Primary Role: Forward Defence
The heavy is perhaps the least dimensional class in Team Fortress 2. By that I mean he has the least opportunity for improvisational gameplay, being restricted to only a few different strategies. This is really a result of the nature of his primary weapon, the minigun. It is lethal at close range but rather ineffective at long range, and while firing it’s difficult to close any sort of gap. This leaves few options, but the ones that remain can still be very powerful.
Unless this is the first class you’ve read, you’ve probably heard me going on about Forward Defence and Map Control, but if you haven’t check out those guides, as they are the foundation for what I’m talking about with the heavy. Forward defence is the act of moving forward from the objective you’re defending, normally 50 metres or so, and defending the entrances to the area that contains your objective. Simply, you defend the choke points that lead to the objective rather than the objective itself, and since the heavy’s role is a wall of bullets hit fits this job perfectly.
Like the pyro, the heavy will ideally engage any confrontation at close range (short to medium), and by having that initial advantage, the enemy will usually either die or retreat very fast. I believe the fundamental trick to engaging enemies at close range is to ensure that they are running at you when the fight starts, and not the other way around. For one, if someone runs headlong into a waiting heavy, really their only options are kill the heavy (difficult) or run away, and running away in time requires quick reflexes. Usually if they retreat back around a corner you can follow them around and get off enough bullets to mow them down.
Secondly and more importantly, you will have to have your gun spinning to attack, so as a heavy you’re not very effective when moving towards someone. To close the gap on someone you’d probably have to cover a fair amount of ground with scant cover, so you’re something of a sitting duck. Having the enemy run at you while you’re in cover from other enemies eliminates this problem. Of course if there is cover from enemy fire available, feel free to press forward and/or pursue your target.
The trick to engaging in close is also handed down from the pyro – ambushing. The ideal place to defend as a heavy is in a choke point just around the corner from a corridor. That way any enemies who come around the corner must either fight or run, and if they run their course will be very predictable and open for you to chase them down. Corridor or not however, you should always be in a choke point, since attackers can’t easily get past a heavy without killing him first.
The other important aspect to the heavy is the skill of shooting. This isn’t as big a deal for other classes as their weapons work as you’d expect, but the amount of recoil from the minigun makes it an exception. It can take a few seconds of sustained fire at a target before they fall, and when multiple targets are in front of you it’s often tempting to take them all on at once. However you will generally get the best results by focusing fire and killing enemies one at a time rather than half-killing all of them. Remember your priorities (medics first of course, then dangerous classes like heavies, soldiers, demomen and pyros, then the leftovers), and keep in mind that it can be very situational – you’re probably better of perforating that scout 6 inches behind you before moving on to the pyro running towards you.
Secondary Role: Offensive Support
Despite the heavy’s suitability in defence, he can also assert himself up forward. The main strength the heavy relies on when attacking is his intimidation – the combination of high health and a weapon with high damage and a high rate of fire compels enemy defenders to avoid the heavy for as long as they can afford to. By scaring the defence away from certain areas, the heavy can be perfect for clearing out a foothold near the objective to attack from.
The role of offensive support implies that you help your teammates to attack, rather than attacking directly yourself. This has a few aspects to it, the most important being killing defenders (or at least taking the m out of the picture), deterring defensive reinforcements and controlling forward real estate. Like the demoman, the heavy is great at fulfilling this role. His main strength is deterring defenders from coming anywhere near him, so he can clear out areas behind cover for his teammates to regroup in, and repel defensive backup when his teammates reach the objective.
Of course the offensive heavy is perhaps not useless but severely underutilised when without a medic. Despite having his massive 300 health, he can still die in about 5 rockets, and his speed (or lack thereof) reduces him to target practice for the enemy classes around him. Hence a medic is required if the heavy is to leave his defensive zone. This medic doesn’t have to buddy up with him (of course it doesn’t hurt if they do), but just keep him at least 300 health (400+ is even better), and come to the rescue when he calls for a medic, because he probably won’t be able to retreat.
Of course the ultimate goal of combining with a medic is the übercharge, and the heavy is often (but not always) a great choice for the invulnerability to be bestowed upon. Unlike the über-demoman who specialises against buildings, or the über-pyro who can run in and burn out a room, the übercharge on a heavy acts to reinforce the strength he already has – intimidation. During the very first rush after setup time, the faster pyros and demomen are often better choices for übercharges, but once a team comes within range of an objective, and über-heavy almost always causes the enemy team to shit themselves, and although he may not even kill anyone, the heavy’s clearance allows his teammates to flood in and take control of the map. Remember to communicate and attack as a team when you get an übercharge.
Another heavy-specific issue is that of ammunition. The minigun chews through the heavy’s 200 ammo very quickly, so always keep your eyes open for ammo. The most common and equally overlooked source of ammo is the dropped weapons of your victims. They generally yield about 50 – 100 ammo, so 1 or 2 of those can quickly fill you up. Always having ammo is the key to being able to steamroll (walk forward while firing relentlessly) your targets and prevent them from escaping. A heavy with a minigun can keep defenders off a control point even when it’s being captured, but a heavy with a shotgun is not nearly as threatening. You’re less of a credit to yourself and your team when you run dry, so look for ammo before you actually need it.