After the release of the Medic achievements and new weapons in late April, Thursday 19th June 2008 shall see the Pyro get the same red carpet treatment. Below, we discuss the Pyro’s new buffs, his tasty new weapons and how we can unlock them.
Edit (as of 22:30 BST, 19 June 08): The update is up. Now go and do what you have to do. I’d also strongly recommend checking out the new Official Team Fortress 2 Blog for more news and updates over the next few days.
Every PC gamer has had some kind of frustration with a patch, right? Months of clenched buttocks and fidgeting hands would be spent waiting for the release of your favourite gaming franchise’s next instalment, only to find that beneath that crisp cellophane wrapper lies something utterly useless. Aha! The developers say, we knew that this would happen! Don’t worry; we’ll release a fix in 2 weeks! 2 months later, you humbly receive your new (unnecessarily large) patch from the powers that be. They don’t give a shit: they’ve raked in the cash already and know that you’d willingly go through the same process all over again as soon as you see the next game’s teaser at E3. And now, thanks to integrated hard-drives, console gamers finally get to experience the true essence of gaming themselves: paying too much, receiving too little, and generally getting fucked about a teensy bit before you can actually – Shock Horror! – enjoy yourself.
But. And thank God on high that there is a But. Those nice guys (and girls) at VALVe are doing something about it. I’m sure their program Steam still has it’s critics – I for one only recently got my head around not owning a shiny carry case for every game I purchase – but the program is now planting its feet firmly amongst the PC gaming community. Free to install, Steam offers access to paid downloads of the entire Valve catalogue (notably the Half-Life series), a variety of blockbuster titles such as Bioshock and Sid Meier’s Civilisation IV, as well as a healthy selection of some brilliant independent time-wasters (thank you, Audiosurf). All of this is very lovely, of course, but alone the concept doesn’t revolutionise much of anything. It’s the ingenious Achievements system and statistics collation that has been packaged with games like the brilliant Team Fortress 2 that makes anal-retentives like me damp of pant. Though TF2 was not without its bugs on release, it quickly blossomed into an award-winning multiplayer FPS, and has come to change the meaning of the ‘patch’. No longer should we expect to see patching as a means of fixing problems and healing wounds. No. Thanks to VALVe, a patch offers a way forward. A way forward which entitles us to new guns and bragging rights; as long as we manage to bludgeon 50 medics to death with a rusty saw, of course.
In late April this year, VALVe announced the first of its major updates to Team Fortress 2. As well as a new map type, Payload, the developers rewarded gamers with 36 achievements to complete with the Medic class in order to unlock new alternative (yes VALVe, not superior!!!) weapons which offered different advantages and disadvantages to the original weapons. Tomorrow (Thursday 19th June) shall see the same system implemented upon the Pyro class. Since the Medic updates, the clamour of fans to get their sweaty mitts on any veritable strand of information about the next changes has been like no rush for a simple patch that I have ever seen. Just one glimpse at the official Steam forums would reveal rabid monsters carving their own dreams and desires into internet stone. Buff the Spy next! No, not the Pyro! I like the Sniper, do him! Here’s something I found out randomly typing words into my console! I read somewhere that pigs can fly! When? When!? WHEN!? ARRRGH!!! Etc. Well, now we have genuine news of what tomorrow’s sweet sweet fruits shall provide us with.
Since the Pyro update was first officially heralded, we knew that we’d be getting 3 new weapons, another set of achievements, and an upgrade (a power boost, or buff, if you will) for the Pyro in general, who is largely considered among TF2 communities to be the weakest class in the game. 2 weeks ago, VALVe showed us come concept art for the standard fire-axe’s replacement, the Axetinguisher, and told that it would deal 50% normal damage, whilst dealing 100% critical hits to enemies on fire. Appetites firmly whetted, nothing further was revealed until yesterday evening’s brilliant Meet the Sniper video. Towards the end of the trailer the sniper has a Pyro in his sights who is shown attacking with what is clearly one of his new weapons, obviously a projectile flare gun of some sort, as shown in the screenshots to the right. Today, VALVe has been kind enough to confirm that the speculation was spot on. So, obsessive computer nerds can get some things right, eh? The official press release offers info on all 35 achievements in all their glory, the Pyro’s flamethrower buff, and the long-awaited weapon alternatives, all of which should guarantee the female species freedom from their male counterparts over the next 7 days (at least). O, Axetinguisher, yours is the only love I need, and yours is unrequited! And wrapped in barbed wire! And deals one-hundred percent critical hits! Now how many women can you say that for!? Eh? Eh?
So, what sort of changes will we see in the way Team Fortress is played as a result of the update? As intrigued gamers queue to try out the new Pyro in all his glory, life will be damned near impossible for any budding Spies for the foreseeable future, that’s for sure. But what about after players have put down the brown paper bag and started breathing properly again? I mean, after the hubbub surrounding the Medic achievements died down, everyone resorted to the original weapons but the Ubersaw, right? Well, I’m not so sure the changes to the Pyro will have such a minor impact. The extent of change is already greater than the Medic’s, given the inherent buffs to the flamethrower, but the alternative weapons themselves are just… well… better. There’s so much more diversity, what with the Flare Gun representing the first major alteration to a weapon category, the Backburner heaping an unprecedented amount of awesome onto the flamethrowers damage capabilities, and the Axetinguisher providing a new aspect of tactical play for team players.
Up until today, nothing precise about the nature of the core Pyro tweaks had been revealed, and the ‘compression blast’ technique is certainly not the expected result we had in these quarters (no Jetpack I’m afraid, you gullible idiots). I’m quietly optimistic about the impact it will have: rate of fire, ammo cost, and effectiveness against Soldiers’ rockets will all dictate its usefulness, but the fact that one of the achievements expects us to hit a crit rocket back at a soldier implies that it could be pretty bloody useful in tight situations. Certainly, it better allow for some intense kick-assery if it’s all we have to give up to get insta-crits against enemies from behind and a +50 health bonus when we equip the Backburner. Either way, it seems that until the upgrades for the Solider and Demo wind up on our doorstep, the Pyro will quickly become the most powerful of the offense classes, and absolutely lethal at close range. Whether or not this a good thing or not depends entirely on whether you like to see your Pyro rocking out on an Axe, or glibbing out on the end of an unfortunate explosion.
Thankfully, the achievements themselves are better judged than the Medic’s, which tended to force players to act for themselves and not for the team. When exactly should an ubered Heavy use his fists? I’m still none the wiser: as are the other countless hundreds who decided to ‘farm’ the more ridiculous achievements (I stopped after a couple, honest). I’m genuinely looking forward to slicing open 6 enemies with an Axe in one life and killing the shit out of some Heavies, whilst alighting spies and defending sentries are the mainstays of good defensive Pyro play. However, there are still skills that I’m not sure I’ll ever master. Kill someone with my shotgun taunt? How much damage does that deal, exactly? And how can the game make the assertion that someone has left a server as a result of my domination? Some things are probably best not discussed in detail, lest some of these guys implode in disgust. Still, what this update has shown me is that VALVe know how to think on their feet. Of course, I always knew that: there’s never been such a consistently brilliant developer of FPS’s (multi-player or otherwise). But now I feel like know. And knowledge is power. And power is pretty cool. As long as it’s nothing to do with that Stephen Fry show Absolute Power, because that was just fucking awful.
Anyway, I guess there’s only one thing left to do now: wait. Now there’s a familiar feeling that gamers will never shake off. Until then: