I love Titanfall 2, and I’m going to spend the next thousand words or so telling you why that is in the hopes that you’ll buy it and show support for these types of efforts from the industry.
A couple things to get out of the way first:
1) This is not a review. Reviews require professionalism and objectivity–two things I’m rarely accused of. Our Damien Chambers did a great job of reviewing the game back in November, and I’m not here to contradict him.
2) Neither EA or Respawn is paying me for this (although, if you’re reading this, guys, I’m open to it. Call me.).
Unfortunately, EA decided to release Titanfall 2 between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, two of the biggest games of 2016, shooter or not. As most anyone could have predicted, this led to Titanfall 2 getting robbed of the attention and sales that it deserved. (That’s also why you’re probably not paying attention to the best shooter of 2016.)
When Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall dropped in 2014, it sold like gangbusters. People, including yours truly, were willing to pay full price for a multiplayer-only game, based on the promise that it held. And, for a while, it was great. The fast-paced, mobile, vertical combat was innovative on its own, and the addition of Titans made the experience truly unique, as players alternated between wall-running gunfights and giant mech battles. The magic, however, soon faded. The game’s thin veneer of a plot held a lot of cool sci-fi ideas, but none of them were fleshed out enough to make an impact. The high skill ceiling of combat, while ostensibly a good thing, also made it difficult for newer players to get their feet wet without being slaughtered. Additionally, paid DLC containing new maps and modes segmented the player base into those who were willing to shell out more cash to stay deep in multiplayer and those who were not. The game was a flash in the pan, lacking the staying power to become a multiplayer fixture à la Call of Duty, and also lacking a real campaign to connect story-focused players to the universe. The game sold well, but it didn’t look like it was building a franchise.
Enter Titanfall 2, a masterclass in how to make a sequel. The game improved on its predecessor in nearly every way, and its campaign was, by and large, its best asset. There are lots of great reasons to check it out, but below are the three biggest reasons why you should be playing Titanfall 2.
1. Level Design
In Titanfall, pilots have Jump Kits, which allow them to do things like run on walls, double jump, and fall from great heights. They clearly lend themselves to platforming, and Respawn takes full advantage of that. Levels balance between platforming puzzles and combat. Staying alive on higher difficulties involves heavy use of the walls and your mobility, so you need to get used to aiming while jumping/sliding/wall-running.
Respawn definitely could have gotten away with skimping on the campaign, including lots of shooting, a few wall-runs over chasms, and some titan battles for good measure. Instead, we got to see what happens when studios let their level designers go nuts. Each level feels distinct, with a unique theme or device that separates it from the rest. All the levels use the pillars or mobility, gunplay, and titans to their fullest, but they also play with a creative idea before moving on to the next one. For example, the mission “Into the Abyss” has you descending into the depths of a hostile assembly plant. What exactly is being assembled is revealed to you as you contend with both enemy soldiers and a factory so dangerous no sane inspector would ever step foot in it. One part of the stage alters your perspective almost entirely while asking you to perform challenging pilot maneuvers as the mission’s boss taunts you over the intercom.
The following mission, “Effect and Cause,” is a shining example of creativity. The level takes a device that is not entirely unique, but makes use of it to absolute perfection. I don’t want to spoil the mission’s conceit and rob it of its impact, but had Titanfall 2 been given an opportunity to garner a higher profile, we might just be putting it up there in the annals of iconic FPS stages, alongside Half-Life 2‘s Ravenholm and Modern Warfare‘s “All Ghillied Up.” When I finished the game, I started back up again, just so I could relive these missions and appreciate the real excellence in level design.
2. No Season Pass
Despite our protests, it’s pretty much become standard practice for AAA releases to come with a season pass, essentially a pre-purchase of all future DLC for a lower price. This can be interpreted, in some cases rightfully so, as studios withholding pieces of a game and forcing players to pay for the rest if they want the full experience. We know that, with multiplayer games, paid map packs can divide the player base and damage a game’s longevity as the number of players with access to all the game’s multiplayer content is slashed with each map pack released.
Respawn has bucked the trend and elected to have all post-launch DLC for Titanfall 2 be absolutely free. This is a great move, as well as an impressive one considering that the game was published by EA. Even if the game weren’t the absolute bombshell that it is and was just a natural progression of the first, I would still show it support for electing not to try to bilk players out of as much money as possible.
Video games have a long history of lovable robot companions. Knights of the Old Republic’s HK-47. Clank from Ratchet and Clank. Legion from the Mass Effect series. We’ve connected with these characters over the years, and they’ve shown us that humanity is about more than flesh and bones. BT-7274, your titan during the game’s campaign, certainly deserves a place among them. This is another area where Respawn could have taken a conventional route, but decided to make things special instead.
The player and BT are thrust together at the game’s outset, and from then on it’s you two against the world. Throughout the campaign, BT is both your guide and your friend, providing instructions and objectives, but also cracking jokes, both wittingly and unwittingly, and saving your life on multiple occasions. Pilots and Titans are supposed to have a sort of symbiotic relationship. Over the course of the game, you can feel that connection build naturally as you progress through gauntlet after gauntlet with your robot buddy.
A mainstay of the FPS genre is the theme of a single man performing extraordinary heroics in the face of incredible odds. In Titanfall 2, BT is just as much of a hero as the player, probably more so. If, for no other reason, you should play Titanfall 2 to experience BT’s companionship. The intriguing sci-fi premise, exciting story, fast-paced multiplayer, excellent music and sound design, innovative combat–they’re all just a bonus.