I'm at Valve HQ in Bellevue, Washington as I write, and just about to jump back on the two new Team Fortress 2 maps - Badlands, and the first map for an entirely new game mode - more on that in a bit. But the biggest news is this 'large-scale modification' Valve teased us about a few weeks back. It's even larger scale than I'd thought.
Starting with just two new items for the Medic, Valve are going to be gradually rolling out new, unlockable weapons for every class. These will be alternative versions of their current loadouts that, once unlocked by earning a certain number of achievements, you can pick and choose from on a new 'Loadout' menu.
The unlockables aren't just beefed up versions of the weapons, they balance major advantages and disadvantages to fundamentally alter the role of that class. The first Medic unlock, for example, is called the Overhealer. Instead of temporarily buffing people's health to 50% above their normal maximum, it permanently boosts them to double their standard health. The downside is that it'll be dramatically worse at building Ubercharge - in fact, Valve are toying with not letting it Uber at all.
No details on what the second unlock they'll be rolling out in this update will be, beyond the basics: it'll be another Medic healing ray, and it'll change the way the class plays all over again. The first is earned by acquiring half of the thirty-five new Medic achievements, the second for acquiring them all.
The new game mode is showcased in Goldrush - the map that will ship alongside cp_badlands in a little over a month from now. One team must escort a small mining cart through a series of Dustbowl-like map segments. The cart moves faster the more Blue players are near it, but stops entirely if even one Red player is in range. Blue have to escort the cart all the way to Red's headquarters within a certain timelimit.
Don't fret over the details too much just yet - we don't have time or space to do it justice here and now. We'll have an in-depth preview of the new changes and mode in our next issue, but until then here's what you actually need to know. The new mode, current unnamed, is awesome fun. It concentrates the action around one point, keeping it intense and frenetic, but that point is constantly moving. That means the tactical landscape is constantly changing, Engineers have to rethink their Sentry positions as the cart grinds forth, and everyone has to adapt constantly as they play. And crouching alongside the cart, using it as a piece of mobile cover from enemy snipers as it crawls along agonisingly slowly, is hilarious.
The possibilities for the unlockable loadouts are uncountable and ridiculously exciting - in fact, we'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments. Valve probably would too - they're rolling this feature out in a very limited form precisely because they want to experiment with it, see what people think, and let it evolve as they progress.