A new age dawns: Counter-Strike 2 is live on Steam, replaces CS:GO

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(Image credit: Valve)

Counter-Strike 2 left its testing phase and gobbled up Counter-Strike: Global Offensive today, replacing the decade-old version of the legendary 5v5 competitive FPS on Steam with a sequel built on Valve's newest engine.

CS:GO, as far as I can tell, is gone. Players who prefer the old version can't go back, which Valve seemed to confirm today with gif-based tears for the fallen game:

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CS2 brings the shooter into the Source 2 engine, facilitating such changes as the addition of volumetric smoke grenade smoke and "cleaner, brighter" maps—minor patch notes in another game, maybe, but seismic events in a competitive shooter that's been as remarkably consistent as Counter-Strike has for the past two-plus decades. Here are the major features Counter-Strike 2 is debuting with:

  • Upgraded lighting, materials, and mapmaking tools via the move to Source 2
  • "Overhauled" and "updated" maps, as well as relatively unchanged "touchstone" maps such as Dust 2
  • "All-new look and behavior" for visual effects like fire, bullet tracers, and muzzle flashes (ah, the three elements)
  • A new ranking system called CS Rating
  • "Reworked" audio
  • A new "tickless" server architecture

For the majority of this year, CS2 has been in an invite-only "Limited Test" with some of the new features. A survey of pro CS players we published earlier this week revealed generally tempered expectations for CS2's launch. 

"It's not competitive-ready at all, I still rather play CS:GO," pro Counter-Strike player Héjja "kezziwow" Kászandrá told us this week. "I have not yet played any competitive match on it, [and] there is a lot to improve on to make me feel like it's CS:GO."

"I think CS2 is heading in the right direction but in its current state, it still needs some improvements before it is a good one-to-one replacement for CS:GO," said another pro, Sebastian "volt" Maloș. "If I had to choose right now I would still go for CS:GO but having CS2 coming soon feels refreshing and I'm excited to grind something new."

The launch map set for Counter-Strike 2 is:

  1. Mirage
  2. Overpass
  3. Vertigo
  4. Ancient
  5. Inferno
  6. Nuke
  7. Anubis
  8. Dust 2*
  9. Office*
  10. Italy*

*Not in current competition map pool

Transformative game updates that overwrite a previous version are a somewhat novel, controversial trend, exemplified by Overwatch 2, which we called "a mutated sequel" in our review. CS:GO players don't lose any of their expensive gun skins in the transition to CS2, but aren't given a choice about making the switch in the first place.

Previous versions of Counter-Strike remain available, however. There was a funny period after CS:GO's launch in 2012 when three versions of the game, CS 1.6, CS: Source, and CS:GO, all had roughly equal concurrent player numbers—a kind of occurrence that is perhaps a thing of the past now that live service sequels tend to subsume their predecessors. (An interesting exception being Path of Exile, whose sequel was going to overwrite the original until the developer changed its mind.)

CS2 is available now on Steam, and remains free-to-play. Counter-Strike is always at the top of Steam's top concurrent players chart, but I expect the big update to drive it even higher as the day goes on—it has so far peaked at 1,265,615 today.

We'll be publishing more coverage of CS2 this week after we've experienced the majesty of its volumetric smoke clouds for ourselves.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.