In the past few weeks, I’ve gone a little back and forth on the Titanfall 2 pre-alpha tech test. There was a time when the original Titanfall released where I played nothing else. Literally, for months on end, it was all anger, happiness, joy and heartbreak for Titanfall, even as the player numbers dwindled. With Titanfall 2, it’s clear that Respawn has gone in a different direction. Is it a better direction though?
To fully understand how different Titanfall 2 was, I evaluated it after playing the original game once more. Attrition, the much-begged for mode that defined the original, was chaotic beyond all belief. Grunts allowed teams to stay in it but could be easily farmed to garner Titans. Titans could be amassed to snowball wins, especially against teams which couldn’t easily dispose of them. It was war though and each match was a no-holds barred, every Pilot for himself affair.
"Mechanics-wise, movement has been made slower. It was sped up by the second week of the tech test, thus allowing for faster wall-running and momentum when exiting wall-runs."
Titanfall 2 is different. The tech test offered three modes – Bounty Hunt, Pilot vs. Pilot and Amped Hardpoint. Bounty Hunt combines PvP with mid-match objectives of the PvE variety and challenges players to protect their earnings. Completing objectives like eliminating AI Titans or clearing out AI waves in certain parts of the map awards you money. Deposit this money in a bank and the first team to hit the max score limit (or hold more money in the bank when time expires) wins. The twist is that you can steal other players’ money to supplement your team’s income. Pilot vs. Pilot extends matches to eight vs. eight players while Amped Hardpoint is like the original mode…except you can camp a captured Hardpoint to “amp” it and earn double points.
Mechanics-wise, movement has been made slower. It was sped up by the second week of the tech test, thus allowing for faster wall-running and momentum when exiting wall-runs. Sliding has been added to help sustain momentum and make you a harder target while running. Nonetheless, the gameplay has been made slower and more manageable. Time to kill has overall been reduced from the original game but it’s still above titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Maps as a whole feel more constrained. The various objectives that crop up will focus the action on specific sections. In the original Titanfall, the battle would often spread out depending on Grunt spawns, player spawns, etc.
The new abilities are interesting, even if the Grappling Hook offers the most utility at first. The Sonar Knife replaces the original Pulse ability and makes it far easier to counter (you’ll be informed when a sonar is nearby, though you won’t always know where the enemy is). Cloak is more effective than before since Electric Smoke is now a “pick-up” ability rather than part of a kit. Electric Smoke is now a grenade, the Shock Grenade now slows enemies while keeping them dazed and there’s even a Vortex shuriken to entrap enemies into one spot. Again, the Grappling Hook is probably the coolest new item and will probably be preferred above all else initially. But with some ingenuity, it’s possible to make the best of other items as well – try running around with a Mastiff and Cloak to see what I mean.
"Standard traits like hanging on walls are now part of kits and Burn Cards are pretty much gone."
However, the overall mechanics of the game are fairly different from Titanfall 1. Rodeoing Titans is now more like “remove battery from said Titan and then throw grenades in the exposed area”. The doomed timer of Titans no longer depletes, allowing for longer fighting times (though you’re still susceptible to termination by other Titans). The aforementioned batteries can provide a shield and heal you if placed within your Titan. Other Pilots can gather batteries to augment your health. Standard traits like hanging on walls are now part of kits and Burn Cards are pretty much gone. Instead, you can activate Amped Weapons with enough of a Boost Meter or summon explosive Ticks to hunt down enemies.
That’s not even mentioning the Titans which act more like “heroes” than custom loadouts. Of the two Titans available – Ion and Scorch – you’ll be left to customize abilities, bestowing an extra dash or allowing, say, critical hits with default Splitter Rifle shots to recharge your ultimate faster. Ion’s kit allows it to deploy tripmines while using a shoulder-mounted laser to deal with Pilots and inflict significant damage on Titans. The Splitter Rifle functions like a normal machine gun but separates into horizontal rows of projectiles when aiming down sights. Its ultimate emits a giant laser from Ion’s chest. Scorch is more area control-oriented, setting the ground on fire, slamming down with its fists to send out streaks of flame and serving to tank more shots.
Between the new weapons – like the DMR-esque Double Take or energy LMG L-Star (which admittedly isn’t as great as the Spitfire) – and new Titans, you’ll also have to deal with a decidedly less busy map. Respawn does mix it up fairly well though. Homefront is more open, lending more opportunities for sniping and open field warfare. Boomtown is more crowded and complements parkour artists better. Forward Base Kodai reminds me of Airbase but with a central base structure and more open space. The three lane approach is pretty apparent in Boomtown and Kodai but there are random tunnels and interiors to navigate for flanking purposes.
"If you feel that even a slight deviation in terms of mechanics is sacrilege, then you’re right to be skeptical."
Here’s the thing about Titanfall 2, at least based on the tech test – it’s like Respawn went back to the drawing board and completely rethought the entire framework of the game. Originally, there was no Titan meter. You had to complete objectives to get Titans, leading to a complete dearth of the same during matches. This was changed in week two but the rate at which Titans were acquired is nothing like the first game. It should be noted that Respawn, ironically, has trouble with spawn logic. In the tech test, it was very easy to spawn trap an enemy team and keep murdering them ad nauseam. Grenades, like abilities, are also now on cooldown. For crying out loud, the map is just like Destiny, only it pings when an enemy does something around you as opposed to alerting you when an enemy is nearby. And let’s not talk about the aim-assist.
Does all of this indicate that Titanfall 2 is terrible? Not really. In fact, it’s a fairly strong case for why being different isn’t all that bad. I was willing to try out more diverse strategies and load-outs than the previous game. The R-201 Carbine may be amazing but I still found the Double Take, Mastiff and Spitfire (which I loathed in the previous game for Pilot combat) to be highly effective. The objective play of Bounty Hunt felt a lot more focused and team-oriented while still allowing for lone wolf escapades. I had fun and felt like I was achieving something and vice versa – when I was killed and lost half my cash, it felt heartbreaking. The progression system, though fairly barebones right now, felt solid, striking a decent balance between reward and grind. Matches very rarely devolved into complete steamrolls, even when the enemy team had four Titans to our one.
If you’re a hardcore fan of Titanfall, will Titanfall 2 be the game for you? Based on this pre-alpha tech test, which is by no means a final indication of the game’s quality at all, it depends. If you feel that even a slight deviation in terms of mechanics is sacrilege, then you’re right to be skeptical.
"Even if the multiplayer has taken a sharp turn into the unknown, it still presents a compelling style of gunplay and action that managed to draw me in."
You may find matches to be too “quiet” or dull and it’s likely that Respawn adds different kinds of objectives to Bounty Hunt to address this. Heck, Attrition itself could make a comeback. Amped Hardpoint and Pilot vs. Pilot, for all the concerns of camping, present their own kinds of challenges. Hardpoint felt much more like a back and forth affair but it’s very easy to capture two points and effectively trap enemies in their spawn on some maps. Pilot vs. Pilot isn’t any different from the previous game where it suffered plenty of camping problems.
Of the many new additions though, I quite like the idea behind the Networks. Think of a server browser which allows you to create random groups that you can then subscribe to and receive invites for games. It certainly opens up the player pool beyond typical matchmaking. That being said, it will take a bit more fine-tuning given how some matches would be extremely one-sided at times despite the quick matchmaking times.
Those with a more open mind and willing to see the twists and turns that their favourite multiplayer shooter will take are advised to keep an eye on Titanfall 2. Even if the multiplayer has taken a sharp turn into the unknown, it still presents a compelling style of gunplay and action that managed to draw me in.
This game was previewed on the Xbox One.