EA and Respawn Entertainment announced Titanfall 2 earlier this month, a game we all knew was coming. We just didnt know when.

Rumblings of a second Titanfall started shortly after the original launched, as it was clear that EA had acquired Respawn Entertainment for a franchise deal. When being asked about Titanfall’s exclusivity to the Xbox One and PC during pre-launch interviews, they were already talking about sequels going multi-platform. So it was no surprise that a sequel was announced. But we have questions anyway.

Questions about the promised single-player campaign in the sequel. Questions about the legacy of the first game, and if it really warrants a sequel, even though we’re getting one anyway. Questions about what to expect from the TV show spinoff and who the Hell asked for it?

Our CEO, Vanessa Fernandez, gathered some opinions from Facebook on the subject, and as we have been seeing around the internet since Titanfall 2 was announced, reactions were also VERY mixed among her friends and followers.

And even more opinions!

See, like we said, very mixed opinions!

So when it comes down to it, what we really need to do is ask is:

Does Titanfall warrant a sequel?

In order to answer that, we will have to evaluate the original Titanfall and determine its legacy.

Pre-Launch Hype

Titanfall was announced with a promise to deliver fast gunplay, futuristic weaponry and equipment, wall running, and giant robots. It was to be the first big exclusive shooter for the Xbox One after launch (though it was also available on PC) and was being worked on by the former developers behind shooter juggernaut Call of Duty.

People had been asking for and speculating about a Call of Duty title set in the future, but the move in setting hadn’t materialised yet by the time Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 hit shelves.

Then the infamous Infinity Ward debacle took place behind the scenes of Activision.

Series directors Vince Zampella and Jason West departed Activision – along with many of their former staff – to stir up a legal battle over what they say were unpaid wages and royalties they were owed from Activision, and also to form a new studio, Respawn Entertainment. Respawn would quickly be scooped up by one of Activision’s biggest rivals, Electronic Arts.

The excitement surrounding the Call of Duty franchise had never been higher, with Modern Warfare 2 bringing in $310 million in first day sales across the United States and UK, making it the largest entertainment launch in history, with a reported 8 million players competing online in the game in the first 5 days post-launch.

MW2

So what would the guys behind the biggest entertainment launch in history do for an encore now that they were free from Activision, had a score to settle, and the funding of a publisher with everything to gain by making a splash using their rivals A-team of developers?

These questions burned alongside gamers anticipation for Titanfall, and the brash, flashy trailer that accompanied Titanfall’s reveal did little to sate that anticipation. It did exactly what a big game trailer is supposed to do: Build hype.

And boy, did it.

I mean, in 2013, how could you NOT be excited for that?

So what went wrong? How did a game so massively hyped, and with all the resources needed to succeed, fail to meet gamers expectations? What does the sequel promise to fix that we should be looking forward to in the sequel?

Let’s break it down.

Single-Player Campaign

All of the things we remember about Titanfall today were present in spades in the announcement trailer: Wall running; acrobatics; giant robots; giant battlefields populated by tons of players.

But there is one thing in the trailer that I didn’t quite remember. That gravely voiced man speaking over the whole trailer. He speaks a very human story, full of regret and remorse for lost loved ones. He apologises for being a soldier trying relentlessly to protect his land from those who wish to take it from him. There is a weight and gravity, a human side that the game wants to express.

Though it was presented as a space opera about a struggle to “defend what is ours,” it was apparent the story, hinted at in the trailer, would be relegated to a mere footnote. Vince Zampella confirmed that Titanfall would not have a single-player campaign, because “single-player missions [that] take up all the focus of the studio […] but 5 percent of people finish the game,” and the team at Respawn would instead sprinkle “narrative elements” that would pop up in multiplayer arenas. This was pretty forward thinking back in 2013, even if people dont necessarily agree with it.

These comments were spoken by a studio head, making his first, multiplayer only game after a long stretch working for a company that produced some of the biggest games ever released. These games featured both multiplayer and single-player modes, and were strongly regarded for both.

Three years later, and we are seeing AAA heavyweights Evolve Star Wars Battlefront and Rainbow Six: Seige launch without a single-player mode.

Cliff Bleszinski – a studio head making his first, multiplayer only game after a long stretch working for a company that produced some of the biggest games ever released – was quoted last week as saying “Campaigns cost the most money; it’s usually 75 percent of the budget. You burn through the campaign in a weekend and then you guys go to the multiplayer,” when talking about his studio Boss Key Productions upcoming multiplayer- only FPS Lawbreakers.

Maybe Zampella was onto something here?

Vince Zampella and Cliffy B, two developers with similar visions for the future the shooter genre.

Vince Zampella and Cliffy B, two developers with similar visions for the future the shooter genre.

Despite his forward-thinking words, they mean little without applying them, and with good execution. Titanfall simply didnt do that.

The “narrative elements” turned out to be nothing more than floating heads taking up space in players HUD’s, shouting skeletal exposition for a non-existant story in a poor effort to apply context that wasn’t needed to begin with.

Titanfall failed in this aspect because it chose to force a story lazily into a game that we all knew was supposed to be purely multiplayer. It was so pure a multiplayer-only experience that it mimicked multiplayer-only PC shooters of yesteryear like Battlefield 1942 by presenting what amounted to Bot matches as story missions.

Nobody cared about these characters or the story because nobody had to, and the story that was provided was an uninteresting quasi-tutorial that focused on two factions but was never fleshed out into something remotely compelling.

Little floating heads are the games only source of narrative exposition (what little narrative there is)

Little floating heads are the games only source of narrative exposition (what little narrative there is)

Well, ok, a multiplayer-only shooter having a terrible, shoehorned single player mode is alright if the multiplayer lives up to expectations right? That is the purpose of being multiplayer-only, after all. How about we examine what is supposed to be the meat of the product – the multiplayer.

Launch Problems

I fell victim to the hype machine of Titanfall like many of my fellow gamers. I was an early adopter, getting the game at launch because, in my experience, shooters are best experienced when they are new and the community is flush with players.

The launch was a BUMPY ride.

Being a PC player, troubleshooting launch issues is a regular occurrence, so I wasn’t too bummed out initially when they game gave me some troubles. I had to “unpark” some of the unused cores on my CPU (which I had never needed to do previously, and never had to since) and turn down some settings for the game to run smoothly on my relatively strong PC, which was strange for such an average looking game, but something I was told wasn’t unusual for “CPU heavy” games such as this. Still, it was aggravating.

When I finally had the game running smoothly, I ran into issues joining games through matchmaking and linking up with friends to join the same match. Disconnects were rampant in the early days of Titanfall, and patches were required to fix both network and performance issues. My experiences actually joining and completing a game are what I would describe as “intermittent”.

Matchmaking also presented a unique problem on PC. Matchmaking is kind of a dirty word for PC gamers, as they like to control which servers they join, own servers on their own or as part of a clan, and mod them to their liking. They generally frown upon the performance and disconnected games that come along with P2P matchmaking, and the lack of mod support for the game showed that we would only get the experience Respawn and EA felt they should curate for us.

First impressions are important for any game, especially a new franchise, and the launch issues were a real inconvenience that painted a sloppy picture of Titanfall.

Poor performance and the limitations presented with P2P matchmaking turned a lot of PC gamers off, but I decided to stick with it. I can imagine many players didn’t have my level of patience and grew tired after what amounted to two weeks of recurrent issues, as far as I can remember.

Once everything was smoothed out and I could join games consistently, what was uncovered was a tremendously compelling experience unlike anything else on the market.

God, it was all so much fun!

The wall running. The kinetic speed and freedom of movement. The ability to attack from any angle. The rush of calling in a Titan for the first time. The mechanics in Titanfall were as spit-shined as you’d expect coming from the people behind Call of Duty

When the warm glow of my initial impressions of the game wore off however, I found a game woefully in need of content and game modes, maps and weapons, and I kept stumbling across more and more little grievances I had with the game that I couldn’t ignore.

Lack of Content

The lack of content at launch prevented the game from having legs, and the content that was added was expensive (and remained so until recently) and limited my ability to play with a large amount of other players.

By the time map packs started to roll out, the time to join a match via matchmaking had expanded significantly, as many players had moved on to playlists catered to specific map packs rather than a single playlist used for all maps. Even after merging said playlists, it was still really difficult to find a game because players would still only have a limited amount of matches to choose from taking place on the maps they owned. If players didn’t own the DLC, it was like pulling teeth to actually play the game.

This is the fault of Electronic Arts, who completely botched the post-launch of this game by applying the same pricey DLC strategy of charging a high price for many different packs of maps that they applied to the Battlefield series, the most recent Star Wars Battelfront, and what games like Call of Duty had been doing for years up to that point.

This kind of strategy works for series with name recognition like the Call of Dutys, the Battlefronts, the Battlefields. They have huge player bases and years of notoriety to feed off of. It doesn’t work so much with new IP’s when trying to cultivate a new community.

EA banked on people buying into the reputation of the developers to stick around for more content, but they probably would have been better off including a few of the maps they decided to charge for along with the base game, and a few extra modes.

15 bucks

An even more craaaaazy idea would have been to include mod support and dedicated servers.

One only needs to look at the $15 price tag attached to the map packs for Titanfall (and many other EA games) to understand the lack of mod support. Why allow players on a platform to craft maps that they would otherwise be forced to pay for?

The technical hurdles for mod support could also be greater for Titanfall than other shooters, considering all of the wall running and Titan dropping going on (not to mention the AI bots). I’m sure such a thing could have been implemented, but it would have taken considerable effort, time – and therefore, funds – all of which I’m sure Respawn didn’t want to have to expend for a single version of their game (which might not have sold that well on PC anyhow).

Being an Xbox One launch title first and foremost, I can understand Respawn and EA’s decision to go with the more console-friendly P2P matchmaking implemented in other popular console shooters (like the developers previous series). However, the existence of a PC version of Titanfall necessitates some special attention to the PC crowd, especially when considering longevity.

As a PC player myself, most of the shooters that last the longest support clans, dedicated servers, and mod support, because they help to build a better community. Connecting with a clan whos server you really enjoy playing on, and creating friendships with them, creates a sort of home base or second home in the shooter for players, and keeps them coming back. Not only that, but dedicated servers have less connection issues, and often times clans can help control cheaters and hackers quicker and more effectively than exploitable anti-cheat measures.

For a company that wanted a huge success, EA seems to have done everything they could to limit Titanfall’s lasting appeal. Not only did they botch the launch with technical problems that should have been ironed out by the beta, but they also waited until the community was dead before they even attempted to lower map pack prices. They eventually gave the maps away for free so that matchmaking was easier and more inclusive, but by that time, the player base was nearly non-existent.

The Weapons

The lack of interesting weapons really hurt the game as a whole. For a game that focuses on giant mechs and future combat, a lot of the weapons are pretty standard issue. There’s the assault rifle, and SMG, the shotgun… Each gun is so cookie cutter and functions exactly how we have seen them function in every other game, and they come with typical, overused attachments.

To show you how to-the-mold Titanfall sticks with its weapons, there is even a requisite sniper rifle in the game. That’s right, in a game about wall running, speed, and being impossible to track while moving, they decided to include a sniper rifle, which is most effectively used while stationary. Its inclusion is jarring, glaring, and utterly pointless except to cater to those who like to snipe in other games.

And did I mention there is a ‘Smart Pistol’?!

Much was made about Titanfall’s Smart Pistol. Some found it overpowered and ‘cheap’, a weapon ‘only for n00bs’. But there is nuance at play behind it. Players need to be within a certain range to lock on to a target, and such a lock on provides a one shot kill. It takes a few seconds to lock on, leaving players vulnerable to attack. The insane movement speed of the characters also makes it pretty difficult to keep a lock on an enemy. I personally didnt have a problem with it. It kind of reminds me of the AWP from Counter-Strike. For how ‘cheap’ it was, I could never seem to figure out how to use it effectively. There is a real skill behind dominating a match with such a weapon, and those who are good with it are frustratingly so.

Each pilot has different abilities to choose from, but coming from the Call of Duty guys, it felt too close to ‘Call of Duty: In Space’ than its own thing. There is the typical “make players footsteps quiet” and “grenades explode upon death” perks ripped straight from Call of Duty, and the other perks boil down to adding more grenades or making aim steadier from the hip.

The few Titan-specific perks that Pilots can choose from feel useless, because players spend most of the match playing as a Pilot. Most player-to-player encounters happen quickly and between Pilots, not between Titans. Titans die quickly, and players will spend the remaining %70 percent of the match wishing they focused on Pilot abilities instead.

The Pilot fights are still fun, as they have that twitchy Call of Duty recoilless combat pasted overtop of wall running and acrobatics, but that was one of the main detractors of the game from way back when the first trailer released: “It looks like Parkour of Duty…” Yeah, I hated that opinion pre-launch too, but the further post-launch the game got, it started to ring more and more true.

The Titans

The Titans were also a big letdown, as they were fun to drive initially, but further digging revealed that the depth behind them was pretty limited. Titans are limited to three variations. The first is the Atlas, which has a balance of speed and armor and can deal extra damage when its ability is activated. The second is the Stryder, which trades armor for speed and can activate an extra dash ability. Finally is the Ogre, a slow damage sponge with an increased shield ability.

There are only 6 primary Titan weapons to choose from, 4 variations of different missiles that can be fired, and 3 secondary abilities like a force shield that can absorb munitions and sling them back at players, or an electric smoke cloud that damages pilots outside of Titans should they get too close. Each Titan can also have perks applied that effect their shields, speed, ability to regenerate secondary abilities, and how pilots interact with Titans upon one being destroyed.

These options should provide enough variation and tactical strategy, but they end up just feeling like window dressing.

Most Titan battles take place across a wide gap of terrain, with each Titan lobbing fire at one another across a great distance until one dies. Titans don’t have that much armor, so these battles never last long enough for the abilities to come into play and get interesting. As soon as Titans get close to each other, they start flailing punches at one another until one is ready to explode.

The limited health available to the Titans never gives enough time for Titan fights to become interesting, and the quick respawn Titans have (each player can call in a Titan, often multiple Titans per individual pilot each round) means that keeping your Titan alive is rarely a concern. If the fight is lost, it’s only 3 minutes until another one drops.

This keeps Titans and Titan fights from being the tense chess matches of important military hardware they should have been, and instead relegates them to a timer based perk for Pilots. Titans feel like they are meant to be a discarded change of pace rather than a valued piece of hardware essential to your teams victory.

The Design

The massive battlefields present in Titanfall’s trailers are filled with soldiers and chaos. Surely for those that don’t read up on gaming news, those trailers looked mighty impressive. “THAT MANY PLAYERS ON THE SAME MAP FIGHTING WITH PARKOUR AND GIANT ROBOTS?!?!”.

Sounds great, until we factor in that most of the characters on screen are AI bots. Stupid AI bots. Incompetent AI bots. AI bots so useless players can literally stand in front of a group of them and kick them, one by one, until they are all dead.

Killing AI bots takes time off the Titan cooldown, and allows Pilots to call in Titans more rapidly. It’s a MOBA-based mechanic ripped from games like League of Legends that rewards players with buffs or improved equipment for killing non-threatening AI enemies and managing the battlefield. It allows players with less skill against humans to play a support role and feel like they are contributing to the overall success of the team.

The only use for AI bots is kicking practice

The only use for AI bots is kicking practice

But unlike a MOBA, there is very little incentive to actually focus on the bots, and doing so instead of focusing on Pilots is a sure way to have a low score and not contribute to your team.

Titans also drop with great frequency, and killing bots doesn’t trim enough seconds off the timer to actually warrant the players focus. Not only that, but the quicker Titans are called in, the more it hammers home the fact they are dispensable and not essential to the game.

I guess another purpose for the bots was to create a confusing battlefield so that enemies had a harder time spotting each other.

This doesn’t work at all. Much like many aspects of Titanfall, these AI bots devolve after the players initial impressions of the game and only point out the flaws present in it.

AI bots behave so much like AI bots that it’s blatantly obvious when another Pilot is around. Pilots are the only ones every running or wall jumping, and AI bots rarely attack each other outside of standing in groups and shooting pointlessly at each other for minutes on end. It’s behavior that appears scripted almost immediately, and because of this, it becomes very easy to spot enemy Pilots, and ruins any hope of confusion the devs had in implementing these bots.

There are tons of characters on screen, but they are just used as window dressing to fill maps and create a sense of scale. They feel inconsequential to the game besides filling in the map and making the battlefield seem bigger and busier than it actually is. If the AI bots weren’t in the game, maps would seem empty, and there would be nothing for players to do while they travel across too-big maps looking for one of 6 pilots on the other team to kill.

The maps are large because they need to accommodate the large scale of the Titans and to have room for Titan fights. But when Titans aren’t on screen, players spend most of their time running endlessly across these big maps in the hopes they will find someone to fight beside stupid, unfun bots. This leads to players that aren’t part of Titan fights or near other Pilots scrambling to get to the action, and that action is over far too quickly.

All of these reasons leave Titanfall feeling like a game that was hyped on the spectacle of its bombastic launch trailer, but one that ultimately failed to be compelling enough to differentiate itself from the competition in a meaningful enough way.

So does Titanfall deserve a sequel?

Absolutely!

It attempts to do something really interesting, and for the most part succeeds. The things outlined above are FAR from impossible to fix, and with a sequel that learns from and attempts to tackle the shortcomings of its predecessor, we might see something truly great come out of Respawn. Their track record certainly suggests they have the ability.

Below are some lessons learned from our time with Titanfall and how Respawn might apply them to Titanfall 2

Despite everything I’ve written above, I love the Hell out of Titanfall. It was such a blast to play for the short while I actually played it. Those first few joyous months with the game made it really hard to rag on something I look back on so fondly, especially when the things the game did wrong were so easily avoidable.

There is already confirmation that a single-player campaign will be included in Titanfall 2, which is great since:

A.) They already established an interesting setting that players are begging to know more about.

and

B.) They’re the former Call of Duty guys! They’re experts at creating a compelling and tightly woven story that unfolds at just the right pace. When allowed to dig into the lore and backstory of this great setting, the former Infinity Ward devs could show the same flash and ambition they did with the first two Modern Warfare games.

If EA and Respawn want Titanfall 2 to be a success, the first thing they need to do is to create a better friend and clan system so that it’s easier for friends to play with one another, and for clans to organize and stick together. Console shooters are a dime a dozen. The release schedule for shooters across all platforms is so packed that longevity is much harder to achieve on console. Cultivating a loyal PC community should be a priority. P2P matchmaking might be the best way to go on console, but allow dedicated servers on PC, and allow clans to host their own servers.

A more unrealistic suggestion would be to allow mod support for the game. Technical hurdles aside, many of the most popular and longest-lasting multiplayer games of all time are so because of mod support. This is my wish, but sadly I believe the revenue brought in from map packs is just too much to turn away for a goodwill feature to the community. If map packs aren’t free, at least make the packs themselves cheaper or sales on them more frequent.

From a gameplay perspective, increase the focus on Titans and how they affect matches. They are the centerpiece of the game from a marketing standpoint, and should be so in design as well. Make them stick around longer during the match! Make them drop less often! Make their presence have weight instead of being inconsequential.

Loadouts for both Titans and Pilots should have more options and weapons. Sure Halo has SMGs and Assault Rifles, but the more standard-issue weapons are balanced out by a complete secondary arsenal of unfamiliar and unique weapons for use by an entirely different race. Each weapon is quirky and fun to use instead of being another vehicle to rain bullets with.

I am most interested to see exactly what the team at Respawn decides to do with player count and the presence of enemy bots. Too many pilots in a small space can make things overly chaotic and not leave enough time for the acrobatic improvisation that makes Titanfall so unique and fun. But filling a large map with moronic bots isn’t exactly exciting. If they can improve the AI on the bots to make them more threatening, or find another way for players to interact with them in a way that helps their team or fools the opposing one, I’m all for it.

Thanks for reading and keep checking back with Gamer Assault Weekly for more information on Titanfall 2 as it becomes available.

About The Author

Evan W
Senior Staff Writer/Review/Editorial Writer

Evan discovered gaming with Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and never looked back. He has spent the last 20 years criss-crossing genres and platforms, and is an equal opportunity rager, breaking consoles and PCs alike. If you spent summer days off from middle school playing classic PC shooters instead of developing a tan and social skills, you've got a friend in him. Mom might not understand the pain of being "180NOSCOPEWTFPWNED, SON!", but he does. Oh, he does.