Team Fortress 2 guide - conquering Mann vs Machine's expert mode

Elliot Metson


Mann vs Machine is Team Fortress 2's robot-slaying, wave-based, co-op game-mode. Though both TF2 and the MvM mode are free, those looking for a little extra challenge can buy tickets to access its advanced difficulty Mann Up missions. Designed for skilled players and well-coordinated teams, Mann Up's toughest tour of duty is Operation Gear Grinder - sure to test the mettle of the most hardened bot-bashing TF2 crews. It's hard. Very hard. In this guide I'm going to take you through some tips for dealing with each of Gear Grinder's missions, suggest team set-ups and lay out the loadouts you should be using if you want a chance at snagging the operation's ultimate reward: a diamond botkiller weapon.


One of the beauties of Mann vs Machine in the past has been that there aren't any essential classes. There may be recommended classes such as Scout or Engineer, but in advanced difficulty missions it is possible to get by without them. In your first expert tour there's less room for manoeuvre, but here are some suggestions as to what loadout you should use for whatever class you choose to play as well as some advice on your role:

Scout: Scattergun, Mad Milk, Fan O'War

Money is important in all Mann vs Machine missions, but it's extra important in expert mode. First and foremost, your job as a Scout is to get as much money as possible, because you'll all need as many upgrades and canteens as you can get.

The Scattergun is a very capable weapon, with six rounds per clip and its meaty damage at close range. It's easy to make it even better too, if you upgrade the reload speed and clip size. The Force-A-Nature is a good alternative if you can upgrade the clip size due to the gun's inherent knockback effect, handy for pushing the bomb carrier back in the absence of a Pyro's airblast. You may even consider the Soda Popper for consistent bursts of mini-crits.

The Mad Milk is a certainty for your secondary slot, make sure you upgrade it to slow down targets and apply it liberally to giant robots. This allows all your team mates to heal from dealing damage to them.

The Fan O'War is a weapon that's rarely used in regular TF2, but is a very solid option in Mann vs Machine. It doesn't need to be upgraded, just hit giant robots once and they'll be subject to mini-crits, which are worth their weight in gold. The Sandman is another option in the melee slot, but it needs to be upgraded before it can mark targets for mini-crits and given that money's tight in expert mode, you may not be able to afford it.

Upgrades: The Mad Milk slowdown effect is cheap and essential, focusing on building up your resistances is imperative too. If you've got cash to spend on your weapons, focus on your primary weapon's reload speed and clip size.

Soldier: Rocket Launcher, Buff Banner, Escape Plan

Soldiers are an excellent class to use during expert missions. There is some debate as to whether the standard Rocket Launcher should be used or the Beggar's Bazooka, but the Rocket Launcher 's been recommended for those situations where you'll need to take out targets at long range (especially Snipers) and can't rely on the Bazooka's unpredictable accuracy.

The beauty of using the Buff Banner is that it will recharge extremely quickly even with just slight upgrades to your primary weapon, and the damage bonus it provides for your team is essential for dealing with tanks and giant robots when they attack together. It's also very cheap to fully upgrade.

The Escape Plan is the selfish option for your melee slot, but you will need the extra speed to get away from difficult situations. The only practical alternative is the Disciplinary Action, but its unreliable hit detection and dependence on having a friendly player near you to benefit from its boost makes it a poor choice for emergencies.

Upgrades: Focus on your primary weapon, specifically reload speed, clip size, firing speed and ammo capacity. You can fully upgrade your Buff Banner for just 500 credits, although this isn't as important as upgrading your weapon.

Pyro: Flamethrower, Flare Gun, Axtinguisher

A Pyro's job in any expert mission is very important because of their airblast. Every Mann vs Machine map has at least one place for you to knock the bomb carrying robot into that will delay its journey to the hatch or, in the case of Coaltown, reset it completely. With that in mind, the Backburner (expensive airblast) and the Phlogistinator (no airblast at all) are terrible choices for expert mode. The standard Flamethrower 's been picked over the Degreaser because of its superior damage and you'll very rarely be in a position where you need the rapid weapon swapping that the Degreaser provides.

The Flare Gun 's the best choice of a bad bunch of secondaries, use it to crit big robots from long distance. The Scorch Shot may seem to be an attractive alternative, but its knockback doesn't pack enough punch to reliably push bomb carriers back or down pits.

Finally, the Axtinguisher just about edges the Neon Annihilator as the best melee weapon because you're in control of whether your target's on fire or not, whereas the Neon Annihilator's critting of wet targets is down to your team. However, the Annihilator's ability to remove sappers in the absence of an Engineer can be very handy, even if it is a little bit situational.

Upgrades: Airblast force is a very important upgrade, but how much you should spend on it varies from map to map. On Mannworks you should feel free to spend all four points on it because there's a very large hole that you can easily knock the bomb carrier into from very long distances. On Coaltown you're better off only spending a couple of points otherwise pushing small robots down either pit can be more trouble than it's worth. Finally, on Decoy, three or four points will suffice because there will be plenty of times where a giant robot will have the bomb on either bridge and you'll need to airblast them off, requiring a lot of force. Otherwise, focus on resistances and ammo capacity. If you have spare credits after that, you can start upgrading primary weapon damage as well as melee attack speed if you're using an Axtinguisher.

Demoman: Loch-n-Load, Scottish Resistance, Half-Zatoichi

Demomen can deal enormous spikes of damage with several carefully placed sticky bombs, and are very useful for taking out Uber Medics before they have a chance to Uber their targets. The extra damage provided by the Loch-n-Load edges it above the regular Grenade Launcher, although you will need to upgrade its clip size and reload speed for it to be competitive later on.

The focus of your upgrades should be spent on your secondary weapon. In this case, the Scottish Resistance has been chosen thanks to the six extra bombs you can have out, up to a maximum of 14, and the fact that you can selectively detonate them. Lay some stickies at each entrance point, particularly when anticipating Medic bots, and detonate as soon as they're in range. This does require some team coordination though, as Uber Medics are quick to deploy their Uber at the first sign of damage, so the rest of the team will need to make sure your bombs are the only things that touch them.

The Half-Zatoichi is a very situational weapon, but it will heal you to full health if you can kill a bot with it. Just be very careful not to accidentally switch to it in a panic, otherwise you're stuck with it until you can kill something with it and your group will suffer from the lack of damage. If you're not confident in keeping your sword sheathed, then the regular Demoman's Bottle will suffice.

Upgrades: Concentrate on upgrading the Scottish Resistance's firing and reload speeds as well as ammo capacity. If you can spare 500 credits, even one point spent in upgrading damage is a point well spent. Upgrading your Loch-n-Load's reload speed and clip size is very worthwhile too. If you can't afford to upgrade the Loch-n-Load, then using the standard Grenade Launcher is a good option because it will perform slightly better with fewer upgrades.

Hit the next page for loadout lowdowns on the Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper and Spy.

Heavy: Brass Beast, Sandvich, Fists of Steel

If you have a Heavy on your team, you can guarantee massive quantities of sustained damage and the Brass Beast has been chosen to play to this strength. While you have much less mobility than any other class, the extra damage that the Brass Beast can dish out makes a big difference in the long term. If you can sweet talk an Engineer into placing his dispenser next to you on Decoy or Coaltown, you're effectively a human turret. If you have a Kritzkrieg Medic or even a Buff Banner Soldier nearby, you can make short work of just about everything in front of you.

With that in mind, you won't need a secondary weapon, so having the Sandvich available for emergency healing of yourself or your team mates is a good idea.

The Fists of Steel will protect you from some incoming ranged damage, but not for too long. Only use them as an escape mechanism. Alternatively, the Gloves of Running Urgently can be used but they're best used if your team lacks an Engineer and his teleporters. As you shouldn't be upgrading either of them, you can swap between the two as often as you like.

Upgrades: Whatever primary weapon you use, build up your ammo capacity because you can't always guarantee that you'll be next to a dispenser. You can also upgrade your firing speed and invest in Destroy Projectiles, which is disappointingly inconsistent but will ultimately help you more often than not. Consider buying some crit and fire resistance, but by all means avoid buying the Knockback Rage ability. It costs too much money and takes too long to fully charge to be worth purchasing. Spend a point in Projectile Penetration instead.

Engineer: The Rescue Ranger, Wrangler, Jag

An Engineer has arguably the most complex and important role in Mann vs Machine, emphasised to a huge degree in expert mode. If you haven't played Engineer in an advanced difficulty mission then this is not a good environment to be learning what to do. You and your sentry are the epicentre of your team's defensive front and if you both die, your team could be in trouble. Sentry placement and protection is hugely important, as are dealing with the main threats that you'll face: Sentry Busters and Spies. If a Sentry Buster is approaching, pick up your sentry and get into its melee range. It will start to play its explosion animation, aurally signalled by rapid beeping. At this point you should be running back to your original position, ready to resume the mowing down of robots. Detonating a Sentry Buster in this way will keep your team and your buildings safe, but it can be challenging to maintain sentry damage on the robots as well as safely dispose of the busters before they get close to your nest. In these cases, communication with the rest of your team is vital. When Spies are prowling, watch your back and shoot anything suspicious with your shotgun, don't get into a melee fight with them.

As the responsibility of shooting stuff is normally with your sentry or the rest of your team, you should be prioritising utility over damage when it comes to your weapons. The Engineer's newest shotgun, The Rescue Ranger , is the best shotgun available to you. The Rescue Ranger's ability to let you pick up and repair buildings from range can be invaluable while you're away from your sentry nest. Be aware, however, that as you upgrade building health, the healing output from the gun gets less effective.

The Wrangler is essential to your loadout. Even a level three sentry has a limited range, which the Wrangler eliminates. Use it at the start of each wave to support your team mates or to shoot at non-Uber Medics (remember that Uber Medics will just deploy their Uber if they're damaged. Not a good outcome if you have a Demoman available).

The Jag is the best wrench available to you, and there are some you should totally avoid equipping: The Eureka Effect, which doesn't allow you to move buildings, and The Gunslinger, which won't let you build a full strength sentry. The Southern Hospitality is similarly frowned upon for its unnecessary vulnerability to fire that it gives you. The Jag's only downside is its lack of damage, which you won't miss because you shouldn't be getting into melee fights with anything.

Upgrades: As an Engineer you're going to be spending more money on upgrades than the rest of your team, so spend wisely. You'll need to invest in Maximum Metal Capacity while also increasing building health and sentry firing speed. At some point you should get the Disposable Sentry for 500 credits too while also upgrading your Jag's attack speed, otherwise you won't be able to repair the constant damage from giant rapid fire bots later on. You also need to ensure that you have 50 credits to spare for when you need to buy Building Upgrade canteens. The Two-Way Teleporter upgrade is a luxury that you should only buy if you can spare the 250 credits and haven't bought the aforementioned upgrades.

Medic: Overdose, Kritzkrieg, Ubersaw

A Medic can be a risky addition to your team, given that you will lose the benefit of having another direct damage class with you. But if that risk is balanced with competent, powerful classes around you then it can have great rewards. A Medic is best played as part of a coordinated team where everyone is willing to consistently communicate with each other. If you have a Medic and a Demoman on your team, use each wave's setup time to lay some crit stickybombs at each robot entrance point and use them to deal with any Uber Medics or get a lot of initial damage onto a tank.

You won't be using any needle guns to deal damage to robots, so you might as well use the one that grants you the most utility, which is the Overdose . While you're charging your Uber The Overdose will boost your movement speed by up to 10%, which could easily be the difference between staying alive and losing that Uber, which is a cardinal sin in any form of TF2.

The Kritzkrieg is brilliant, it charges faster than the regular Medigun by default and will provide a team member with 100% crits for several seconds. If you can use it on a competent Heavy, Soldier, Demoman or even Pyro, you're going to wreak havoc. The damage boost it provides combined with the fact that it takes less time to charge makes it superior to a regular Uber.

The Ubersaw is an uncontested choice for your melee slot. If you pick your opportunities carefully, you could use it to smack a giant robot whose attention is focused elsewhere and generate 25% charge from it. Caution is definitely the best policy here though, because at any moment they could turn round and obliterate you. Examine your surroundings, have an escape route and preferably a team mate nearby as well. Don't get ahead of yourself and start chasing what you think might be disguised Spies either. If you hit them while disguised, you won't generate any charge from them and there's a chance that they could kill you with a glitchy backstab. Instead, communicate their position to your team, watch your back and stay mobile.

Upgrades: The Kritzkrieg will be the focal point of your upgrades, so work on building up Ubercharge Rate and Heal Rate in equal measure. As a mission progresses you should buy the Share Power-Ups upgrade and combine it with Uber canteens to save a team mate close to death, but the 600 credit pricetag makes it a tad too expensive to afford in the early game. Invest in Uber Duration and by all means spend a point or two in +25% Max Overheal and +50% Overheal Time because of how cheap they are.

Sniper: Sydney Sleeper, Jarate, Bushwacka

You will struggle to find a group willing to accept a Sniper as part of their team in an expert mission. The perception of Snipers is that their aim is not consistent enough and they don't bring enough damage to the table. Like a Medic, they can make up for that lack of damage with utility, but for the requirements of expert mode it's not enough utility. A Sniper with this loadout and a Soldier with a Buff Banner will provide similar ways to help a team, but a Soldier will typically be preferred because they'll deal more direct damage and charge their Buff Banner quickly. Having said that, you may be feeling adventurous and willing to experiment, so here's why this would be your best Sniper loadout in expert mode:

The Sydney Sleeper is a surprisingly solid choice for a rifle. It doesn't rely on excellent aim because it deals no extra damage for a headshot without upgrades. This means you only need to aim for the body to apply Jarate to targets, which is simple for most giant robots and will substantially boost your team's damage on them. Other rifles rely too much on headshot damage to be consistently effective.

Jarate is a standard choice for a secondary, no other item comes close to offering its utility for your whole team. You can even upgrade it to slow down robot movement speed, just like the Mad Milk.

The Bushwacka is your best option in your melee slot, although you'll very rarely use it. If the opportunity arises, use it to deal crits to jarate soaked giant robots. The fire vulnerability aspect to the Bushwacka is unimportant because if you get into a close quarters battle with a Pyro, you're going to die anyway thanks to the Sniper's low health pool and the Pyrobots' immense power.

Upgrades: 25% Faster Charge is a very good upgrade for the Sydney Sleeper, reducing the time you have to wait to apply Jarate to targets. Ammo Capacity is worth putting a couple of points into, as is Reload Speed and Damage. Also consider buying the -35% Speed on Target upgrade for Jarate. You may be tempted into prioritising resistances, but each map provides you with enough cover for long range shooting, so you shouldn't need them initially.

Spy: Revolver, Knife, Dead Ringer, Sapper

The Spy, just like the Sniper, is a class frowned upon in expert mode. The main reason for this is the amount of downtime that the class has in between waiting for their Sapper to recharge and running away while under the effects of the Dead Ringer. A Spy will struggle to deal enough direct damage to be useful in most missions but an upgraded Sapper is a thing of beauty when applied to a group of robots, particularly Medics. Once again you might be feeling reckless, so here's why the above loadout is your best option:

The Revolver is simple yet effective. You may be wondering why, with all the sapping that a Spy does in Mann vs Machine, the Diamondback hasn't been selected. This is because destroying robots with a Sapper doesn't grant you crits and there aren't any buildings for you to destroy. So instead of the Diamondback being one of the best pistols, it's actually one of the worst. The Ambassador isn't a great option either because of the amount of damage you lose when you don't headshot a robot, which is very tricky to do consistently.

You're also best off sticking with the original Knife because every other knife is a poor alternative, especially Your Eternal Reward.

The Dead Ringer is also the only sensible choice for cloaking, always giving you license to play aggressively and get out alive, something which other cloak devices can't give you.

Finally, for the Sapper , there's only one possible alternative in the whole game: the recently added Red Tape Recorder. It's designed with buildings in mind and remember, robots are not buildings. The fact that it does no damage whatsoever makes it an appalling option.

Upgrades: As mentioned before, an upgraded Sapper is brilliant, the number of robots you can sap at a time is increased as well as its duration. On the Knife, the +2 seconds crits on kill upgrade is worth a couple of points for situations where you can finish something off with your Revolver. With this in mind, you can also upgrade attack speeds on both of those weapons. Armor Penetration is nice, but it's a luxury if you have enough damage elsewhere in your team, considering your role as a Spy will mostly be to clear out other smaller bots.

On the next page for map and final wave advice.

Map and final wave advice

Every map's wave structure and layout is different, demanding great adaptability from each player and the ability to quickly adjust your tactics. One good example of this is when a bomb's positioned near a reset point. If you have a Pyro in this situation, you should communicate with your team and tell them to hold fire, allowing the Pyro to airblast the next bomb carrier into the pit.

With that in mind, here's the one team setup that I recommend for any expert mission, as it provides the most damage and utility in equal measure when using the suggested loadouts above: Scout, Engineer, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy. The most interchangeable class among that bunch is the Soldier, seeing as they become less effective when faced with Giant Deflector Heavies, which are particularly prevalent on Mannworks. In these situations, it's perfectly acceptable to bring a second Heavy.

The first wave of any expert mission is always difficult because you can't afford many upgrades. However, if you can get up to at least the penultimate wave within an hour then you know you have a solid team. Once you get to the latter waves, the obvious advice is to hold onto your initial frontline for as long as you can and spend as little time as possible fighting for your life outside the spawn rooms. Here's some tips about each map as well as how to tackle the final wave of each expert mission:

Coaltown - Cataclysm

Coaltown is arguably the most accommodating map for expert missions. You have two very accessible bomb reset pits and the robot entrance points are all close to each other. This means you get a very handy bottleneck at the start of each wave that a Demoman can easily cover with stickybombs. This helps to dampen the difficulty of the final wave in which you'll face six tanks and four giant Heavies, punctuated by a lot of Uber Medics attached to various smaller robots in between.

At the start of the wave you'll be faced with five of those tanks in quick succession. The first one is easy to deal with, but when the second tank rolls in you'll also be faced with a lot of Scouts, all with their own Uber Medics. It's at this point that you need a Demoman to take care of as many of those Medics as possible while the rest of the team focuses on the remaining tanks. There will inevitably be some Ubered Scouts running amok, but you can use the large sides of a tank as cover from their fire. When Snipers start to spawn, it's best to have your Engineer wrangle their sentry and deal with them while the tanks continue to be focused on by the rest of the team. Even if you are pinned back by the time the fifth tank comes in, it's possible to move forward as long as you do so together. If the robots are taking the right hand path on their way out of the entrance, having a Pyro airblast the bomb carrier into these pits is immensely helpful as it allows for more focus on killing the tanks.

Before the end of the wave, there's a surprisingly lethal pack of Buff Banner Soldiers, all using a Direct Hit, who try to ruin your day. If you have either a Heavy, Pyro, Soldier or Demoman available with Uber canteens then it's a good idea to use these and mow them down. Then you're onto the final tank and the four giant Heavies who accompany it. Fight them from the roof of the middle house, taking cover when necessary and using crit canteens to burn them down quickly as they have no Medics with them. This should give you ample time to destroy the final tank - using more crit canteens if necessary - to complete the mission.

Mannworks - Mannslaughter

Mannworks is a much more challenging map than Coaltown. Robot entrances are far more spread out, so they're much harder to cover. But if you have a Demoman then this is why the Scottish Resistance was recommended earlier, you can lay seven bombs at each entrance as opposed to just four. However, if you'd rather have two Demomen using the regular Stickybomb Launcher in place of a Soldier or Heavy, then have at it.

The final wave of Mannworks is horrible. Eight Rapid Fire Demomen, eight Rapid Fire Soldiers (all with their own Uber Medics) and four tanks are the biggest causes for concern, but the 60 Pyros as well as Spy support bots are no pushovers themselves. How well you deal with the wave is mostly dictated by how well you deal with the initial attack from the Rapid Fire Soldiers. Have your Engineer build their sentry on top of either the quicklime sacks - as seen in the above screenshot - or pile of wooden planks outside the house near the robot entrances. Building up there allows them to be fully covered from damage but still allows them to repair their sentry from the very high damage these robots can deal. It's crucial that you don't allow many Soldiers to be ubered by their Medics, otherwise they could tear through your team, so your Demoman will need to be on the ball with catching these Medics as they spawn. If your defense can hold off this first batch of Soldiers and remain mostly in tact, you're very well placed to deal with the rest of the wave. Burn down the Rapid Fire Demomen, using either Buff Banners or the Fan O' War to help you and the rest of the wave is comparatively small fry. Stick together, watch each others backs when the Spies appear and airblast the bomb carrier into the large crater that separates the two lanes. When the final two tanks come towards the end of the wave you'll still have a lot of Demoknights to contend with, but these can mostly be dealt with by your Engineer and their sentry. Again, you can use the tanks as shields so that the Demoknights can't see you. Once the tanks are down, fight off the remaining Demoknights to finish the mission.

Decoy - Desperation

Decoy is a compromise between Mannworks' awkwardness and Coaltown's bottleneck design. Most robots will enter under the initial bridge, but the occasional blighter will spawn on top and make their way around the upper level of the map. This is what Snipers do most often, so the best way of dealing with them is to have an Engineer wrangle their sentry and pick them off before they can damage your team. There are two bridges over a large hole before the hatch which acts as your reset point for the bomb. If possible though, try to airblast robots into the hole before they get onto either bridge because one of them has railing on either side which giant robots can't be blasted over without great hassle.

While preparing for each wave, have your Engineer build their sentry and teleporter on the middle house's roof. You should have the dispenser placed on the corner of the big building in front of the house, ahead of the bottom of the ramp. This means a constant ammo supply for the classes on the frontline which is crucial for success in the latter waves.

The final wave is a deadly one. Two tanks, four giant Heavies, 12 Rapid Fire Soldiers and 12 Super Scouts. The start of the wave is simple enough, you get one tank on its own which allows everyone to focus their attention on it. It should die before it's even allowed to turn a corner. There's a brief lull in activity after this in which only Pyros and Heavies will appear with the occasional Uber Medic. If you're a Soldier, use this opportunity to prepare a Buff Banner charge for when the giant robots start to appear and fight with the rest of your team at the dispenser (minus your Engineer). When the giant robots come, they come in groups. First you'll be faced with giant Heavies and the Rapid Fire Soldiers. Thanks to the layout of the map, your Engineer and their buildings should be protected by the frontline. To ensure safety, keep using the Buff Banner whenever available and throw Mad Milk onto the Heavies, as they soak up the most damage and will therefore heal the most to those who attack them. This forms about two thirds of the wave.

The final third is when the Super Scouts enter the fray and more Uber Medics arrive with giant Heavies. It's very important that the Scouts are juggled in place by a Pyro's airblast, allowing the team to kill them off quickly, otherwise they can slip past you too easily and end the wave. If your Pyro's dead or you don't have one on your team, it's a good idea to have your Engineer move their sentry to the end of the bridge that the robots are supposed to cross. This, combined with some damage from the rest of the team, should be enough to see them off. You still have several Rapid Fire Soldiers and a couple of giant Heavies to take care of too. Your Demoman should, as always, consider it a priority to deal with the Uber Medics. This allows you to plough through the remaining giant robots with the aid of canteens. With a few giant robots still on the map, the second tank enters, but you can afford to leave that until you've dealt with the remaining enemies. Once they're down, focus all fire on the tank to bring it down and end the mission.

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