His lunchbox items are incredibly useful. Not only can they be used for healing the Heavy or, in the case of the Buffalo Steak Sandvich, giving Heavy a speed boost, it can also be used to heal injured teammates, especially their Medic buddies. It is no small wonder that the shotguns aren’t favoured as much.
The shotguns are just completely outclassed by the Miniguns when it comes to raw firepower, and any Heavy player worth his salt will know how to mitigate the spin-up time by jump revving, and checking their ammo count to make sure that they don’t run dry. The fact that Heavies generally play around their teams means that there will probably be one or more teammates around him to get rid of a stray flanker trying to exploit the Heavy’s weaknesses. Thus, the shotguns’ only advantage of immediate firepower simply isn’t enough to justify using it over the lunchbox items. The lunchbox items are simply too valuable to be given up for an extra gun.
This does not mean that the lunchbox items are too good and need a nerf. At least in a pub setting, the Heavy performs on par with others when he has a lunchbox item. Rather, the shotguns are just not good enough. However, we can’t just buff the shotguns either, since the Shotgun is fairly decent for Soldiers, Pyros, and Engineers.
Thus, it is better to only buff the shotguns for Heavy. Sure, it makes the Shotgun behave inconsistently across the different classes, but there is sort of a precedence. The other stock weapon that was shared by multiple classes, the Pistol, is different for the Scout and the Engineer. The Engineer has 200 reserve ammo as opposed to the Scout’s 36, and his reload time is slightly longer than the Scout’s (1.36 seconds for Engie, 1.25 seconds for Scout). It is a rather shaky precedence, but just for this post we’ll accept it.
The first possible buff one might think of is to give Heavy a passive effect when he has his shotgun out, such as resistances, health regen, speed boosts, and so on. The problem is, there is no way to signalling to other players that the Heavy is currently under these passive effects without adding more particles, and the particles will just add to visual clutter considering the other particle effect we have floating around. The same goes for another possible buff, which is for a shotgun Heavy to give a buff to nearby teammates in an area of effect.
One other way to buff the Heavy’s shotguns is to modify the shotguns themselves. Give Heavy’s shotguns a larger clip, more damage, more ammo, faster firing rate/reload speed, life steal, knockback, the works. It is a possible way to buff the shotguns, but it still does not resolve the core issue of the Heavy’s shotguns, that is it is just inferior to the miniguns in every way. And if it isn’t, why would anyone bother with the miniguns? Just run around with a shotgun and be done with it.
My preferred way of buffing is not to buff the shotguns directly, but rather give Heavy new primaries to make shotguns viable. I will personally like there to be new types of Heavy primaries that aren’t miniguns. Foxzet did a test and showed that giving Heavy a mobility tool instead of a minigun may be viable, and I talked about giving Heavy a mobility tool as a primary in an earlier article. In that article, I was somewhat skeptical, but I personally believe that Heavy’s shotguns are viable enough that, along with Heavy’s raw bulk, a mobility tool primary can make Shotgun Heavies rather powerful.
The other concept I have in mind for a new Heavy primary type is a shield. Not a large barrier like what you see in Overwatch‘s Reinhardt or Winston, since it leads to a giant damage sponge covering off a whole chokepoint or shielding a whole team, grinding the game’s pace to a halt. It’s a shield much like Demoman’s own, which gives Heavy resistances. And much like the Demoman’s shields, it provides Heavy with resistances for some types of damages and not others, so that there is still a reliable way to take out a Heavy. As much as it hurts me to say it, a good resistance to not have is hitscan resistance, since this means Heavy will still be as vulnerable to Snipers as he was before. Still, this unlock concept not only preserves the Heavy’s role as a damage sponge for the team, it also makes playing Heavy more engaging as you can now storm through gunfire and clear a path for the team, rather than standing somewhere and holding down M1, or waddling slowly to the control point and holding down M1.
That being said, I won’t be surprised if players make a brawler build and run a melee-only Heavy with a shield. the Buffalo Steak Sandvich and maybe the Killing Gloves of Boxing. Use the shield’s resistances to tank damage as much as possible as you charge at enemies with the Steak’s speed boost, then go on a rampage when you get in melee range. I’ll definitely try that one myself.
Still, the underutillization of the Shotguns shows one thing. The Heavy has only one good playstyle, that is shoot minigun, tank some damage, and maybe heal Medic with Sandvich. The lunchbox items are the best for that meat shield/walking artillery playstyle. Every suggestion made earlier that isn’t just buffing the Heavy’s shotguns basically creates new playstyles that the shotguns can work better in. Heavy has this lack of gameplay variety issue for too long.
The Heavy’s playstyle has been getting rather stale, and there is pretty much only one reliable way to play him, as his current shotgun situation shows. And thing is, there are ways to give Heavy new playstyles while preserving some of his main advantages and interactions with others, such as his bulk and how he is still vulnerable to picks. Considering that Demoknight exists, a radical change to the Heavy’s playstyle via new unlocks shouldn’t be something impossible.