Relearning to play The Spy


I’m set in my ways. I’m incredibly comfortable with my Spy set up: it’s the Cloak & Dagger, the original knife (Strange varient), and the Ambassador. But it makes me a bit of a one-trick espionage agent, and after 300+ hours as a shifty bugger, I decided it was time for a change.

This was partly due to me comment diving on the internet: people tend to have very entrenched views on what’s best. My own reasoning is that I like playing this way. A lot. I feel like Batman, waiting for the perfect moment to strike; the opposite view is that sort of Spy doesn’t contribute as much to the team as they could if they were using the Dead Ringer. I’ve avoided using the DR because it’s such a fundamental shift in spying, but what it they were right?

The C&D is a cloaking device that keeps you cloaked as long as you don’t move, and it only replenishes when you’re still. I’ve never really seen that as an encouragement to stay out of the game, though. I often only use it to dart from place to place, so I can get around and behind the enemies and stab and snipe. It’s not a great deal different from the original watch’s schtick, which drops charge whether you’re moving not. I just happen to prefer being able to stop and look around.

The Dead Ringer is a complete shift away from that: it only allows you to cloak when you receive damage, and you need to have it out in order for the cloak to be effective, which blocks your ability to fire. In return, when you do cloak a fake corpse is dropped to fool the enemy, it blocks 90% of damage, you can keep replenishing the cloak with ammo and metal pickups. But when you decloak, the noise is loud.

So it’s less about stealth, the thing that drew me to the Spy in the first place: you do have a lot more action when Cloak & Dagging.

I’ve always viewed The Spy as a stealth vessel: I use the cloak to get in behind enemy lines and I use the disguise kit to get close to people. With the a Dead Ringer set up, that whole first chunk of how I play is negated, or at least I thought it was.

Muscle memory is a tough thing to fight, so my initial attempts to figure out a new kind of spying went poorly: when I’d hoped to dip into cloak, instead I’d pull out a giant watch and remove my ability to attack all in one swoop. The way I played with C&D was generally close to the enemy team. I’d stand aside, on top of railings, I’d crouch and hope people would pass, so I was doing this in front of the enemy and getting hurt.

But I wasn’t dying, which gave me some power. The drain on the cloak is a lot quicker, but you can negate that with ammo. I could actually play the way I wanted, but I’d have to be hurt first and then scramble around. It meant I was a lot more mobile.

It started to come together after watching this video.

Stabby, a much much better Spy than I am, uses the DR in a fight in the same way I’d use a C&D: leap into battle then instantly bring it out, except when I’d do that and get hit I’d die because there are no protective benefits to the Dead Ringer. Pay particular attention to how often he brings it out – pretty much whenever an enemy is nearby he preps with it, but he’s still getting kills. It’s because the animation isn’t tied to the action: it’s instant on and instant off, so the switch between the fighting stance and the protective stance is a lot quicker than I realised.

I’m still not entirely capable of the sort of stab chains I could get when more comfortable pondering my position, because I started off from a position that I was usually sure would give me an excellent amount of cover. I’m struggling with the effective use of disguises, because with the C&D I only ever used them to briefly cover who I was. It’s pushing me towards investing in the Saharan Spy set: the instant disguise and silenced stab of the Your Eternal Reward knife and the quieter decloaking sound is appealing.

But one step at a time: I’ve swapped to the Big Earner knife, which isn’t a vast change from the Vanilla knife but it replenishes the cloak by 30% for every stab and reduces the player health by 25: the Spy is so weak that’s not affected my style; being unable to select a disguise alongside being denied cloaking control would be a much larger handicap.

Will I stick with it? Actually yes, but this isn’t an experiment that I took because I wanted to 180 my playstyle: I wanted to know if it was possible to improve after 800+ hours of playing a game in largely the same fashion. You know what? It is.