Valve have finally revealed the next step for their beloved First-Person Shooter, Counter-Strike 2, which will be released to the public in the Summer.
An update to the existing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, bringing it to the modern Source 2 engine used for Half-Life: Alyx and DOTA 2, has been a hot topic in the CS community for the last few years. However, after various data miners, leakers, and even well-known investigative journalist Richard Lewis have revealed an extremely close release date in early March, the hype train well and truly took off. Following Lewis’ predictions, Valve confirmed the existence of Counter-Strike 2 on March 22nd, announcing its release plan.
What is Counter-Strike 2?
According to Valve’s official page on the topic, Counter-Strike 2 will be a free update to the existing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This ultimately confirms Richard Lewis’ previous report which claimed “Counter-Strike 2” to be the game’s official working title. The game will officially release in a complete state in the Summer of 2023, following multiple months of Beta testing (called the Limited Test phase), during which the original CS:GO client will remain fully functional and available to all players.
The update will substantially alter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive by transitioning it to Source 2, Valve’s latest game engine. Officially completed in 2015 to replace the classic 2004 Source engine, which CS:GO developers exploited to its absolute limits, the game engine already existed in less extensive forms inside the game. One of them was the Panorama UI, which was released in 2018 as part of a substantial update to the appearance of the game.
Valve’s objective is now bringing Counter-Strike up to modern standards first and foremost from a technical standpoint, even going as far as claiming Source 2 to be “the largest technical leap forward in Counter-Strike history”. Interestingly, we currently do not know the full extent of the Counter-Strike 2 update, as Valve only provided a limited list of features and technologies which will be tested during the Limited Test phase. In the following paragraphs, we will go over the main changes revealed by the publisher and developer so far.
Counter-Strike 2: A “tickless” tick system
The most important feature Valve revealed so far is a new server tick rate system, a much-requested feature by tens of thousands of players who took advantage of third-party matchmaking tools. The 64-tick limit was perceived as insufficient for a game as competitively focused as CS:GO, leading to inaccurate tracking of player actions in certain scenarios. The developer has confirmed previous leaks by Maxim “Gabefollower” Poletaev by revealing their decision to move beyond the tick system for what concerns movement, shooting and grenade throws.
Counter-Strike 2 will be based on a “sub-tick update architecture”, through which official servers can monitor game actions in real-time and provide a more fluid and consistent experience. Instead of updating on a tick-based “clock”, whether that meant 64 (Official Valve matchmaking) or 128 (third-party options such as FACEIT and ESEA) ticks per second. Counter-Strike 2 will acknowledge player actions in the moment they occur, allowing the developer to create a seamless multiplayer experience.
Counter-Strike 2: Smoke Grenades overhauled
Another extremely substantial change coming to Counter-Strike 2 will have to do with the smoke grenade, one of the cornerstones of the First-Person Shooter’s tactical depth. Valve have unveiled a new technology known as “responsive smokes”, which creates dynamic volumetric objects capable of interacting with the surrounding environment and player actions. Smoke grenades will fill the environment in a realistic manner after blooming, expanding both vertically and horizontally with the passage of time. Valve has worked to ensure that this effect is server-based, which will allow all players to see it in the exact same way.
From a graphical standpoint, smoke grenades are now based on a new particle system, which will allow them to appear more natural based on the surrounding environment. Chad “SPUNJ” Burchill, who playtested the game at Valve’s Seattle HQ, also mentioned that smokes are now color-coded, blue for CTs and red for Ts, although the developer has not mentioned nor confirmed this detail yet. Furthermore, smoke grenades will now react to player actions such as shooting or throwing grenades, substantially changing their role in competitive and casual play.
Fragmentation grenades will temporarily clear the smoke when exploding, allowing for flashy surprise plays, while continued fire will create holes in the smoke, thus creating clear lines of sight. According to the former professional player and content creator Erik “fl0m” Flom, different guns will affect smokes in a more or less substantial way, with, for example, the M4A4 creating a larger hole than its silenced counterpart, the M4A1-S. Jason “moses” O’Toole, who also playtested the game, has also stated that “bullets really only impacted the edges of smoke”.
Counter-Strike 2: New and Returning Maps
Thanks to Source 2’s new map-making tools, especially the ones related to pre-baked lighting, Valve has announced a complete overhaul of their maps not unlike the updates the community has become accustomed to over the past years. While we are unaware of the full list of maps available in Counter-Strike 2, the developer’s approach followed three different routes to bring CS:GO’s maps to modern standards.
Some maps, including beloved staples such as Dust2, Mirage and Train, were categorized as “Touchstone Maps”, and have received minimal updates to improve their lighting and readability. Their role is, according to Valve themselves, allowing players “to evaluate gameplay changes from CS:GO to Counter-Strike 2”.
Other maps were categorized as “Upgrade Maps”, and received a massive graphical overhaul based on a new rendering system. This allows for better-looking lighting, materials and especially reflections. The examples provided by Valve were Nuke, which has been noticeably brightened and now features vivid colors, Ancient and Baggage.
The last group of maps are called “Full Overhaul Maps”, and feature classics such as Overpass and Italy. These maps have received a similar treatment to what Inferno or Dust2 experienced in CS:GO, a complete overhaul of their look and systems. Valve took full advantage of the new Source 2 mapping tools, remodeling key areas and reworking the lighting in previously dark areas, like connector on Overpass.
Counter-Strike 2: UI and Visual Effects
The Limited Test version of Counter-Strike 2 will feature a variety of visual improvements, concerning both the UI and playing experience. Valve trailers featured a new, streamlined version of the in-game UI, following the example set by the Panorama Update in 2018. Furthermore, the developer also mentioned “fresh visual effects”, some of which were shown in trailers: examples are a new Rank-Up animation, a new animation for killing one or more opponents, and an electrical effect on opponents eliminated with the Zeus x27 taser.
The Source 2 engine also allowed for a complete overhaul of graphical effects, including but not limited to lighting and particles. Valve claims to have implemented new behaviors for “water, explosions, fire, smoke, muzzle flashes, bullet tracers, impact effects, and more”. A particularly interesting change is directional blood impacts that fade over time, effectively replacing the “r_cleardecals” command many players have been using to improve visibility in areas where firefights took place.
Skin and player model aficionados will also be ecstatic after the update, which promises high-resolution upgrades and a variety of lighting and material improvements. This is expected to release alongside an expanded Source 2 toolkit for both map developers and skin creators, for whom Valve has already announced the creation of a Source 2 Item Workshop.
Counter-Strike 2: Audio improvements
Last but not least, Valve have officially announced a partial rework of their audio system. The developer’s objective is mainly clarity, as over the years players have complained about inaccuracies and inconsistency, especially with player movement on different surfaces. Valve had been working on these issues for over half a decade, changing and tweaking gun sounds, reducing grenade noise to avoid interferences with the defuse sound, and even modifying the sound of a planted bomb based on the site it was planted on.
We haven’t received many details on what the Counter-Strike 2 audio improvements will entail, but Valve has stressed how sounds should “better reflect the physical environment, be more distinct, and express more game state”. What this actually means is up for debate, until players actually get their hands on the game’s Limited Test phase.