If it’s Not Broke…

by Steve Bowler on June 1, 2009 · 1 comment

in general

Okay, I have a serious bone to pick with the most recent TF2 Spy/Sniper Update.  At risk of throwing any dev cred I may have once had, I’m going to just come out and say it:  it feels unbalanced.

Now, I know, I know, someone, at some point, has cried foul at every other update.  But let’s take a look at what the weapon updates do based on Valve’s typical design philosphy, which is “this class is weak at X, so we will give him Y to compensate a bit for it.”  Previous updates were supposed to fix broken or weak classes, and maybe we’ve entered into classes that didn’t need fixing, because this update seems to only exascerbate existing strengths/weaknesses instead of solving them.

First, we’ll look at The Spy.

Dead Ringer:  A watch update that allows you while disguised (or otherwise) to appear dead on taking your first point of damage, at which point you’ll be cloaked for 8 seconds, presumably allowing you to kill your attacker.

Not bad.  Takes away your ability to cloak normally, and gives you a surprise use of it.  I’ve seen it in action, and even when someone warns you the spy has it, it’s effective.  There’s a good trade-off as well.  You can’t cloak normally, and the surprise cloak factor shows no trace of tell-tale cloaking clouds or haziness.

Cloak and Dagger:  A watch update that honestly has me a bit perplexed.  On the surface, it’s cool.  It allows you to stay permanently cloaked, and standing still recharges it.  The only drawback is that picking up metal or ammo doesn’t replenish it.  On the surface, this seems like an equitable trade-off.  Standing still for picking up ammo.


You can always stand still.  You can even plan to stand still at specific corners of the map.  There isn’t always an ammo/metal pickup.  This means that it is significantly better than the default watch.  If it did something like use its juice a bit quicker than the default watch, I’d say it’s a fair tradeoff, but now the Spy can cross an entire map without being seen, ever, even though he has to do it patiently.  This one isn’t horribly imbalanced, but I feel that it’s just a touch imbalanced.

The Ambassador.  Easily the most beautiful gun in the game, this one tips the scales heavily into the “unbalanced” area.  To quote from the Spy update: “It has the ammo count of a revolver and the pinpoint accuracy of a sniper rifle, even at long range.”  Worse, it crits on headshots. Granted, it deals “15% less damage,” and has a “20% slower firing rate” than the primary revolver, but I’m not entirely convinced about that “15% less damage” number there.  The problem with the Ambassador is that Spies are now running around like cloaked snipers, taking headshots at everything that stands still (or doesn’t stand still).  They were deadly enough already.  What the Ambassador needed was more damage than the primary pistol (which it feels like it does), but not a chance to do crit headshotting.  That’s the sniper’s job, and more importantly, what the Ambassador does is give the Spy a second backstab, which I’m going to get to in a minute.

So, the Spy update is pretty nice for spies.  You get a couple of great watches to play with (even though one is slightly overpowered by a touch), and an awesome pistol that now makes your class effective at more than just backstabbing when it comes to getting your kill on.  Not sure that’s what the Spy needed.  Most players want spies to be more effective at what he does, such as staying cloaked, in costume, sapping sentries, and backstabbing.  I don’t think he really needed a better pistol, but hey, he has it now.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel The Sniper got a similar update.

First off, Valve’s raison de etre for the Sniper update had me pretty cheesed.  They wanted to make other players feel better when playing against Snipers?  So…instead of making the Sniper better, they wanted to encourage players to self-nerf themselves and take themselves out of the long-range game?  Don’t get me wrong, the Huntsman (detailed below) is pretty great (it’s not for me), but based on the press release, the Sniper update doesn’t sound like it’s off to a good start for people who love playing Snipers.

The Huntsman: A bow and arrow which only takes one second to reach “full charge,” crits on headshot.  Damage is out on this one at time of this writing, but a lot of players like using it to be a more mobile sniper.  I personally don’t care for it as the arrows take time to travel through the air, so you often miss your mark.

Jarate:  Easily one of the greatest additions to gaming ever, just because you can throw pee, this thing puts out friendly fires, busts spy cloaks, marks enemy players (even disguised spies), and makes every hit they take +35% more damage.  Plus, it’s fun to throw.  Your pee.  On anyone.  Only downside to Jarate is that it takes up your SMG slot.  This is a bit of a problem, as the SMG was the only decent short/medium defense a sniper had, and it was just okay at best.  Granted, the rifle has gained the “no-scope” crosshair, but a Sniper with Jarate is still at a bit of a disadvantage if someone moves to medium range against his rifle.  On day one throwing Jarate got enemies to back off, but now they know just to press harder offensively when covered in urine before you can no-scope them.  It’s like advertising you’re defenseless.

Razorback: Easily one of the worst additions to gaming ever, because with the Spy update it is completely useless.  Hell, even if the Spy didn’t get an update, it’s still mostly useless.  When it was first announced I suspected that it was a joke, perhaps.  Here’s a recap of how it works:  The Sniper wears this impossible to miss giant tribal shield on his back which electrocutes and “locks up” a Spy’s knife when he stabs you with it.  Only problem:  spies won’t stab you if they see you wearing it, and they’d have to be absolutely blind to not notice it.  Wait, that’s not the only problem.  The other problem with it is that it weighs so much it slows you down by 15% when wearing it.  Considering that the only thing this shield does is stop one single backstab (for two seconds), prevents no other damage, takes up your SMG slot, and slows you down considerably, it is completely worthless.  Most spies worth any salt at all already have the Ambassador, so a shield that is meant to prevent backstabs which is obvious in nature (instead of being hidden under your shirt) is meaningless in a world that has spies which can simply switch to the Ambassador from 20 feet away and one shot you in the face for the kill.  I originally joked that enemy teams would simply send two spies to kill a sniper (one to take out the shield and one to take out the sniper), but they don’t even have to do that. Just send the spy with the Ambassador, and the situation is solved.  An entire slot in the Sniper’s update, the slot that most needed to stop a Spy from backstabbing you, is wasted.

I get that you can’t give the Sniper a tool to stop spies from backstabbing them indefinately, but how about claymore mines or something?  Battlefield 2 solved the “vulnerable” sniper issue by allowing snipers to drop claymore (anti-personelle) mines behind (or in front of) him which would detonate on enemy movement.  Problem solved.  The TF2 sniper could drop a mine behind him which could be cloaked to enemy players, and if a spy tried to stab (in costume or no), kablooey, mine goes off.  Granted, that could be griefed by having Snipers use them offensibly, so just give them one.  One shot, one use, and they have to replenish them at a locker.

Hell, I’d even take a bomb vest at this point which guaranteed that the spy died if he stabbed me (so I can take him with me).  That’s good risk-reward, and makes spies think twice about backstabbing.

But the bottom line here is that the Sniper update did not give the Sniper any decent tools to prevent or mitigate backstabbing, or more importantly, keeping a Spy from always getting the upper hand at close range when you’re scoped or even just at the rear of the field.  Preventing backstabbing at the expense of guaranteeing a face-peeling shot from the Ambassador is merely trading a knife for a bullet, with largely the same effect.  The Ambassador has even made a mini-sniper out of the Spy by allowing him to oneshot snipers, medics, engies, even slow scouts from range.

And so I don’t sound like a sniper, I’ve got a treat in the next post for you spray loving spies out there.

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