Those of you following the Team Fortress 2 update blog will have no doubt read all about the new unlock system, which is supposed to provide a more level playing field to all players by changing the weapon unlock system from being achievement based to being random. “Random” insofar as you are randomly given an unlockable weapon, irrespective of whether or not it is usable by your current class, and irrespective of what you are actually doing in the game.
The theory is, this will enable all players to have an equal chance of gaining the unlockable weapons, without having to play a class you may not like, and without having to do silly things like perform 1,000 double-jumps.
Of course, while Valve’s intentions seem to be good, I can’t help but think that this new system is irrevocably broken. For starters, the core of the system, the random aspect, is completely at-odds with the previous unlocks-based system. Now, instead of being able to explicitly target a particular path of achievements in order to unlock the extra weapons, you have no control over what you receive. There is now no element of player interaction what-so-ever in the granting of unlocked weapons. Players no longer earn the unlocks. Control over this has been taken away.
There are some good aspects; for example, now you can be granted weapon unlocks for any class, not just the one you would have to play often in order to earn that class’ specific achievements. This is good for newcomers and unskilled players who might not be proficient at any particular class, but still like to play the game. This does in a way make the game more accessible to people who aren’t die-hard fans of the game or even the genre.
Another aspect of this approach is that it supposedly will reduce the amount of farming done to gain the achievements and be granted the unlocks. Previously, there existed a server or two by many of the hosting providers that ran simple maps designed to make it easy for each class to earn their respective achievements by providing areas for the repetitive or difficult tasks required for achievements to be easily completed.
Someone could join these “unlock servers”, spend an hour or two grinding their achievements, and come away with all their weapon unlocks without actually having played against other players. What’s more alarming is there do exist third-party tools that trick your Steam client into thinking you have earned the achievements without anything more than a click of a button. You can load up the application, select the game you want, tell it what achievements you want, and hey presto! Steam now thinks you’ve earned them, and you are granted the unlocks in game.
The new system was supposed to prevent this kind of behavior: it’s actually worse. You see, the unlocks are granted for “play time” – not for doing anything in particular during that play time. You don’t have to kill a single enemy or complete a single objective to rack up playtime. So, some devious souls quickly knocked up a map with a spawn point for each team, where the environment does damage to players. The spawn points are walled off from each other to prevent players from actually killing each other, and there are no objectives.
It’s literally two rooms with an indestructible glass wall between them where players spawn and are slowly killed by environment damage. The neat feature? You join the server, minimize your game, and you come back some time later with many unlocks. That’s right: all people have to do is join a server, go idle, and they get unlocks. I’m actually glad that dedicated servers have been set up for this express purpose, as many people were joining proper servers and just idling in spectator mode, filling up valuable player slots. I’m idling in a server running the achievement_idle map right now, as many others are, in protest of this new and horrendously broken system.
There are many different ways Valve can go about fixing this problem: the first step is to apologize to the Team Fortress 2 community and admit they were wrong, that they made a mistake. This new unlock system is terrible. The second step is to revert the weapon unlock system back to the previous version until a better solution can be worked and implemented. The third step is to actually think through and implement a workable, fair and rewarding unlock system, and have it ready for the next update patch.
If Valve need any ideas on how they can do this, they need only take a look at a little old game called Battlefield 2, which in my opinion made this kind of thing work perfectly well three years ago: grant weapon unlocks based on player skill. For example, killing enemies and completing map objectives are both measures of how good a player is. The player that kills the most enemies or completes the most objectives is typically the better player. It’s that simple.
In closing, this.