on balance, new strategies, or how these power-ups help in capturing briefcases just yet.
That, my friends, is the last month of Team Fortress 2 in a nutshell. It's been a pretty cool year for TF2, all things considered. Between some new weapons and a new game mode, I will have some reasons to continue booting up Steam in 2015.