Poor Pyro can’t seem to catch a break. Ever since his Team Fortress Classic days people have derided him as underpowered, unbalanced, gimmicky, over-reliant on newb opponents…the insults are as varied as the tools Valve has bestowed upon the poor unintelligible merc. Plenty of people have written opinions on why Pyro is underpowered (here’s mine) and even more people have written theories on how to fix that problem. Before I go into that, I want to try and sum up some fundamentals that are often brought up.
Firstly, Pyro’s short-range emphasis is seen as one of his major problems since most combat in TF2 is at medium range. This gives most classes something of an edge over Pyro, who finds his flamethrower lackluster at combating the many powerful midrange weapons opposing him. The airblast was Valve’s first response to this problem, and while it certainly helped the problem, it only works on projectiles and tends to push enemies out of Pyro’s favored range. The flare gun was Valve’s attempt to solve this; it could operate at long range and introduced the concept of forced crits, where flames found their niche as a status effect designed to combo into kills rather than try to kill on their own. Unfortunately, the flare gun comes with a hefty opportunity cost; it replaces the shotgun, Pyro’s only hitscan weapon and a very versatile combat option that the flare gun can’t quite completely cover. In particular the loss of shotgun makes Pyro vs. Pyro battles into even more of a pillow fight than before.
And that’s why I think the best possible course of action for Pyro’s balance would be to move the flare guns into their own fourth weapon slot. Make the flare gun the stock weapon for this fourth slot and leave the shotgun and Reserve Shooter as his secondary choices. Letting Pyro equip a shotgun and a flare gun at the same time would really open up his combat options in an elegant way that fits with his “jack-of-all-trades” style. It wouldn’t step on the toes of his current playstyles and I can’t imagine it could be overpowered; it’s not giving him anything he can’t already do! The main “downside” would be that sparse selection in the secondary option, but perhaps Valve could take this opportunity to release some new Pyro shotgun options? Or he/she/it can just deal; that’s how many shotguns Heavy and Soldier get to choose from.