Video Games

Best Modes in Team Fortress 2

Best Modes in Team Fortress 2 (TF2)

Team Fortress 2 has more modes than ever these days. Everything from intense co-op in the Mann vs. Machine mode to a genre-defining Payload experience, King of the Hill, a back-and-forth Control Points mode, and even Vs Saxton Hale, where an entire server goes up against a single, overpowered, player-controlled boss. There are probably hundreds of additional community-made modes, but this guide will cover the best you can play straight from the Casual matchmaking menu in TF2.

The Best Modes in Team Fortress 2

In sixteen years, TF2 has managed to either revolutionize or create excellent-quality versions of many different game modes. However, the four we’re looking at today have long been the game’s bread and butter, the modes in which almost any player can jump in and have an absolute riot. At least one of these modes is the core of the competitive scene, with maps as old as the game itself still played to exhaustion by dedicated pros showcasing some of the best plays in TF2’s history.

Payload: The Best Mode for Everyone in Team Fortress 2

I don’t have enough good things to say about Payload in TF2. It can be as sweaty or as silly as you like, all the official or officially added community maps are top-notch, and they remain probably the best way to learn the game, practice the more advanced mechanics, or just hang out with friends and the passing players you match with in Casual. 

Like all modes in TF2, teamwork is essential to winning a Payload match, but unlike a more competitive-minded space, your team composition is a bit more fluid. In a 32-player server, you can afford to have three Spies and a couple of Snipers on your team, provided at least one can pull their weight. Sure, Soldier, Demoman, and a Heavy/Heavy combo will always be the bread-and-butter options, but Payload leaves room for every class, and almost every level of player, to shine. 

Most importantly, Payload is the ultimate distillation of everything that makes Team Fortress 2 great: fast action, massive gameplay variety, endless opportunities for shenanigans, and an objective-minded setup that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If TF2 were the only game I had (as it was for many years), I would only play Payload forever. It’s that good.

Symmetric Control Point: The Best Mode for Competition in Team Fortress 2

The Granary and Badlands maps are some of the most-played maps at the top level of TF2 for good reason. Playing symmetric Control Point is an extremely violent chess match, where every move a player makes will have an almost immediate effect on the flow of the game. There aren’t as many sneaky paths in this mode, and as such, engagement relies more on raw skill and game knowledge than advantages gained via something on the map. 

I don’t usually recommend new players go to Symmetric Control Point, as it’s the most technically demanding mode in the game, and it’s not as immediately mechanically interesting. The maps are like onions, true, with endless ways to gain an advantage or learn something new, but they don’t offer the same silly fun factor as Payload. 

However, don’t let that stop you from going in with fun in mind. Unless you find yourself in a particularly sweaty server, any match of TF2 can quickly devolve into tomfoolery of the highest order. Control Point is also one of the only modes with a Sudden Death mechanic, and depending on a particular server’s setup, you might find yourself going melee-only as a team of all Heavies. 

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as when a Granary match went to Sudden Death, and everyone became a machete-wielding Sniper calling everyone else a Spy. No one tried to kill anyone else the whole time. We were all just running around like children; it was the best.

Attack and Defend Control Point: The Silly Competitive Mode in Team Fortress 2

There are few more iconic maps in Team Fortress 2 than Dustbowl, the archetypal Attack/Defend map that everyone you know either hates or adores—or both depending on the day. The concept here is simple: the defenders hold down control points while the attackers try to drive the defenders off and seize them. Maps are usually smaller and more constrained, with fewer open spaces, allowing for more action-oriented play.

Spawns are also fixed, meaning the attackers need to work harder for any subsequent points they want to take. Attack/Defend maps like Dustbowl are (in)famous for the silly stuff that goes on, especially back at the defender spawn after the first point’s been taken. Engineers will set up en masse—sometimes four at a time—and go half-mad waiting for the enemy team to arrive. 

Then there are A/D maps like Gravel Pit that work via rotation rather than linearly, with teams needing to make sacrifices to properly defend both starting points and ensure there isn’t an errant Scout waiting for the sneaky third cap. 

Capture the Flag: The Best Mode to Goof Off in While Playing Team Fortress 2

If I had infinite money, I would give five dollars to anyone who showed me someone playing 2Fort seriously. I don’t think it’s possible, and I would find it hard to believe such people exist. Put another way, CTF in Team Fortress 2 is where competition goes to die, replaced by sheer absurdity. Or that’s how it should be, I think. There’s nothing hardcore about CTF, and while all the maps are designed with objective play in mind, in practice, that’s not usually how they’re played.

In addition to goofing off, Capture the Flag is another great place to practice the fundamentals of TF2. The battlements of 2Fort are legendary for their Going to a Tournament on Saturday™ Sniper duels, and they’re also an excellent test of your ability to Rocket or Sticky Jump as Soldier or Demoman, respectively. Scouts and Spies also have lots of ways to practice movement and traversal, though if I’m playing CTF as a Spy, my goal is to pester the Engineers into submission. It’s not much, but it’s honest work.

So, if you’ve joined in the fun of Team Fortress 2 because of the recent update, those are the best modes to take a look at, depending on what you’re after. 

About the author

John Schutt
John Schutt has spent more than a decade writing about video games in various capacities and wonders constantly why no one has yet stopped him. You can follow him on Twitter @Terrible_Xiant, though he doesn't do much there.