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Counter-Strike 2 is a revolutionary upgrade from Global Offensive and the fifth main entry in the 23-year-old series. Like every revolution, this is also quite messy at the outset, with many adjustments and bug fixes to come, but there are so many exciting new goodies in the game that it truly makes it a different experience from what came before.

If you are an experienced CS old-timer looking to come back to the game, these are the key new game elements you should be aware of. And if you’re brand-new, don’t worry: having a good understanding of these shiny goodies will also treat you well once you hop onto the servers.

Here is everything you need to need to know about Counter-Strike 2’s new features.

Brand new engine: Source 2

The complete engine upgrade after over a decade of “the tower of duct tape” that was the Source 1 engine, Source 2, which was first introduced with Dota 2 in 2015, offers unprecedented flexibility to the Counter-Strike development team at Valve. Not only does it enable some cutting-edge stuff we will list and discuss below, but it simply makes it easier to ship updates and new features, paying down many years of tech debt for the franchise.

It’s a robust and powerful tool that will make it much easier to make impactful and significant improvements to Counter-Strike in the decade to come.

Volumetric smokes

The new smokes in CS2 were one of the flagship features promoted on the eve of the new game’s announcement. Not only are they technologically impressive, but they also greatly change how the game is played. They are dynamic volumetric objects that naturally fill out the surrounding space, interacting with and reacting to gunfire, explosions and lighting changes.

Most importantly, players can now shoot through smokes, opening up a bullet-sized gap in all the greyness, and temporarily dissipate them with HE grenades to gain space and information. Even in the earliest pro CS2 matches, we can already see how this fact has changed tactics and strategies at the highest levels of play, and its impact can also be felt in matchmaking.

Subtick updates

One of the most controversial Counter-Strike 2 features, subtick updates aim to change how servers calculate player inputs. ‘Ticks’ refer to the tiny time intervals that pass between the server updating the gameplay state, and there used to be meaningful gameplay differences in 64-tick servers of matchmaking and 128-tick servers of third-party competitive platforms. For example, grenade lineups functioned differently depending on the server tick rate in CS:GO.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqhhFl5zgA0

In CS2, the idea of the new subtick (or sub-tick) system is to render this irrelevant by the server calculating the player’s precise actions between ticks. In practice, this system has been poorly received early on and produced some odd gameplay instances, rendering Valve’s tagline of “what you see is what you get” more of a meme than a promise.

CS2 match length change: MR12 instead of MR15

Boomer Counter-Strike players may remember that the games used to feature MR12 (first to thirteen rounds) matches instead of CS:GO’s MR15 (first to sixteen), with 24 rounds maximum in total instead of 30. Valve made the slightly controversial decision to take another leaflet from Valorant’s playbook and shorten back the matches in a similar way but with the added bonus of an overtime in regular Premier matches.

Back in CS:GO, that was only reserved for pro play – now it’s available to each and every one of us, with 2x3 rounds to settle the score, should the match end 12-12 in regulation, with the goal of getting to 16 rounds. Should it end 15-15, the match will be adjudicated as a draw.

This has seismic effects in casual and competitive play alike. Pistol rounds now have an even larger importance, AWPs can be seen as prohibitively expensive considering the low number of gun rounds, comebacks can be more difficult to pull off, and a massive economic lead can’t always be chipped away in time.

All this affects the strategy and the plans (and the ragequits) behind force buy decisions and risk-taking, but the goal is to make the gameplay experience smoother and every round higher in stakes – which has mostly been a success, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Valve decided to tinker with the in-game economy and the loss bonus numbers in light of the shorter match length.

Map overhauls

Some of Counter-Strike’s most popular maps go back two decades, keeping their identities intact across the year over small cosmetic changes and larger gameplay balance overhauls. CS2 will offer a massive increase in graphical fidelity, of course, but it also offers the dev team a chance to readjust and redesign certain maps. It also made the game cleaner and easier to read, even if the more colorful, somewhat Valorant-esque design is not to everyone’s taste.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExZtISgOxEQ

Valve specified three different map upgrade categories as they make the transition from Global Offensive to CS2.

  • Touchstone maps are classics like Dust 2, with improvements to lighting and readability but little to no changes made otherwise.
  • Upgrade maps received a significant facelift as they make good use of Source 2’s lighting system and the enhanced reflections and shading it offers. Nuke is the prime example of this one.
  • Full overhaul maps have been entirely rebuilt from scratch with Source 2’s toolkit, leveraging all tools the new engine has to offer. Overpass received this treatment, and it shows.

Additionally, all skyboxes have been opened up, which means an incredible breadth and depth of grenade-throwing options on old and new maps alike. For instance, you can now throw “instant smokes” by carefully prepping their trajectory so that they bloom immediately upon landing.

Rebalanced audio

Moving beyond CS:GO’s HRTF spatial audio, CS2 offers a full-on 3D sound profile. Many of the weapon sounds and in-game effects have been updated, too, including the soundtrack, and the end result is a crisper, punchier soundscape that matches the game’s visceral and rapid style. Best of all, it seems like the dev team did us all a solid and rebalanced some noises, as I no longer risk losing my hearing whenever I get shot in the head.

CS2 also introduced a sound radar, VALORANT-style, that makes it easy to understand how far your noises will be heard by enemies and teammates alike. Listening to footsteps has never been easier!

Legs

Your character has legs now! It’s weird.

Premier Mode: a new matchmaking system

In CS:GO, the in-game matchmaking was almost entirely ignored by pros and the best players in the world, opting to play on ESEA and FACEIT instead on their way to becoming Counter-Strike esports personalities.

Valve’s looking to change this with the introduction of Premier Mode, a transparent Elo-based ladder that is meant to be the new primary hub for competitive play. As an alternative, players also have map-specific rank ladders to climb from Silver I to Global Elite, the same system that CS:GO used to have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6BNHro0vSg

Much like the subtick system in CS2, Premier Mode also has a lot of kinks to iron out. On lower levels of play, everyone seems to pick the same two maps in the pick/ban phase, the Elo distribution is all over the place, losses and abandonments are extremely punishing, and not everyone is playing fair. Coupled with the subtick issue, most players don’t yet see Premier as the legitimate peak of competitive climbing, but it’s clear that Valve continues to devote resources to their search of a solution.

New weapon loadouts

Instead of CS:GO’s radial wheel, CS2 essentially nicks VALORANT’s system: players can now pre-select a set of weapons to include in a 5x5 buy menu across categories, with larger flexibility than before. You can now have both M4s available to you at the same time as a CT, and you don’t have to waste your time with meme guns like the M249. Also, all hail and Hallelujah, you can now refund your weapon purchases if you made a mistake!

What’s missing from CS2?

Though technically past the 1.0 mark, and a genuinely polished experience, CS2 still fits the bill of modern game development where the launch is really just the point where the real big data gathering begins. Valve continue to roll out update after update to fix many small bugs and to adjust gameplay systems, and this is likely to continue at this pace for a very long time.

That said, Global Offensive had a torrid launch, and CS2 is already leaps and bounds ahead of that game’s 1.0 version gameplay state. Not all esports players (or casuals) are happy with the way the game functions right now, but there are very good reasons to expect that all the little kinks will be ironed out over time. Most importantly, the anti-cheat tools, including the much-vaunted VAC Live, could use a boost and an overhaul: unlike Valorant’s Vanguard, VAC doesn’t require intrusive kernel-level access, but that does come at a cost of effectiveness in online games. For tournaments, the protocols are different, of course.

If you haven’t yet given Counter-Strike a try, this is a great time to jump in and experience the legendary shooter franchise for yourself – and the same holds true for Counter-Strike esports, with the end of an era and the beginning of brand new stories all across the world. If you’d like to learn more about the game and its competitive scene, check out the Bitsler blog for more stories and up-to-date information!

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