June 24 2012
After making a big splash when it launched back in 2007, you might think that by now Team Fortress 2 would be all but forgotten, with the playerbase having moved on to the shiny graphics of newer shooters. I played a lot in the months following release and only recently went back for a second look.
Years of updates have transformed and refined the gameplay considerably, and TF2 has also recently adopted a free-to-play revenue model.
Get Some Practice
One of the first things I noticed is that they've added a practice mode and optional bots against which you can play solo or co-op. Of course, veteran players aren't likely to use these features, but they're very helpful for those that are new to Team Fortress and want to learn the basics of a class without fumbling around in a multiplayer battle.
New Maps and Modes
There are far more maps and at least a couple more game types than I remember. More variety is always a good thing, and most of these game modes seem well thought out, although Territorial Control, which only had one map anyway, appears to have fallen out of favor. Medieval Mode is undoubtedly the strangest addition as it removes all guns from the match and forces players to duke it out with melee and other primitive weaponry. Played on a medieval-themed map called DeGroot Keep, it's almost a completely different game.
Valve has done a great deal of class balancing over the years, and they've given some of them a little more versatility. Engineers, for example, can now move their constructs rather than having to rebuild them from scratch in another location. It makes them more useful on Control Point maps, where the fight tends to shift from one point to the next. I like most of the adjustments they've made, but I still think that Capture-The-Flag is the best fit for TF2's classes. Of course, it's easy enough to switch classes depending on the map, game type, and requirements of your team.
Item Drops and Crafting
No doubt, the biggest change to the game has been the switch to free-to-play, entailing the addition of an inventory, equippable weapons, crafting, and an item store. While playing you now periodically receive drops which go directly into your inventory. Most of the items, such as hats, are entirely cosmetic, this ultimately gives players a small selection of different weapons to choose from for each class. As you would expect, adding variety also introduces potential balance issues, but Valve has done a pretty good job of keeping the standard weapons relevant.
Although crafting is not something you expect to find in a shooter, in TF2 it allows players to utilize unwanted or duplicate items they've collected. It's a simple matter of converting the unwanted item into metal and combining that metal with another item to create the desired item in accordance with a fixed recipe. Trading with other players is also possible and there are servers set up soley for the purpose of trading. Altogether it gives the game a little more depth, even if it can be annoying when someone insists on trying to trade through voice chat during a heated match.
As far as pricing goes, it's among the most reasonable of F2P games. Generally speaking, everything of consequence in the store also drops in the game. TF2 really can be enjoyed indefinitely for free without putting you at a significant disadvantage. The store sells individual items for as little as a dollar, as well as bundles that go all the way up to $100. A lot of the merchandise, such as the large array of hats, are entirely cosmetic in nature. Compared to the average F2P game, the pressure to spend money is extremely low.
The Bottom Line
There's still a vibrant community playing TF2, and it seems to me that the vast majority of the changes made to the game since release have been improvements. Additional maps and game modes were certainly needed, the transition to F2P has been handled commendably, and the game has aged very well. TF2 remains a gem among class-based shooters, with more personality than anything else out there. If you've haven't been back to it in a while, or, god forbid, haven't tried it yet, it's a great time to get in on the action.