Wednesday, 9 February 2011

My Pyro Life (part one)

Valve has a habit of deleting old posts from the TF2 forums, so I'm preserving a thread I started here for posterity. You can see the original thread here.

I'm a pub player, not a pro and one of those folks who are in love with the Pyro. I main Engineer/Spy/Pyro with a side of Medic, but of all of them, the Pyro is the most fun to play when I'm doing well...

How I play the pyro and how successfully depends on which map. The Pyro feels balanced on the Arena and KOTH maps where the smaller spaces that play to the strength of the Pyro and increased deadliness of afterburn - even with all the afterburn removal effects in play. Here I'll go Degreaser-Shotgun-Axtinguisher for the most part, and Degreaser-Shotgun-Powerjack if I'm feeling like a change.

The Pyro is great fun only on CTF and CP maps with lots of verticals or opportunities for environmental kills: Double Cross, Eqypt, Badlands. Maps like Well and Granary are playable, provided I'm getting my shotgun kills and reflects right, but I need to be playing with a pretty relaxed pub crowd before I'll consider it. I'll definitely skip Pyro on Well and Granary if there is any competent enemy engineering going on.

Yukon is a special case, as is Watchtower. These are the only maps where I'll switch to Flare Gun - because of the long gently curving corridors and slopes and lack of sniper nests - and I'll stay at mid range and use reflects to counter soldiers and work on picking targets off with flares.

On AD, PL, PLR maps, where there is a defined front to the game, playing a Pyro gets much more complicated. I've got three choices on these maps. Firstly, I can keep the Degreaser-Shotgun combo, stay near the front and harass and reflect. This is generally unsatisfying, because I'll achieve little, and tend to die in the spam. The other option, short of changing class, is to switch to Backburner-Shotgun-Homewrecker. This is an interesting combination: because it paradoxically forces you to hang back when the front is static or being pushed forward or back. You can't be effective on the front lines with a Backburner - you'll just die, so instead I hang back and spam shotgun and get lucky with the odd de-sap if an enemy spy manages to take out a friendly engineer.

What I'm waiting for is the front to either hit an ambush spot such as exiting the tunnel on Badwater, where the Backburner comes into play, or for the front to "break down": where we've either killed enough players (on defense) that most of them are heading back from respawn, or we've just captured a point and more paths have opened up (on attack). Whether the Backburner is more useful than the Degreaser in these open situations is debatable, but if I end up behind the enemy front after its reformed, then it is highly effective.

A key indicator on whether the Backburner can be useful is if you have more enemy heavies than soldiers on an AD, PL, PLR map. A heavy will kill you in 'open play' if you have the BB: his spin up time will finish you off before you can burn him with the flamethrower, unless you can hit him point blank from behind, but on these maps his attention should be on killing your compatriots in front of him, not you sneaking up behind him.

The Degreaser Pyro is IMO balanced with the map caveats I've given - you just won't get kills with your primary weapon, except for environmental kills, with the odd reflection thrown in. At the moment, there is no point switching to Flamethrower, and the loss of the airblast you get with the Backburner makes this weapon feel a lot more one dimensional and only suits certain maps or defensive positions as I've discussed.

Since the Polycount pack, I've also switched back to the Shotgun after an extended period of using the Flare Gun, and much like an ex-smoker, I feel the need to point out how inferior the Flare Gun is in almost all situations. The best possible situation to use the Flaregun - where you are consistently hitting burning opponents at long range with a shot every 2 seconds - does a maximum of 51 DPS including afterburn - that is, 20% worse than the short to medium range DPS of any other weapon except the L'Etranger. Sure, damage ramp down means you are doing more damage at this range than most other weapons and you'll end up occasionally getting lucky 2 shot kills on the 125 hp and 150 hp classes, but there is a class for fighting at long range which can one shot any of these classes a lot more reliably, and you give up the ability to be at all effective for the 2.3 seconds you need to rush a target from the edge of medium range to flame thrower distance (assuming they don't move).

I suspect people love the the Flare Gun is that it feels really effective - a chunky plastic design, and satisfying animation and sound fx - but since switching, I get two to three times the kills with a Shotgun than with flares on most maps. In fact, I'm almost Shotgun primary, flicking to the Degreaser only if someone gets in flame thower range, or I need to do a reflect.

I particularly have a problem with the decision to have the Flare Gun do minicrits to burning opponents at short to medium range. There are only three situations where a minicrit on a burning opponent helps you: if the extra 11 hp damage will allow you to kill someone in the next 2 seconds, if every possible target up to 120 HU further away is on already fire, or every nonburning enemy is standing next to a Pyro who can airblast the flames off. In any other situation, you are better off setting a new target on fire for for a minimum of 12 HP afterburn damage over the flare gun reload time, instead of 11 HP from the minicrit.

The Axtinguisher with the Degreaser will win you fights, but I'm finding myself more drawn to the Powerjack at the moment, because of the opportunity you get to chain kills against lighter classes while not having to find health to recover from the inevitable damage you sustain in close combat. The Homewrecker again is strictly defensive, or where your Engineers are having problems with incoming spies.

tl; dr

I play Pyro, but there's only 1 effective primary, and 1 map limited primary; 1 effective secondary and 1 map limited secondary; 2 effective melee weapons and 1 map limited melee weapon. My instinct is to try to balance the less useful weapons up.

The key to balancing games is making a change and playing with that change, then revising based on feedback - a model of game design that Valve have mastered. We as a community should be copying that process and adopting it - there's no point filling the forums with unlocks and arguments about relative power levels without any proof one way or the other that the idea is good. And a DPS chart isn't proof - in game testing and server logs are.

Luckily it is relatively simple to modify the weapons - done here by editing the items_game.txt file - and testing the changes by playing in offline mode. This means we can start to have this kind of discussion without relying on Valve giving us access to an open beta. It is not possible to test every kind of suggestion this way - advanced movement being an excellent example - and I'm limiting myself to not changing any other file at this stage; just to see if the process is worth doing and whether people on this forum find it at all useful. If it is not useful, and no one else feels like contributing to this effort, then I've not wasted a huge amount of time.

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