Booyah -- it's part three of ten in our series, "How to not look like an idiot in Team Fortress 2," started Monday and leading up to the official release of The Orange Box.
Today, we look at the soldier: an all-purpose grunt, the Soldier is decent -- but not spectacular -- in both close-quarters and ranged combat. He's got a decent -- but not spectacular -- amount of health, and he's got an abysmal -- but not decent -- running speed.
How does one utilize the soldier's decentbutnotspectacular's traits to greatest effect, then? And how does one kill the crap out of a Soldier when forced to?
There's a jump. It should be clicked.
When playing as him:
-Go for the feet
Better you find out sooner rather than later: the Soldier very, very rarely scores direct hits on his enemies. While he might occasionally fire a lucky rocket and score a bullseye, the vast majority of the Soldier's kills come about as a result of splash damage. The rockets simply move too slow to directly hit moving targets.
Instead of aiming directly at your enemies' torsos -- which will just result in them moving, and your rocket missing by a at least half a mile -- instead aim for the ground near their feet, where the rocket will undoubtedly detonate and harm them thanks to the splash damage. A single rocket usually isn't enough to kill anyone other than Scouts or Spies, but aiming for the ground is still the best method of inflicting damage as the Soldier.
Plus, if the person is jumping when you fire the rocket at their feet, you can potentially launch them into the air, which is goddamned hilarious (especially if they die from the falling damage).
-Lead your targets
Ideally, you not only want to fire at your enemies' feet, but also lead your targets so that they run into your explosion. It's really damn difficult to trick Scouts into running into your rockets, as they can change direction quickly in mid-air as well as on the ground, but pretty much every other class is ripe for the owning -- especially Heavies, because they're so goddamn slow and present such a large and inviting target.
Firing a volley of rockets at and around a class like the Heavy Weapons Guy will give him nowhere to run; as he's too slow to sidestep any one of your rockets, you're guaranteed to do some serious damage.
-Don't fear the splash damage
While your splash damage is the main means by which you'll damage your enemies, the Soldier doesn't actually take that much damage from his own rockets. The reason for this is a fairly obvious one -- rocket-jumping. If the Soldier lost half his health every time he fired a rocket at his own feet, rocket-jumping wouldn't be a particularly useful tactic (though that's not to suggest it's really useful as is; more on that later).
With that in mind, don't hesitate to fire rockets in very close proximity, if you're reasonably sure that the rocket in question will eliminate the nearest foe. So long as you've got half your health left, don't think twice about firing a rocket three inches away from your face.
Conversely, don't be an idiot and assume that, even though you only have five HP left, the rocket you just launched straight into the ground won't gib you into a dozen messy pieces.
-Weave from side to side as you run
I was tempted to put this bit of advice in the upcoming "general tips" article, but it works so specifically well with soldiers that I figured, why not? Running from side to side not only gives the slow-as-a-turtle soldier a chance to actually dodge some fire, but it increases the opportunity of running headfirst into a cloaked Spy, thereby momentarily disabling his invisibility.
Again, any character can essentially do this, but the soldier is unique in that after running into and identifying a Spy, he can immediately kill it. Spies have such low health, and the Soldier takes so little damage from his own rockets, that upon bobbing, weaving, and discovering a Spy, a soldier can simply fire a rocket or two near his own feet and effectively annihilate the cloaked secret agent whilst taking negligible splash damage.
Rocket-jumping, while kind of cute, isn't really all that useful. Altitude-wise, it pales in comparison to the Demoman's sticky-bomb jump, thus making it sort of pointless. In 2fort, you can't rocket-jump into the opposing team's battlements. In dustbowl, you can't rocket-jump onto the second level of the final capture.
Rocket-jumping is useful as a last-ditch effort for evading grenades or rockets, but it's really not all that useful as an offensive tactic. Better to leave the platforming to the Demomen and the Scouts.
Xaeser and PaulMorel have pointed out that this is all incorrect. Xaeser points out that performing a crouch rocket jump (do a duck-jump, then fire a rocket at your feet at the height of the jump) will get you much higher than a regular rocket jump -- definitely high enough to get you to the battlements in 2fort.
-Get up close and personal
I've seen Soldiers try to take out Snipers in 2fort from half a map away.
This is silly.
Since your rockets are insanely slow and rely primarily on splash damage, there's pretty much no advantage to firing your rockets from a distance. To anyone more than twenty feet away, a Soldier's rocket seems to travel at roughly this speed:
Firing rockets at Sniper is useful inasmuch as it forces them to move and thus throw off their aim slightly (or, vbest-case scenario, force them to move behind cover); just don't expect to actually kill them.
When playing against him:
Generally speaking, keep your distance, and try to keep your movements erratic. Pretty much any class can take down a Soldier or two with sufficient skill and/or luck, so there's not necessarily much to be said for them: Snipers, Spies, and Heavy Weapons Guys have a pretty easy time killing Soldiers thanks to their distance/sneakiness/massive amounts of HP.
Scouts can kill Soldiers, but it's probably best that they don't bother trying. It's almost hilariously easy to just run past the slow-as-molasses Soldiers -- stopping to fight them just increases the chance that one of their randomly-fired rockets will explode near your feet and, as the kids say, totally wreck your sh*t.
As the Soldier is really just an all-around grunt, he's pretty damned easy to take down so long as you have sufficient patience. The Soldier's kills either come from well-aimed rockets which can usually be avoided, or by camping a narrow hallway or entrance and blasting everyone who walks through; waiting him out and attacking his flank will usually put you in a good position to take him out...eventually.
The Soldier has a lot of health and may very well take you down to a quarter of your health (or kill a few of your friends) before finally succumbing, but persistence and patience are the key tools in the fight against this military grunt.