The Team Fortress Classic Pyro sucks. I don’t care what the person in the comment section of that article says, she has almost no role to serve on the battlefield and does a miraculously bad job of filling her supposed niche of area-of-effect damage. Valve made some big changes to the class when creating Team Fortress 2, but they also tried to stay loyal to Pyro’s afterburn-based roots. For the longest time, Fortress Forever likewise attempted to create a more versatile afterburn Pyro by giving theirs some interesting mobility tools: he could ‘fly’ through the air by firing his flamethrower behind him, and his afterburn gained a new damage-stacking method that multiplied afterburn damage based on the number of sources the Pyro used to light the target on fire. The best possible flame damage would come from flamethrower+incendiary cannon+napalm grenade, but double-stacking with just the first two were the most frequently seen on the battlefield.

Until last September when all of that stopped mattering because they’ve actually released a complete rework to Pyro’s core mechanic. Taking the character in a bold new direction, the Fortress Forever devs have removed afterburn completely, instead letting his weapons deal ‘burn levels’ that increase based on the number of weapons you’ve hit the target with. While behaving similarly to the damage-stacking mechanic of before this makes Pyro much more of a threat in the immediate fight, letting him get his damage out far quicker and solving every single problem with afterburn in one swoop. It’s really quite remarkable.

Now the medkit melee is the best DoT weapon in two different versions of Team Fortress!

I jumped into Fortress Forever hoping to test out the new Pyro for a bit and gain a more educated opinion on the balance changes, but the servers were a ghost town and the few people on the sparsely-populated servers were decade-long veterans who wiped the floor with me no matter what class I played. So I’m mostly only able to speak about these changes from a theoretical standpoint, drawing on my experience with Team Fortress Classic. With that in mind, I think this is an absolutely brilliant direction to take the Pyro class. Afterburn is countered by so many different things, from healthpacks to water to medics to simply running away and having enough hp to tank it, and when a class relies on afterburn to get kills he often loses his life in the process due to his enemy wielding weapons that don’t need damage-over-team to deal lethal damage. This new form of flame damage does a much better job of demonstrating Pyro’s true roots of disorienting and panicking the enemy, because their target is well aware that they’re toast if Pyro manages to puff-and-sting them with the flamethrower and incendiary cannon. And Pyro’s power is only increased by the other change to his inventory: his flamethrower boost thing was removed and replaced with a full-fledged jetpack that can reduce fall damage and give him three-dimensional ambush potential far greater than anything he had before (save grenade jumping I guess). The synergy with his new kit is obvious. My only complaint is that Pyro remains the only class without an anti-sentry weapon. The higher-damage incendiary cannon certainly helps in that regard, but it’s no nailgun. However, considering all the other problems they solved through this rework, I’m more than satisfied with the new purpose FF Pyro enjoys.

So long story short, good on the FF devs for being brave enough to radically revamp a character even after 16 years of development. Let’s hope the TF2 devs are as willing to shake things up for the long-awaited Pyro rework that he/she/it won in last year’s War.