This past weekend saw the first Titanfall 2 Technical Test, as Respawn recruited players from around the world to stress test their servers.
Despite warnings that the Titanfall 2 build on offer was in a pre-Alpha state, I've seen quite a bit of (often angry) dissent about changes Respawn have injected into the Titanfall formula.
EA often do high-profile public tests for upcoming games, with Star Wars Battlefront landing last year, and Battlefield 1 coming later in the month. As more and more of our games come with increasingly complex online features, these sorts of tests are becoming the norm, but it they also threaten to derail the hype train when treated as demonstrations of finished products.
EA and Respawn have both stated that they are listening to feedback about the changes present in Titanfall 2, and they really ought to because some of the new features do little to enhance Titanfall's beloved, blisteringly fast-paced formula.
Here are the main concerns I think Respawn need to address in Titanfall 2 before the game launches on October 28th, 2016.
1. The Titan "battery" gameplay is not good
Did you notice how weak the Titans felt in Titanfall 2? But you weren't sure why? It appears that, in Titanfall 2, the Titan mechs no longer have shield generators by default, leaving their hit points completely exposed to damage straight after spawning.
There's every chance that shield generators might be something you can fit your Titan with in the loadout screen as part of the game's RPG layer unlock system (and if you know so, drop a comment below), but if not, Respawn really needs to rethink this aspect of the game. Ignoring the idea that somehow the world of Titanfall's technology somehow got worse over time, let's analyze and speculate why Respawn might have decided to do this.
When riding an enemy Titan, you now rip out one of their batteries, taking a portion of their health and equipping it on your back like Dark Zone drops in The Division. Batteries dropped from deceased pilots or Titans are also represented on the mini map as green battery symbols, available for any player to pick up by pressing X. When you rodeo a friendly Titan, or enter your own Titan, you'll grant that mech an overshield and a health boost.
I suppose the mentality surrounding this gameplay is to make Titanfall 2 feel more team-based. If teams of co-ordinated pilots are working together to keep their friendly Titans alive, that team has a greater chance at victory. It's a nice idea, but it just wreaks havoc on Titanfall 2's pacing. It just doesn't feel particularly great to have to jump out of your Titan, scoop a battery off the floor, then jump back in. It interrupts the flow of combat, and also impacts the way Titans are balanced.
One of the first complaints I saw about Titanfall 2 was that the mechs now take way too long to become available. I feel that Respawn wanted Titans to feel more crucial, and more precious in play, particularly when combined with the awkward Duracell-collecting gameplay.
After spending the last few months with Blizzard's team-based Overwatch, the lack of strategic team play in the classic Titanfall game is pretty stark. But that's by no means a bad thing. Titanfall was a game about flying solo, running and gunning, largely ignoring what the rest of your team were doing except for the occasional opportunity to swat a player from the back of a friendly Titan. I appreciate that Respawn perhaps wanted to rectify this in some way, but I think this is a lazy way to do it, especially when it results in Titans feeling significantly weaker than they did in the previous game.
Instead, I propose that battery pick ups are optional and instead help your friendly Titans to generate their core abilities more rapidly, and perhaps give some minor Titan health regen. All Titans should have shields. This alteration would keep the battery mechanic in play, allowing co-ordinated teams to get an edge, but it wouldn't make them so critical as to interrupt the feel and flow classic Titanfall fans are accustomed to. Additionally, I would make battery extraction from enemy Titans optional as well. It sucks that you can't fire your rifle at point blank range into enemy Titan's exposed hulls anymore.
2. More wall running
In the technical test, we were granted access to two different maps with one thing in common - a disappointing lack of opportunities to wall run. Wall running is one of Titanfall's most successful, most iconic features. So awesome that Call of Duty itself attempts to emulate it. So then, why does it seem so scaled back in Titanfall 2?
Of course, perhaps the maps we were offered for the technical test just happened to be the least wall-runner friendly, but I can't think of a single map in the original Titanfall that felt anywhere near as awkward for the dedicated sci-fi parkour enthusiast. Maps in the original Titanfall were designed as such that you could wall run throughout their entirety, never touching the ground. It's simply not the case in Titanfall 2, and the franchise completely loses its identity as a result.
One presumption could be that the maps have been redesigned with the game's new sliding mechanics and grappling hook in mind, but given the fact the grappling hook is an optional piece of load out equipment, that rings a little hollow. Either these maps need to be given an injection of vertical surfaces to aid traversal, or Respawn need to make the grappling hook a default piece of equipment.
Titanfall 2 also has a decreased time to kill, which I think contributes to accusations that it feels more "Call of Duty"-like, where if you're seen first, there's almost no way to counter attack. The reduced time to kill allows you to pull off some incredible stunts, killing players in mid air and during well-timed sliding maneuvers, but it also harms wall running as a means of escape. You often leave yourself exposed to being instagibbed while wall running now, as it's so easy to die the minute you're spotted. I think boosting player's health slightly would make wall running a more viable means of traversal again, reducing the incentive to camp in a corner.
3. Map design in general
Beyond the issues with wall running, the maps we were offered in the beta seem to diverge from the lane-based 'map within a map' layouts seen in the original Titanfall. Previously, Titanfall featured lanes designated for use by Titans, interweaved with buildings and smaller areas players could use to scurry away from the game's giant, insta-killing robots. The density allowed for many wall running and parkour opportunities, but also forced Titans into conflict with each other, dissuading them from seeking out squishy pilots to stomp. This gave the game a dynamism, where Titans still felt incredibly powerful vs. pilots, but savvy players were not only able to escape very easily, but also launch counter attacks from the game's various nooks.
The two maps we were able to try were far too open, too featureless. It seems completely at odds with some of the new Titan abilities which allow you to control areas on the ground. The Scorch Titan in particular has abilities that allow him to lay thermite traps to block enemy Titans from advancing, but when the maps are so open they can just be very easily circumnavigated, what is the point in these skills? Also, the lack of features essentially corrals players into a subset of areas that become simple shooting galleries of "who saw who first." In the previous Titanfall, you had no idea where players were going to come at you from, because the maps were so sprawling with rich opportunities for wall running and vertical play. Out of the box, Titanfall 2's tech test had a CoD-like camping problem.
With only two months left until release, I doubt we'll see any major overhaul in the way the maps are structured, but from what we've seen so far, it seems like Titanfall 2's map designers have taken a gigantic leap in the wrong direction.
4. What happened to the A.I. enemies?
One of the coolest things about the original Titanfall was the army of A.I. soldiers and robots that swarmed the game's maps. On almost every mode, across every map, waves of A.I. would spawn and make Titanfall feel far more war-like than many other arena-based shooters.
Not only did the A.I. robots and soldiers add to Titanfall's atmosphere, but they also served a gameplay purpose, giving you something to shoot while hunting down enemy players, while also allowing you to reduce the spawn timer on your Titan or core ability.
Perhaps it's just an issue with the test (and if you know so, drop a comment below), but only the game's new Bounty mode saw any form of A.I. join the fray. Hardpoint and Pilot Hunter felt empty without the A.I. soldiers, which again felt like a climb down from the original vision of Titanfall.
The lack of A.I. also contributes to a reduction in the speed by which you can unlock your Titan. Respawn hotfixed the accrual speed of the Titan summoning in the middle of the test, but considering the only way to unlock your mech is now based on how many kills you get, rather than a fixed timer you can reduce, this seems overly punishing to more casual players.
5. Give us real party systems
I'm sure this is a given, but just in case it's not, Titanfall 2 needs a real party system. In the tech test, we got a glimpse at the game's new "Network" system, which allows groups of like-minded players to create a membership-based network that automatically draws people from the roster directly into a match. The present implementation is a pure nightmare.
When queuing for a match, it will automatically invite other people from the Network, but if they miss the invite message (or don't receive it at all as the result of bugs in the system), then you have to back out and try again. We spent a good thirty minutes trying to get into the same game using this system, and I'm not entirely sure why Respawn Entertainment thought this implementation would be preferable over a tried and true, basic party system, which allows you to jump into a group with friends with one leader queueing for the entire group.
Respawn appears to have already acknowledged problems with this system, but let's hope they fall back on something a little less convoluted for the full game.
Titanfall 2 does a lot right
For all my gripes, Titanfall 2 does a lot of things right. The new sliding mechanics made me feel like a super hero movie stuntman on more than one occasion, and the grappling hook aids traversal where wall running falls short. Even though I think it should be a little more forgiving, I enjoy the way Titans are accrued now, as a reward for performing the game's objectives with a "Burn Card"-like customizable ability at the half-way point. Some have decried the decreased time to kill speed in Titanfall 2, but I think it helps to pull off incredibly rewarding shots while grappling, sliding and any situation where you're moving at high speed. And hey, the game looks rather gorgeous.
There's not a lot of time left between now and Titanfall 2's launch date, but Respawn already issued a hotfix for the Titan accrual speed in the middle of the last test. That's something I would take as an encouraging sign. Will we see map overhauls? Unlikely. But we also haven't seen the full breadth of abilities available to both pilots and mechs. They could be balanced around a lot of unknown parameters.
Is there a method to Respawn's madness? I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now. Perhaps I'm naïve.
Titanfall 2 launches on October 28th on PC, Xbox One and PS4.
How do you feel about Titanfall 2's pre-Alpha test? Let us know in the comments!