Bundled up with the Invasion update was something almost miraculous. For the first time in goodness how long, Valve added a new Arena map to our already-bulging map list. This is highly unusual because normally maps for unplayed game modes never get added. We generally only see KOTH, Payload or Control Points of some sort, or someone brings out something completely new that gets abandoned soon after. Arena was considered one of those things, but here we are, with a brand spanking new Arena map – Byre. But unfortunately, despite the niceness and simplicity of the map, people are soon to stop playing it.
The great thing about maps is that you can add as many as you want, if they aren’t to your taste, you can just ignore them. But there are now entire game modes gathering dust in the corner all alone. Special Delivery could have been a great alternative to Capture the Flag, since everyone contested one flag and you didn’t need to have sentries everywhere. The problem was with the map itself, which screamed “FILL ME WITH SENTRIES!” Robot Destruction actually was valid alternative to Capture the Flag, since if the enemy team was just bunking down with sentries around their core, you could concentrate on killing robots, and the map was big enough to have plenty of space to contest. And the middle area of Asteroid would have made a cool as heck Arena map.
Thing is, Arena as a game mode isn’t a completely foreign concept like Special Delivery or Robot Destruction or PASS Time or Mannpower or Mann VS Machine or Medieval Mode. All you have to do is kill the enemy team and that’s it. The idea itself is actually a good one and many people enjoy mindlessly killing. The problems Arena Mode has are ones that TF2 has mostly created. Yes, it sucks being the first person to die, but if the round starts again quickly enough, what’s the problem? And what is worse is that the issues Arena Mode has are easy to fix.
Random crits for example. There should not be a random chance to die ever in a first person shooter that relies on skill, but even more so where you only have one life and have to make the most of it. Valve have recognized that sometimes they need to turn random crits off, as they did for Mannpower (of all things), but they won’t do so for Arena? Turning off random crits means that bullshit deaths that players could have escaped from will no longer happen. First Blood crits are also a huge problem. What’s that? You killed someone on the enemy team? Have 5 seconds of free, 100% critical damage and destroy the rest of the enemy team too! You’ve already gained the advantage by killing one of the enemy, you don’t need any more of an advantage on top of that.
Another big put-off for Arena mode is the sit out system. Lose three times in a row and someone on your team may have to sit out. The system is there to allow spectators to get into matches to avoid uneven teams, but it just annoys people, especially when it makes the MVP of the round sit out. No one should be forced to sit out just because there’s someone sitting in spectator waiting to play. Having an uneven team or a round or so is only an issue if you’ve got 12 or less players on the server.
Then there’s various weapons. The Gunslinger may have been nerfed, but it’s still a nuisance, turning into hell on Granary should there be few players left. It gets worse if someone goes with the Eureka Effect, as they can easily teleport back to spawn and back to safety, where there’s also more likely to be ammo packs. The worst offender though is the Cloak and Dagger, which can indefinitely lengthen matches, since anyone can sit in a corner and be invisible for the entire match. While we can’t just flat out remove these weapons, it could be possible to add game mode-specific downsides, for example the Cloak and Dagger will drain even when standing still, just less than the other watches.
The community has tried to fix Arena Mode, bringing out Arena Respawn, but that kinda really just spits on the idea of Arena. You die, that’s it, bringing in a mechanic to bring your team back to life is not going to fix it. Even worse, Arena Respawn ruins those intense moments where one player is outnumbered and must fight off 2-4 others. Suddenly one of them caps and it’s now 1 V 10 or something stupid.
It’s a shame that Arena is unused. The maps it has are really good maps. Ravine has areas for everyone. Lumberyard is pretty and actually really nicely balanced. Watchtower may be Sniper heaven but it’s also a nicely made map with breakable glass. Byre, the new map, is perfect for smaller numbers of players.
I hope we’ll see more of Arena. I really do.