Monday, July 07, 2008

Team Fortress 2 Achievements and Unlockables

First the Medic. Then the Pyro. Soon, the Heavy. Team Fortress 2 (TF2), an every-man's FPS, has been making me nostalgic for MMO class nerfs and buffs. Every player is a fan of a certain class. It is their class and they can not wait for it to get "updated". Unfortunately, "updates" for one class, are nerfs for another. This holds true in most class-based MMOs and TF2.

Unlockable Weapons

I was quite excited to hear about unlockable weapons for TF2. The game was great already and this was just icing on the cake. TF2 was a complete game at launch. These unlockables were not used in a "patch the game in later" approach that so many MMO failures use. However, Valve has committed a sin that many MMO developers have, and I am a bit miffed on how the unlockable weapons are being rolled out.

Valve decided that unlockables would be rolled out one class at a time. This is reminiscent of MMOs that often choose to update classes one at a time. As one class gets "updated", the other classes suffer. Fortunately, for TF2, the classes are pretty strong and well-balanced to begin with.

Unfortunately, whatever TF2 class receives an update becomes overplayed and it doesn't take long for the "X is overpowered" cries to begin. When the Pyro, the first offensive class to receive unlocks, update came out, every server was filled with Pyros, all trying to unlock the new weapons. As the zerg of Pyros began upgrading their weapons, many players felt that Pyros were unfairly made overpowered.

I play a lot of TF2 and I strongly feel the new Pyro weapons are not overpowered. The problem is that there are a million Pyros running around and when a player constantly dies to the same new weapon, it feels overpowered. The servers are starting to settle down as most die-hard Pyro players have received their goodies, but it will all start over when the Heavy class is updated.


In order to unlock new weapons, players must complete class-specific achievements. Sticking with the over-the-top theme of TF2, the Pyro achievements were a riot. Like the Medic achievements, the majority of the Pyro achievements take actual skill and teamwork to achieve, but an ugly truth hides just under the surface.

The ugly truth is that Valve has no system of official ranked servers and most players simply go to "achievement" servers to cheat. On an achievement server, specifically built for a set of class achievements, it takes a matter of hours to complete all achievements. A feat that would take hundreds of hours in normal play.

To me, this completely invalidates the entire achievement system. Worst of all, the weapon unlocks are directly tied into the achievements system. In order to unlock the new weapons, a player must complete a set number of achievements. Players aren't stupid and achievement servers are big business.

The argument comes up that achievements are a personal goal, but I don't give a damn if a player can say to themselves: "I know I didn't cheat". No one else will care and it won't matter when the player that exploited runs them down with a Level 10 Backburner. Either players cheat, or they suffer at the hands of those that do.

The class updates should be a boon to all players, not just those that cheat. This could easily have been achieved by allowing everyone access to the weapons, completely removing the unlock system. The weapon unlocks should have never been tied to the achievements, as it just promotes the rampant cheating that is occurring.

Valve desperately needed an Official Server system in place prior to these achievements going live. Without a means to control how achievements are gained, there is no merit in any of them. Lack of integrity is wont on the Internet, especially where frags and pwning are concerned.

Its a sad state of affairs for an otherwise great game. The achievements and new weapons themselves are brilliant, but the achievement/unlock system as a whole is just another sad excuse for cheaters to prosper over honest players.


  1. Anonymous11:05 AM

    I tend to agree with you on this one, Heartless_.

    I know, that probably scares you.

    The whole achievement server idea was something I was unaware of until my son told me about it on a recent visit. I had already done my Pyro achievements, so I have the pleasure of knowing that I earned them, at least.

    BTW, Wienie Roast is my favorite of these. What an aptly named achievement (set two scouts on fire at the same time.)

    I'm playing a LOT of TF2 these days, mostly on Gold Rush maps, and to me, it's definitely holding up. Great game, and now that the Pyro frenzy is dying down, it is fun to get in there and mix it up some more.

    Now, how about some Engineer love? Heavies can wait.

  2. I discovered achievement servers by accident as well. I always have a map filter on. I cleared it out one day to get a list of all servers, only to find the achievement maps showing up on top. I had assumed all custom map servers had been moved to the Custom tab and therefore would not give unlocks. Sadly, I was very wrong.

    I am quite pissed I spent hours upon hours after the medic unlocks chasing down other medics to get the 50 kills with a bonesaw achievement.

    I actually camped a medic achievement server as a Heavy, repeatedly killing the players trying to do unlocks before finally getting banned from the server. Unfortunately, it really warped my play stats.

    Engineers don't need class love, they need map and line of sight love. It just annoys me how easily players can duck in and out of sentry gun blind spots and plant stickies or get rockets off. Or somehow fall right on top of a sentry gun and destroy it before the sentry gun fires back.

    Also, the new maps completely show the attempt to avoid making easily defensible engineer spots. The obvious sentry gun placement areas are prone to very indefensible blind spots.

  3. Anonymous3:42 PM

    I love TF2. Probably one of my favorite games since it released last year (and during the beta that I got in for pre-ordering the Orange Box). Valve is exhibiting some top notch game development/community management with the game by continuing to support the title through regular updates and marketing pushes. Not to mention the new official TF2 blog :)

    Valve = <3

  4. Classes are well balanced, and the class-packs keep players play for more time. I'm ok with the weapon upgrades, they are not even a bit overpowered (hell, i don't even use my backburner), nor badly designed. I lack some achievements to get the axe as well as a couple of medic ones, so yes, I do play those classes more goal-aimed, but not more. Pyro is my favourite right before the spy, and it is great joy to deflect a crit rocket only to see it blow up the soldier that fired it. See me ingame by the name Zelmor.

  5. Anonymous1:54 AM

    i am very intrigued by TF2, but sadly, i never purchased the game despite my friends' urging. Now, however, i am completely burnt out with the current MMO scene and I am looking for something new. I would love to go out and pick up the Orange Box, but im just not sure if the "next best thing" for FPS games is right around the corner. What do you think heartless_? Is the game still in the prime of its life enough such that the purchase would be worthwhile?

  6. The Orange Box is probably the best gaming deal in the last decade. Half Life 2 is a great single-player game, and with the Orange Box you get HL2 and both of the Episodes.

    On top of this, there is Portal, which is one of the better puzzle games to come out in a while. With fan-created content hitting the web, Portal has a long life ahead of it.

    PLUS you get Team Fortress 2 which is a very addictive shooter that almost anyone, of any skill-level, can have fun in. TF2 is easily at the prime of its life.

    The FPS genre is notorious about "the next big thing", but if the original Counterstrike proves anything, good games with great communities will stick around.

  7. Anonymous8:23 AM

    I didn't go to any kind of special cheatin' bitches server and I managed to get to the second Pyro unlock in two days... maybe 5 hours played. And I think the second unlock (the Backburner) is the biggest one, for me anyway. I'd actually never heard of achievement servers before your post.

    I'm looking forward to the Heavy update - it's my preferred class, and I'm glad I won't have to wait. I didn't bother with the Medic unlocks - I don't especially enjoy the Medic, and normally won't play one unless I perceive a dire need.

  8. ardwulf, that does raise something I forgot to mention. The Pyro unlockables had their requirement reduced, so they are easier to achieve. The Medic updates were also retroactively adjusted to the same level.

    However, originally, the only way to get all the Medic unlocks was to use a cheat server. And on day one of the Pyro update, there was a ton of cheat servers running and within hours the cheaters had their new toys. Hence, why I argue that Valve just needs to give everyone instant access and scrap the unlock system. Keep achievements and force them to only count on official maps.

    I've put about 10 hours into Pyro since the update and only have 12 I believe currently... haven't checked for a couple days.

  9. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Ah, I hadn't known that - I wasn't really playing much when the Medic pack released, and when I was I wasn't playing the Medic. Some of the achievements are absurdly hard to get, so that does make a big difference. I think at this point, and moving forward, that it'll be less of a problem. I'm not really (I don't think) very good at all and the Pyro unlocks were... well, not easy, exactly, but not so hard that I considered it burdensome to get all three unlocks. The biggest thing for me was playing JUST just the Pyro for hours on end, which is not something I normally do. I did start fooling with the Medic last night to see what I could unlock with him.

    Honestly, I'm bothered more by the still-massive numbers of people playing Pyros right now, trying to get the unlocks. It's a class that there really should not be a ton of on any given team at one time, and there were times last night when it seemed like the entire enemy team consisted only of Medics, Engineers and Pyros.

    That's another reason I broke away a little bit for some Medic action. I would not at all mind some kind of server raking system, though, with achievements limited to play on servers considered not filled with cheatin' bitches.


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