Mann vs Machine first launched in August of 2012, and since then, I’ve been completely hooked. Team Fortress 2 has always been an on-and-off sort of game for me, but I don’t think there’s ever been a point in time when I went cold turkey on this game mode. Cooperating with teammates to accomplish a task has always been endearing for me, whether it be against other players or faceless robots dictated by their simple, robot tendencies. Of course, jumping into a game with five people you don’t know can be problematic toward teamwork, especially when the six of you are playing for different reasons and can potentially have radically different skill levels.
So, let’s say you’re new to all of this. Maybe you’ve played Team Fortress 2 in its standard environment, or maybe you downloaded the game just so you could play Mann vs Machine. The first and most obvious question to ask would be, “What class should I play?”
Well, let’s be realistic for a second. If you’re downloading Team Fortress 2, regardless of how you intend to play it, odds are good that you already have a class in mind. You liked the fat man prominently featured in promotional material, and you want to mow down hundreds of tiny baby men. Or maybe you’re intrigued by the handsome, stealthy rogue, who hides behind a mask and can drop any foe with one swift flick of the wrist.
Sadly, Mann vs Machine isn’t as simple as choosing your favorite class and jumping into a game with five people who chose their favorite classes, at least not at a beginner’s skill level. And while one might be able to argue that one or two veterans can carry a bad team to victory on the easiest difficulty, it doesn’t teach the lesser skilled players about the teamwork required to succeed in a standard game of Mann vs Machine.
Having fun is the single most important aspect of the game, but it does NOT negate number two: teamwork is the key to success. So, let’s return to the question: what class should you play? Instead of giving a simple answer to that question (I’m quite partial to overly convoluted blog post answers) I’d like to take the time to examine each class, their role in Mann vs Machine, and most importantly, how easy it is for a novice to succeed with it.
#1: The Scout
In Mann vs Machine, the Scout has one, definitive role: collecting money. As the individual’s skill and knowledge of the game mode increase, they can slot themselves into more aggressive roles, but I believe the baseline for a Scout is simply walking next to piles of money and collecting it. Even without firing your Scattergun once, you can be an amazing asset to your fellow teammates by ensuring them the best upgrading prowess they could ask for. As such, I consider Scout to be, by far, the easiest class for a newer player to pick up.
And it doesn’t come without its share of lessons. In playing Scout, you can teach yourself how to hit targets with your Scattergun whilst moving at high speeds, which translates well to one’s ability to track movement on other hitscan classes. I’d be lying if I said it was a clear-cut lesson to learn, but if you’re starting from scratch, every little bit helps.
#2: The Demoman
If you’re looking for a class that can wipe out hordes of robots with little effort, then look no further than the Demoman. Paired with an incredibly potent arsenal of stock weapons, the Demoman is easy to pick up and is highly rewarding, to boot. While the Demoman is far from a simple class to master, I would consider it the most simple class to pick up for the go-getters who want a thick cut of the combat action.
Due to the predictability of robot movement, both the Stickybomb Launcher and Grenade Launcher are apt weapons to upgrade, though I would recommend the prior to beginners. I’m always for a round with the Loch n’ Load, but I wouldn’t recommend it until you get a feel for aiming your grenades properly.
#3: The Heavy
So, why did I put the Heavy beneath the Demoman? The Heavy is notorious for having one of the lowest skill floors in standard play, paired with his high survivability and damage output. Really, I’d consider Demoman and Heavy on par for each other in terms of difficulty to a newer player, but the Demoman has something the Heavy doesn’t: mobility.
Veteran MvM Heavies may seem to be nigh unkillable, but believe me, the class requires a good Medic, a nearby Dispenser, good positioning, or any combination of the three to succeed. Without any of them, Heavies are prone to getting completely overrun by the robot horde. Thing is, with how he’s featured in promotional material, a newer player might not guess that the Heavy is so… vulnerable. Learning when the robots have more grit than you do is integral to learning Heavy, and it’s not so easy to rev down and flee from a bad situation than it is for a Demoman to simply walk away.
#4: The Soldier
Shooting rockets is easy. That’s about all I can really say for Soldier at the most basic of skill levels. Beyond that, Soldier has the same issue that Heavy does: mobility. Rocket Jumps? They’re excellent, and everyone who aspires to play Soldier should learn how to do them. “Learn” being the operative word, here. Without them, the Soldier is almost as cumbersome as the Heavy.
Don’t get me wrong; the Soldier is still an incredibly easy class for a beginner to play, but reaching the point where you can play it successfully in Mann vs Machine (which, by my definition, is not being a detriment to the team) requires some knowledge about the game, and Soldier mechanics which aren’t properly taught through ingame hints. Nor the tutorial that features the Soldier to begin with. (Seriously, Valve?)
#5: The Medic
When I have friends who want to play Team Fortress 2, and ask me what class is befitting for a new player, Medic is usually one of my first recommendations. It teaches you how to avoid incoming fire, lets you rely on other people while still being an integral part of the team, and of course, everybody likes having a Medic around. Odd, then, that I can’t really recommend Medic to a beginner in Mann vs Machine.
Let’s set aside the Kritzkrieg being an unlock for a moment, and discuss the Medic’s useful traits in Mann vs Machine. Simply holding left click over the nearest slab of meat can be effective for a beginner, but the Medic must also strive to keep everyone alive and healthy, and that can be stressful to even experienced players. Learning when to deploy Krit–er, Ubercharge, when to put up your projectile shield (or even which button you press to activate it. Defaults to Mouse3, by the way) and most importantly, when it’s simply not worth trying to revive someone in a dangerous situation. For Medic in Mann vs Machine, there’s a very thin line between being the backbone of the team and being regarded as useless, so I’d consider Medic to be in the middle of this list, as opposed to the start of it.
#6: The Pyro
Of all the classes in Mann vs Machine, I feel that the Pyro’s role went through the most drastic change. Most would describe it as an ambush class in the standard game, and obviously, ambushing has almost no place in Mann vs Machine, so the Pyro more or less fills a specialist role, either by aggressively kiting robots, airblasting the bomb carrier into pits or onto longer routes, or being a tank buster. With this knowledge, a beginner Pyro could succeed at Mann vs Machine.
However, let’s also consider how newer players view the Pyro in the core game. We’ve all heard the “W+M1” complaints before, and this play style transfers to Mann vs Machine. And let me tell you; from my past experiences, I think the Pyro is the most commonly dead class I’ve seen on the front lines, simply because W+M1 requires a lot of team and upgrade support in order to actually work. Pyro is an easy class to pick up, but it’s also by far the most fragile of the combat classes, being in close range constantly and thus one of the first classes targeted by the robot horde. Resistances are all but essential, but I often see beginners skip them.
Suffice to say, without aided survivability (whether it be via resistances or having a Medic), a beginner Pyro is more likely to die repeatedly than provide worthwhile assistance, so newer players may want to consider a different offensive class if they wish to partake in direct combat.
#7: The Engineer
How hard can it be to place a sentry, a dispenser and two teleporters? I’m sure that’s what any sane person would ask me, questioning my choice to put Engineer so far down the list. Truth is, it isn’t. And even a new player can find success in choosing Engineer, plopping their buildings down, and calling it a day. The Sentry Gun is an aimbotting, rapid-fire machine that arguably makes the most sense for someone to gravitate to, considering the nature of Mann vs Machine. So why, then, am I painting Engineer as such a poor choice for a beginner?
First, comes the expectations. I guarantee you that if you’ve placed your dispenser in a location that’s nigh inaccessible to the frontline classes, you may as well have not placed one. And if your teleporter is facing a wall, you’ll draw more ire than respect.
Then, comes the upgrades. While most classes are very straight-forward in their upgrade process (barring what one might consider “efficient,” it is really hard to screw up a Minigun) the Engineer and his team benefit most from things that one might not even suspect. The Engineer’s upgrade list is a lot more to digest than most of the other classes, including wrench swing speed, dispenser range and even jump height on certain maps. It boils down to knowledge, which is a pretty big expectation for someone who hasn’t played the game before.
Finally, there’s Sentry Busters. When one shows up, it’s all but inevitable that it will equalize a nest built by a novice player, because it’s safe to assume that A, your team didn’t stop the buster, and B, nobody told you that it was your responsibility to deal with it to begin with.
This is the problem with playing Engineer: it’s a simple role that comes with a lot of multitasking, and some of the highest expectations from your teammates. I’ve played my share of Engineer, and I’ll say that it’s very gratifying when you do everything right, but even the smallest mistake to any of the four corners of your duty cube (wiping out stragglers, providing ammo and health, building practical teleporters and babysitting all four of your buildings. Five corners and a duty pentagon if you add spy checking to all of that) results in a defensive fault that will negatively impact your entire team.
#8: The Spy
I think I’ve spent a good portion of this list underestimating the capability of a brand-new novice player, so now, it’s time to do a bit of overestimating. The Spy’s role as a pick class in Team Fortress 2 transfers over to him in Mann vs Machine. Legitimately annoying robots, such as Steel Gauntlet Heavies and Uber Medics, can bring an unprepared team to its knees, and the Spy is exceptional at taking them down. Plus, robots are oblivious to most of the Spy’s tricks, allowing him to move amongst them practically undetected, giving him all the time in the world to make his move.
That said, the Spy is very frail, and as far as class roles are concerned, his involves a significant amount of intricacy. Using your disguises and stealth advantageously, knowing the extent of robot awareness, selectively choosing your battles and how to get in, take out your target, and get out alive; these are all important tools to a Spy in Mann vs Machine, and are typically learned through practice, not theory. I’ve seen some experienced Spies do amazing things in Mann vs Machine, but Spy is among the most difficult classes for a beginner to simply pick up. Without a feel for what you’re doing, Spy is very likely to be dead weight if selected by a newer player.
#9: The Sniper
I really feel like I should put up a gigantic disclaimer here that says, “Sniper is good in MvM.” I often compare his class role to that of the Demoman; both are apt at clearing waves of robots, and both are relied upon to eliminate key targets (ie; Uber Medics). The difference between a successful Demoman and a successful Sniper is a pretty broad skill gap, however, and without the proper capability, a Sniper’s usefulness dwindles much faster than it does with any other class. This has created a nasty stigma about the class, often leading beginners to falsely accuse Sniper of being useless, and experts to harbor distrust toward a Sniper they’ve never seen in action.
Sadly, stereotypes have to come from somewhere, and novice Snipers have harbored some of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen in Mann vs Machine. The Sniper’s core gameplay has probably the most smooth transition between other First-Person Shooters and Team Fortress 2, so if a beginner has some past experience with shooters, I might trust them to start with Sniper simply because his mechanics are the least foreign here, but for everyone else, I’d give a resounding “no,” being a class I would only recommend once an individual has played and grasps the concept of the other eight classes.
Mind you, once an individual start to get a hang for the game, this list carries less weight. Scout and Soldier become more of a challenge, while Engineer and Pyro reach a point of ease bordering on braindead. But for someone who has just downloaded Team Fortress 2, all starry-eyed and ready to tackle their first robot horde, I’d consider this list a pretty good point of recommendation. Even so, if one were to take the recommendations from this list and apply them, they could find success right off the bat with some of the classes I rated harder.
It might be discouraging to be told that you shouldn’t (or in some cases, “can’t”) play the class that appealed most to you, but if you’re interested in Team Fortress 2, regardless of the game mode you choose, this is a lesson best learned early. Sometimes, the best class you could play in a situation isn’t necessarily the one you want to. But, who knows? Maybe you’ll still enjoy the classes you otherwise wouldn’t have given a chance. I had no interest in playing Scout, and he’s arguably my best class in Mann vs Machine now. You never know until you try.
If you–the reader–have a difference of opinion in regards to my listing, feel free to leave a comment expressing your view. I’m not so close-minded that I’d disregard the thoughts of others, and even I might learn a thing or two about what to recommend to beginners. And if you know anyone who wants to try Mann vs Machine, they might be able to benefit from all of this. (Because god knows why anyone reading this wouldn’t already be experienced at TF2.)
Until next time.