Published on August 23rd, 2016 | by Dakoda Barker

Titanfall 2 PS4 Preview

For a time, I was one of the few remaining Titanfall players. My friend and I would play a few nights each week, and we quickly came to recognise the usernames of the other regulars—of which there were few. Matches were often unbalanced, thanks to varying skill levels and the fact that filling both teams was rare. It was a weird time, playing Titanfall then: you could see what it was meant to be, before it inexplicably tanked and the player base seemed to dry up, but you just couldn’t play that idealistic version.

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I distinctly remember remarking that Titanfall seemed like an FPS that was designed exclusively for my taste. Everything about the way the game played seemed attuned to my style and preferences. It felt fluid, and natural, and exhilarating without ever becoming complex, difficult, or overwhelming. I thoroughly enjoyed Titanfall, so my expectations—and my hopes—for Titanfall 2 are tall.

The version of Titanfall 2 that I played is listed as a pre-alpha tech test version, so plenty of scope exists for the game to change between now and its release. I am, apparently, now quite terrible at console shooters, so that has also coloured my experience with Titanfall 2. Hopefully it offsets my love for the original.

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For the most part, what I played is exactly what I expected. Movement across the battlefield is quick, fun, and dynamic—compounded further by the inclusion of a grapple hook ability. It wasn’t as intuitive as I would like, but pulling off a few Spider-Man-esque swings to keep my run going smoothly is immensely satisfying. The weapons seem balanced, though the default assault rifle still seems slightly more worthwhile than everything else; however, there were numerous instances of me being out-duelled by all sorts of weapons, so it clearly isn’t too over-powered.

But I do have quite a few concerns, going forward—and I don’t know how many are tied to the fact that this is just a pre-alpha test. The weapon loadout, for example, has changed: where in Titanfall you had primary, secondary, and anti-titan weapon slots, this has been condensed to primary and other. While this does serve to encourage class shifting during the course of a battle, it also means you’re constantly on the back foot. Under siege by titans? Switch classes so you can fight them. Titans gone? Well, good luck not having that secondary weapon set up for anti-pilot measures. It just seems overly limiting—particularly when the three weapon set up allowed for so much versatility and variety in Titanfall.

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The two maps I played were all quite large, with plenty of interesting diversity in terms of environments. But it all felt… padded, sparse. I’m not looking for maps so tightly packed that you respawn on top of an opponent, but I did spend quite a lot of time running around doing absolutely nothing. I think three factors contribute to or exacerbate this: the game type Bounty, which was the de facto main mode when I played, creates hotspots which means only small portions of the map are worth attending at any one point; only the 8 v 8 Pilots only game mode seemed to populate the map with enough opponents to feel like an actual battle; a distinct lack of AI units (when compared with Titanfall) means that running to the next fight against a human opponent is literally the only thing you can do.

Attrition was the default mode for Titanfall and it functioned like a kind of FPS MOBA, with weaker AI units running around having their own battle while the (super) human players held their own contest. But these AI units were worth points, so killing the grunts and spectres on the enemy team helped your team closer to victory. In addition to simply providing more options, this approach also meant that players who weren’t as good at Player versus Player combat could still play, still participate, and could still help their team achieve victory. None of the modes I played had this kind of feature and it felt desperately lacking—particularly since, as a now-terrible console shooter player, I was not able to frag as highly as my team mates.

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This kind of gets to the heart of all my concerns. When I think of 5v5 or 6v6 FPS games, I think of the small, crafted maps of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or the diverse but restricted character roles in Overwatch. Titanfall 2 has neither tightly defined classes or maps, and so a lack of AI and a lack of opponents leaves me feeling weird and unsatisfied. I have neither the sense of taking place in a large-scale conflict, nor the sense of being superhuman, both of which were major drawcards for Titanfall.

Online multiplayer games live or die on the whim of the player base. Without players, there is no game. I could speculate at length about potential causes for the underperformance of Titanfall, but the easiest explanation would be that people were simply more interested in playing something else. And with that point identified, I start to worry quite deeply about whether Titanfall 2 is capable of ‘fixing’ that.

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Titanfall 2 seems like it will be—for the most part—more of the same things we had with Titanfall. This, to me, sounds like a positive—my ideal Titanfall 2 would be almost exactly the same as the first, only with a sizeable player base. But Titanfall 2 has an even greater mountain of challenges to overcome than its predecessor. Titanfall didn’t have to compete in a market against Overwatch, for instance. Since Titanfall’s release, FPS games—Halo, Call of Duty, Overwatch, Counter-Strike—have ramped up, become eSports phenomena, and shifted the expectations and desires of players. Is Titanfall 2 capable of entering this market; does it even want to; and, if not, is it capable of convincing players to trust it and strike out into unfamiliar territory? Only time will tell.

If there is one thing to be learned from Titanfall, however, it’s that—when it comes to the whims of players—anything is possible. Fingers crossed that the released version of Titanfall 2 both lives up to expectations and also has players.

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Game Details
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: First-person shooter
Release Date: October 28, 2016

About the Author'

Dakoda is a doctoral student researching the intersection between videogames and chronic health conditions. He plays, critiques, and makes games. Other hobbies include eating too much sushi. His Twitter is @JiroJames.

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