What happens if you push a snowball down a hill? It gets bigger the further down it goes. In theory. Snowballing is used similarly in video games, particularly the idea that once someone has started getting strong, they get stronger and stronger and stronger. And stronger. Almost to the point where there’s no stopping them. This phenomenon is something most often seen in RTS and MOBA games but snowballing has never really been that big an issue in Team Fortress 2. Enter the Air Strike.
A quick look at the stats. In exchange for a much faster firing speed while rocket jumping, you get 25% less damage, only 3 rockets in your clip (akin to the Black Box) and a 15% smaller explosive radius. But every time you get a kill, your clip size increases by one, to a maximum clip size of 8. From just looking at the Air Strike, the negatives appear to outweigh the positives, but that’s just the text. Functionally, it’s rather normal and there’s not much you can’t do with this that you can do with other rocket launchers.
It’s quite clear that the Air Strike was designed with the BASE Jumper in mind, but I’ve only played with it without that damned parachute. No one wants to give up their precious Sticky Jumpers and Buff Banners for me to craft one, and mine are both untradable. Everyone’s in such a rush to craft them that the ingredients for said weapons has tripled. Oh well.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. The two key features with this rocket launcher is the faster firing rate while rocket jumping and the extra rocket in your clip every time you kill someone. It only works on kills, not assists. Ideally, you’d use the BASE Jumper to make yourself float while you fire your barrage of rockets and then get picked off by a Sniper but even without the parachute, any good Soldier can essentially Beggar’s Bazooka the enemy team, with the added bonus of a more accurate rocket. But before you do that, you need to get some kills.
As a Soldier, getting kills shouldn’t be hard. I didn’t test whether you need to use the Air Strike to make the counter go up (I forgot) but it’s a rocket launcher, it’s not too difficult. The smaller area of effect isn’t that noticeable, only 15% smaller, unlike the tiny splash from the Direct Hit. You’ve only got 3 rockets, like the Black Box but you also do less damage. Once you get your first kill, you’re getting even with the other rocket launchers. Once you get your second kill, you’re on par with the old Cow Mangler. After that, it’s raining rockets.
So where’s the issue here? It’s harder to get kills with this launcher compared to others, so what’s the problem? Well, once someone’s got that clip of 8, they are basically raining death on you on a regular basis. I’d make a comment here about the drawback being going through ammo at a rate of knots, but ammo is plentiful on the battlefield, even more so if you’re on defense. You reach five kills, not a huge number to hit in one life, and you’ve now got a clip size of 8 rockets, double that of any other non-Air Strike Soldier on the battlefield. And you can fire them really fast if you jump. Small problem, unlike the Demoman who collects heads, it’s much harder to tell how many kills a Soldier has. Even more so with the Sniper and his Bazaar Bargain. You can tell that a Demoman’s on a roll because he moves much faster and he’s got that glowing eye thing. An Air Strike Soldier? You’ve got to count the rockets. At least once you kill him, you know he’s back down to 3, but if he’s hiding among the sentries on defense, who knows?
Actually, defense seems to be the best place for this weapon. Think about it, you’re more likely to die pushing into enemy territory than you are trying to defend it, right? So when you’re on defense, watching the enemy squeeze into narrow choke points, you can stay alive for longer and make the most out of that giant clip. The Air Strike is also very useful on Mann VS Machine, without you needing to spend money on a bigger clip size (which costs the same as damage) but the Beggar’s Bazooka is still god here, since the barrage of rockets is so much fun.
Never mind. The Air Strike IS an okay weapon. I wouldn’t say it’s 100% balanced or that it’s bordering on perfection like the Black Box, but it’s definitely fun and usable.