The Wrench in Balancing Plans

"Why ya using' that ol' wrench, partner?"
“Why ya using’ that ol’ wrench, partner?”

Whoo doggie, the Engineer. If people are not playing rock paper scissors over who between him and the Heavy has the lowest skill floor, they’re having arguments over his weapons so bad that they make [insert appropriate argumentative body here] look like a teen romance! How can one guy cause such a fuss that has SPUF so evenly divided that it could be the motivation for a community made WAR update? Well, if I was to answer it in a reasonably sized sentence (which as an academic, should be impossible) I’d say it’s because the Engineer is, in many ways, a man of extremes. Yes, I am calling him a worse Jekyll / Hyde case than the Medic on Halloween!

Put it this way, the Engineer Update alone turned him from the sanest mercenary in the team to a man who'd hack off his own hand just for a new wrench!
Put it this way, the Engineer Update alone turned him from the sanest mercenary in the team to a man who’d hack off his own hand just for a new wrench!

So, let’s breakdown a couple of these extremes!

1. Least Skilled to Most Skilled

There is no argument that the Engineer is a unique specimen amongst the classes, being one of the only classes whose main function is to use and maintain machines that do various things that in some cases, the Engineer’s teammates take for granted. There’s no doubt that without his buildings the Engineer is pretty gosh darn weak and that’s the point otherwise he would be so overpowered that the Demoman would be calling him out as “OP”! This of course means that the buildings, particularly of course the Sentry Gun, have to be efficient enough to compensate for the Engineer’s downgraded combat ability which is fine on paper, but may as well be nightmare fuel for an AI programmer.

A 100% accurate, upgradable turret with two different damage outputs whilst fully upgraded that can be easily healed quite briskly by an attentive Engineer with formidable fire power and knock-back in a generally quite close ranged game balance wise sounds like the final contribution from a games company signing its Last Will and Testament. Add on the consistent performance and aid of the Dispensers healing and regenerating munitions for the Engineer and his team and teleporters causing the Engineer’s team to push up swiftly to the front line and mowing down straggling remnants of the enemy, all this with the Engineer only needing to press one button and move his mouse a bit?

Well maybe for maintenance but not for actual building!

You see, as an initially dubbed “Defensive” class, the Engineer has a remarkable amount of fire power that requires some significant preparation. The Engineer’s got to get into a good position to plant down is building for optimal efficiency, then he needs to get it quickly built, then he needs to locate a plentiful and easily accessible well of metal to quickly upgrade and resupply his buildings before enemy forces push up or, worse still, while your buildings are under/on fire and stealthier classes are trying everything trick in the book to kill you and your little buildings too. Lot more stressful than the “shoot feet, get kills” of some other classes huh?

Essentially, the Engineer demands players not to have competent player skill like aiming or dodging, but to have copious quantities of game skill like map knowledge and class interactivity. Is this to say a good Engineer needs no knowledge of player skill? Of course not, just as a Soldier could benefit knowing the calculated health recovery of healing items in relation to the inevitable fall damage he is about to suffer to prevent crashing to respawn, the Engineer could benefit from knowing the principles of aiming, its just more of a case that Soldier needs player skill more than game skill and the Engineer is vice versa.

2. Hardest to Counter to Hardest Countered

I am sure a significant chunk of readers are familiar with the class counters, with some classes possessing many different counters of varying potency and some with highly contextual dependencies.

The Engineer could arguably have the simplest Class Counters system to comprehend. Thanks to how buildings operate and their need for consistency, this means that most class counters are not very dependant on either side’s player skill or even game skill, with Scouts and Pyros dying as soon as one hears the Sentry’s beeps, Demomen and Soldiers often burying the Engineer under the scraped remains of his buildings, the Sniper vs Engineer being like one of those school bullies who likes throwing rocks at the quiet kid trying to build his sand castle in the sand pit, only less tears (and heads) and more blood and scrap metal and the Medic vs Engineer would probably be like a bullying snitch getting the teacher to punish a bully victim who was trying to fight back like his old man told him to do. Really the closest the Engineer gets to a complex class counter system is when he’s fighting the Spy, which is ironic seeing how many mistake the Spy for being the Engineer’s counter.

This makes things rather unfair, both for the Engineer and for his enemies, since the outcome of their fight is so fixed in either sides favour that it makes battles seem unfair on the countered class. Now in Valve’s defense, they have tried to give the Engineer unlockable weapons that changed the Engineer up enough to breathe some more outcomes to “vs Engineer” combat which seems like a good idea and heck might give those unlocks a purpose to be used but these ideas either didn’t account for the fact that without changing one’s playstyle it functioned like a “Stock +” (See Pomson 6000) or if it did change the playstyle, the new style’s downsides we too easy to circumvent (Wrangler) or not pronounced enough to be noticeable (Gunslinger).

At the end of the day, there’s not really an easy answer to this unlike with the Heavy. If the Engineer’s tools gave more variety with its use concerning his game skills perhaps he wouldn’t get himself into all these issues since people would be more appreciative in different ways for his use. Maybe if all the classes had game skill floors/ceilings discussed alongside their player skill floors/ceilings, the Engineer would be respected for his relevance as class of tactics over a class of bullets. Perhaps if other functions that served to require the player to brush up more on their game skill the Engineer would not be seen as some dull brainless grease monkey.

Sadly, I am not a significant body of people with the possibility to discuss and develop on such possibilities so, I guess those ideas will just go to waste…totally…not a signal hint of sarcasm being poorly inflected from my tones towards SPUF.

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