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Thoughts About the Heavy (and Medic) in TF2

Thoughts about the need and ability to balance the Heavy class in Team Fortress 2.

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 Übercharge (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 Übercharging.

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.

Heavy Unlockables

My ideas for what some of the upgrades for the Heavy Weapons guy in Valve’s Team Fortress 2 should be.

—Begin Update—

Looks like Valve has finished their work and are looking to roll out the Heavy update soon.

You can look at their Heavy Update page as they will be announcing the changes to come.  The actual update will probably be in a couple of weeks. will hit on August 19th (so saith the Shacknews).

—End Update—

Valve Software, makers of Team Fortress 2, have begun adding class achievements and unlockable weapons for completing those achievements.

The next class to undergo a makeover will be the Heavy Weapons guy. Here are my ideas for the primary and melee unlockables. I haven’t come up with one for the secondary weapon yet.

Primary: The Gear Gun

The main idea behind the Gear Gun is to give the Heavy an advantage when it comes to the spin-up and spin-down times that encumber him with the regular Minigun. The Gear Gun has a long, thin gear that runs out the bottom and top of the weapon. When the gun is spun up the gear rotates perpendicular to the barrel. With this he can use an add-on contraption I call the Spring Chicken.

The Spring Chicken is a small, round cylinder that has a gear-slot running through its center. When placed on the Gear Gun and the gun spins, the Spring Chicken’s inner coil tightens up, storing the energy. It may then be rapidly discharged to halt the gun quickly. Alternatively, the gun may be allowed to spin down normally and the Spring Chicken can be flipped over. This allows it to be discharged to rapidly spin-up the gun. The gun must be halted before it can be flipped back, so as to allow for recharging it.

The idea behind these functions are to give the Heavy a one-off shot at either spinning up quickly or spinning down quickly. It can’t be reused rapidly, and both can’t be done on a single use of the weapon. It would probably require some remodeling and new sounds.

The other benefit of the Gear Gun is that it can be used with the Engineer’s entry-teleporter. The Heavy can spin up the teleporter manually using the Gear Gun. This would allow a Heavy to sit back near spawn and assist others in moving up to the front lines faster.

Melee: Brass Knuckles

This just seems like a no-brainer for a class that has the default melee of his bare (okay, gloved) fists. Add some brass around those suckers and sucker-punch some lippy snipers.