Monday, August 03, 2020

Titanfall 2: A non-gamer review

When the Titanfall series was released, I thought it was a brilliant concept - a first person shooter that allows you to pair up with mechs on the battlefield. I didn't have a PC back then, but with my new sim rig (and steam sales) I was finally able to get my hand on this game.

After clocking in about 70hrs so far on it, I'm wondering why this game isn't more popular. The movement of the player (the "Pilot") is extremely freeing. If you are familiar with Attack On Titan where the protagonists strap on movement gear, allowing them to prance around in mid-air and attack from unexpected angles - when I play Titanfall 2 as a pilot, that's the kind of feeling I get. 

Unlike more traditional fps games, it's possible to jump onto walls, run along them. You can also bunny hop, slide on the ground, use the suit's thrusters to double jump or perform what the TF community calls "air strafing". There is also an option to equip a grappling hook to pull yourself into nearly every object in game. There is also a gravity grenade designed to suck up nearby enemy units before exploding, and it can be used to boost your speed too. It's possible to chain these techniques to traverse the finely designed terrain, and never really touch the ground if you so choose to. 

I think words do not adequately explain how amazing and freeing this system is, and I've only mastered maybe a 3rd of it. Watching the really good players move around, I'm like "......" This video below demonstrates how deep the movement system is in Titanfall 2. At best, I can chain stuff up to around the 2 minute mark, but beyond that, I'll need alot more practice to perfect my slide hopping.

And that's just the player's movement. There are multiple kinds of playstyles, from the grapple hook mentioned above, to more stealthy gameplay, or even phase into another dimension and pop back in behind enemy lines. Then there are the weapons, and oh boy they are a doozy. Each weapon is unique, and there are mods for each of them tailored to your wants. Don't want to alert enemies to your presence? Equip a silencer. Want to zoom in quicker? There's a mod for that. I started out with no idea what weapons were good for what, but found most of them really fun. 

Next, the titular titans. I mainly play Frontier Defense mutiplayer, which is PVE - a group of up to four pilots defending a "Harvester" from incoming enemy waves. To me, this is sort of a Tower Defense kind of game, where enemies of different sizes and movement types invade from different lanes, and we need to stop them from destroying our harvester. In between waves, we can use the shop to purchase repairs for our Titan, as well as stuff like Turrets, mines that stun the enemy, or a shield boost for the harvester.

The 7 titans in the game play extremely differently, and when I started out I found it really difficult to figure out exactly what each titan does. For example, one of the two tank titans, Legion, is equipped with a massive minigun and can activate a shield on the barrel of the gun. With that, I was expecting to simply pop the shield and walk right into the masses of enemies to take them on.

No, not really lol.

For this titan, keeping away was key, in order to be able to duck into cover and reload its magazine. It took me days of play to figure out why I was dying so quickly, while other Legion players would be taking down enemies like nobody's business yet survive the entire 5 waves with nary a scratch. It dawned on me that I had to keep to a very specific range to be able to minimise damage taken, reload in cover while being in the perfect range to deal maximum damage. 

On the flip side there is perhaps one of the most hilarious titans in the game, Ronin. It's a bloody robot with a sword that is almost as tall as he is. Ronin needs to be played really aggressively, and when I first started, I had no idea, mostly utilizing his shotgun. Today though, after observing how the good players are playing, I'd rush up to the enemy, using my sword to block their shots (yes, you use the bloody sword to BLOCK BULLETS), use the phasing ability to pass through the enemy, spin around and start to wail on them from behind with your sword. And oh, he has an ability to stun enemy titans, so doing that before wailing on the enemy titans helps :)

On my good days, I'm pretty sure I'm annoying the heck out of my team as I'd be dashing to one end of the map, clearing out an area before they can arrive, then dash off again to the next incoming lines of enemies. While Ronin sounds powerful, he trades speed and movement ability for health, and knowing how to position one self seems to be a critical aspect in this game. Retreating is also a viable strategy, there are times pulling back to group up with another titan team mate and combine abilities is the way to go.

For example, the Tone titan has an ability to drop a Particle Wall, a shield that allows you to shoot through it, but blocks enemy bullets. It's sooo satisfy to be side by sides with her, and shoot enemies that can't hurt us. For those few seconds anyways.

There are 7 titans in this game, and each titan is extremely unique in its playstyle. Every titan I tried out with felt weak and crap, until I figured out exactly how to use them to their potential. On top of how each titan plays differently, each titan has it's own unique titan "kits" that you can choose options from. This again changes how you approach playing that particular titan. This is particularly true with the Monarch titan, where you actually "upgrade" the titan during gameplay. You can setup the titan before the game starts, and you can choose that it's upgrades focus on dealing maximum damage to enemy units with each upgrade, or you can go the combat medic route, and gain improved shield granting abilities to your team. Or, pick and match from the various options have some firepower increase and also heal your teammates. 

On top of all these is the so-called "Aegis" ranks that grant upgrades for your titan the more you play it. Legion for example has an upgrade that allows his barrel shield to charge his shield when taking damage. The more you play the game, more abilities get added, which makes you stronger and adds an incentive to play each titan in order to max them out.

With all that said, I still haven't mentioned each titan having a "core ability". The core ability charges up when you do damage or take damage, and each titan has a unique core ability. Legion for example has a Smart Core that grants you an aim bot and infinite ammo while the core discharges. Ion charges up her Laser Core and releases a searing death-star like laser beam. Scorch slams his fists into the ground, causing a wall of flame to roll forth. 

Ok, can you tell I really like this game? The depth of exploration and feeling of growth tells me how much love and effort has been put in to the design and creation of this title. It boggles my mind why battle royale games are so popular in comparison. But that's a discussion for another day. 

This is about Titanfall 2, where there are both single and multiplayer aspects, so let's start with the single player game.

The single player campaign's story is pretty ho-hum (sorry Respawn), but the way the campaign is presented to you is a masterclass in level design and keeping the player engaged. There are new ideas and concepts introduced in every campaign level, and the Vanguard titan you pilot, named BT7472, keeps getting new configurations ever so often, keeping things fresh. Some of these configurations are from the multiplayer-only titans, so I wonder exactly how BT keeps all their weapons on him lol.

During my first run of the game, I didn't really understood how I should have used these new configurations, and I found myself reverting to the original config in crucial situations. When I ran it again recently - armed with knowledge of how to play the multiplayer titans - it was a blast to be able to immediately know how to change my playstyle to adapt to the new configuration and use that to take out the opponents.

Multiplayer is where this game shines, but sadly for PVP games my control of my mouse is pretty crap for pin-point shooting, and I'm usually at the bottom of the leaderboard in PVP situations. That said, in the few times that I've played the Attrition mode, the battleground feels really alive. You are not only fighting with your titan against other player pilots and titans, the are lots of AI troops on both sides, from soldiers to reapers - automatons half the size of a titan that do alot of damage! I never felt I was cornered or hunted down by another player when I'm backed up by AI troops alongside my team mates. 

I love the fact that as a pilot I was much more maneuverable than the titans, and I can try to come up behind them and fire off my anti-titan weapon, or, the best part, *climb* on top an enemy titan and pull out their battery, causing them to lose a massive amount of hitpoints - or death, if their HPs were already low. On the flip side, inside a titan you feel very powerful with all the weapon systems at your fingertips. The additional height makes sighting enemy units much more easier, and you can now grind ground troops to bits under your feet. The downside is that you're now a much bigger target that's less agile and can only traverse specific areas of terrain. This contrast in gameplay makes the game really dynamic; the titan is no longer an "end game" scenario, but simply a part of the game. You build one up, you might lose it, then you fight on foot till you get one back. 

If I was more skilled I'd think I might play more PVP, but I'm already enjoying myself so much with Frontier Defense.