I invested a fair chunk of time into Titanfall when it was released back in March of 2014. Although Respawn's inaugural title weighed in light in terms of its content, I really enjoyed its free-flowing competitive multiplayer gameplay.
So it was with much anticipation that I sat down to play its sequel at a recent preview event. The build we were playing was a pre-alpha technical demo that featured three maps and three different gameplay modes. Apparently, it's the same one that'll be released to the general public to playtest on August 19th to the 21st (and for a second round between the 26th and the 28th) – something that's definitely worth looking forward to.
First up, we played Bounty Hunt, a new 6 vs. 6 mode in which you gain money every time you complete an objective or kill a target. Every so often, several nodes are activated on the map where you can deposit all the cash you've earned to add to your team's total - and obviously, the team that's garnered the biggest wad of bills by the end of the game is declared the winner.
While the main threats and revenue come from PvP targets, waves of NPCs are dropped into the fray at regular intervals that can be eliminated by either team for bonus bucks. There are a variety of these PvE enemies, ranging from grunts and specters up to AI titans, and while they're mostly cannon fodder, they do help make the battlefield feel dynamic and action-packed.
What immediately struck me was how quickly I settled into playing Titanfall 2. This wasn't due to any great skill on my part, but more to do with the fact that the game feels very, very similar to the way it played the first time around. Wall running, leaping and mantling over objects, and double-jumping all work seamlessly to deliver the signature Parkour-style maneuverability that made Titanfall feel so distinctive. Only this time it's just a little smoother and more refined. While some might be disappointed that there aren't any significant changes to the movement system, I'm actually pretty happy about it. Nothing was really broken, so why "fix" it?
The loadout I chose to initially play featured a standard medium-range assault rifle, and an anti-titan grenade launcher. Right out of the gate, the gunplay felt really good: It's fast and smooth, with a nice feeling of heft. Aiming generally feels precise and tight, and I just felt immediately at home with it. Couple that with the intuitive movement system, and you have a game that's really easy to pick up and play. Like the original Titanfall, the controls dovetail beautifully with your intentions to create a game that enables you to navigate through the game's environments in spectacular fashion – especially when you use the standard moves in conjunction with the grappling hook.
Speaking of environments, the maps we played – Boomtown, Forward Base Kodai, and Homestead – were all expansive and varied. Boomtown features clusters of buildings separated by streets and open spaces, making for an environment that's really interesting and fun to run around. You have the option of leaping from roof to roof, or can work your way through buildings to advance around the map. However, there are open choke points where you need to run from cover to cover to avoid potential sniper fire. It makes for an intense playfield where you can have a wide variety of encounters with the enemy.
Forward Base Kodai is a tri-level complex comprised of multiple rooms and walkways that's split into three main areas by a pair of intersecting wide lanes. The lanes are essentially the domain of the titans, while pilots are best advised to navigate through the rooms and walkways. This results in a battlefield where you can very easily play cat-and-mouse with titans, tracking them by moving from room to room and then either dropping on them from above, or running out from a nearby doorway to rodeo them. There's also an open upper area on the roof of the complex where you can have some great titan versus titan battles, and of course the intersection of the lanes themselves represents a choke point where mechs can duke it out.
Lastly, Homestead features a landscape that's split in two by a river. On one side is a base comprised of several buildings, while on the other is a raised rocky area that features a small cave system. Again, the terrain was varied and pitted, and covered with structures and wreckage, offering plenty of opportunities for cover. Battles on this map were more like attrition, with players using the buildings and rocky outcrops to exchange fire across the map's open areas, and advancing when it was safe to do so.
While I liked Forward Base Kodai's labyrinthine design the most, I was impressed with all three maps: Each had its own flavor and didn't come across as formulaic. I think what makes Titanfall 2's maps feel so diverse is – like the first time around – they're essentially designed with two objectives in mind. There are areas where titans can maneuver around, and plenty of buildings and structures where pilots can seek cover. This results in environments that actually feel quite realistic, and less claustrophobic than many of the maps in other first-person shooters.
After playing Bounty Hunt for an hour or so, we moved onto Pilot vs. Pilot. This straightforward 8 vs. 8 mode dispenses with titans completely, and pits teams of pilots against one another with the objective of outscoring the enemy in kills. I was initially concerned that the lack of titans would make Pilot vs. Pilot play much like any other shooter, and while there's some truth in that, I still really enjoyed this mode. The fact that there are two more players per team than Bounty Hunt was just enough to help concentrate the proceedings, and as a consequence the action was fast-moving.
Finally, we played Amped Hardpoint – a mode that should be familiar to those who play multiplayer shooters. There are three nodes dotted around the map that each team tries to control, and the longer they do, the more points they score. In this particular version you can capture a node as normal, but then if you sit next to it long enough, it "amps" and scores extra points. Most nodes are located inside buildings, meaning they can't be camped by titans, but on the Boomtown map, one node was placed on a bridge in the middle of the map. Both teams waged war as they tried to take control of it, resulting in a constant running battle throughout the match that was thoroughly entertaining.
We ended up playing Titanfall 2 for about three hours in all, and when time was called on the event, I was really disappointed – I was having so much fun, I just wanted to keep on playing. Even in its pre-alpha state, the game is already feeling very nicely tuned and fettled, and delivers action that's fast and frenetic. I love how easy it is to pick up and play, and the new modes, while offering little in the way of innovation, all delivered the goods in terms of intense competition.
Bottom line, Titanfall 2 is shaping up very nicely indeed. And the good news is, as I said at the start of this piece, the technical demo we played will be released to the general public to playtest this weekend and next, so you can experience the game for yourself. I just can't wait to get back to playing it!