Titanfall 2 Tech Demo Impressions

Titanfall 2 LogoThis past weekend Respawn had the first of two multiplayer Tech Demo tests for October’s Titanfall 2. I was and still am a huge fan of the first game – it was the first game on the current-gen consoles that actually felt “next-gen” to me. It also managed to beat the other FPS games to the punch with regards to the focus on increased mobility, which we’ve since seen in heavy hitters like Destiny, Call of Duty and even in Halo. So I went in to this weekend pretty excited to see what Respawn has been up to with the sequel – I thought the E3 footage was definitely exciting after all. Unfortunately, I came out of the first weekend with a lot more unsure about the direction the game is headed.Yes, I know it was a build from June, but that doesn’t excuse some of the issues I have with it. Let’s talk through this little mess.

We have to start with my biggest complaint, by a pretty large margin, which is the UI. The first game didn’t have a particularly easy UI to use to begin with, but this time around it’s even worse. The multiplayer lobby is cluttered, thanks to the new Network system taking up the lower third of the screen. Your whole screen feels like it’s being used and it’s hard to tell what’s important – you’ll be bombarded with Network invites dead center in the screen, but if you’re just trying to play a game or two, that’s not at all important. I also had a hell of a time trying to get my friend into my party/lobby to play with. We played one game of Bounty Hunt last night – then after the game finished, it put us into different lobbies and we couldn’t get back together. After about 15 minutes or so, we just called it quits because it’s just wasn’t worth the frustration. Some of the menus are fine – the game selection is nice and clear, explaining the objective, whether or not it has Titans or AI involved and player count. Others are a little clunky – I wasn’t a huge fan of the loadout customization system, not necessarily because it was bad, but I think it was better in the first game.

Once you get past all the UI clunkiness and into an actual game, that’s where I think your opinion of the game really is dependent on what you’re expecting. Coming in as a big fan of the first game, I had some expectations – AI combatants on big maps, Pilots zipping all around and Titans being called down and becoming pretty important targets. And to be fair, those elements are there – sort of. AI only is present in Bounty Hunt, at least for now; and it’s in a much more limited role than it used to be. Pilots still have a great degree of mobility – in fact I think that may be the best improvement from the first game to this one; your movements have more weight to them, they feel like you actually have momentum and mass. The new grappling hook Pilot ability really helps with that feeling, as well as being a really fun way to move around the maps. Titans still play a pretty big role in the game too, but it’s a very different feeling, this time in a way that I think takes a lot more getting used to. Depending on the game mode, you can get a Titan pretty quickly, or at least until they hot fixed it, maybe only once in a Hardpoint game. The biggest change to the Titans though is that they’ve decided to make them all individual classes. Gone are the old chassis that you could customize however you want – take a heavy Ogre chassis and give it the heavy weapon, or give the heavy hitter to the light chassis. Now you have different profiles for the Titan – Ion or Scorch in the tech demo – and they have a couple options to mess with, but their weapons or abilities aren’t those options. Each frame has its own weapon and abilities, and you have to learn how they work. The Titans do feel a little less powerful overall, but that might just be because the maps both felt a little small. One of the real strengths of the first game was that the maps actually felt like big battlefields. Whether you were a Pilot or a Titan, you never felt out of place – the scale worked both ways. This weekend’s maps felt a lot more built around the Pilot to me – playing as a Titan, even on Homestead, felt a little cramped.

Titanfall

All of that may sound like I really disliked my time playing, there’s a lot of nitpicking and criticism in there for sure. But that’s only because I really loved the first game and I really do think that this can become a franchise along the lines of Call of Duty/Battlefield/Halo. What worries me is that it feels like Titanfall has lost its identity a little bit. When I play it, I can’t help but feel the echoes of Call of Duty becoming louder – I don’t get that with Destiny and its lineage with Halo as Destiny has evolved. I worry that the pressure to deliver on this sequel is maybe a little overwhelming – there’s a lot different this time around, especially on the single-player front. I’m not quite as down on it as some of the posts I saw on the Titanfall subreddit were – nor am I as naive as to think that a six month delay would be enough time to completely retool the multiplayer, which was an actual post I saw. I actually had a good number of moments while playing that put me right back in that Titanfall frame of mind – goosing ejecting Pilots, Titan punching Pilots trying to rodeo me, parkouring all over a map without touching the ground, all while fighting the whole time. There’s still enough character in there where when it works, there’s nothing like it right now; even at its fastest, Black Ops III doesn’t quite do parkour as well.

What I would love to see is Respawn take these two weekends feedback seriously, and make this game as good as it can be. I don’t think it needs a big delay, but I do think that pushing it back to Christmas would be a huge help. Two months to use that feedback, polish up the UI and networking; and maybe most importantly, get it out of the crowded launch season – especially with FPS games. The first game didn’t really have a lot of competition to worry about – Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 were really it, and both had been out for months by then. Titanfall 2 doesn’t have that luxury – Destiny: Rise of Iron, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered all hit within a month either way of TF2‘s launch. Add in some other heavy hitters and I don’t think it’s too tough to see how a short delay might really help. Maybe after this second weekend coming up we’ll have a better idea of what’s happening moving forward.

Advertisements

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Xbox One Beta Impressions

Black Ops 3

Over the weekend, Treyarch and Activision opened up the Xbox One beta for Call of Duty: Black Ops III to all players online, instead of just those that have the game pre-ordered. So I downloaded it and played it for a few hours and thought I’d put down my impressions on how the game is shaping up.

We knew going in that mobility was going to be a big focus for Black Ops III, straddling the line between Advanced Warfare’s exo-pack and Titanfall‘s parkour. I think ultimately it’s a good mix of traditional Call of Duty style action with more options for getting around the maps. The wallruns are maybe a little easier to get kills with – aiming down sights doesn’t kick you off the wall. The thrusters that give you double jumps I think actually behave a bit better with the CoD formula. It’s easier to track those double jumps because of the nature of them – similar to why Blink is so powerful in Destiny, versus the other double jumps. Unfortunately, the games I played tended to fall into the same Call of Duty tropes – find chest high cover, head-glitch over it, and set up camp.

What I think really is always the biggest question going in with a new shooter is the weapon balancing. Destiny is dealing with that issue now, Advanced Warfare has had its own issues, and Ghosts was plagued by a broken weapon meta that pulled me completely out of PvP. It’s a small sample size, but as of now, Black Ops has me worried. Even now there are already certain weapon, perk, and attachment combinations that are just about unstoppable. SMG’s are still king – it’s been a continuing problem with the shift to mobility in shooters. The higher power/slower rate of fire weapons just can’t keep up with the speed of the SMG’s and since Call of Duty loves to make them powerful too, they are almost always the best weapon choice.

Black Ops 3 Ruin

All of that said, I actually had a ton of fun playing the beta. Yes, it has the same issues that have been bothering me with Call of Duty for the past few years. Submachine Guns are overly powerful, accurate shooting is penalized vs. shots placed at the lower body, head-glitching still is incredibly frustrating to fight and hip-firing is still far more accurate than it should be outside of point-blank range. But Treyarch manages to make the game feel fun, even with those issues. Sniping has always felt the best with Treyarch at the helm – they make quickscoping much harder to do. They have a slower time-to-kill than Infinity Ward or Sledgehammer, which makes firefights a bit more dynamic. The new Specialists add in a pretty cool way to play games – especially the ability powers – and even more so in objective games. Will I buy Black Ops III? Probably at some point this season. I have loved the CoD games for years now, and I am intrigued by the campaign premise. It does come out two days before Fallout 4, which I am much, much more invested in; so I don’t think I’m going to be a launch day purchase. The beta to me really just made me think that the shooter market this year is going to be pretty crazy – Taken KingBlack OpsHalo, and Battlefront all are going to be fighting for the same market share. Regardless of which one you pick, I think it’s a very good year to like some FPS action.

The Battlefield: Hardline Beta – Final Thoughts

Battlefield HardlineLast night the Battlefield: Hardline beta closed up, and now DICE and Visceral can take all that data that us players have created and use it to hopefully craft up a really great launch, which the series really needs. So with a full week of playing under my belt I thought I’d offer up where I think the series is headed.

First of all, EA has to repair the series a bit thanks to Battlefield 4‘s launch. Thankfully, based solely around the beta for Hardline, it really does look like they have that sorted. The beta alone was more stable than Battlefield 4 was for a good chunk of it’s life, in my experience. Even playing with my typical group – one in Boston, one in NYC and one in California, plus myself – we really didn’t experience much in the way of lag at all. Even with the wacky server browser on consoles, using the squad join feature lets your group stay together, using quick join to ensure a smooth connection. I was also, unknowingly, using my WiFi on my Xbox One to play, instead of my usual wired connection (that’s what I get for playing my 360 more these days). So as far as the UI sort of things are concerned, things work well, and with a little tweaking to some details, it’ll be just fine. The only real issues that I encountered that were bothersome were the assignments not really updating properly in the post-game report, and some of my loadout selections not saving – in particular my handgun wouldn’t keep its attachments on the crooks side, but worked fine for the cops.

Battlefield Hardline Bank Job

Both of those issues though are small things, that I expect will be fixed before launch. In terms of the core gameplay, though, I really enjoyed the beta. I spent the vast majority of my play time in Heist, the new game mode for Hardline that acts very similar to one flag CTF. One team of crooks assaults a vault, pulls two bags of cash out, and brings them to two exfil locations. The other side has the cops, holding out against them. As is usually the case in game modes like this, the defenders are definitely holding an advantage – infinite spawns, and two of the drop-off points are incredibly easy to hold. And yet, it’s still very much possible for the crooks to win – and it’s not a odd game or two. It’s somehow pretty balanced – and removing the vehicles puts all of the impetus on the players gun-handling. The other new mode – Hotwire – is a totally different beast. It’s essentially Conquest, the Battlefield classic, but the capture points are instead vehicles – you hop in, and drive fast to capture them. It’s a pretty cool take on Conquest, but requires a whole lot of teamwork – to take down captured vehicles you need good shots, or heavy weapons. It’s fun – but the only real lag I experienced was in Hotwire.

I think that in general, Hardline is a pretty fresh Battlefield game – it still feels very much like the series, but the new setting and characters really help it. It still feels very much like a military game, but with just enough tweaks to give it a unique feel. If they can get some of the little details ironed out before the March launch, I think EA could have a real good shooter on their hands for the first part of the year – for the second year running after Titanfall.

A Tale of Two Betas

Halo 5 GuardiansJanuary is always an interesting part of the year with gaming, Online usage is up, with people playing all their new games from the Holidays. But contrasting that, there usually aren’t too many big releases during the month. Instead we’ll usually see a few DLC packages, or downloadable games. In this year’s case, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is getting the Havoc pack this month, and we’re seeing the release of a current-gen Resident Evil remaster, as well as the current-gen Saints Row IV edition. Neither game is what I would call a major entry for this year.

On the other hand though, this month saw two high profile betas. While the Halo 5: Guardians beta technically started at the end of December, the majority of the beta ran through this month. The other beta, a larger scale pre-release beta than the Big Alpha, was for Evolve. It featured more content than the Big Alpha, but only ran for essentially a weekend, plus a couple days. These two betas show two very different approaches to pre-release events.

With the Halo 5: Guardians beta, it ran for a longer period of time, but had a much narrower focus. I wouldn’t ever really expect to see a beta feature a single player campaign, so this being solely multiplayer makes perfect sense to me. That said, the multiplayer in Halo is so varied and robust, that seeing only three game modes felt like they were holding something back. Halo is a series that’s been known now for years for having a multiplayer that’s full of not only built in game modes, but the flexibility to create all kinds of crazy modes. I think that 343 could have provided a scaled down version of their tools for custom modes. As it turned out though, I think they picked the modes for the beta for a couple reasons. Slayer was there because it’s probably the most played variant online; but the other two modes, Breakout and Strongholds, are both technically new game modes to Halo. It makes sense that 343 wants to feature them, not only to test them in an online environment, but also to promote them a bit. In general, Halo tends to fall into pretty typical patterns – objective games like CTF or Oddball always do well, while games like Assault or King of the Hill tend to fall more on the competitive side, appearing less frequently online. I think 343 wants to make sure that Strongholds or Breakout (or both) work well online and could in fact also work in the competitive world too.

Halo 5 Breakout Crossfire

All things considered though, the modes weren’t really what bothered me more about the Halo 5: Guardians beta. It was the map selection. Normally, in a beta I don’t expect much in the way of map variety. But then, most betas don’t last three weeks. Nor do they cycle the maps in and out. That’s really where I was most confused. The beta started with Truth and Empire, both on Slayer. The next week, those maps were pulled – and replaced with Regret and Eden, again on Slayer. What I couldn’t understand was why the first two maps had to be pulled down totally – why not keep them in, and have a four-map rotation. It made sense to me too, since those four maps were all inter-related. Truth and Regret are maps based around the same base – Midship. Truth is a pretty direct update, and Regret is what they’re calling a Remix – it’s Truth, just with a few twists to make it feel unique. It’s a clever way to build the map list, without creating an insane amount of extra work. Empire and Eden are also remix pairs – just not based around an old map this time. To me, I think it would have made sense to put all four in one hopper. Adding in the final map that appeared – Pegasus – wouldn’t have really been a bad thing, it could have broken up the monotony of playing the same two basesets. In the end, that limiting of the maps selection for the beta, is what made me limit my playing. I really enjoyed the gameplay, but it got old fast on two maps only.

Evolve Cover

With the Evolve beta, this was a bit different focus. The game has already gone gold. It’s too late to make major, sweeping changes. Instead, this was more of a, give the players a bunch of content, let them play essentially the full game for a weekend, and try to catch and squash as many bugs before release. Providing players with the first two sets of characters, both hunters and monsters, let Turtle Rock look at how they interact well before launch. Beyond that, pre-orders of the game before and during the beta unlocked the third and final set, and will have them all open in the full game. I’m not a huge fan of the early unlocks just for pre-ordering, but that’s a topic for another day. Honestly, the Evolve beta felt more like an almost complete game, probably because it was close to the final build, if it wasn’t the actual final build. There were strong built in tutorials, and every map that’s present in the game was in the beta. I think it was just a last chance tune-up prior to launch, which certainly has merits that can hopefully help keep Evolve from having yet another broken launch.

Image from Game Informer

One area where both betas did overlap was that both allowed the player to keep whatever unlocks they managed to get in the beta for the full game. In Halo‘s case, that mainly amounts to just cosmetic gear; with Evolve, that’s characters and upgrades. That’s a very different mentality from say last year’s Titanfall or Destiny betas, both of which had player wipes after the betas closed. I think both styles have their merits – I’m more inclined to be okay with Halo‘s approach, since cosmetic gear doesn’t impact gameplay (generally) while characters and upgrades can very much alter gameplay. Early on in a games life, I would rather have as many players as possible on a level playing field, as opposed to having players that were in the beta having upgraded characters, or players that pre-ordered having final tier characters. It’s up to the developers in the end, and we just have to hope they know what their doing.

Titanfall Beta Impressions Part 1

Over the last week, Respawn Entertainment has been holding a semi-closed beta for Titanfall on both the Xbox One and PC. I say semi-closed because it was totally closed on both platforms until this weekend when they opened it up for everyone on the Xbox One to try to stress the servers. I’ve spent about 5 hours or so online on the One playing, trying out everything that the beta has to offer, and I’ve got a pretty good amount of stuff I want to talk about. So this week and next I will go through my impressions from the beta and I’ll try to spin it forward to the full game. Today I want to hit some of the specific things – weapons, titans, maps, that sort of thing; next week I’ll go top level and look at the beta as a whole.

Titanfall

So first off, let’s look at the maps in the beta. There are two maps that we can play in the beta – Angel City and Fracture. Each one plays a little differently, giving players a nice sample of different ways to play the game. In general, Angel City is much more close range, with lots more Parkour and verticality to it, while Fracture is longer range, more wide open with a lot of room for Titan combat. Angel City was shown last year in the first gameplay trailer, so it’s the one I think most players were familiar with going into the beta, and I believe Fracture was teased a while ago via a piece of concept art that looks a lot like the loading screen for that map. I’ve played each map a bunch of times, on all three modes in the beta, and depending on the gamemode, your tactics will definitely shift a bit. Angel City is tailor made for high mobility, high firerate/close range weapons, while still allowing longer range fights to take place. The most important thing to remember is to get high, as fast as possible – using the parkour system is easily the most important tactic while you are on foot. It’s a big shift from Call of Duty/Battlefield bringing back vertical combat to arena size shooters. Most buildings in Angel City have at least three different levels, and multiple entrances that take advantage of the system.

Fracture is almost the polar opposite – it still has spots where the parkour system comes in really handy, but in general the map has a lot longer sight lines, and huge chunks of open ground. It’s the better map to try out the sniper rifle on – there are a couple really strong sniper perches that can be reached from either spawn really quickly. I also think that Fracture is where Titan combat really shines. In Angel City, because of the close quarters, Titan combat can be a little insane; but on Fracture, there’s enough space for you to try out a bunch of different tactics, using different weapons and abilities on your Titans. It’s not uncommon on Fracture to see a fight with multiple Titans engaging multiple Titans on the other team – which is both awesome to witness, and awesome to actually take part in.

So the maps each play to different strengths weapon-wise, so let’s talk about the weapons in the beta. There are five primary weapons and two sidearms available to use, unlocked over the course of the 14 levels in the beta. They hit the standard FPS fare, but the way that they implement them feels really natural in the context of the game. The assault rifle, the R-101c Carbine, is a good option for mid-long range combat, it works well on both maps, and with the silencer attachment it makes for some good surprise attacks. The EVA-8 shotgun is a really satisfying shotgun – short range, but really strong. The R-97 SMG is a nice SMG – great in close quarters on Angel City, and a great rushing weapon. The Longbow sniper is interesting – the way that sniping works in Titanfall will take a little getting used to for veterans of Call of Duty, quickscoping is all but impossible thank God. That said, the actual rifle performs really well once you get used to it. The last primary is the Smart Pistol MK5, which is a really cool weapon – while you are holding the weapon from the hip, it will lock on to enemies, then you just need to pull the trigger. It takes a bit longer to lock on to other players, as a balance, but it’s a great stealth weapon for sure. Both sidearms are really great pistols, one full auto, the other semiauto but strong and still can be fired quickly.

The other options for custom classes are your anti-Titan weapon, a tactical ability, grenades, and your kits, which are passive abilities. There are two anti-Titan weapons, the Archer and the Sidewinder; the Archer is a strong lock-on launcher, the Sidewinder is a rapidfire mini-missile launcher. The two tactical abilities are active abilities that are activated with Left Bumper; the Tactical Cloak and the Stim. The Cloak is really strong against Titans and the A.I. but less so against players; the Stim lets you run, jump and wallrun much faster – could get you out of trouble in a hurry. Again, there are two grenade types – a standard frag grenade and an electric grenade for hurting Titans. The Kits are a little more varied, and act as passive perks – like having extra grenades, or a shorter recharge on your ability.

Lastly I want to talk about the Titans a bit. They’re a huge part of each match, and I really think that going in I was worried that they would just overpower and unbalance the game, but thankfully that’s not at all the case. Each pilot starts a match with a countdown to their Titan being ready, which can be reduced by getting kills, hits, captures and burn cards. Playing as a Titan really is just an extension of playing on foot – just in a giant mech. There is only one chassis offered – the Atlas, which has the unique ability of Damage Core, which boosts your damage when you activate it. But there are three different weapons that your Titan can equip, as well as two off-hand weapons, and two active abilities, and a few passive ones as well. The weapons are a machine gun, a 40mm cannon and a quad rocket launcher – each plays a little differently, and each has attachments that can boost their effectiveness. Off-hand weapons are either a flurry of unguided rockets, or a set of locked on missiles – great options while reloading your primary weapon. The active abilities include the Vortex shield, which lets you grab rounds being shot at you and fling them back, or the Electric Smoke – a fantastic option if you’re outnumbered to get away, and also gets players off of your Titan. In general the passive abilities mainly affect what your Titan will do when it’s doomed, including a huge explosion that will do some serious damage to anyone nearby.

Titanfall is still a few weeks off, releasing on March 11, so this beta is a great little tease for players and a fantastic way for Respawn to test their end of things. Now that it’s open on the Xbox One, there really isn’t any excuse to not try it – it ends on Feb. 19 so get it quick though. I’ll talk more about it next week, looking more at how I see it fitting in in general with other FPS games, plus a bit more about my overall impressions from the beta.