Titanfall 2 review-in-progress: multiplayer
Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC
It’s all about momentum. A pilot on the ground? A pilot walking? He or she is toast. Keep moving, keep jumping, conquer the verticals and stay alive. Learn how to use your jetpack, chaining wall-runs and double-jumps together to gain speed and evade incoming fire. Lose that momentum and you become an easy target, either for your fellow pilots or for the Titans that arrive with a colossal SLAM just a few minutes into the match. Lose momentum and you die.
Of course, that was the problem that befell the original Titanfall – a lack of momentum – though it’s recovered with some help from developer Respawn and its appearance in EA’s Origin and Access Vaults. A game that should've been the first huge multiplayer shooter of this console generation was hampered first by its exclusivity on the least popular of the two new games machines, then by a DLC strategy that effectively splintered the player base. Neither should be a problem for Titanfall 2. Not only does it arrive across PC, Xbox One and PS4, but Respawn claims that all future DLC maps and modes will be available gratis.
Related: Battlefield 1 review
While the single biggest feature in the sequel is the new single-player campaign – more on that next week in the full review – multiplayer hasn’t been ignored. The narrative framework for multiplayer has been abandoned, leaving a formidable, tight, team-based action game. Based on several hours of hands-on time with a final build, I’m more than a little impressed.
The fundamentals are basically the same. Players fill the shoes of acrobatic pilots, equipped with jetpacks and able to pull off dizzying strings of jumps, wall-runs and mantling manoeuvres. By completing mode-specific objectives or getting kills and assists, either on enemy pilots or CPU-controlled troops, you reduce the time until Titanfall, when a giant mech will be dropped from space.
Summon your metallic mate, climb in, and you’re equipped to do devastating damage, either battling with enemy mechs or blasting the now-vulnerable pilots. All the same, you’ve got to watch it; pilots might go down at the first shell or missile, but their agility means they’re still a threat, able to snipe at your Titan with handheld weapons or leap onboard and cripple your Titan from a perch on the outside.
Respawn has, however, tweaked the mechanics, changed the modes and reworked the loadouts and customisation systems. While you can still customise both your pilot and – to a lesser extent – your Titan with a range of weapons, grenades, abilities and perks, there are now more distinct basic loadouts to work from that promote specific styles of play.
This is particularly true of the Titans. These range from the Ion, which is a heavy-duty bruiser with an energy rifle, a precision laser weapon and a vicious continuous beam special attack, to the Ronin – a sort of Samurai Titan with an energy sword, a short-range warp move and the ability to blast out waves of energy. Or how about the Northstar, with limited flight capabilities and a sniper railgun? Or maybe Scorch, with his grenades, incendiary traps and walls of flame?
Not only do these presets give you a good basic building block to work from, but they give the Titans on the battlefield more personality. When you see good ol’ Scorch stomping around up ahead, you know roughly how he’ll play and the sort of tricks he’s going to try to pull. In this sense, the new Titans work a little more like the heroes of Overwatch or Battleborn.
There are a lot of cool new abilities and weapons in play as well. Maybe the grappling hook, which gives you extra reach when trying to navigate the map, is not for you. Well, how about the Pulse Blade, which can be earthed to locate nearby enemies, or the Stimpacks that boost your speed and regenerate some health? Similarly, frag grenades and mines are a lot of fun, but not as much fun as the Tick, a nasty little bomb on legs that will pursue enemy Titans or pilots and then explode.
The armoury, meanwhile, is spectacular, with almost too many weapons to monkey around with. As you level up you’ll unlock even more powerful LMGs, auto-shotguns, grenade launchers, beam weapons and sniper rifles, some brutally effective against enemy pilots, some pretty useful against even the mighty mechs themselves.
Mode-wise, choice seems to be the order of the day. It turns out that reports of the death of Titanfall’s core mode, Attrition, have been exaggerated. It’s still here, and still has you tackling AI grunts and robot spectres and reapers while you reduce the time before your Titan is ready to drop. If anything, it feels even slicker, faster-paced and more enjoyable than in the original, whether you’re on your feet as a pilot or throwing your weight around as a Titan.
If anything, it’s complemented rather than replaced by the new Bounty Hunt mode. It’s a close relative of Halo 5’s Warzone mode that stitches PvE and PvP play together, as you build up cash by taking down waves of AI-controlled grunts and Titans – as well as enemy players – then try to bank your bonus at the deposit points that open between the waves. Die on the way to the bank, of course, and you lose your bonus, making Bounty Hunt a fraught experience where arrogance can switch to misery in a single moment of carelessness.
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I’m a big fan of Bounty Hunt, and also of the new, improved Hardpoint Amped mode, where the teams skirmish for control of Hardpoints, but can amp them to double the score you receive for holding them – a nice touch that ensures smart players hang around and guard their Hardpoints for longer.
I’ve even got more time than some for the Pilot Vs Pilot mode, which strips things back to a Team Deathmatch between Pilots – no Titans allowed. It’s quick, thrilling and a real showcase of serious pilot acrobatics, making you glad you spent that time mastering your wall-runs and spins. If you don’t like it, though, there’s always Last Titan Standing – the Titan-focused equivalent.
The real strength of Titanfall was always in the way it managed combat on two scales – pilot and Titan – then managed to bring the two together. On the whole, the sequel’s maps seem to only enhance this. Some might seem like basic arenas with tight canyons or a clutch of research buildings, but then you’ll discover caves and tunnels that give pilots alternate routes with which to get to Hardpoints or surprise their Titan-packing foes.
The Eden map’s half-constructed streets and towers might seem to favour the mechs, but in fact the billboards, buildings and monorails are made for ambitious wall-runners, enabling bold, fast-moving pilots to race across the map at speed. There’s a fantastic map – I didn’t get the name – that seems to take place in some kind of abandoned, partly underground mall. Another, Black Water Canal, splits between an inner section of bridges and buildings and an outer ring of dried-up canal, encouraging pilots to sprint through the centre while Titans rumble around the rim on the way to a ramp.
In short, Titanfall looks to be returning with all its multiplayer charms intact, but with changes that make it both more accessible to newcomers and more absorbing for old fans. And while it faces stiff competition from Battlefield 1 and – potentially – the new sci-fi Call of Duty, it seemingly deserves to grab its own place in the pantheon of greats.
We’ll say more once we’ve played the game outside of controlled conditions on real servers, but right now this looks to be one of the strongest multiplayer shooters around.