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CS:GO ten years later – how does it play?

Released on August 21, 2012, the latest entry in the Counter-Strike franchise is quickly closing on a decade. The game is more popular than ever – one has to wonder why. Here’s what it’s like to play the game with a fresh pair of eyes in 2021.

Twenty years of shooting

The Counter-Strike series has been around for so long that some of its best players were born years after the release of the original mod. First released in 1999 as a mod for Half-Life 1, its unique objective-based 5v5 gameplay coupled with brutally fast gunfights made it an instant hit and one that remained on the forefront of competitive gaming ever since.


It has also emerged as one of the biggest esports in the world. The growth of competitive gaming has played a large part in the franchise’s success, and now there’s an entire ecosystem built around offering esports betting odds. In fact, betting on CS:GO is bigger than ever, with sites like Rivalry seeing unprecedented interest in such wagers in recent times. This suggests that even the emergence of Valorant can’t put a dent in the growth of the game.

When CS:GO was released in 2013, fans of the franchise were split in two across 1.6 and Source, and initially it didn’t seem like Global Offensive would be able to reunify the playerbase. However, really strong support from Valve coupled with the explosive growth of the game’s esport scene has catapulted to the top of the Steam charts, seemingly nailed onto the top spots ever since.

Valve decided to make the game free-to-play for everyone in December 2018 alongside the introduction of a simple battle royale mode that plays very differently than the base game. With a multitude of skins, missions, alternative game modes and more, CS:GO is a very different experience today than what it was around the time of its original release.

It’s also unquestionably better.

CS:GO’s updates offer a ton of content

Though the core Counter-Strike experience still remains the five-versus-five bout between terrorists and CTs across facelifted versions of the many classic maps, a growing stable of alternative game modes ensures that you will always have something to play for. The list of classic options like Deathmatch and casual alternatives like Arms Race has been expanded with Danger Zone and a dedicated Retakes mode in recent years – and if that isn’t enough for you, there’s the sea of community servers to swim in with game modes as varied as 1v1 duels and surfing.

Speaking of facelifts, it’s incredible how much the devs can squeeze out of the ancient Source engine. Every map remake and new release shows their mastery of the pile of duct tape they’re working with, and though there always seem to be some sort of issue to deal with, they rarely break the game in a way that you have to actually sit on the sidelines until a patch is issued by the folks at Valve.

If anything, it’s the insane stability that some see as a downside of the CS:GO experience – a core gameplay loop that’s basically been the same for two decades, rare rotations in the map pool and an almost untouched roster of weapons available can feel stale for those used to the cadence of mobile gaming patches. However, the insane depth on offer makes Counter-Strike a lot like chess: no matter how much time you spend with it, there are further infinite complexities to explore for the eager player.

Still, the steady stream of small gameplay tweaks, graphical updates and feature additions – not to mention the seemingly inevitable move to the Source 2 engine that fans have been craving for years – ensures that there’s always something to return for. It should be of no surprise that the number of available cosmetics also keeps going up at a consistent pace, with agent skins recently introduced alongside the now-traditional weapon finishes.

Some of the basic competitive options are still missing from the standard ranked matchmaking experience, with Valve seemingly content with third-party platforms like FACEIT and ESEA picking up the slack. If you want to play on 128 tick servers or have a proper pick-ban phase, horribile dictu a best-of-three or even something as simple as overtime, you will have to venture beyond the base game. Seeing how these elements seem rather basic in Valorant, the new kid on the block, one could expect this to change fairly soon as well in CS.


Final thoughts

Is CS:GO a dead game in 2021? Far from it. Player counts have never been higher and the interest in Counter-Strike esports remained strong even during the pandemic. Not bad for something that was released almost ten years ago!


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