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.

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.

First Person Shooter News Roundup

TitanfallOver the last handful of days, we’ve had a few pretty sizable news items drop all relating to different FPS games. Each one isn’t really worth a full article exploring, but they’re definitely worth talking about at least a little bit. So that’s what we’ll do today.

We’ll start with the easy one to digest – Titanfall 2 has apparently officially been unveiled and it’s going to have a campaign mode included. There’s a couple things here to look at. First off, this is the first official word we’ve gotten about a sequel to Titanfall outside of some speculation about platforms. I think it was kind of an open secret in the gaming world – the first game did so well and really helped bring FPS games to the current-gen consoles, that a sequel was a no-brainer. While we still don’t have any real concrete details, knowing that Respawn and EA saw the lack of a true single-player campaign as a shortcoming and are addressing it is a good thing. I thought that Titanfall had a really cool universe that it built, and the campaign Multiplayer matches, while a cool experiment, just didn’t quite deliver for me. I think that because it came out when it did in the current-gen lifespan, the player count dropped pretty quickly, despite it being a really great game. I’m hoping that putting in a true campaign mode, bringing along Frontier Defense mode as well as keeping the overall multiplayer mode more or less the same will keep players invested in a shooter that has a truly unique feel compared with the rest of the market.

Call of Duty Black Market

The other two bits of news I want to talk about today both revolve around Activision’s two biggest FPS games, and probably their biggest games period: Destiny and Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Let’s look at Call of Duty first. Yes, they just launched a new DLC map pack on the PS4, and while there were a couple pretty big issues with a couple map exploits that got patched quickly, I think the overall reaction has been mainly positive. Which is what makes this latest little influx of content we got this week kinda surprising. Treyarch added in over 100 new Supply Drop items, to all platforms, including new guns, not just melee items. That’s got the community a little divided, and understandably so. Here’s the problem – all those new items, including a couple really compelling weapons that I want to try out, are tied totally behind RNG based loot drops. It’s like fishing for a certain loot drop in Destiny all over again, just with the looming shadow of “COD Points” to look at. Since Call of Duty‘s loot drops are all tied with microtransactions instead of just in-game play/currency, there’s always going to be that shadow looming over new content. There needs to be something done with the Cryptokeys – either a permanent increase to the rate their earned, some kind of daily challenge that earns a Rare Supply Drop, or the weighting on the new weapons should be favored. Since I’ve been playing the game I have yet to see any of the Supply Drop weapons for me – and in truth, only a couple instances of them in my playing. I know that they have to have some incentive to buy COD Points, but tying cool new guns to them isn’t really the way to do it. I think keeping the customization items there is totally fine, but actual in-game items that can impact matches I wouldn’t have gone that route.

Destiny Crimson Days

On the other side of the Activision coin, we have Destiny. Crimson Days started yesterday and I have to say, it’s kinda underwhelming. Sure the Crimson Doubles look pretty cool – it’s a neat twist on Elimination. But that’s literally it – there’s one quest and one set of weekly bounties. In theory, you could reasonably complete everything that the event brings with it in a day of playing. They only added in two distinct pieces of gear – two Ghost Shells – that’s it. Festival of the Lost and SRL both added in a lot more, granted gear that didn’t really do anything for your Light level. But still, two Ghost shells, two shaders and one emblem is pretty weak. Tess Everis has a couple new Emotes that you can buy with real money (Silver) but again, not really worth it unless you’re really invested in the social side of Destiny. This really isn’t what Destiny needs right now – mainly because there is no PvE content added in with this at all. And that’s the real problem here – I think we maybe lose sight of this because a lot of streamers and YouTubers in the Destiny community do play a good amount of PvP, but the majority of players are PvE based players. There needs to be some kind of influx of PvE content quickly – I would hope next month instead of the April that we’re thinking now. What kills me especially is that in the Crimson Days Grimoire Card we get a glimpse of what Crimson Days could have added on the PvE front – and it’s something that was in my fantasy development for the sequel I did last week: Horde Mode. Two-man, co-op endless waves of enemies on the different planets we have – they even mention it happening in the Vault of Glass! How cool could that have been – fighting off endless waves of Vault of Glass Vex with a partner for increasingly better rewards. Even if it’s a short timed event, that’s pretty much exactly what the PvE side needs right now.

Ultimately, the FPS news is a mixed bag – the Titanfall news has me optimistic about the sequel coming our way; but the Activision side of things is a little muddier. It seems like they’re both short-term additions to games that need long-term attention. If Destiny is supposed to live for ten years, this isn’t the kind of content it needs. If Call of Duty is going to have microtransactions moving forward, tying game-altering items to them sets a bad precedent. Hopefully Activision, Treyarch and Bungie all can start thinking a little farther out, and each game can very easily bounce back from this no problem at all.

Weekly News Recap: Week of March 9, 2015

Couple pieces of news this week worth looking at as we head into the weekend. We could potentially have a few more big stories break this weekend too, since it’s South by Southwest’s Gaming weekend in Austin. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for anything that looks interesting.

UNCHARTED 4 PUSHED BACK TO NEXT YEAR
Probably the story that I saw get the most discussion this week was the delay of Uncharted 4. While it was originally slated for this fall, it’s now been pushed back into 2016. Now, the initial reactions were mixed – obviously people are upset to see it pushed back at all, but I think in the end it’s for the best. It gives Naughty Dog extra time to really get it perfect. Of course I did see plenty of Xbox fanboys claiming this fall for Microsoft – but as an Xbox gamer, I have to say that I still think the PS4’s lineup this year is still crazy strong. The Xbox One can definitely make up some ground, but will still have a long way to go.

XBOX ONE MARCH UPDATE IS LIVE
I went over a couple of the new features in the March update for the Xbox One earlier this week. It’s now been pushed live to everyone – as long as you’ve connected online this week, you have the March update. There are a couple things I really don’t plan on using too much – the transparency setting for the tiles for instance, but I really am excited for the screenshot function. It will make sharing progress on Mega Man Land a bit easier. No more long clips showing still images.

Battlefield Hardline

BATTLEFIELD HARDLINE EARLY ACCESS
EA tried something a little new this week with Battlefield: Hardline. The game doesn’t actually launch until Tuesday of next week. But subscribers of EA Access on the Xbox One were able to install the game this week and start playing it right away – almost a full week early. I haven’t really watched a ton of the streams – mainly because I prefer to go into games as blind as possible these days – so I don’t know if the multiplayer is live or not. I would hope it isn’t, or that they plan on resetting the levels on Day One, but either way, it’s a good experiment for early access on consoles.

One last little bit of news I saw yesterday was that EA also confirmed that there’s more Titanfall on the way, and that it’s likely to appear on multiple consoles. That really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – after all, Titanfall was a brand new IP that sold really well on two platforms. Bringing more is a no-brainer, and expanding the market is even less of one.

Titanfall: One Year Later the Titans Still Work

TitanfallNow that we’re officially into March, it’s been one full year since the launch of Titanfall, the first game from Respawn Entertainment. It had a lot of hype going in – a new FPS IP from the creators of the Modern Call of Duty format. Add in that it was coming from EA – not Call of Duty‘s publisher Activision and the story was rich enough before the game even was released. There was extra pressure since it was also Exclusive to Microsoft – PC and Xbox only. And to tell the truth there was a lot riding on the success of the game for the Xbox One. It was the first FPS that really was built for the “Next-Gen” system’s abilities. Running on the Microsoft Cloud was supposed to keep lag at a minimum – and the game also had the ability for players to choose their server locations to help that further.

Titanfall Expedition

The question then is, one year later, did the game live up to the expectations? The short answer is yes, but there’s a lot more going on here. Sure, it sold well, and had a pretty solid player base for a while – although the numbers have really dropped. I played a couple games this week to refresh myself and the biggest player count was in Attrition with just about 6,000 worldwide players. But the impact really goes beyond the numbers with Titanfall. It gave the Xbox One some life early on in the console’s lifespan – which it really needed. The PS4 came in with a bit more receptive audience than the Xbox One, which you could argue is still the case, but with Titanfall the public began to look at the Xbox with a little more positive views. Having an exclusive, especially one that’s an FPS, was a huge plus for the early days of the Xbox One. Beyond that, Titanfall also helped illustrate a fundamental shift in the design of FPS games. We’ve seen it now with Advanced Warfare  and Destiny as well, and even in Halo 5. The days of waist high walls are seemingly past, and we now have games that are built around movement and speed. Each game has approached it in different ways, but I still think that Titanfall has done it best. The emphasis on wall running really helps keep the flow of pilot combat fast paced – it was rare to see much down time in a full lobby. Even the Titans had a lot more mobility than I think anyone really expected.

Titanfall Frontier's Edge

Titanfall I think will end up being one of those games that in a few years, we’ll look back at as one of the first true Next-Gen games. It was a completely fresh take on a genre that’s as old as any – and one that tends to get stagnant after a couple years. Regardless of how long this trend of mobility-focused shooters lasts, Titanfall will have been the first one out. There’s really no way, without talking with all the developers out there, to know exactly how much influence the game has had right now; but I do think if we look at what FPS games look like at E3 we might be able to start to see just how important it was. The post-launch DLC season was kind of short – only three packs with three maps in each; but the season pass was also cheaper than usual – it was $30 instead of the usual $50. But Respawn also had a bunch of free updates that were rolled in with patches that added in tons of content – the Black Market for Burn Cards, Private Matches, Titan Customization and the Co-op Frontier Defense all were free content add-ons. I would have liked to see the player-base hang on to the game for a bit longer, but we’ll see how it goes with the sequel. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, I think it’s a given that EA and Respawn will have a second game out in a year or so.

What Makes a Perfect FPS Map?

I have returned, from the throws of a nasty cold and I have in mind for today a post spurned by watching a video on YouTube over the weekend. WatchMojo.com – a site that produces lots of Top 10 countdown videos on YouTube across all sorts of topics. Over last week they released one that intrigued me right away – the Top 10 FPS multiplayer maps. Normally I watch them for entertainment, but of course, this is my area of interest – I watched this one with a bit more intent. So, in the mind of fairness – here is their top 10 countdown:

Now instead of just offering up my top 10 and calling it a day, which would be rather simple, I thought I’d look more at a top level here. Rather, let’s look at what exactly goes into what we could consider a perfect FPS multiplayer map.

Blood Gulch

Let’s begin with our set-up. If you really break it down, the maps ultimately boil down to one of two set-ups: Symmetrical, or not. Generally, that focus helps determine if the map will perform well both as an objective map or as a free-for-all/deathmatch style one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to define how the map will play – for example, Crash (from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) – it’s an asymmetrical map, but it still manages to work in any game mode. Same with Blood Gulch (from Halo) – it’s symmetrical, but yet still works well for slayer games too. So the top down, overall arrangement is the first step – but it’s also got to be fitting for the scale of your player count. A big symmetrical map in a game that based more around close range encounters doesn’t make any sense and in the end won’t be a good map. It’s the problem with a map like Wasteland (Modern Warfare 2) – it’s a fine map, assuming you play it in Ground War, anything else feels too sparsely populated. So the next major factor to look into is size – large maps work as long as you’re building a game that works for large player count. Look at Titanfall – all the maps are large to accommodate the Titans, and even though the player count is small (only 6) the population of A.I. helps make them still work. But if you remove the Titans, and the maps don’t work, same with if you had small maps with Titans.
Facing Worlds
So, if we look at the final major factor, we can really get a feel for what our map will be. That final factor is the flow – all the extra little details that you put into the maps to direct players around it. Staircases for vertical play, objects for cover in firefights and routing for multiple paths all help give our map personality. The actual setting for the map really doesn’t necessarily matter – as long as it fits in with the setting of your game, that’s fine. If you took, let’s say, Facing Worlds from Unreal Tournament, and used the same design philosophy, but designed it with Call of Duty aesthetics and it could work – as long as you make sure that the flow still works.
Modern Warfare Crash
It’s not an easy thing to do – look at all your favorite games and I’m sure that you’ll find a couple maps that you just don’t like. For me right now, it’s been BioLab in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – I find the flow just doesn’t really work with the gameplay. Instead of having hotpoints to focus around, it just feels like the map is a constantly rotating set of hotpoints around the spawn zones. That’s really part of the issue across the whole Call of Duty series – so many maps across the games are great looking, well built maps that are saddled with the issue of spawning. But that’s the fun of games like this – one map that’s a miss can fuel the desire for the next game’s batch, and that could mean a classic one.