Pyro is the Weakest Class in TF2

Pyro TF2Relatively speaking, Pyro has been the weakest class in Team Fortress 2 for a long time. Examining the items released for Pyro (as well as others), Pyro’s playstyles, and the role that the map and environment play points to the conclusion that Pyro ranks dead last. The lack of diversified playstyles offered to the Pyro class leaves it in a situation where a different class would oftentimes have a more impactful contribution to the team.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the items brought by recent updates, both for the Pyro and for the other classes. Updates have brought an overwhelming number of items that negate the potency of fire damage. Let’s take a look at the more notable examples:

  1. Scout, a class many consider to be countered by Pyro, received items like Bonk! Atomic Punch, Mad Milk, and to a lesser extent, the Pretty Boy’s Pocket Pistol. A Scout who engages a Pyro can just as quickly disengage and render themselves invincible with Bonk, or negate afterburn with Mad Milk. No laughing matter when you consider that full afterburn accounts for 60 damage (so long as it isn’t from a Degreaser).
  2. Spy already had the Dead Ringer when he received the Spy-cicle, becoming immune to fire damage for 1 second and afterburn damage for 10 seconds. Additionally, the subsequent Dead Ringer changes prevent the Spy from immediately catching fire, allowing for a greater chance of escape.
  3. Sniper received the Sydney Sleeper and Jarate, two items that nullify afterburn damage. To be perfectly honest, Snipers and Pyros will not be interacting most of the time, as a keen Sniper will spend most time at the backline where they are most effective. Pyros, on the other hand, must remain in the heat of battle to be effective.
  4. Demoman, another class some considered countered by the Pyro, got multiple secondary shields like the Chargin’ Targe, Splendid Screen, and Tide Turner that greatly decrease the amount of fire and afterburn damage taken.

The classes traditionally believed to be countered by Pyro (Scout, Spy, and perhaps Demoman) all received items that negate Pyro’s effectiveness in countering them. Too many pesky Spies backstabbing teammates and sapping sentry nests? Switch to Pyro to check for Spies, a definitive way to allow for counter-play. This is all tossed out of the window with the advent of the Spy-cicle and Dead Ringer. With these two items, Spy gets two powerful “Get Out of Jail Free” cards that nullify the way Pyro aims to counter Spies. The same is true for the other classes. The strategy for dealing with Scouts as Pyro is to typically light them on fire and allow afterburn to finish them off, but this is negated with Scout’s Mad Milk and Bonk. Demomen take greatly reduced fire and afterburn damage when equipped with a shield.

Now a look at the unique items released for Pyro. The primary weapons released for Pyro include the Backburner, Degreaser, and Phlogistinator. The secondary weapons released are the Flare Gun, Detonator, Manmelter, and Scorch Shot. Finally, the notable tertiary weapons released for Pyro include the Axtinguisher, Homewrecker, Powerjack, and Back Scratcher. For the purposes of this piece, items like the Reserve Shooter, Third Degree, or Panic Attack will not be considered.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Ugh, another W+M1 Pyro.” Pyro’s playstyle, from the beginning, has been rather straightforward (pun intended). Ambush the enemy and allow the massive DPS from the flamethrower to kill your enemy, or allow the afterburn to finish them. If they’re alive and getting away, fire your secondary to secure the kill. If they’re up close, swing your melee weapon to finish them off. Where environment works as an advantage for the other 8 classes, Pyro lands in a unique position of having the environment works against it. Scouts can bob and weave around corners, Spies hide in nooks and crevices, Soldiers and Demomen use explosive jumps for greater mobility. Pyro, meanwhile, is pigeonholed into a role where the only successful playstyle relies on ambushing an enemy. A large and open map spells bad news for a Pyro. There are further hindrances presented by the environment as well. Pyro is hurt worst of all classes by the availability of health packs on a map. A class that relies on afterburn damage as a significant chunk of DPS is rendered negligible by the presence of a health pack. Add water into the equation and every primary weapon Pyro has now deals no damage whatsoever, not to mention being another source of alleviating afterburn. Sadly, however, this is not where the crux of the problem lies. The other classes received weapons that diversify their playstyle and capitalize on some weaknesses. The sluggish Heavy can equip the Gloves of Running Urgently in order to run faster at the price of being Marked for Death. The frail Spy can equip a Dead Ringer for greater survivability. Sniper, who excels in long-range fighting but is dismal at close-range, can equip the Jarate and Bushwacka for a powerful melee combo. Demoman practically got an entirely new archetype with the advent of the Demoknight gear. The classes received innovative new weapons that pushed their archetypes into different directions or created new ones. Pyro, however, was not so lucky. The only concessions for Pyro were the Flare Gun, Detonator, and Scorch Shot. But these three weapons do not prove effective enough to push the envelope further for Pyro. A Flare Gun shot alone is not enough to secure a kill on an enemy, rather, the enemy will simply run for a health pack until the Pyro can close the gap. The problem is that the role of the Pyro is one-dimensional and formulaic. The few primary ways a Pyro seeks to get kills today are:

  • A complete ambush or “W+M1” charge with a flamethrower (slightly gimmicky and predictable after a while).
  • An ignition, airblast, and Axtinguisher (formulaic and requires a tight space).
  • An ignition, airblast, and Flare Gun (same as the other two).

All of these methods require a smaller, tighter map where the Pyro can get close to an enemy. There is no deviating from this playstyle. There are little to no options presented to the Pyro that let the class make up for some of its weaknesses like the other classes have been granted. After a while, teams and individuals will recognize a wild Pyro running around and plan accordingly.

The items granted to the classes Pyro is supposed to counter serve to make the Pyro class weaker. The Spy-cicle, Mad Milk, and Chargin’ Targe are all noteworthy examples. Furthermore, future weapon changes will (tentatively) add afterburn reduction to multiple weapons. The environment serves as a source of woe for the Pyro as well. Large, open maps are not the type of place in which a Pyro shines. Abundant health packs and water greatly diminish a large source of damage in Pyro’s afterburn. Because Pyro thrives in close-quarters, the class has been pigeonholed into a one-dimensional guerilla who relies on formulaic ways to earn kills. Where other classes receive new items that open up playstyles, Pyro has received very little to change how the class is played. This leaves Pyro in a strange position with limited roles. Pyro is undoubtedly the best class for spy-checking, and the alt-fire airblast ability is strong for deflecting projectiles and ubers. Alternatively, one can play the role of a Pybro and equip the Homewrecker to further thwart the efforts of Spies. After that, though, you’re left with a spy-checking ambusher who is at the mercy of the distance between themselves and the enemy.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Pyro is the weakest class but not by a large margin. I love playing Pyro and get a kick out of playing the class. These are just problems that I believe are inherent to the class and limit the creative space that Pyro can occupy.

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Reinhardt Is A Problematic Unit Within Fire Emblem Heroes

Fire Emblem Heroes: Reinhardt

Fire Emblem Heroes came out on February 2nd and I have been an avid player since its release. Intelligent Systems has done a great job at fostering a healthy and entertaining environment in the game by introducing multiple features over time. Voting gauntlet wars, Grand Hero battles, introduction of Arena tiers, daily/weekly/monthly quests, special maps, and new Hero banners are all examples of features that keep players hooked on the game.

The game is not without fault, however. Fire Emblem Heroes is, after all, a gacha game. Gacha games revolve around obtaining units by spending finite in-game currency. Once you’re out of the in-game currency, you largely run out of ways to summon new units. The units you obtain are chosen purely through luck; some players will immediately obtain the best units right off the bat, some will go weeks without getting one. A “pity counter” monitors how long a player has gone without receiving an elite unit, and will up the probability that the player will receive one. However, this pity counter is reset every week or so and does not give players enough time to amass enough currency to pull for more units. Good and bad luck is rampant early on in the game, but equalizes as the game goes on.

Our concern rests on the balance of the units in the game. The characters in the game are categorized in some notable ways. Units either employ magical or physical damage and are arranged by three colors. For example, physical red units use swords, physical blues use spears, and physical greens use axes. Magic users simply wield “tomes” of the different colors. Furthermore, there are colorless units that use bows, daggers, and staffs. These units are also categorized by rarity, with 5-stars having superior stats and 1-stars being the weakest units. Finally, units are categorized by being either infantry, armored, flying, or cavalry. This is where the crux of our problem with Reinhardt lies.

The battle maps within Fire Emblem Heroes are 8 units tall by 6 units across. Infantry and flying units can move two spaces, forward or back, left or right. A diagonal is considered moving two spaces. Armored units can only move one unit, forward, back, left, or right. Further limitations exist in the form of forests, lava, oceans, mountains, or breakable terrain. Flyers are not limited by any terrain, while infantry and armored units are hindered by a movement penalty on forests and cannot travel onto the other previously mentioned tiles. Cavalry units have the ability to move 3 units but are unable to pass into forests like their armored and infantry counterparts are.

However, this is not as big a problem as it may seem. The battles in Fire Emblem Heroes gravitate around finding the perfect moment to strike, and a large part of finding the right moment is kiting the enemy team around the map. The player is in control of when and where they want to engage a fight so long as the enemy is far enough away. The burden of movement is placed upon the enemy AI who may theoretically never engage the player so long as the player kites the opponent around the map endlessly.

This is where the first problematic aspect of Reinhardt’s character emerges. Cavalry units have an innate advantage over other units by being able to travel 3 units as opposed to 2. As discussed earlier, terrain and obstacles are not a disadvantage to cavalry units because the player decides when and where to initiate fights because the enemy team is at the mercy of being kited around. Redditor “j3ffj3ff” explains:

“Inherently, they’re very very overpowered. They don’t have ‘one more movement’ than infantry, they have 50% more movement. They don’t have two more movement than armored units, they have 200% more movement. If Reinhardt runs up and kills an infantry, then gets pulled back or repositioned, he is out of reach for any other infantry.

It’s not like in the main series games where a cavalry has maybe three more movement than an armor (5 vs 8) or 1-2 more movement than an infantry. Those games have much larger maps and you can actually trap a cavalry unit by baiting carefully. Instead in FEH we’ve got a unit that can hit anything on nearly 1/3 of the map, at range, and support skills that will pull it out of danger afterwards. They are poorly balanced, but at least it looks like IS is trying to address the issue with better map design.”

Because the size of maps within Fire Emblem Heroes is 8 units by 6 units, Reinhardt has a clear advantage over all the other types of units.

“There are a bunch of cavalry units in the game!”, one might respond. This may be true, but there are a select few ranged cavalry units (with healers excluded from the discussion for the sake of argument). Having the ability to move (proportionally) much farther than other units and strike them is very powerful. For the most part, this advantage is reigned in by the developers by giving these ranged mages lowered stats. Cavalry mages consistently have around 10 attack power less than infantry mages. The power of mages in general is that they can attack an enemy from afar. Be it directly over land or separated by terrain. Attacking from afar is a direct advantage over attacking an adjacent target. A unit can stay closer to their team where they receive offensive and defensive enhancements as well as setting up more tactical positions.

This leaves us with Cecilia, Leo, Olwen, Ursula, and Reinhardt. Olwen and Reinhardt distinguish themselves from this pack because of one important thing: Dire Thunder. Dire Thunder is the weapon used by both that allows them to strike twice instead of once like other weapons. Speed as a stat is very important, but equipping Dire Thunder allows Olwen and Reinhardt to disregard their average Speed stats in order to strike twice. Other than Ursula, all of the cavalry mages have a Speed stat within the same ballpark, not deviating more than 2 or 3 from the others. While Reinhardt’s Attack stat is middling, being allowed to strike twice oftentimes guarantees that he will defeat an opposing unit. Then what about Olwen? To utilize the mobility of cavalry units most effectively, a player will most likely want to pick the most powerful unit. Powerful in the context of Fire Emblem Heroes is synonymous with the Attack stat. Ranged cavalry are typically weak when it comes to defending, and so are used in a way that utilizes their capability to strike quickly. In this regard, Reinhardt is superior to Olwen as a unit because his Attack stat is significantly higher than Olwen’s.

Reinhardt is often coupled with teammates that possess repositioning skills. This allows Reinhardt to charge in, KO an opponent, and then reposition to safety. For players who aim to get perfect (deathless) runs in the Arena, Reinhardt presents a constant concern.

Besides large sweeping changes to maps, movement, and game mechanics, the most direct way to address the problem of Reinhardt (and by extension, Olwen) would be to rework Dire Thunder. Dire Thunder operates similarly to Brave weapons that infantry receive that allows them to double-up on attacks. No infantry mage has such a mechanic built into a weapon that allows them to attack twice, much less other cavalry mages. It would seem that Dire Thunder needs to be addressed as a skill, perhaps removing the double-up feature. Perhaps lowering the user’s attack could be another alternative. Regardless, revisions need to be made if a balance is to be struck.

Being able to move 3 spaces, attack from a distance, attack twice on any unit, and potentially escape indicates a problematic design in Reinhardt’s character. Watching a character be wiped out by Reinhardt does not encourage interactive or tactical play, rather a frustrating game experience for those who come up against him.