I cooed a little about the amount of free stuff Valve have added to TF2 since release, but it’s not purely to fix or improve the classes. They’ve been experimenting with ways to leverage this free content to add an element of persistent progress and character customisation to TF2. But their experiments have been weird, and so far the resulting system doesn’t really do its job. If you’re all too familiar with why the current system needs changing, you can just skip to how I suggest changing it. Here’s what’s wrong:
You can unlock weapons for a class by earning its achievements. That means everyone plays the same class when its new weapons are released, even before they’ve earned any of them. We’re bribed to play that class at the very time when TF2’s primary problem is inevitably going to be too many people playing that class. And we’re often bribed to play it in counter-productive ways to fulfill achievement criteria, some of which are just fun little jokes.
You can ‘find’ weapons and hats randomly. On the plus side, that sometimes gives you a weapon for a class you don’t normally play, encouraging you to try it out. On the down side, well:
- A lot of what you find is duplicates of what you already have, which means that little gold message comes to be associated more with disappointment and absurdity than excitement or pleasure.
- People’s fortunes vary wildly without any correlation to skill. Some people play for hours a night, rarely get a weapon, find only dupes, and have never seen a hat in hundreds of hours of play. Others consistently get unlocks every half hour or so, and have copious hats for classes they don’t even play.
- Consequently, very rare and exclusive class items like hats don’t signify anything when you see a player wearing them. What does the mighty Camera Beard tell you about a Spy? Nothing, he just got lucky.
You can ‘craft’ items by combining lots you have to produce one you might not. Presumably meant to tackle the dupes problem with the random drops, but what we understand of the current system is totally bizarre. If you don’t have the Eyelander, you seem to need six copies of the other two Demoman weapons, plus at least eight melee weapons, to craft one without losing anything you need. In a given time period, you’re about 13.8 billion times more likely to just find an Eyelander than what you need to make one.
For a hat, you’d have to find eighty-one weapons you don’t need just to make a random one. To have more than a 3.4% chance of crafting the one you want, it takes a hundred and twelve. At the end of which, you’ve got something a new player might find in his first hour with the game.
That’s what’s wrong with the current system. I think it needs a few changes to work as an addictive RPG, as a way of customising your characters to your tastes, and as a way of showing off your skill or dedication in the way you dress. The unlocks system ought to make the repetitive violence feel like part of a larger goal, and give you a sense of progress even if you lose. Here’s how I’d do it:
Unlockable Weapons: You’d be able to browse these from the main menu to see what’s available, and select one you want to unlock. Each requires somewhere between 250 and 500 points, and once you select it all the points you score in-game, as any class, count towards that. That’s about 2-4 hours play – the Flare Gun might be 250, the Direct Hit 500. You need to be in a game with at least four non-idle players or bots for your points to count, but beyond that anti-exploit measures are probably futile.
On top of that, every five hours or so you’ll get a random weapon unlock that you don’t already have. If it’s the one you’re working towards, points earned so far transfer to what you pick next.
The idea: Every match gets you closer to something you really want, and the items you choose first make you a different player to those around you. At the same time, you can still get something unexpected for a class you don’t normally play that might encourage you to try them.
Achievements: I think they should stay – I even think the silly ones should stay. In fact, I’d get rid of the sensible ones, and just leave the ridiculous accomplishments – taunt kills, ironic deaths, corpse dancing and tortured puns (Slammy Slayvis Woundya? That’s what you’re going with?). But they no longer earn you weapons, they’re just an acknowledgement for any time you do something remarkable.
The idea: Silliness absolutely has a place in TF2, and trying to get things like taunt kill achievements just makes the game hilarious for you and your enemies. But no-one should be bribed to go for them if they don’t want to.
Feats: This is where the sensible achievements would go. They’re things that genuinely benefit your team, so you’re rewarded each time you do them: some bonus points towards your unlock (but not your in-game score) and a little pop-up: “Medic Feat! Extinguished five team-mates, +2 points”. Things like multi-kills, capturing a point alone, setting light to a cloaked Spy, killing a fully charged Medic, or making the winning capture would always be rewarded.
The idea: By letting people know they’ll be rewarded every time they do this, it both teaches and incentivises intelligent play. Achievements already do this a little, but not reliably: plenty of the actions they suggest are actually pretty dumb.
Unlockable Hats: These are handled separately, but again you choose which you want to unlock. When you do, only points and feats earned as that specific class count towards it, and the number required is in the thousands – twenty hours’ play for most, more for some special prestige items. You still earn points towards your weapon unlock at the same time.
The idea: A hat says “I play this class, I play it well and I play it a lot”. A Camera Beard says “I am amazing or crazy.”
Crafting: No crafting. I don’t think the system is entirely unsalvagable, and Chris Livingston does a good job of salvaging it in a much shorter post than mine. But ultimately any full crafting system hinges on finding dupes, which I think ruins the “ooh, I found something!” moment by diluting it with disappointment.