The announcement of Counter-Strike 2 earlier this year came with loads of exciting news for the tactical FPS overhaul. Since then, like a cautious team of T's laying down smokes to reach the bombsite, developer Valve has steadily dished out further details on the adjustments to visuals, utility, and weapon mechanics that we can expect.
With CS2’s launch set for this summer – Valve time accepting – the shake-up is nearly here. So what will the replacement mean for longtime CS:GO players? Here’s a recap of everything we know so far about the CS2 changes heading our way.
The engine: Source 2
First up, the primary reason CS2 exists at all. The launch of CS:GO’s successor will see the tactical shooter make the shift onto Valve’s more modern and advanced game engine. This looks set to tidy up a lot of things on the back end, hopefully making bugs and performance issues more easily tweakable. For players, though? The most immediate impact comes in the visuals, primarily through the lighting.
Source 2 brings a far more advanced lighting system to the game, introducing more complex light tracing, ambient occlusion, and realtime lighting for indoor locations. The result of light bouncing off more surfaces in CS2 is that levels look far brighter than their CS:GO counterparts, even without any other changes.
Improvements to textures are on the way too for many levels. Shiny surfaces will be shinier, and objects won’t look quite so blurry when inspected up close. These adjustments will also affect how your weapons and skins look, so be prepared for some changes to the visuals of your favorites when the shift occurs.
Some of these lighting changes do look set to impact gameplay. Indoor player shadows, for example, could give away the position of a player before they’re actually seen. How Valve will balance this for different graphics settings remains to be seen. The engine adjustment also makes it possible for some new gameplay mechanics, which we’ll get to later.
The maps: Touchstone, Upgrade, and Overhaul
CS:GO’s massive archive of maps will be steadily brought over to CS2 in one of three categories: Touchstone, Upgrade, and Overhaul.
Touchstone maps are tried-and-tested favorites that Valve won't be updating much immediately. These serve to offer a familiar playground for players as they acclimatize to CS2’s gameplay changes. Touchstone maps we know of so far include Mirage, Dust2, and Train.
Upgrade maps are classic levels which will retain their layouts but benefit from Source 2’s new lighting effects, textures, and reflections. These improvements will make Upgrade levels look dramatically different, but they should feel familiar to play. Upgrade maps we know of so far include Nuke and Ancient.
Overhaul maps will receive full makeovers for CS2. Expect changes to not just visuals but also structure and gameplay design. Overhaul maps we know of so far include Italy and Overpass.
The full list of maps confirmed for CS2 with their map class (if known) is as follows:
- Dust 2 (Touchstone)
- Inferno (Upgrade/Overhaul)
- Mirage (Touchstone)
- Nuke (Upgrade)
- Overpass (Overhaul)
- Train (Touchstone)
- Baggage (Upgrade)
- Italy (Overhaul)
- Office (Touchstone)
- Shoots (Overhaul)
Round Length: Shorter, MR12 matches
For CS2, Valve is looking to bring down the maximum length of matches significantly. The core game will now run on an MR12 system, meaning each half of the game (T and CT) will have a maximum of 12 rounds. Teams will require 13 rounds to win a game. This is the same length used by Valorant, Riot's take on the tactical shooter. CS:GO used an MR15 system, demanding one side earn 16 rounds in order to win the match. This shift should bring down the average amount of time it takes to complete a full game of Counter-Strike when compared to CS:GO. It'll also have rammifications on the game's economy, with more emphasis placed on winning the pistol rounds each half and avoiding economy rounds.
Weapon Loadouts: Bring the guns you like
CS2’s changes include the introduction of a new weapon class and loadout system. Weapons fall into one of three categories: Pistols, Mid-Tier, and Rifles. Prior to playing a match, you can select up to five weapons for each category which will then be available to purchase in-game.
That means if you like using both the CZ-75 and the Five-seven, you can make them available both at the expense of another pistol. The same is true of the M4 and M4A1S in the Rifles category. Weapons are still split between sides (no CTs buying AKs, we’re afraid), but this will allow far more control for players to tailor their weapon choices.
Any 5 pistols, any 5 mid-tier weapons, and any 5 rifles. Today's Counter-Strike 2 update introduces a revised loadout system where players select 15 weapons from 3 categories on CT and T-side to bring with them into matches. Including the M4A4 and M4A1-S. pic.twitter.com/enl7mW9qnT— CS2 (@CounterStrike) June 6, 2023
Pistols all come in the pistol category (natch), with the starting pistol separated from the other four. SMGs and shotguns both compete for slots in the Mid-Tier section. All rifles and sniper rifles (including cheaper options like the SSG 08) come under Rifles. Choose to fit your playstyle or the map list you’re queuing into. Here’s hoping we’ll be able to save different loadouts for different modes as well.
Bought the wrong thing? Meant to buy a different weapon, armor, or grenade? Sell your purchase back and buy again (during buy time). pic.twitter.com/7KJ4WN82XU— CS2 (@CounterStrike) June 6, 2023
And while we’re discussing weapon selection, you’ll also be able to sell accidental purchases during the buy phase in CS2. That should stop a finger slip from ever seeing you awkwardly walking into Mirage’s mid window weilding a MAG-7 instead of an AWP. Phew!
Gear up in advance with HyperX
For a competitive shooter like CS2, your IRL loadout it just as important as your in-game one. Hone your senses ahead of release by picking up the Cloud III gaming headset. Its angled 53mm drivers have been tuned for gaming to help you precisely locate those enemy footsteps for easy pre-aiming. And speaking of aim, an ultra lightweight mouse like the Pulsefire Haste 2 Wireless will have you landing AWP flick shots with the barest nudge of your fingers. All aim, no strain. Now that you’ve made some real-life changes, let’s get back to the in-game ones!
Utility: Volumetric smokes, open skyboxes, and more
Valve is trying to make the jump from CS:GO to CS2 as painless as possible – just look at this clip of jiggle peeking and counter strafing between the two games. What isn’t staying the same, however, is utility. All maps now have an open skybox, letting you hurl grenades across the length of them, but the way some grenades work has also changed.
Smoke grenades in CS2 promise to bring one of the biggest gameplay changes. These nades are now volumetric, expanding to fill the space they’re in rather than producing the same set plume with every throw. This can lead to smokes creating unusual shapes in some places, and it should reduce instances of smokes appearing through walls.
Smokes in CS2 are also wider, last longer (around 3.5 seconds so - via TheWarOwl), and color coded. CT smokes bloom into a darker, blue hue. T Smokes appear a dusty yellow. This will make it easier to tell whether a smoke was thrown by an ally or enemy, but only until they start being pilfered from fallen foes.
Use HE grenade + smoke trick in CS2 pic.twitter.com/6ZIMx20YQk— Jordan Gilbert (@n0thing) March 22, 2023
More importantly, smokes can now be temporarily dispersed by gunfire and grenades. Firing through the fringes of a smoke will poke holes in it, allowing you to see through briefly. Dropping an HE grenade into the middle of a smoke will disperse it almost entirely for a second or so, giving you or a teammate a window to take a shot.
Flashbangs have been given a slight buff in CS2. In addition to whiting out the screen of anyone affected, they’ll also drastically cut down the player's audio for the duration. That means even gunfire won’t be audible when blinded. It’ll fade back in with distortion as vision returns.
Online play: Sub-tick server updates
Begone, 128-tick requests! CS2 brings a new sub-tick-rate system which logs exactly when you performed each action rather than updating the server at a set tick rate. It’s complicated, but in theory this should reduce frustration on the player end. Expect more consistent jump throws for grenades and fewer shots fired that don’t go registered before death.
Competitive: Premier and map-based ranks
CS2 will introduce all-new competitive systems for those looking to truly test their skills. Premier is a new competitive mode which includes a map pick-ban phase between the two sides and features its own Counter-Strike rating system with seasonal leaderboards.
If all that sounds a bit much, don't fret. The tranditional Competitive mode and skill groups aren't gone either. But in CS2, your skill group – Gold Nova, Master Guardian, etc. – will be determined on a per-map basis. It's a change that should help casual players feel more comfortable trying out less familiar maps. You might be MG2 on Mirage, but if you don't know your way around Train, you'll no longer be forced to take a beating to your rating overall just to learn the ropes.
Visual decals: Gore, scorching, and blood
Textures and lighting aren’t the only graphical changes CS2 has prepared. You’ll now be able to make more of an impact on your surroundings and enemies. Shoot a player and you’ll now find the impact point reveals a gorey red underlayer. Want to see how far this system can be pushed? Check out this video by 3kliksphilip, you sicko.
The environment can take a beating too. Directional blood splatters will mark walls based on the impact point. Over time, they’ll slowly fade in color, indicating how recently they were made. Molotovs and incendiary grenades will also scorch the ground, leaving it blackened for some time afterwards. Fire, smoke, explosions, and even the liquid inside the molotov cocktail all look far better too, so make sure to enjoy the fancy effects – whenever you’re not burning to death inside them, that is.
CS 2’s soundscape has been “reworked to better reflect the physical environment, be more distinct, and express more game state.” We’re not sure what that means, but it sounds (ho ho) good.
The updated shattering animation is beautiful. pic.twitter.com/i2QLlJkxPV— Astralis Counter-Strike (@AstralisCS) June 30, 2023
Windows in CS2 will now shatter dramatically outwards from the point of impact, rather than breaking all at once. It shouldn't make any gameplay difference, but it sure looks pretty.
We were extra active on Twitter this morning, which means there's a CS2 update. Today we're adding Casual, swapping out Mirage for Nuke and Office, making adjustments to audio, fixing the slow crouch bug, addressing bunny hopping and more! And you can now inspect grenades. pic.twitter.com/CMjRARG1rH— CS2 (@CounterStrike) June 30, 2023
Hey, you can also inspect grenades now! Neat, huh?
And those are all the CS2 changes and differences from CS:GO that we know of so far. We’ll update this article with more information as Valve release it. CS2 is scheduled to release on PC and replace CS:GO this summer.