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Titanfall 2

November 10, 2016

Titanfall 2 (PS4)
tf2What’s Good:
-Great mix of fast and methodical shooter gameplay
-Cool spins on traditional FPS weapons
-Parkour movement abilities are satisfying

What’s Bad:
-Multiplayer is somewhat one-noted
-Campaign lacks intensity until near the end

What I thought: “A solid, if muted follow-up.”
 
 

Of But One Story On the Frontier
The first Titanfall’s campaign multiplayer was a great idea, and the manner in which it was executed managed to make you feel like a valued asset in a conflict larger than yourself or even the multiplayer match you were competing in.
By the standard set by the first game’s campaign then, the second feels muted and dull, and it’s tough to get particularly excited while playing through the narrative found in Titanfall 2. The gameplay is perfectly solid – don’t get me wrong – the campaign takes advantage of the game’s breadth of movement abilities, weapons and Titan abilities while tossing a few campaign-specific weapons in for good measure. My primary disappointments with it rest with its by-the-numbers encounters and its less-than spectacular flair.
You can see the spark in there with certain things, such as the way enemy Pilots are introduced via comms and you get a sense for what their personalities are before you meet on the field of battle, but these encounters barely last longer than standard Titan combat encounters, and while it’s cool stuff to hear your adversary talk spank at you while the two of you go at it, it all feels kind of airless since within a minute they’ve been bested and you’ve probably already forgotten about them.

‘Airless’ is how I would describe the combat overall. Enemies feel like moving, shouting target dummies more than threats, and typically if you fall to their gunfire, it’s because you were too bored with poking your head out around cover over and over to systematically pick them off from afar, or because you wanted to do something cool like run along a wall at a group of them while unloading to kill all you can before sliding in to melee any survivors. There are a multitudes of ‘cool things’ you can do to defeat your enemies, but when the AI doesn’t come at you in interesting ways, overcoming them lacks any sort of satisfaction.

Luckily, Titan on Titan engagements are a little better, mainly because the various Titan abilities and how they mingle with one another can combine in neat ways. Hopping over an enemy shield to shoot them in their big metal face as Northstar, grabbing a rocket salvo out of the air as Ion to chuck it back at who unleashed it; instances like these feel more rewarding as you feel like you were presented with an obstacle and chose the correct answer to it.
It’s just a shame that the vast majority of encounters in the campaign are focused on infantry combat.

The narrative is very light. You play as a barely voiced protagonist who inherits the right to pilot a Titan from its previous Pilot. There are recognizable names and faces from the first game, but Titanfall 2 doesn’t require knowledge of the plot from that game, and doesn’t provide much of a narrative on its own, either.
Thankfully, the single player perks up a bit in its later moments thanks to the uninteresting gunplay and weak platform challenges taking a back seat to some legitimately awe-inspiring set pieces and satisfying gameplay surprises, but even the later sections which caught me by pleasant surprise aren’t likely to encourage a repeat playthrough any time in the near future.
The Titanfall 2 campaign is perfectly serviceable, and doesn’t require much thought or time to progress through, but compared to the innovative attempt at telling a narrative through competitive multiplayer offered by the first game, it pales in comparison.
 
 
A Battle to Fight…
Human pilots give no quarter, which makes Titanfall 2’s competitive multiplayer an entirely different beast than its single player offering.
Where the first game captured the best aspects of slower, more methodical shooters such as Halo or Battlefield as well as the intensity and brisk pace of shooters such as Call of Duty and swirled them into a cohesive experience, Titanfall 2 retains what made that first game so fun while making intelligent changes, large and small, to create a much more compelling competitive shooter, as well as some minor presentational changes which personally bummed me out.

Pilot Loadouts are much more interesting this time around, with arguably the most meaningful facet of which being the Tactical abilities. Whether it’s the grappling hook, which offers fun new ways to traverse the environments and reach high perches which would otherwise be a pain to get to, or the Stim, producing a colossal but brief boost in movement speed, to the A-Wall, which once placed on the ground can only be fired through from one direction, and boosts the damage of projectiles passing through it, there are numerous alluring options here which almost all enable you to play the game a different way.
The weapons have also seen a much needed upgrade over the utilitarian designs of the first game.
There exist ballistic firearms similar to those we’ve all seen in military shooters for years now, but alongside creative futuristic spins on traditional classes of weapons. The Mastiff shotgun for example, fires its shot in a horizontal line. The L-Star LMG fires slower moving energy projectiles and can overheat, but the weapon never needs to be reloaded.
Old favorites from the first game return as well, such as the Smart Pistol, which is now only available as a Boost.
These Boosts are equipped much like any other loadout item, and work as scorestreak buffs which can be activated while on foot.
Aside from the Smart Pistol, these include things such as Amped Weapons, which increases your outgoing damage on foot, Map Hack, which for a period of time draws faint red silhouettes around every enemy, revealing them for everyone on your team.
Boosts are best compared to killstreaks from Call of Duty games, and between these and Titans, you always feel like you’re working toward something while you’re on the ground, even when you’re performing poorly.
I feel as though some Pilot abilities are slightly more appealing than others, with most players already discarding the more fun Grappling Hook in lieu of the more effective Stim, and I’ve seen a more-than-healthy number of Cloaks, but time will tell whether this brings the on-foot combat to become stale or not.

Titans are the stars of the show of course, and they have seen a much needed change from the first game, in which they were essentially just bigger, tougher Pilots.
In Titanfall 2, each of the six available Titans comes equipped with tailored weapons and abilities, and while these can be altered slightly through the chosen Titan’s perk loadout, uniformity in weapons and abilities means that once you learn what the various Titans can do, you will always know what your opponent is capable of just based on silhouette.
Titans no longer come equipped with recharging shields, and the only way to repair damage done to them is to leap onto an enemy Titan, rip its battery out and shove it into your own. Teammates can hitch a ride on your Titan and if they have a battery on their person when doing so, they’ll slot it in, giving you an overshield, repairing a chunk of damage and boosting your ability meters.
Management of these ability meters is key to survival as a Titan, and ducking out of a firefight for a moment to give your cooldowns a moment to refresh is an effective strategy.
In Titanfall 2, the Titan abilities are what set them apart from the mecha of the first game, and depending on the map or mood, you may find yourself leaning toward one or two favorites.

There are two of each size variant, small, medium and large, and as the Titan gets larger, it comes equipped with fewer dashes by default (though one of the Titan perks will give you an additional dash).
On the small chassis end you have the more spry options, capable of more bursts of high damage in a small amount of time, such as the sword and shotgun wielding Ronin, who is able to briefly phase into another plane to trick or lose opponents before popping back out to deal more damage.
Medium Titans include Tone, whose primary weapon enables it to enable a lock for indirect fire missiles, and who sports one of the most satisfying Core abilities in the game, which is a colossal volley of slow-traveling rockets which follow your reticle.
Heavies are slower, but capable of more sustained damage, with armor thick enough to take a beating. These include Legion who sports a chain gun which at the press of a button can toggle between a more precise firing mode for longer ranges and a shorter range spread to suit the situation. Legion’s Core ability enables its chain gun to automatically target any hostiles in view while unloading with infinite ammo for a short time.
This change to hero-shooter influenced Titans makes both Pilot vs Titan as well as Titan vs Titan engagements more interesting and engaging, and since every Titan plays differently, brings a much-needed variety which wasn’t seen in the first game.

The multiplayer portion of Titanfall 2 is frenetic and chaotic, and generally speaking it’s a fluid and fun experience, but if I were to voice some dislikes about the current offering, I would say that while there are some superb maps available (of the current nine), a couple of them aren’t especially fun. Crash Site in particular has far fewer opportunities for fun parkour antics than the other maps, with strangely designed jutting geometry best-fitted to kill your momentum or to impede your ability to pick out hostiles at a distance.

Factions change the voice in your ear during matches, and offer rewards for matches won in their honor.

The available modes also leave something to be desired. Attrition returns from the first game, in which two teams of players as well as AI go at it, playing like busier, much louder TDM. Taking out the AI combatants juices up your Boost and Titan meters, and makes you feel like a badass in moments of stringing together extended streaks of kills.
Bounty Hunt plays similarly, although rather than having two teams of AI, both teams fight over a neutral allotment of infantry or AI Titans which randomly spawn in areas of the map over several rounds. Dispatching enemies earns you money which must be deposited in neutral banks between rounds. Death halves your bankroll though, and if you take out an enemy Pilot, you earn half of what they were carrying in their wallet.
This can lead to frustration, as you find an untimely end before being able to cash in, but can also lead to moments of triumph as you cheat death on your way to deposit a larger sum.

These two modes are the only ones featuring AI combatants, and as such they are the only two which feel like Titanfall to me. Staple modes like Domination and Capture the Flag are valid options for more focused player on player violence, and if you don’t care what to play there are Mixtape playlists as well, but it would have been nice to see more done with what Titanfall does best.
After a period of play, you’ll earn Coliseum Tickets, which can be redeemed to gain entry to Coliseum matches.
These are 1v1 matches of single spawn, best of three rounds with set loadouts and abilities, and when won, earn you an Advocate Gift which include cosmetics or in-game currency.

While this mode offers tense thrills not seen elsewhere in the game, and matches can end very quickly (regularly in a minute or two), it feels tacked on to me. I’m not against it existing, but it feels like the sort of thing that would be best suited for custom games with friends.
 

…For Each Star in the Sleepless Sky
The progression has seen a tremendous overhaul since the first game. Rather than earning XP, performing specific tasks, such as performing well or dropping in a Titan during a match will earn you Merits, and after you’ve earned enough Merits, you rank up.
Ranking up unlocks new weapons, Titans, abilities, and Boosts as you would expect, but most of these things can be unlocked early if you spend in-game currency which is also earned in each match.
Each Titan and weapon also has its own set of Merits to earn, and ranking up these will earn new perks for Titans which can beef up a specific ability, or new attachments for weapons including sights and kill tallies.

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Joining a Network lets you find like-minded players to play with, and once a day, bonus Merits can be earned during a designated Happy Hour, set by the administrator of the Network.
This system seems designed to combat the issue the first Titanfall game had with a dwindling playerbase, though as I feel this second game is more soundly designed and provides players with a more compelling level grind, it shouldn’t see as dramatic a drop in player count that the first game did. Time will tell.
 

Titanfall 2 is a fun game, if modest in scope and lacking in the same attempts at innovation that the first game sought. I’m disappointed to see the omission of the music and chatty comms from the first game, as it makes the multiplayer matches feel like just that – multiplayer matches. But it is undeniable the improvements which have been made to the gameplay design and balance with this sequel, and I’m certain that Titanfall 2 will be a shooter I will return to regularly to feel the frenzy of infantry gunplay and the lumbering devastation of Titan on Titan combat.

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