The Theory of Gaming

May 15, 2008

Soldier? More like captain useless.

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , — spotpuff @ 14:10

Soldier is my most played class in TF2 and I’d like to think I am pretty good at it. Soldier was my favourite class in TF1: if you were good, you could take out a whole team and cap the flag on many maps by yourself. TF2 is a bit different: you need a medic and you can’t really do a whole lot to most of the classes. There are a lot of issues I have with the class. Some of them may be a weakness in the soldier class, while others may be other classes being too strong, but the points are usually a mix of both.

The main issue with soldiers is they’re worse than a demoman in almost every situation. Whether or not this means the demoman is overpowered or the soldier is underpowered is a larger question on the balance of the game, but nevertheless there are distinct cases where soldiers are clearly and irrefutably weaker.

1. You can’t kill sentry guns

So soldiers are supposed to be this well rounded offensive class that is capable of dealing with all sorts of obstacles. I guess when Valve designed the game, they thought soldiers should be able to deal with challenging obstacles like staircases and hills, and just those two, because as soon as you run into a sentry gun it’s basically game over.

It takes three unanswered rockets to kill a sentry gun. It’s 3/4 of your clip and requires at least 3 seconds. If an engineer is hiding behind his gun with a dispenser, and they are not against a wall, you are not going to kill the gun. You may get two rockets in, but an engineer is capable of repairing both his dispenser and his sentry in that time span, so again, you can’t kill either one.

The biggest problem though is that rocket splash damage doesn’t go through sentry guns. Or other people, too, for that matter, but that’s another issue entirely. So an engineer can duck behind his gun and heal his sentry while you shoot it ineffectually, without fear of being killed.

The only real solution is to shoot the ground near the sentry gun and try to kill the engineer first, then take out the gun, but this is problematic at a range that allows you to outrange the sentry. First of all, rockets are slow, so the engineer can dodge the rockets if they’re smart. If they don’t crouch behind their gun, dodging is easy at range. If you’re close enough that they can’t dodge rockets in time, then you’re in sentry range and taking fire. Keep in mind here I’m talking about well placed sentries, not ones built near doorways or something similar. Think the elevated platform or covered enclave at the 2nd capture point of the 2nd map of Goldrush. There is no way you can hit an engineer or the gun without being shot at; at best you’re going to have to shoot a wall near them, but the healing from their dispenser will take care of that damage and you’re still not going to kill the sentry.

A laughable “strategy” for killing sentry guns is apparently firing at the sentry until the engineer runs out of metal. I don’t know what game the people who suggested this strategy have been playing, because apparently they didn’t notice you get 20 rockets to start with now and that’s it. Assuming you have full ammo by the time you reach the sentry gun, you still require 6 seconds every time you want to fire 4 rockets at the gun. That’s 26 seconds for all 20 of your rockets, during which time no one can come interrupt you in your sentry destroying quest. Dispensers generate 40 metal every 5 seconds and hold 400 metal max. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but each rocket hit requires approximately 25 metal to repair. Over 26 seconds a dispenser will regenerate 200 metal. So the engineer has about 800 metal to play with including the 200 he’s got on him. That’s 32 rockets worth of damage that can be healed (assuming my numbers are correct, which they might not be; comments are welcome if you know the exact numbers). How many rockets do you get as a soldier? 20. So, slight problem there.

So basically, there’s some maps where you run into a sentry gun and you are totally useless. Even if you are ubercharged running straight into a sentry’s coverage, blowing your whole clip will basically only let you kill the engineer with rockets. Then you have to whip your shovel/shotgun out to finish off the gun, or suffer through the painfully slow rocket reload which is great for wasting that 10s of uber. And if you planned on making it out of there alive, well, too bad for you because most likely your ubercharge will run out just as the gun goes down, and chances are the rest of the enemy team is waiting for that to focus fire and kill you.

Why the demo is better:

Demos are better at sentry killing because they can burst damage and because their splash damage goes through sentry guns. They have two options: fire 3 stickies at a gun and detonate them all at once to kill the gun, the engineer, and the dispenser at the same time, or fire grenades directly at the sentry gun and barring the annoying bug where your grenades just bounce off engineer buildings, the splash from 2 grenades will kill the engineer and then the gun is easy pickings.

Demos can also lob grenades at elevated platforms around corners and have them land near the gun, whereas a soldier cannot, which allows the demo to kill the guns I mentioned on Gold Rush 2-2 as well as numerous other locations where sentries are built on elevated ground. The best counter an engineer has against a demo is to wrench/shotgun the stickies away, but using the wrench for that is a quick way to die and the demo can fire stickies faster than you can shoot them away, so really it’s just a stall tactic rather than a counter.

2. You can’t kill Heavies with a Medic unless you crit

A Heavy and a Medic is one of the most difficult combos to take out in TF2. If they’re the two players are good, spies are ineffective, and on some maps sniping is effective or possible to take out heavies. Especially on Gold Rush, where you can just duck behind the cart, sniping becomes a very difficult counter against heavies. Heavies can also cause a sniper to flinch constantly with fire from across the map, so there may be further balancing issues required there.

As for the soldier, well, soldier cannot kill a heavy with a medic without crits, period. According to, a splash damage rocket does about 60-80 damage at close range and only about 40-50 damage at medium range Heavies have 300 health, and when you add in the +50% hp Heavies get 450 health. Your rockets do 240-320 damage total at close range and 160-200 damage total at medium range. Then you have to reload. So at close range it would take at least 6 splash rockets to kill a buffed heavy, and at medium range it would take at least 9 splash rockets.

Now that’s assuming the medic just buffs the heavy and then leaves. If he continues healing the heavy at a rate of 20 health per second and you fire around twice per second the situation gets even worse. To fire 6 rockets at close range takes at least 4 seconds (due to reload) which means the heavy doesn’t have 450 HP, he has 530 HP (450 + 20HP/s * 4s). At medium range under the same assumptions, it takes 9 seconds to fire 9 rockets, which means you have to deal 630 damage to the heavy (450 + 20HP/s * 9s). Good luck with that.

Now some of you might be thinking ok, that’s with splash rockets but what about direct rocket hits? I’ll touch on this more later, but direct rocket hits are harder to get than they sound.

At medium range, direct hits are out of the question. Even with reduced speed, hitting a heavy directly with rockets is hard if they’re constantly strafing. You’re also going to be taking fire, and maybe it’s just me but it seems like heavy damage has been upgraded in the recent patch, so it seems like you go down even faster than before to heavy fire.

At close range, you’re only going to get off 4 direct hit rockets on a heavy before he kills you if the heavy is terrible. Assuming he’s not, you’re toast.

At long range soldiers suck. Period. Rockets are slow. The heavy isn’t going down at long range unless he stands perfectly still and lets you shoot him with direct-hit rockets repeatedly. This is not a situation that arises frequently.

To top that all off, according to tf2wiki, a direct hit rocket deals 112 damage (which seems low to me, but I can’t really test right now so I’ll go with it). 4 direct hit rockets on a heavy will deal 448 damage. How much HP do buffed heavies get? 450. 448 < 450. Doh. Granted you could still reload and shoot off one more rocket to kill the heavy, but again, that’s 3s of fire and a heavy with a medic under fire for 3s essentially has 510 HP. Ugh.

Unless you get a magical 225 damage splash crit, that heavy/medic is not going down before you do no matter how many times you shoot him.

Why the demo is better:

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here, but the reason demos are better than soldiers at heavy killing is because they can burst damage and because their grenades fire faster than rockets. Their grenades also don’t lose damage over distance. You can lob 4-5 stickies at a heavy and unless he spins his gun down and runs, he’s basically dead. Even if he does do that, your stickies have cut off the medic from him, so the medic has to back off, or take a long route around them to continue healing the heavy. You can det those stickies and then continue placing more to try to kill the heavy and your damage output is greater than the medic can heal. Plus you have 8 stickies and 4 regular grenades to get the job done. So 12 rounds vs 4 rocket rounds and a shotgun.

Grenades also fire slightly faster than rockets, and are capable of doing more damage, so the medic has less time to heal the heavy before you have to reload. In my experience, a heavy with a medic can be killed in 3-4 direct hits with the grenade launcher. If you run out of regular grenades, switch to stickies.

As an added bonus, if you get a crit grenade and the medic is standing close enough to the heavy, you can kill the medic with splash damage, since demoman splash damage goes through people and engineer buildings.

To top it all off, if the medic hits his ubercharge, your stickies can still launch the heavy or medic out of uber range even if the heavy is firing or has his gun spun up at the time. Soldiers on the other hand are totally worthless when a heavy/medic ubers.

3. Your splash damage doesn’t go through people/engineer buildings

Soldier crits are everyone’s favourite punching bag. True, there is some element of luck involved, but it’s not like that luck aimed the rocket for you. If there’s a crowd of people and you fire off a crit into it, you might initially feel pretty darn good as that rocket leaves your launcher, but you’ll be surprised to see that you kill just one person. If a person at the front of the crowd is hit with the crit rocket, they absorb the full 270 damage, and none of the splash damage goes through to nearby enemies. So one guy eats the crit and everyone else tries to kill you. True you could splash the ground, but then you’re only dealing 225 damage, not 270, and if people are buffed and you crit splash them they just go flying in different directions, which makes landing a follow up hit even harder in some cases.

Even if we ignore the case of critical hits, a direct rocket hit will only injure the person you shot, not anyone around them, which is aggravating in and of itself since you only get 4 rockets.

Lack of splash through buildings is also the main reason why soldiers suck against sentry guns. Engineers just duck behind them and laugh at you.

Why demomen are better:

Demo splash goes through people and buildings. A crit grenade will kill pretty much everyone around your target. It’s common to see 2 kills per crit and not uncommon to see 3 kills per crit if people are bunched at bottlenecks as in Gold Rush/Dustbowl.

Also, demos can take out sentry guns with regular grenades fired directly at the gun. They’ll get the engineer too.

4. 90% of the time rockets don’t do full damage, they do splash damage

Unless you are the god of leading shots and aiming, and your opponents don’t know how to dodge, you are going to be hitting people with splash rockets. This means rockets for all intents and purposes will not be doing 112 damage per hit. They do either 70 or 50. Looking only at direct-hit rocket damage is like looking only at sniper headshots and spy backstabs; it ignores the other cases in which you will be doing damage.

Did anyone notice the spy knife damage buff in the last patch? Previously spies could never critical strike with their knife from the front, and it did something like 30 damage. I thought this was fair since a backstab was a one-hit kill, but evidently Valve thought differently and buffed the spy knife damage so it does about 50 damage per hit now.

So Valve understands that even though full charge sniper headshots and spy backstabs are one hit kills, not every hit is going to be a full charge headshot or one hit kill. Evidently though they do not understand that rockets don’t do 110 damage per hit, they do either 70 or 50. Go figure.

Why demomen are better:

This one’s a toss up. Demomen can be hard to play because you have to be good at leading and aiming. My friend CdTrix taught me a trick as a demo though: just aim upwards with your grenades so you lob them. Grenades are incapable of getting direct hits as soon as they hit the ground. This is a change from TF1 where you could bounce grenades off the ground into people and was actually a good strategy in some cases since the bounce actually took some forward velocity off the grenade and made it possible to sort of create a “screen” of grenades where a scout or other fast class couldn’t run past for fear of collsion.

As soon as I started aiming upwards with my grenades, I started getting significantly more hits than when I was just aiming straight ahead (due to grenades not landing on the ground first). The hit box also seems to be pretty large for lobbed grenades as well. And don’t forget they do full damage at range, so you can lob a fair distance and still be quite lethal if your grenades strikes anything.

5. Your rocket damage decreases with distance

No one gets hit at long range with rockets unless they are terrible players. Rockets are slow. If you see one coming, you move out of the way. This is known as dodging. Good players know how to do this.

Long distances are not really the concern here, it’s the medium distances that really kill you. You’re already can’t get direct hits and so you’re relegated to splash damage, and then to add insult to injury your splash damage decreases if you’re any distance from your target.

This is in addition to the above point regarding killing engineers hiding behind sentries and heavies.

Why demomen are better:

Grenade and sticky damage does not decrease with distance. Other than crits and snipers, they’re the only class with this distinction. QED.

6. Self rocket damage is too high

Soldiers have great mobility because they can rocket jump. Too bad it takes off 1/4 of your health. I hate to compare to TF1, but just as a reference, in TF1 soldiers had 200 armor and 100 health. A rocket jump would cost you about 40 armor and 10 health. Not a big deal. In TF2, though, a single rocket jump takes off a quarter of your health, and puts you in easy-to-kill range for a number of classes from demos to scouts.

The other big problem with rocket self-damage is that an easy counter to soldiers is to just hug them. Being backstabbed by a spy is bad enough, but now with increased front melee damage, I get spies stabbing me in front for 50 damage. If you rocket them direct hit, you take about 50 damage as well, so now you’re down to half health… and the spy isn’t dead yet. He’ll stab you again for 50 damage. Now you’re at 50 health and another rocket self-hit will kill you. Another stab will kill you. You can’t run away. No matter what you do, you’re dead and there is no counter. So much for the mighty soldier.

The same problem is true with scouts, snipers, or any other class that just runs up to you, which isn’t as hard as it might sound on most maps. Keep in mind the soldier is the 2nd slowest class in the game, and is only slightly faster than a heavy. Backpedalling incurs a 10% speed penalty, so if you are backpedalling against a heavy that isn’t firing his chain gun, he actually moves faster than you. Essentially once someone gets close to you, you cannot get them away without incurring some self-damage, and it’s not a trivial amount of damage either. 1/4 of your health per hit is a lot, and considering it takes 2 non-crit rockets to kill any full-health enemy in the game, you’re really only playing with half your full health, or about 100 HP. If your enemy takes off 100 damage of your life, you’re basically dead unless you whip out the shotgun and can kill them before they kill you. As far as I know none of the other classes have this problem.

It’s not so much that rocket self-damage on its own is a problem, it’s that combined with soldiers’ inability to get people away from them once they are close, resulting in you killing yourself along with the enemy. On all maps this is a losing situation; your respawn timer is longer if you’re on defense than the opposing team, and most likely you’ve killed a “lighter” class such as a scout or engineer than you, a soldier. Once people are close to you, you no longer have 200 health, you essentially have 100 health.

Why demomen are better:

This one’s pretty close. Demos take pretty much the damage damage from self-splash as soldiers do. They have slightly less health too.

Where demos have the advantage is in using stickies to cut an enemy off from even getting close to you. If someone’s rushing you, you can just look down fairly close to yourself, drop a few stickies, and continue backing away. Your enemy has to go around the stickies or die, as 2 stickies is enough to kill any unbuffed class in the game other than a heavy, and a heavy can’t catch a demo even if he’s backpedalling. So demos can really avoid having people get in close on them, whereas soldiers have a bit of a harder time since you have to score a direct rocket hit to bounce someone, whereas demomen can deny a fairly large area to an attacker quickly and effectively with sticky grenades.

7. Your are constantly running out of ammo

I’m still not sure why Valve found it necessary to reduce the soldier rocket count from 40 to 20. All it seemed to change was that I can’t do anything without running out of rockets now, or I’m constantly looking around for ammo.

This is exacerbated by the system Valve uses for ammo collection. You have 4 rockets in the clip but only 16 in reserve, and when you pick up a weapon, the ammo only goes into your reserve. This makes perfect sense, but it also means that you typically only get 1 or 2 rockets when you pick up a weapon after a kill. The reason being, you most likely used 3 or 4 of your rockets to kill your enemy, but by the time you grab their weapon you’ve only reloaded 2 of your rockets from your reserve into your clip, not 4, so you go from say, 2/14 (clip/reserve) to 2/16 rockets. This takes 2 seconds to do with reload time, and if you want the full 4 rockets you have to reload for 4 seconds. Maybe it was Valve’s intention to make soldiers wait around 4 seconds after every kill to collect the full ammo amount. Net result is the first time you kill someone and don’t wait around their corpse for 4 seconds you are down 2 rockets at the least and potentially 3 or 4 if you were closer to the weapon when it dropped and accidentally picked it up. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s 10-20% of your ammo reserve you are missing out on. That makes it sound a bit worse, no?

The other big thing is that your rockets push dropped weapons away, so when you kill someone, their weapon potentially goes flying into a corner across the map or into enemy firing lines. This makes it rather difficult to pick the ammo up as you kill things without you yourself being killed, and you slowly run out of rockets.

Granted other classes are affected in the same way by the ammo pick-up system, but realistically because their ammo reserve is larger, it isn’t as much of a problem. The rocket change was immediately felt by myself and others, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve run out of rockets since then, without even realizing it just because I’ve been backpedalling and laying down suppressing fire against a superior number of enemies or I’ve just been under constant pressure as I kill things and haven’t had the opportunity to pick up ammo.

I’m not Valve so I don’t know why they made the rocket capacity change, but apparently it was to reduce doorway spam on some maps. I would argue they’ve done nothing but cripple soldiers as an offensive class. Doorway spam is still a problem since most maps are set up to provide ammo resupplies to the defensive team, and they are close to their respawn and ammo closet. On top of that you usually have a few dispensers around to replenish your ammo on defense. These conditions have led to doorway spam not being fixed at all; grenade spam is just as much a problem as it was before, but soldiers are stuck always looking for ammo.

Why the demoman is better:

You get stickies and regular grenades. So twice as many explosives. Both are replenished when you pick up ammo, so if you fire a mix of stickies and grenades, you can replenish both with one ammo pick up. Maybe they should give the demo 20 grenades and make stickies and grenades fire from the same reserve…

A soldier having to rely on the shotgun is stupid if the rocket launcher is his main weapon. Switching to the shotgun in combat before you’ve exhausted rockets can be effective but also takes a full second now (they fixed the “quick shotgun shot” when switching weapons in the last patch) and lets the enemy get in more shots than you. It’s also like telling snipers to switch to their SMG to finish people off to conserve sniper rounds because they only have 25 of them; it’s not really a fair suggestion. The rocket launcher makes the class, not the shotgun. Soldiers are not engineers.

8. You are effective at exactly one distance: medium range

Close range you self-splash. Long range your rockets get dodged. Medium range is the only range at which you can kill things without getting hurt, but it also means your rockets do less damage. Ugh. This seem stupid to anyone else?

Even at medium range, other classes may still be more effective than you. The other day I was killed by a spy with a revolver at medium range because he was strafing around higher ground on Gold Rush. You have to stay at medium range against a spy due to stab issues, and that revolver is pretty accurate and does about 60 damage per hit at medium range. They also reload faster than you. Now maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel like spies should be better than soldiers at medium range even if they do have higher ground. Scouts and engineers also give soldiers huge problems at medium range if they have a slight terrain advantage.

Why demomen are better:

Demos are better at medium and long range because their damage doesn’t decrease over distance. Your stickies make it easy to cut off terrain where enemies can run at you. You have enough speed to actually outrun things, unlike a soldier.

At close range, it’s pretty even. At medium range, I’d give the demo the edge because of pipes, and at long range I’d give the demo the advantage because of damage.

9. Soldier mobility sucks

Rocket jumping eats a quarter of your HP, excluding falling damage. For all intents and purposes you are the slowest class in the game. Yes, heavies are slower, but only marginally; you basically move at the same speed. Everyone can outrun you if they want to, which essentially means you are always fighting on someone else’s terms.

Why demomen are better:

I’m not sure if this is a recent change or if it’s always been this way, but demomen can sticky jump ridiculous distances. Gold Rush has no forward-moving respawns, so on the 2nd and 3rd map the respawn walk begins to matter significantly. As a demoman on either of these maps, you can sticky jump from the respawn to almost the first cap point. The travel time is ridiculously longer for a soldier, not to mention it consumes more ammunition and you require a med pack due to the damage you’ve taken. You also have to be moving backwards to get maximum rocket jump range whereas demomen can place a sticky and detonate it on their terms while still being able to see what they’re sticky jumping into.

OK this sucks, but how do we fix it?

Offering a bunch of complaints about problems without offering any solutions is pretty lame, so I’ll try to give some suggestions here. My main concern is that demomen are just as good as soldiers in the majority of situations and better than soldiers for offense and defense a lot of the time. Each class should have a specific role to play and should have advantages or disadvantages in certain matchups; one class should not dominate the majority of match ups and pull even in the rest. If one class is clearly better in almost all situations, then why bother playing the inferior class?

Fix #1: Increase damage

The soldier needs to be able to kill things that have a lot of HP or that are being repaired/healed. A sentry gun should not be unkillable by a soldier, and yet killable by other classes (heavy, demo, etc.) without aid. It puts the soldier at a disadvantage. Either increase the damage so a soldier can kill a sentry gun after say 6 hits, or increase the amount of metal required to repair guns dramatically. 800 metal is a lot of metal to burn through if you’re a soldier with 20 rockets, and I showed above why it may not even be possible if my assumptions were correct.

A heavy with a medic is a trickier situation. That’s two players working together, and so one player shouldn’t be able to kill them. Two soldiers can kill a heavy, so it’s balanced enough. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if it weren’t for the fact that an individual demoman can kill a heavy, and a soldier can’t.

Direct rocket hits should kill light (125 HP) classes at close range, to prevent hugging and melee mutual kills.

Fix #2: Reduce self-splash damage

If soldiers aren’t going to move faster, then make it so they won’t die if people melee them twice and they shoot themselves twice. This would also let soldiers rocket jump more than twice without putting themselves in one-shot range of basically every other class in the game.

Fix #3: Change rocket splash to go through other players/objects

If Valve isn’t going to increase damage if rockets over distance or damage to sentry guns, let us at least kill the engineer. Again, the demo is stronger in this situation than a soldier, which would be ok if they weren’t already so much stronger than the soldier in almost every other situation.

Fix #4: Increase soldier movement speed slightly

This is mainly so other classes can’t hug you as easily, which gives you more time to backpedal and fire rockets to stop their forward movement without splash damaging yourself to death. Other classes can still catch you, but not quite as easily, and they’ll take more damage doing so.

Tying it all up

I’m sure there are other possible fixes to the points I mentioned. Not everyone is going to agree with the points I made. But other than “crit rockets”, does anyone have any problems with the soldier class? Anyone feel they’re overpowered? If so, feel free to leave a comment, because I haven’t seen anyone who thinks that. Most feel demos are overpowered, and I feel pyros and heavies are a bit strong right now, but I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks soldiers are too strong.

What exactly is the soldier’s role supposed to be? The demoman was supposed to be for defense and support, but it’s turned out on the majority of maps that a demoman is more useful than a soldier in a large number of situations. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to play soldier; anything a soldier can do a demo can do better.

In which cases should he be better than a demo, and in which cases should he be worse? That’s a pretty subjective question, and one that only Valve can really answer definitively (since they make the game) but right now it seems like the soldier’s role is to play second fiddle to the demoman, waste rockets on sentries and feed points to heavies.

If Valve does decide to patch the soldier and address some of these issues, I hope they do it to the base soldier class, not with soldier unlockables.  That just makes the unlockables mandatory instead of bringing the soldier to where he should be by fixing the underlying problems with the class.


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