Titanfall 2 – Tech Test Final Thoughts

Titanfall 2 LogoThis past weekend was the second and final time to play the Open Tech Test for Titanfall 2, and compared with the first weekend there were a few changes that Respawn put in place to hopefully get the hype back on track. Did it work though? That’s a trickier question to answer.

I came out of the first weekend really unimpressed by the state of Titanfall 2. It felt a lot like what made the original game special was either missing or diluted through changes. One of the bigger spots there was how the Titans worked. Going into the second weekend that was one of the highlights that Respawn tweaked – hopefully making it so palyers were able to earn Titans more often. Sure there were a couple other changes, including the addition of a third map, but for me, most of what I was focused on was based around the Titan earn rate. The problem is that even with the change to earn rate, the core issue I have with the Titans is still there – they just don’t feel worth it anymore. In the first game, earning a Titan and piloting it was a major increase in power. You could easily clear Hardpoints, chase down a flag runner, or escort your own; in Marked for Death, having my 40mm cannon Ogre was how I took down most of my targets. Titan combat felt different from pilot combat, but not overpowering to deal with – you had multiple options, from anti-titan weapons, counter-Titanfalls, or good rodeo attacks. Based on the Tech Test, which again, was based on a build from back in June, Titans just don’t feel special anymore. Part of that is the switch in how Titan customization works – gone are the base frames and instead you have preset builds with limited options to tweak. When you factor in that you have to choose between anti-titan or sidearm in your Pilot loadout now too, it makes fighting Titans on foot a less fun proposition.

There were lots of posts over on the subreddit talking about the changes to rodeo and the lack of logic that it has. If my Titan doesn’t have a shield when I call it down, and then I get rodeoed and lose my battery, how does it make sense that when that battery is put into a different Titan, they gain a shield? I don’t necessarily think that just keeping the rodeo mechanic the same as the first game would be the right way to go, but I don’t think the battery mechanic was either. Instead, I would have preferred to see more options for countering a rodeoing Pilot. The changes to Titan combat, combined with the new maps and game modes, really all work together to create a weird situation. I think if you hadn’t played the first game at all, you wouldn’t have any problem with how the Tech Test played. It would feel different from the other shooters out on the market right now – certainly worlds away from Destiny, Halo, or Battlefield and Overwatch, and does have some similarity to Call of Duty. It’s the fans of the first game who have been vocal in their (our) displeasure.

There’s a lot going on with why I think Titanfall 2 might end up being in for a hard season. The first game was so different and fresh, and really was the only game in town during the early days of this console generation. Years of development, a really fantastic time for FPS games, and a loaded launch window now all are working against the sequel. For me the feeling of the first game, which was a huge selling point moving into the sequel, has been lost a little. I was certainly excited to get my hands on it going into the Tech Test, especially a few months ahead of launch. And while I won’t go as far as to say that the full game will be bad or anything like that, I am thinking that I may pass on it, at least during the early days. My college buddies that I play games with were talking about it – is it worth picking up? For me, I’m leaning more toward grabbing Infinite Warfare/Modern Warfare Remastered along with Rise of Iron. There are lots of games coming out, and I think the FPS genre in particular is pretty stacked – Titanfall 2 really needed to keep its identity to stand out, and I worry that isn’t happening. There’s still time until launch, a lot of these issues can certainly be ironed and could recapture the feel of the first game. We just have to wait and see.

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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.

E3 2016 – The Games I’m Most Excited About

E3 LogoEvery one always likes to pick out one or two games from E3 that they call the “game of the show.” If you’re lucky enough to be at the show in person, that involves actually playing the games. For those of us watching from afar, it’s more about the feelings the games give us. Last year it was an easy pick for me – it was always going to be Fallout 4. This year didn’t have that singular game that immediately got me ready to play that minute. Instead, there were a handful that got me very much interested. Today, I’ll talk about them quickly.

 

Dishonored 2

First up, Dishonored 2 – I was super happy to see it announced last year, and now that we’ve seen even more of the game, I’m absolutely on board. The first game was my favorite game in 2012, so I’ve been waiting for the sequel for a while. Everything that we’ve seen is exactly what I’ve been hoping for – it’s the best example of what a sequel is supposed to do. It’s taking all of the best from the original, and making it better, while still adding in new content to round it all out. Playing as Emily, with her whole set of new and different powers opens up the possibilities even more. The first game did stealth in such a great way that it really helped revive that style of stealth game – you can see the influence in the Thief reboot. It’s got wonderful ambient storytelling that evolves as you go along, depending on how you complete the missions. All of which I expect to show up in the sequel again.

On a similar level to me is Titanfall 2. Totally different tone and goal from Dishonored obviously. But I see some definite similarities – it’s doing exactly what sequels are supposed to do, learn from the mistakes of the first game, and refine what worked. Adding in an actual story campaign is a big first step, and from what we saw at E3, it looks pretty damn fun. And being perfectly honest, they could put the exact same multiplayer back in, just with some new maps and I would be happy. It was such a fun, unique FPS multiplayer – especially factoring the Titans – that just playing that again would be fine. But Respawn isn’t resting on their laurels and they’ve updated the whole thing. New weapons, new Pilot abilities, new Titan models and gear – all exactly what you want from a sequel. Knowing that there are plenty of modes to play – including at least one without A.I. gets me thinking that Respawn may be starting to think about competitive play. Of the FPS games coming this fall, I think this one may end up being my favorite.

We Happy Few Logo

The last two games that really jumped out to me both were shown at the Microsoft event. So far, the two games I mentioned are sequels – established IPs getting a true next evolution. Microsoft had two brand new IPs that really pulled me in though – We Happy Few and Sea of ThievesWe Happy Few, which looks like it’s taking a lot from BioShock in terms of mechanics, looks like it might be that story based FPS style game for this year. The setting and premise is pretty unique within games – there really isn’t anything quite like it, at least that I’m aware of. The potential for some disturbing and dark story content is wide open – I’m really interested in seeing where this game goes. I also love that it uses color in such a smart way – lots and lots of games these days have such a washed out palette that it’s always refreshing to see bright colors; and since it looks like this is going to be a pretty dark game, that kind of juxtaposition is smart. That use of color is another reason why I’m looking forward to Sea of Thieves – it looks so bright and different from most multiplayer games out there. The setting, again much like We Happy Few, is one that we don’t see in modern games. We used to have a good handful of pirate games, but aside from Assassin’s Creed IV, I can’t think of a recent, high profile pirate game. What I think really makes this one special is that it looks like it’s got a huge focus on group play – making a full pirate crew of your friends and sailing the seas sounds like so much fun. Of all the games I think I saw this year, this is, aside from perhaps Call of Duty/Battlefield 1, the one that I am the least interested in a single player/story mode. I just want a free open world to run around in with my friends – give me that, and I’ll be happy.

E3 2016 – My Biggest Takeaways

E3 LogoE3 is always my favorite week in gaming – at least that doesn’t have a slew of new releases. It’s a full week where the industry can come together and show off just how big our industry has become. Excitement runs high, hyperbolic words flow freely, and trailers show us games in all different states of development. It’s not all sunshine and roses – I saw a couple really disturbing reports about sketchy and dangerous behavior at private events, which just highlights that even in an industry built around games, we have some darkness still to overcome. But overall, I think E3 is all about setting the tone for the coming year. A couple years back, it was a running joke that every game had a bow and arrow, but that’s not entirely off the mark – E3 is where we see the industry as a whole in one spot. It’s easier to spot trends that reach across platform and genre there.

Dishonored 2

If I had to pick one trend this year, I think it’s probably going to be beards. There were easily eight or so games that prominently featured a main character (player or not) sporting some notable facial hair. That might seem like a silly thing to point to, but I think it speaks to a deeper underlying theme. Traditionally in entertainment, we use facial hair (especially full beards) to denote wisdom, grit, determination, toughness and resolution. In gaming that can be seen translating to darker, more nuanced stories – even in games we might not expect it in. We saw the surprise return of Marcus Fenix with his gray bear in the Gears of War 4 footage – a wizened, older veteran imparting his knowledge to his son’s team. Kratos has a big beard in God of War 4 – notably bigger than any beard he had before – again, a father figure teaching his son; both games are set in dark, almost hopeless worlds. If all of this beard talk does end up pointing to darker stories, we’re going to need games like Trials of the Blood Dragon and even Mass Effect to balance it out. Gaming needs wackiness, it needs humor and love and actual human emotions to balance all of the typical conflict and angst we see. That’s what’s always drawn me to the BioWare games – yes, the worlds are embroiled in conflict – usually cataclysmic  – but the characters that live in those worlds have real emotions – there’s humor, there’s joy, there’s love. The same works for Bethesda’s RPGs – sure there are dragons all over Skyrim, but you can balance that out by getting married, hunting game or forging arms and armor.

The other big takeaway I had was that this fall all of a sudden got really crowded, but in a different way than usual. Generally speaking, the busiest release window is late October, early November. We’ll often see multiple games coming out on the same day. I’ve noticed more and more over the last couple years that developers have been spreading out the releases. This year, that’s absolutely the case – Rise of Iron for Destiny launches on September 20, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 are all in October, Call of Duty, and Dishonored 2 are still set for November – and that’s just off the top of my head/games that I am already planning on playing. I know there are more in there, across all three months. It’s happening more and more – every year I think, “Boy, this fall only has a couple heavy hitters, I can branch out a bit,” then E3 hits and it’s suddenly full of AAA titles. That’s not even talking at all about the new trend of a swath of games in the Spring either. Gaming has definitely evolved to a year-round, massive entertainment medium. It’s here to stay, and if it keeps evolving as it has technology-wise, there’s really no ceiling. It’s a lovely time to play.

E3 2016: EA and Bethesda Press Events

E3 LogoIt’s that time of the year again, E3 is upon us. Yesterday things got underway with two press events, one from EA in the afternoon and the other from Bethesda. This is always my favorite week of the year, there’s so much excitement and positive energy in gaming to talk about. And today, we’ll look at yesterday’s two pressers.

EA kicked the week off yesterday afternoon, and it was certainly an EA conference. The event itself was very stiff and felt really corporate, although I think the second site in London had a little better energy thanks to Peter Moore being on stage there. But I don’t really watch these events for the stage banter and presence – it’s always more about the games to me. EA was in a weird position to me this year – we already knew their big hitters going in, so it was more about if they had any surprises up their sleeves. Turns out, no not really. But they started with Titanfall 2, which looks to be a major step forward from the original. A true single player campaign that looks like it’s putting a lot of emphasis on the relationship between your character and your Titan. Some of the set pieces that they showed got me really excited to play – in particular the one where your Titan flings you across a massive gap into a wallrun. The multiplayer as well got its own trailer, showing off a bunch of new abilities for both pilots and Titans and it really made me want to get back into form. The original three Titans are being replaced with six new models, combining new and old abilities. It still looks like the scale the first game had is there, and the speed is still faster than most other shooters today. Really, really excited to play Titanfall 2 when it launches October 28, on XBox One, PS4 and PC.

As always, EA likes to show off their sports titles, especially FIFA. Last year’s show had Pele on stage, this year, they went a little quicker with the presentation. Madden NFL 17 was talked about briefly, with the bigger focus on the competitive scene. This year’s Madden NFL 16 finals will be shown on ESPN 2 of all places. They also showed plans to have multiple levels of competitive play online with Challenges, Premier matches and EA Majors. It’s a way for anyone to start getting into competitive gaming. Sticking with the EA Sports titles, they of course talked about FIFA 17. Along with a number of other EA titles, FIFA 17 is moving to the Frostbite engine, meaning it’s going to look better than ever. They’ve also put a new focus on telling a story with “The Journey” mode, telling your tale as you progress in the Premiere League. The other big focus – and part where they brought out the guest this year – was the addition of managers on the sidelines of the pitch.  In terms of actual gameplay changes though, expect better set pieces, better physical play, better off-ball AI and more ways to finish your shots on goal. It’s the usual EA Sports motto – keep refining the mechanics to make it the truest soccer game out there.

Stepping back in the show flow, one of the biggest games I was hoping to see more of was Mass Effect: Andromeda. So when the mentioned BioWare, I got excited. We still didn’t really see any gameplay, although we did learn a few new things. It’s going to be set outside of the Milky Way galaxy – that means totally new planets, species, technology, and perhaps most importantly, we are going to be the outsiders in the Andromeda galaxy. It’s going to use the Frostbite engine – no surprise there, it’s a massive upgrade in visuals from Mass Effect 3. Beyond that, we didn’t learn a ton – the footage showed an Alliance ship called the Tempest, which I think will end up being the new Normandy; and we know that the MAKO vehicle is returning, with the driving being worked on by Need for Speed developers. The new facial models look awesome, with a definite focus on emotion; I definitely want to see more, and we apparently will learn more this fall.

EA also showed their new EA Originals brand – it’s their take on indie development. Last year they showed off Unraveled. This year, it’s Fe. A game from a small team in Sweden, focused around exploring a young cub’s relationship with the forest it lives in. It has a real cool visual flair, using sounds and song to communicate with the other animals, and certainly seems to have a bit of an environmental message behind it. EA isn’t usually a publisher that I associate with strong indie development, but I was pretty happy with what I saw with Fe.

Battlefield 1

Of course, as soon as the mood was quieter, EA went loud, closing the show with Star Wars and Battlefield 1. Let’s start with Star Wars. EA said that there are seven developers working on different Star Wars games. We know that next year we’ll get a new Battlefront game, and from the video package, it looks like we might get some VR elements.The next year, Visceral will put out an action/adventure game. Beyond that, there’s a Respawn developed, 3rd person action game. The highlight here was a video package showing all of the work off, that really was a cool package. Of course, EA was always going to focus a lot on Battlefield 1. We got a new trailer, showing gameplay(?) that I still don’t quite believe is actual gameplay. II buy that it’s in-engine, but until I see clearly gameplay, I’m still a little skeptical it looks that good.That said, what they showed looked incredible – I couldn’t help but get lots of flashbacks to playing Battlefield 1942. I’ve thought that over the last few Battlefield games, the real visceral feel of the combat has been lost – that definitely looks like it’s back in this new game. I also really like the idea of the behemoths – huge vehicles that drive the combat. There are three that EA mentioned yesterday – the zeppelin, an armored train and a battleship, covering each of the areas of combat in a Battlefield game. With an open beta coming this summer, hopefully I’ll be able to get some hands on time in.

Quake Champions

A few hours later, Bethesda had their own show starting up. Last year, Bethesda kicked off the week, with a killer show – bit of a lofty expectation to set. I think though that they managed to nail it this year. From the opening game, I was hooked. That’s because the opening game was the return of Quake – and it’s exactly how Quake should be, a competitive arena FPS. Quake Champions looks like it could be the logical step from what DOOM was last month – taking the foundation of the old-school and finding ways to take modern aspects and put them in. In this case, it’s the idea of individual characters with abilities. I’m a little cautious about it, because Quake is such a near and dear to my heart kind of game, but I’m really happy to see it back.

Next up was another look at Elder Scrolls: Legends, the mobile game coming soon. I can’t help but describe it as Hearthstone, Elder Scrolls Edition. It’s the same basic idea – strategy and deck building, with a variety of modes to play through. That wasn’t the only Elder Scrolls news though – we got the confirmation of a Skyrim remaster coming this October which looks gorgeous and brings mods to console, and a couple new bits of info for Elder Scrolls Online, the big one being that they are going to put globalized level scaling in place soon. Essentially that means that as soon as you’ve finished the tutorial, you can go anywhere in the world and do anything – the game will scale and level based around you and your group.

The other big Bethesda RPG series – Fallout also got some attention. Fallout 4 had its next three DLC packs outlined – one next week based around contraptions for shelters, one in July that lets you build your own Vault and the final in August set in a theme park called Nuka World. It’s just more of the Commonwealth, which is never a bad thing. Fallout Shelter is also seeing a new update, as well as a PC launch.

Dishonored 2

Bethesda also has a couple other IPs to be excited about. They finally announced the return of Prey, a game that has been a bit of an open secret over the last few years. I played the first game way back in the day, and really just thought it was a run of the mill FPS – what I saw last night was totally different and looked incredible. It’s got a much darker tone, more grounded in realism and perhaps showing some of the dangers of scientific experimentation. I thought it was curious that, although it’s the second Prey game, it didn’t have any branding as a sequel. It’s from Arkane studios, and I am very much intrigued by what I saw. The other IP is one that I’ve been a fan of since day one – Dishonored. Much like Adam Sessler said last night, it was my favorite game of 2012, and ever since the sequel was announced last year, I have been waiting for more. Boy did we get it last night – a new trailer along with two samples of gameplay. The new setting Karnaka looks gorgeous and does have a different feel from Dunwall. The new visuals look incredible, and the new engine they built for lighting and particles make the world feel a lot more alive. The gameplay immediately made me think of the original, just with even more options – especially when you take into account the two different characters have different powers. I am very much excited for November 11 when it launches.

One last thing from the Bethesda show that I was super impressed with – Bethesda announced that they are working on VR games. In fact, they have two games set for the HTC Vive platform to come out next year – the new DOOM that came out last month, and the big one – Fallout 4. As VR becomes more and more a reality, and the platform gets better at not only accessibility but the visuals as well, games like Fallout are the kind that were built for VR. I might not have a Vive, or even next year when it comes out for the platform, but the potential moving forward is incredibly exciting. Imagine the next Elder Scrolls game, combined with VR and the newer, more powerful consoles that we’re seeing this week. It’s these kind of announcements that really get me pumped to play games.

Yesterday really set the tone – new games, returning favorites and those lovely surprises that we all talk about for weeks to come. E3 is always fun to watch, and even more fun to think about where we’re going.

Titanfall 2 Talk – The Way Pre-E3 Edition

TitanfallA couple weeks back, EA dropped a teaser showing off Titanfall 2. We had known that it was in development, but this was the first official word and look at the game. It’s a really short teaser, barely 30 seconds so we don’t get much. It’s really just a glimpse to get us all hyped up for the eventual E3 full announcement. Of course that hasn’t stopped people from already talking about the game. OXM has an article out saying that Titanfall 2 has to learn from Destiny, Black Ops III and Evolve to succeed. We know no actual details about the game – anything we talk about is just gleaned from the original game and the teaser. It’s pretty hard for me to already look at games out there now and say that this one needs to draw from them to succeed. And honestly, I kinda disagree with the sentiment – I don’t want Titanfall 2 to draw from the other FPS games out there. I want it to stay as unique as it is.

That said, there’s a couple points to look at that we do know about. First, EA and Respawn said that the sequel is going to feature an actual story campaign. As cool as the multiplayer campaign thing from the first game was, I’m definitely in favor of a true campaign this time around. Titanfall has, I think, an actually pretty cool universe to explore with different stories. That could have been a strength in the original multiplayer campaign, exploring the motives from both sides of the conflict. Hopefully with the sequel that can still happen. The other cool detail we learned was that there’s going to be a new Titan weapon – and it sure looks a lot like a sword. Swords have been popping up a lot in FPS games lately – Destiny, Black Ops III, of course Halo – so seeing it in Titanfall really shouldn’t be a huge surprise. I’m glad that it’s going to be a Titan weapon too – I can’t wait to do my best Gundam impression. I can easily see it paring well with a Strider chassis and electric smoke for a strong melee build. We have to wait until probably E3 to see any more changes to the Titan formula, in particular any new chassis. I would expect that we’ll learn the release date at E3 too, my guess is Spring 2017 since the original was a March release.