First, to answer the obvious question: why the long wait before the review? Quite simply, I don’t believe you can judge a multiplayer game at first glance or even in the first week of play. We’ll discuss this more as we review Team Fortress 2, but for now let’s occupy ourselves with the matter at hand.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was my most anticipated game of the year. Promising class-based objective-oriented gameplay on a dozen detailed and well-balanced maps divided into four campaigns, where players get to fight with vehicles, infantry, and all sort of goodies… kingdom come, right?
Not quite. Nobody promised a 30fps cap on framerates. Or the world’s second-worst server browser (Battlefield, of course, taking first place by a mile). Granted, the twelve maps divided into four campaigns are rather excellent and remain balanced, though playing offense can be very aggravating, especially on low-pop servers or those running more than 24 players. The game seems to hit a sweet spot at about 10-12 players per team, rapidly dropping off into a spam fest on 32-player servers or becoming far too vehicle-centric at 8-per. Some maps, such as Slipgate, I’ve never seen the GDF win.
ETQW is balanced somewhat assymetrically. While the classes and vehicles aren’t wildly different as, say, StarCraft is, the variation among the Strogg and GDF forces, especially in vehicles, is notable. Tanks are not equivalent to the Desecrator hover tank or the Cyclops. Similarly, only a lunatic would prefer the Husky to the Icarus, or the Armadillo to the Hog. On the other hand, the GDF forces have an APC that doubles as an anti-aircraft unit and an air transport. In some cases, proper use of these units is vital to success (notably Island).
Weapons are rather similar though the Strogg dependence on Stroyent rather than ammunition is both a boon and a drawback. For example, it’s harder for the Strogg Oppressor to level up because he doesn’t dispense ammo, but the Strogg Technician fulfills both healing and resupply duties. This is vital in close quarters, where the Field Ops just isn’t that useful.
Moreover, all the classes are capable in combat. There’s no such thing as a gimp stand-up fighter like the Medic or Spy from TF2. If you’re a GDF Engineer, you still have a fair chance even against a Strogg Aggressor, despite his usually superior firepower and greater health.
Then, of course, there are snipers. There’s a pet metric most informed reviewers use called the Sniper Fail Factor, ranging from –10 to 0 (-15 in the case of the bunny hopping scoped lethal toe shot AWP patches of Counterstrike), generally indicating how useless and/or annoying the sniper class/weapon is in a game. In recent years designers have recognized the SFF and compensated for it. TF2 does an excellent job, both by giving snipers some actual useful duties other than mere attrition (like taking out sentry guns), and by forcing them to stay zoomed rather than running around and bringing the scope up for a half-second on-the-run headshot. ETQW tries at giving the two sniper classes a role, by making them get into the melee to hack objectives, but generally speaking the SFF rating is about a –6, -8 on the GDF side due to its low-visibility weapons trail.