As I am sure you are aware, Team Fortress 2, one of the most beloved online shooters available on the PC, went free-to-play this week. If you are one of many people considering jumping in to this awesome game, then great! It is an incredible experience that I'm sure you will love. However, TF2 does things a little...differently from most team based FPSs. Team Fortress is a game of some depth and complexity, but it's also a game that people have played thousands of hours playing and have learnt inside out. But hey, even those guys had to start somewhere, right?
Now allow me to describe my own experience with TF2. A year ago I, like you, had never even touched the game. I bought the Orange Box in 2007, played the shit out of Portal and Half-Life 2, but TF2 just didn't grab me. Then I started to learn more about the game, about how it was a deep game, about how unfriendly and intimidating it could be for new players, and my interest in playing the game went even lower. Besides, by then I had developed a pretty strong anti-multiplayer mindset, so I became at peace with the knowledge that TF2 was a game I was probably never going to play.
Then, eight months ago, I bought my new PC and thought "fuck it, people love this game, I need to see what all the fuss is about".
And I fell in love.
Team Fortress 2 is an intricately designed, great looking, charming and ultimately highly playable game, by far my best multiplayer experience as a gamer. So I am here to tell you that you can jump into this game. But you need to know what you're getting yourself into.
So here is my newbies guide to TF2, from someone who was a newbie just eight months ago and is now a competent player with 200 hours of experience.
TIP NUMBER ONE:
Try Playing Against A.I.
I know this is unusual advice, but if you're worried about jumping into the deep end in TF2, do what I did and do some offline practice. It's a very different experience, but it's a great way for you to try out different stuff in a zero pressure environment, you can learn what different situations require, you'll start to learn some of the game's maps and you'll get a glimpse into what it takes to get good at TF2. Once you start wiping the floor with the bots, you'll still have a way to go before you'll be ready to kick ass against human players, but it's still a great start.
TIP NUMBER TWO:
Choose Your Server Wisely
It might not be a good idea as a new player to jump into random servers, as you might get hounded by experienced players, which can sour your experience. The best thing to do is find a handful of servers that are friendly. How do you find friendly servers? Well, doing a little research would be a good start. Also, if you have any friends who play or have played the game they can let you know which servers are recommended for new players. Some servers are more tightly moderated than others, and some uphold certain standards of decency and respect; a little swearing isn't frowned at, but anyone being actively abusive, especially to new players, will be reported. Also, it's best to stick to servers that do not exceed the game's recommended maximum numbers of players, which is 24. The game is not balanced for more than 12 players a side, by Valve's own admission, and you might not be getting the best experience by jumping onto a large server.
Another thing to remember is that many online gaming communities have their own TF2 servers, including NeoGAF, PC Gamer and of course Giant Bomb. These servers tend to be friendly, in my experience.
TIP NUMBER THREE:
Remember You Are Not Alone
Since the game has gone free-to-play there are thousands of people out there considering playing TF2 for the first time. It's worth remembering that not everybody you will encounter has clocked in hundreds of hours of gameplay. They might be a noob just like you. You're all working this stuff out together, so maybe make some new friends and learn the game together. You can usually tell who is an experienced player because they will have the most outlandish attire and the strangest weapons, earned from hours of game time (or by the almighty dollar).
TIP NUMBER FOUR:
Get To Know The Classes
The classes define TF2. Each is capable in certain situations and vulnerable in others. As an inexperienced player, you might sometimes feel like you don't know what you're supposed to be doing with a certain class. This will come with time, but there are ways that you can help yourself out if you're experiencing trouble. There are plenty of guides and FAQs that will teach you the basics of using a class and what to do when a certain situation arises.
Also for the consideration of new players, here is a breakdown of the classes by difficulty:
- Pyro. A class that's easy to learn but hard to master, the Pyro is the game's short range class, meaning you just get up in people's faces and set them on fire. Pro tip; sneak up on people if you can.
- Medic. You might get people yelling at you when they die, but aside from that the Medic is very noob friendly. Just stick like glue to a more experienced player and get heal happy. Also, it's a great class to play when learning the maps as you basically just need to follow everybody. Pro tip; the combination of Medic and Heavy is one of the most common in the entire game, and for good reason, so chum up with one of the big guys and watch the kill assists roll in.
- Heavy. Worried about dying? Then why not pick the class with the most health? The Heavy is the most survivable class in most combat situations and his minigun packs one mighty punch. The Heavy is a big simple character, and plays just like it. Pro tip; as a Heavy you are by far the slowest class in the game, especially when spinning your minigun, so be careful of Spies and Snipers who can pick you off before you've even seen them.
- Demoman. Another easy to learn hard to master class. Basically just chuck grenades in the general direction of people you want dead. Pro tip: A good Demoman knows that his sticky bombs are great for setting up choke points and defending valuable areas of the map, such as the payload during Payload maps or capture points during Capture Point or King of the Hill matches.
- Engineer. My personal favourite class in the game, as it doesn't demand you be directly in the line of fire. Just set up a sentry gun in a useful spot, whack it with your wrench to upgrade it and sit back and watch the fireworks. Pro tip; the toughest part about being a noob playing Engineer is that you don't know the maps that well and thus don't know the best places to set up your sentry. Watch where more experienced players set up their defences, and remember that you can help out a friendly engineer by using your metal to upgrade their sentries.
- Soldier. A good all-around offensive class, the Soldier uses his lethal rocket launcher to tear shit up. Experienced Soldiers can also rocket-jump to normally unreachable places on the map, allowing for even more carnage. Pro tip; remember that the rocket launcher is only good against enemies at a certain distance. When an enemy is in your face, switch to your shotgun to pick them off, or your melee weapon if they're really in your grill.
- Scout. These are trickly little buggers they are. The Scout has the lowest amount of health of any of the classes, meaning that the best way to stay alive is to not get hit. The Scout is TF2's "twitch" class and should only be played by those who can handle the speed at which he moves. Pro tip; just keep moving. Also remember that your scattergun packs a punch when up close but is ineffective at longer range, so switch to your pistol when at a distance.
- Sniper. This class requires patience, awareness and a very quick finger. A good Sniper can pick off an entire team from a safe distance. Again, map awareness is crucial for playing Sniper, as you need to know the safest places to camp. Pro tip; aim for the head for critical damage.
- Spy. The trickiest of all TF2 classes, a good Spy can kill an enemy without ever being detected. They can hide as a friendly team member and just when they least except it, they stick a knife in your back. However, if you are exposed, it can be all over very quickly, as the Spy is not very survivable at all. Pro tip; it's not a good idea to play Spy as a rookie, but if you have your heart set on it, then remember to decloak in a discrete location so as not to give yourself away as a Spy. Also, running into a player will reveal you as a Spy to the entire team, which can lead to very bad things.
Another important thing to consider when looking at classes is that there are certain class match-ups that you can use in your favour. If one particular player is killing you over and over again, it might be best to consider switching to a class that is a good match-up against them. Here is a short breakdown against some of the key match-up advantages you can give yourself in TF2.
- Heavies are vulnerable to Spies and Snipers because they move so slowly. A Spy moves much quicker than a Heavy so just run behind, wait to catch up and stick the knife in them. As for Snipers, just wait for the Heavy to wind up his minigun, which makes him move very slowly, and you'll have a great chance to get a decisive head shot which can kill the player instantly.
- A good Spy can be a massive problem for a team, but there is a way to counter them. A Spy will be revealed if he is set on fire and can be ignited even if he is cloaked or disguised as a friendly class, so choose Pyro and try torching anyone whom you suspect of being a Spy.
- An Engineer with a fully upgraded Sentry in a well chosen spot can tear up a team over and over again, but they are vulnerable to Demomen, especially their sticky bombs. Find a safe distance and shoot as many stickies in the face of the Engineer as possible. Another alternative is to sneak up on the Engineer as a Spy and stab him in the back; his Sentry will kill you unless you're very quick with your Sapper, but your team mates can destoy the Sentry before the Engineer respawns.
- Some of the best TF2 players I have ever seen have been skilled Demomen, because they can spam the battlefield with sticky mines and blow you to pieces. One good counter to a skilled Demoman is the Scout. A Demoman's weaponry is best used at longer range, so a Scout can get in his face and pick him off without too much trouble. You have to be quick, though, and remember that the Demoman does have a melee weapon to counter.
- A good Scout can annoy the hell out of you because they can kill you without you ever hitting them. When dealing with a skilled Scout, you want a weapon that is just as fast as they are. Enter the Heavy. His minigun unleashes many rounds per second, and because you have so much health you can take a good few shots from the Scout's scattergun before you go down. Alternatively, use a Pyro to set the Scout ablaze if he comes anywhere near you, or switch to Engineer and set up a sentry which can take the little bastard down.
TIP NUMBER FIVE
Practice, Perserverance, Patience
Nobody becomes good at anything immediately. If you come across a skilled player, chances are he's spent hundreds if not thousands of hours learning the maps, perfecting his strategies and learning the classes. Experienced players know what to do in difficult situations because they've seen them before, sometimes hundreds of times. So remember that although you may start off getting killed many, many times, you will get better with a little patience. You can still have fun when you're just starting out, but if you want to get good but you don't want to commit a decent amount of time to learning the classes, the maps and the systems, then maybe TF2 isn't for you.
So there you go, a relatively extensive and comprehensive guide to starting out in TF2. Happy Fortressing, and remember, watch our for Spies!