Titanfall was a really good game. It was fast, mobile, and cinematic in a way no AAA multiplayer shooter felt at the time. Its problems were obvious, but looking back, it's remarkable how much of it had little to do with the moment to moment. The base for a truely excellent game was there in the gameplay, it just needed more. More to do. More modes (a single player mainly). More contextual progression. For me, solve those problems and Titanfall could be on its way to greatness. I don't feel alone either, because I remember hearing a variation of "Oh man! The second one is going to be amazing!" due to the problems of the title feeling so solvable.
I've played a fair bit of that prospective sequel now, having gone quite a few rounds at E3, and now having hopped into the tech test currently playable on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for a few hours. And I have to say… I think Respawn Entertainment might have lost everything that made the first game special.
Now, of course, I'm not writing this game off yet. I've only seen a couple of the modes and maps, and the game is in 'pre-alpha'. I want to love this game and will give it every chance up until I've played enough after its full release. Lots can change and the rest of the content could go back to shades of the first, but I'm judging this on the foot that Respawn has put forward to the public.
Before I go into this, I have to talk about why I think the first could be so special. For an multiplayer only game, it felt so, so fast. The game was about zipping around the map, the weight of a feather, scaling structures and really, just moving. Movement felt like the glue holding the whole thing togther. On top of that, while perhaps controversial, I think the addition of NPCs into online matches was inspired. It felt like the battlefield was dense, massive, cinematic, almost like a single player mission that was specifically designed but with the added bonus of competitive multiplayer. It was unique, and made the battlefield appear much bigger than the 8v8 allowed. It made the moment to moment multiplayer feel unlike anything on the market.
Titanfall 2… it just doesn't feel like it has any of that. I think there are several reasons too. One of the major ones, is how the maps are laid out. While the first game's maps could be big, they felt dense. There was always something to scale. Something to latch on to to get your way across the map faster (and more empoweringly) than just sprinting. Titanfall 2's maps so far appear wide open, and a little empty. From grassy fields to areas with little verticality, the option for movement isn't always obvious. The grapple hook is a neat idea, but it's clear that the maps have been partially designed for it. The problem is, only one class has it, and frankly it repels players in so slowly. You end up just a target swinging in the breeze for ages, and it doesn't feel like a fair tradeoff for the desire to move. It means unlike the original game, I feel like I am running on the floor a lot more, instead of some military super soldier gliding across surfaces like oil to water.
Now, to be fair to the game, it is trying some interesting things. With the double jump, the ability to wall run, and the addition of the grappling hook and also a really long slide, it's clearly trying to make you pat your head and rub your tummy by stringing together all the movement as if it's Sunset Overdrive. But, it makes it feel slow if you haven't got the hang of it, and even when I have got it going, it don't sense I've achieved something. I still feel I am going slower than in the last game, while also unable to concentrate on shooting or aiming while part of my brain strings together my abillity to just get around.
The other problem this early version of the game has, at least for me, is that thus far, it appears way less 'busy' than previously. The battlefield still has a few NPCs, but they don't look like they are engaging in a battle, or at least appearing to to make the action feel bigger. It just kind of looks like they're standing around at checkpoints, and because of the openness of the action, they are isolated. The size of these multiplayer battles feel way smaller. On top of that, the literal scale, as in how big things are on the map feels… off. None of it has any weight compared to the gritty heft of the environments of the last game. The Titans in Titanfall don't feel titanic. That's a big issue. I can't quite put my finger exactly on why this is, with things like FOV possibly adding to this, but without rigorous technical testing between the two games, it's hard to say exactly. What I know though is that the game's world doesn't feel as big as it once did. Titanfall 2 looks like a video game, where as, at times, Titanfall felt like a blockbuster film.
Now. I think the reason for these changes is pretty obvious, at least in my guess. It's what a lot of multiplayer games are trying to chase right now: competitive. Or perhaps, to be even more specific, e-Sports. The changes like more methodical and complex movement, neutering of NPCs and spectacle, it all feel like changes made to favour those who are only interested in highlevel play. The first Titanfall was actually pretty casual, or at least was kind to new and less skilled players. No matter your level, you still felt like a suped up badass with how you moved and wrecked characters in the world. Titanfall 2, from my experience so far, feels like it is moving away from that, and I'm actually quite bummed about it. If Respawn are chasing e-Sports and hyper competitiveness, it's a misunderstanding of what made the first so unique. It now feels after being a really distinct property in the genre, it has joined the rat race for that e-sports gold. While the first was cinematic, crazy, freeing, light and a hell of a good time, it's becoming what people unfairly said the first one was, "CoD with Big Mechs". That's a crying shame.
Now, I'm being a massive hypocrite here. I usually dislike posts that say a game can't evolve or change with the times, and that devs should try be conservative with their design. I love Halo 4's multiplayer for god's sake, but it would be sad to see a franchise enjoyed for being extraordinary compared to its peers, try to change its DNA to chase a trend. I really hope I'm wrong here. I'd love nothing more then for this to be the sequel Titanfall needed. Right now though, with all the information I have, it's morphing into something completely different, something less singular. Respawn Entertainment are entitled to make whatever they want to make, but if the future path of the franchise feels like what I've played, it would sadly be without me.