Breaking a game's balance over your knee can be fun, and also prove just how much thought goes into any design.
If you're a reader of this blog with any regularity, then you know that I play Team Fortress 2 quite a bit. Because I'm insane I tend to play on Arena quite a bit, but recently I found another muse, one that is quite a bit of a different experience from any normal game mode. I'm talking about the Randomizer mod that can be found on a handful of servers throughout the Internet.
Randomizer, as the name implies, takes the existing class loadouts and pretty much scrambles them. Although the slots for each weapon remain intact, any class can spawn with any weapon in their relevant slot. This means that you can (and often do) end up with combinations like a Heavy with a flamethrower, a Medic with a rocket launcher, a Scout with a minigun, or a Spy with a sniper rifle. It's basically random chaos; you never have control over what class you spawn as and what weapons you spawn with, and each death guarantees a new random class/loadout combination.
It really is a whole lot of stupid, insane fun when you boil it down. The combinations are always interesting, if sometimes infuriating. However, I think through playing Randomizer so much I've also come to appreciate a whole the actual delicate balance of the actual unmodded game a whole lot more.
Take the rocket launcher, the default weapon for the Soldier. It's a solid weapon to be sure, but when Randomizer puts it into the hands of a Medic or a Scout the carnage is nearly unfathomable. Giving the Heavy a sniper rifle allows a sniper that is more secure from counterattack, but slower to get to proper sniping areas. A Spy knife, and Spy knife, given to a Scout is almost nightmarish beyond recognition. It goes to show how much the little tweaks work with each character.
The Soldier is a well rounded class, able to move quickly thanks to rocket jumping, but otherwise a tad slower than average. It's really not until you consider the rocket launcher in the hands of another class that you realize that the reduced move speed and damage-for-mobility traits of the Soldier are there for very important reasons. It doesn't matter that a Scout is fragile when he can show up out of nowhere and turn half the team into chunky salsa before making a quick escape
Long story short, having the balance disrupted in such a drastic manner really shows you that it's the little things that you probably hardly think about that add a lot to the inherent fairness or unfairness of a game, especially one with such a diverse cast like Team Fortress 2. I tend to keep that in mind when someone complains that "such and such is overpowered" or "class X needs nerfs badly".