A missed opportunity. That's all I can call it.
NS2 isn't a bad game. In fact, despite not personally recommending it, I still think it is a good game. The problem is that it isn't a game I can recommend to others. If you look at my hours I'm not someone who hasn't given the game a chance. In fact, I beta tested the original NS1 mod. When NS2 was announced and they asked for help to fund it, I purchased a few copies of Zen of Sudoku (another game they produced). Then, when they were near finished NS2, I pre-purchased the game, sight unseen, long before release.
So I do support the game and the makers. I just can't recommend it anymore. Why? Well the answer can be found in the game's development.
The big failure of the game is exactly what happened with NS1. Basically the developers allowed a small--but vocal and intolerant--minority of players dictate the direction of gameplay development. These 'pros', are basically the people and clanners who play games competitively and/or in tournaments. Now I can see wanting to appeal to the 'pro' gamers as a means to generate interest, but there needs to be a balance between competitive and casual play. Sadly, there never was.
In the end, the difficulty and learning curve puts this game well out of reach of all but the veterans. New players are quickly steamrolled and wonder how the heck it happened. What's worse is that they released the game without a trainer or tutorial mode. While there is a basic 'sandbox' mode that helps to get a player acclimated to the game before they play, it's too little too late.
I saw this all happen in NS1, and it saddened me when it happened here. The competitive gamers basically co-opt the game, and casual players are forced to play at that high level or they don't play at all. In my opinion, the logical way to develop the game would have been to introduce a 'tournament mode', with increased difficulty, for those dedicated players. It could have been finely tuned to appeal directly to their form of play, while still leaving the game with a 'casual' player base that could actually play the game. Unfortunately, the developers objected to this concept suggesting they didn't want there to be 'two games'. But the reality is that difficulty levels are part of gaming. That doesn't make it "two games", it makes it one game with two difficulty levels.
With the development team basically abandoning casual players, this basically meant that no matter how many sales they made, the new players never stuck around. If you look at the history of the game, you will see that from the release in late October 2012 until the end of 2012, there was a large player base that bought the game and was playing. Since everyone was still learning, it meant there was the potential for developers to cater to that casual player base and build their numbers further. Instead, they went the other way, abandoning the casual player base in favor of the competitive and tournament players.
Over on Steamcharts you can see just how the game started strong and then flamed out in a spectacular fashion. ( steamcharts.com/app/4920
) The all-time peak number of players online was just a bit shy of 10K. At time of writing there were ~200 playing. It's sad, it really is, since this could have been a much better overall game.
The nail in the coffin for this game was when development for 'game balance' was put in the hands of volunteers. Since the game is easy to modify (in the LUA scripts), balance changes didn't have to be hard coded into the game. As such, a bunch of people who felt they 'knew better' how the game should be developed were able to markedly influence balance changes by verbally bullying anyone who disagreed with them. Anyone who dared question those who wanted to make the game harder were verbally ridiculed and harassed. The game forums became toxic as a result, and casual players began their exodus.
Well, those competitive players got what they wanted. The game is exactly how they said it should be balanced. Too bad there is hardly anyone left playing now.
What's worse is that the more appealing elements of the game--the highest level 'upgrades'--only show up when the outcome of the game is predetermined. (which happens within the first few minutes) Users who look and see the marine 'mech' robots and the 'rhino-size' alien don't realize that they will likely rarely if ever get to play them.
This game is a good example of what *not* to do when developing a game. While I can see the appeal of competitive gaming to a game like this, it can't be at the expense of casual gamers. Otherwise you kill the potential for the game to grow. Look at TF2. A game that is 'easy', but that can be hard based on the skill of the players. That could have been how NS2 ended up. Instead, the game is harder than ever. What's worse is that they added a ranking system to which isolates players based on skill. New players will find game choices limited as a result.
Simple example of a poor balance choice? In TF2, if you need to get health, you can pick up health kits (on the field or in spawn) and also be healed by the doctor. In NS2 it used to be you could go to 'spawn' and heal up fully (health and armor) at the armory--like a med cabinet in TF2 spawn--and you could get health-only medkit drops in the field. If one was away from spawn, armor could only be repaired with a welder. (like a medigun, except anyone could carry one if they bought it.) However, the competitive complainers cabal (I love alliteration) pressured the person doing balance work to make it so the armory would no longer heal players. In other words, once you lost armor you needed to be welded, and you can't weld yourself--other players have to do it. The outcome of this change was that it made it that much harder for players to stay alive unless they are highly skilled.
In the end, I still play NS2, and I would recommend it to anyone who I felt had the skill to survive. However, there aren't very many people who fit that description.
Unless you are someone who considers themselves an exceptionally good FPS player, I would advise you give the game a pass unless it is deeply discounted and you're willing to take the chance the game may not be fun for you.
While NS2 is--on the surface--a good game, it missed its chance to be a great one.