When I play multiplayer FPSes, one thing that I really look out for is player customization, both in terms of cosmetics and playstyle. I have a feeling this is because TF2 is my first ever multiplayer game, and the first one I ever sank more than a hundred hours into. Between cosmetic and gameplay customization, the one that matters most is gameplay customization. I enjoy the greater amount of control the devs give for us to pick the playstyle we really like, by letting us design one that fits us. Hence, the ability to tailor a character’s kit to my liking is an automatic plus to me.
A multiplayer game, to me, is a prime location for showcasing player individuality. After all, a key point to multiplayer games is the people you play with and the different playstyles they have. Then, you pull out your loadout that either complements your allies’ or counters your enemies’. Or you can just sell your soul to the devil and pick a rather cheap one to give the enemy team hell.
Since I already mentioned TF2 earlier, we’ll start off by talking about its loadout system. In TF2, you pick a weapon for each loadout slot. The base concept is rather simple: Get weapons that work well with each other and put them in a loadout. In fact, some weapons were made with weapon synergy in mind, such as Jarate and Bushwacka for the critical melee hits on Jarate’d targets, Sandman and the Flying Guillotine for critical hits on stuns, and Rocket Jumper + Gunboats + Pain Train for critical uselessness.
The weapons for each slot can be generally classified into one or more categories. For example, Medic’s Secondary slot options are all Medi Guns. Demoman’s Primary slot options can be classified into either grenade launchers (Grenade Launcher, Loch-n-Load, Loose Cannon, Iron Bomber) or mobility devices (boots and parachutes). Scout’s melee weapons are either projectile launchers (Sandman and Christmas Decor Sandman) or bashing sticks (everything else). Soldier’s Primary slot options are either useless or rocket launchers. There are some weapons that doesn’t really fit in this system, but in general this holds true.
Depending on weapon loadouts, you can have extremely varied playstyles. The most famous example will be Demoman and Demoknight, but there are also quite a few others. For example, for my four preset Pyro loadouts, I have one Pybro set (Flame Thrower, Scorch Shot, Homewrecker), one ambush/flank set (Backburner, Shotgun, Powerjack), one water set (Degreaser, Shotgun, Neon Annihilator), and a fourth slot that I currently use for random weapon combos I want to try out or gamemode-specific ones (MvM, Medieval, Mannpower). And if you guys are wondering, yes I do have matching cosmetics for different occasions.
Aside from that, you can use certain weapons to offset any deficiency in your team’s lineup. Say, if your team is short on Medics … No wait, let me rephrase that. When your team is short on Medics, you can equip items like the Mad Milk for the Scout or the Concheror for the Soldier to increase the amount of healing for the team. A lack of Sentry-busting classes can be mitigated by the usage of Bonk! Atomic Punch and a teammate staying behind the person using the Punch shooting the Sentry. You know, aside from switching classes into the one your team actually needs.
And also, it is possible to have a loadout that counters the enemy team’s composition. Say if there are too many enemy Spies on the enemy team, but you can’t switch away from Sniper since you need to pick a particularly well-guarded Medic and that is the best way you know how. You can equip Jarate to help look for Spies, and also bring along the Tribalman’s Shiv to use its bleed on hit effect to help track down invisible French snakes in case your Jarate’s on cooldown.
Of course, that will get to a rather ugly point when you build a counter-counter loadout, and this is the most apparent in two Engineer weapons. The Pomson 6000 and the Short Circuit have a rather ugly reputation in that regard. The Pomson drains Cloak and Übercharge, the main mechanics of the Engineer’s counters, Spy and Medic (or more specifically, the Medic’s Über). The Short Circuit can vaporize projectiles, serving as a great big slap in the face for the Soldier and the Demoman, the main Sentry-busting classes in the game. The latter reached its peak right after the December 2013 where it costs 5 metal to fire and just melts everyone with deaths of a thousand zaps, and it has the firing rate to ensure that it’ll happen. Granted, it was a rather mediocre weapon before that, but that is a bit extreme. Thank goodness it was nerfed afterwards one month later. And again the month after that.
Counter-counter weapons, like the two mentioned above and other examples like the Spy-cicle and the Razorback, punishes the enemy team for switching classes to combat your team’s class composition. While in a pub where everything is an uncoordinated mess this could be considered necessary, as pub players may not be coordinated enough to band together and mitigate each others’ weaknesses, it is still a rather ugly solution. I get that carrying a weapon to fight your counter gives a sense of security. Hell, I do that all the time in TF2, and I … have been advised to not disclose whether I do so IRL. But thing is, it will always feel cheap to the opposing team unless there is a rather high skill requirement or price to it.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a weapon that counters the enemy. But if the weapon can do so simply by being equipped, like the Spy-cicle, or with very little skill involved like the Short Circuit, it trivializes the class-based rock-paper-scissors dynamic. As I’ve mentioned in the previous paragraph, there must either be a severe price to pay for being able to do so, or a level of difficulty to using the thing so that you can’t just spam M1 and call it a day.
Aside from the issue with counter-counters and balance issues (buff the Sharpened Volcano Fragment already, dammit!), TF2’s customization is rather good. Yes, it sounds exactly like “aside from the whole killing thing murder is perfectly OK”, but TF2’s customization options, on the gameplay side, is really fun and allows for a lot of exploration and possible expansion. Even now after ten years, people still have new ideas of what to add into TF2. A look into Karma Charger’s YouTube channel shows that there is still potential to further expand the mercs’ armory. The sheer variety of weapons may seem daunting to a new player, but the wealth of mechanics, as well as potentials combos and counters will add a lot of depth to the game, and give them something new to explore and master for a very long time.
I will say this: in terms of gameplay customization, TF2 offers a fair variety of playstyles for players. However, unlocks are somewhat difficult to get. Sure, there are quite a few different avenues to getting them (renting, achievements, drops, crafting), but for a new F2P player that barrier might be a bit high, especially since they only have 50 backpack slots for everything by default. Last I checked, there were 129 weapons with unique stats, give or take five for any errors in calculation and whether you consider the Original to be different from the stock Rocket Launcher or not.
And that number also depends on whether you think the Rocket Jumper even counts as a weapon at all.