Thoughts About the Heavy (and Medic) in TF2

A lot of people think the Heavy Weapons Guy needs balancing in Team Fortress 2. Often seeming underpowered for gamers used to the pace of a Soldier or Demoman, the Heavy seems due for a buff (an increase in his abilities).

Meanwhile, the high-skill Heavy players present a huge challenge to that idea. They mow down whole teams, so the notion that a direct improvement of Heavy’s items can suffice misses the problem that Valve faces. If they direct-buff the Heavy, the skilled players will only become that much harder to beat.

Back before TF2’s Heavy update came out, Valve’s design problem was how to make Heavy less reliant on a Medic. The Heavy-Medic combination is very powerful, but lots of times there isn’t a Medic to help. So they added the Sandvich to compensate, and let the Heavy roam free of a Medic.

While that was itself a positive move, there was likely another side to that design problem: how to get more people playing Medic. Medic stands apart from the rest of the classes in being almost purely support. Medics do not get the same sense of achievement (that of actually getting frags). They can provide major help to a team, but without that reward of a kill it’s harder to quantify their ability.

If you play Soldier on a losing team, you can still see if you got a lot of kills and points. You made some difference. A Medic doesn’t have the same feedback, and being the one player that counts on others’ abilities makes Medic a niche class. Even using the Medic’s big ability of an √úbercharge (making a teammate invulnerable for a period of time) still counts on them doing the killing.

A game like TF2 requires at least some damage-heavy classes. Too many Snipers or Spies sinks a team very quickly. There is something of a food pyramid to team construction. Roughly:

  1. Soldier, Demoman, Pyro
  2. Heavy, Engineer, Medic
  3. Scout, Sniper, Spy

It varies a bit by game mode, map, whether a team is attacking or defending, and a player’s skill in a class. But that’s the general shape of things. The first tier consists of classes that are good at dealing a lot of damage both offensively and defensively. The second group is area denial, slow pushes, support. The third is countering, distracting, and slowing the other team.

But skilled players can take their class of choice and push it up to the top tier, which is why Valve has to be careful about a buffed Heavy. If they found the right alternative (akin to Demoman’s shields), Heavy could straddle the line a bit more without making him too good for the skilled.

On the other hand, they could seek to tweak the Heavy to make him sit more securely in that second group. That would mean the players that can currently turn Heavy into an offensive powerhouse would find him in a more support-oriented role. It might not go over too well, but if that change involved new toys it might.

As for the Medic, it’s not clear what such an alternative would look like. Back in QuakeWorld Team Fortress the Medic could infect enemies. It’s not clear if that mechanic would do much or be something Valve is interested in reviving. Others have suggested making Medic a walking dispenser, but that would be overpowered unless the ammo dispensing capabilities were fairly limited. My guess is that a dispensing Medic is partly borne from the desire to see Medic have something more to do than just healing and √úbercharging.

It’s also clear that the team pyramid is a good thing in itself. Small games need damage classes. Larger games need diversity of classes. I don’t think Valve will move away from that general landscape.