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In-Depth Hands-On with the Titanfall Beta for Xbox One

by William Schwartz

Wall-Throw

With the Titanfall beta upon us, there are many expectations, curiosities and questions surrounding the experience that those lucky enough to get a code will have. Whilst I am personally still working on the getting a code part, I was fortunate enough to receive an invite to an exclusive Titanfall event recently where I got to get hands-on for a few hours with the full Titanfall beta on Xbox One and play against the Respawn staff themselves.

Besides learning a number of tips and tricks, the guys at Respawn were happy to answer questions that hadn’t yet been clarified in previous related content. Below I have best tried to describe the experience, mechanics and additional elements that I encountered whilst playing. I am liable to miss out bits and pieces so feel free to leave a question in the comments and I will endeavour to get back to you.

Gameplay

Despite knowing the standard pattern in which FPS games run like the back of my hand, I didn’t really know what to expect from my first Titanfall experience. Pick your loadouts for both your Pilot and Titan and then you leap from a dropship into the battlefield. Although there were a couple of games modes to choose from (see below), the games still had the core structure throughout. The opening few minutes of the game involved finding the best vantage spot using the wall hopping and jetpack mechanic. It was fluent and smooth and made you feel like an action hero when bouncing between buildings and arriving at your destination after a long string of parkour moves. It totally altered the standard format right from the beginning as instinct dictates that enemies will be directly ahead of you. Instead, the game begins with Pilots bouncing from every conceivable structure which makes it hard to distinguish the genuine threats from the weaker Grunts and Spectres.

Much has been made of the 6V6 limit but the AI was more than competent at providing challenging opposition in places. With Respawn announcing that they wanted the additional AI to make the game more accessible to casual gamers, the message seemed to be that more experienced gamers may find them redundant. Whilst not a genuine threat most of the time, the balance between Grunts is pretty spot on. Whilst Grunts can be taken down with a good hard stare, Spectres will pose more of a challenge with improved damage, durability and aggression. They certainly make the map feel dense with activity and allow for more open environments.

Shotgun-Blood

This is where the game tends to differ depending on the variables involved such as game modes, of which there were three available –

Attrition – What can be considered the point’s system game mode. In other words, first to 250 wins and it is a case of shoot anything that breaths and isn’t represented by a blue dot. The harder the target dictates the amount of points for each kill. This translates to roughly single points for killing enemy AI (excluding Titans) four for a human Pilot, and five for ‘dooming’ a Titan. Due to the need to rack up points quickly, this mode often results in a mad dash for players to earn early kills to acquire a Titan. Initial time for a Titan to arrive is four minutes, but this process is rapidly sped up by picking up kills. Titans can obviously rack up points a lot quicker, though the best method seems to require defense as well as attack as a quickly destroyed Titan is a loss of hardware and a loss of points.

Last Titan Standing – If you find that the Titans are the most exciting gameplay aspect, then this is the mode for you. Every player begins in a Titan and must eliminate all their opponents. This includes taking down the enemy Titans AND picking off their respective Pilots if they eject in time. The maverick can indeed opt to eject from their Titan at the start, which will leave them exposed to Titan fire but means a doubled attack force as an unmanned Titan will simply revert to Auto-Titan mode.

Hardpoint – Domination, Hardpoint, King of the Hill. Whatever you call it this mode is the well-known three-flag location control mode which requires players to hold key areas of the map for as long as possible. An interesting aspect of this mode revolves around the fact that Titans do not have access to the Hardpoint’s (at least not on the maps available). This means that Titans are practically handed a supporting role by denying enemies a route into the base and using their heavy weaponry to provide suppressing fire through windows or into bunkers. As such, you often won’t find as many Titans called in during this game mode if Pilots are focusing on the objective at hand.

Pilots

The bread and butter of any FPS, the Pilots as infantry play as one of the most momentum-driven and well-implemented mechanics I have seen in a long time. Everyone knows the original ideas thus far, the wall-jumping, the executions and so on, but until you feel it for yourself then it is hard to fully appreciate. For Xbox, LB controls a special ability such as cloaking whilst RB is your supplementary weapon, namely the grenades. Whilst the basic infantry elements that everyone understands remain, it is the little additions that make this game so different. For example, the Data Knife that players can equip and use to hack enemy Spectres can be used to hang of the walls. In alleys and unusual spots, you can see several Pilots hanging spider-like off the side of buildings whilst they wait for a Titan to drop on and eliminate. It is little things like this that are strung throughout which entirely alter the experience and will require some searching to learn them all.

True to leaked video from PAX Prime, the loadouts for both Titans and Pilots featured weapons from the start of the development process.  The video only gave a brief description of the weapons function, but it is clear that the three classes mentioned cater around varied styles of play. All set classes can be altered and set as an individual custom loadout but customising accessories such as sights was unavailable at this point, though it looks set to arrive in the full version. You can even change gender if you feel the need. Below is the key weaponry for Pilots –

Smart Pistol MK5 (Primary) – When used as a hip-fire weapon, the SP can auto-lock on to numerous enemies. This makes it extremely easy for taking out low level AI such as grunts as it is a simple one hit kill. It also comes into good effect when targeting human opponents as it doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy. The drawback here is that it can take time to fire, re-acquire the auto-lock on and fire again and it is liable that by the time you have done this the four required times to see off an opposing pilot, they would have seen and dispatched you. It should also be noted that beyond this ability, it simply functions as a slightly more powerful pistol when aiming down the sights. It also features a suppressor to prevent showing up on the HUD.

Archer Heavy Rocket (Anti-Titan) – Pushing left on the D-pad selects an anti-Titan weapon and the Archer is possibly the most love hate. It has great damage, range and lock-on abilities, but it is also painfully slow. There is no real way to tackle a Titan head-on with the archer without getting obliterated, so this is mainly a flanking weapon. The need for lock-on means there is no way to hide within buildings in between reloads and as such suits the stealthy style of play that the CQB class caters for.

R-101C Carbine (Primary) – Run of the mill assault rifle with average specs. It is worth pointing out that combat with primary weapons is beyond satisfying and this carbine epitomises that. The feedback in the controller and visual deterioration of Titans and opponents alike leads to satisfying kills, a mechanic which is hard to define but one that separates the good shooters from the great.

Pilot-Loadouts

Sidewinder (Anti-Titan) – The polar opposite of the Archer, the Sidewinder has reduced damage, range and no lock-on function, yet is more versatile overall. No lock-on means it doubles as a powerful missile launcher with a ridiculously high rate of fire. For taking down Pilots, this proved more effective than many of the purpose-built assault weapons. The lack of lock-on also allows for quicker Titan takedowns; a whole clip can be dispatched in mere seconds, after which ducking inside give Titans little chance to deal with you efficiently.

Eva-8 Shotgun (Primary) – Unfortunately, there is little I can say about the Eva-8 as I didn’t get a chance to try it out. From being on the receiving end of a few shells however, it seems to act as a close-range only weapon which is therefore highly effective in built up areas. With the mobility mechanics however, getting in range of an opponent shouldn’t be as tricky as it sounds and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this weapon popping up frequently.

R-97 Compact SMG (Primary) – An alternative to the Eva-8 if you prefer something a little faster, the R-97 is a similarly close-range weapon with a high rate of fire. It may not win a one on one with the shotgun but it is certainly more versatile. Whilst low on range, you do have the ability to kill enemies from further than five yards and it is incredibly effective if you manage to Rodeo a Titan and want to dispatch it before you are shot down.

Longbow-DMR Sniper (Primary) – As a fan of sniping, I was expecting Titanfall to be a frustrating encounter in which the fast pace and incessant, at lack of a better word, bouncing would mean that trying to snipe anyone whilst avoiding the inevitable flow of enemies would be too frustrating to deal with. A nice feature of the Longbow though is that it is deemed a ‘High velocity’ rifle which means there is no need to lead your shots (aim ahead of a moving target). Whilst some may view this as unrealistic, it created this style of play where close-quarter Pilots had no option but to keep moving as snipers knew exactly where to aim. Whenever at least one Longbow was involved, you could visually notice the pace at which players move about the map increase.

For information on additional Pilot sidearms and abilities, ask in the comments.

Titans

The mechanical giants who caught everyone’s attention at E3 have certainly lived up to the hype. Combat between Pilots and Titans differed every time I got involved and whenever I faced off against an opposing Titan, the game really came into its element. Titans have a LOT of artillery which makes for explosive encounters when a couple lock-on to one another. The only class available for the beta build is the Atlas, who has the additional shoulder rockets which can be unloaded on an enemy when using RB. In a similar manner to the Pilots, LB will trigger the Titans ability, which in the case of the Atlas was a Vortex Shield.

As I am sure you will all have seen from the trailers, the Shield allows Titans to catch incoming enemy projectiles and fire them back at their opponents. This became one of the core techniques that needed to be mastered in order to last beyond one engagement with a Titan. Your shield depletes when used and recharges over time, so using it when you are receiving the most enemy fire and releasing when given a bit of respite is imperative. Much like the Vortex Shield, your own Titan has a defensive shield which protects and replenishes over time when not under fire. A Titan’s health, however, will not replenish so it is a requirement to keep a shield up at all costs. When your Titan is beyond repair, you will see that it is ‘Doomed’. This requires you to eject before the slider reaches the end and the Titan explodes in a cataclysm of light and debris. Unlike the Pilots, Titans cannot have custom loadouts created just yet but did offer a bit of variety when it came to their primary weaponry –

XO-16 Chaingun (Primary) – Probably the safest option amongst the all-purpose car-sized weaponry. The Chaingun acts in a much similar fashion to the Pilots R-101C Carbine on steroids, with only a few bullets required to eliminate personnel. Assuming you can manage to dodge any other Titan artillery, then this is great choice. If you are having a problem with manoeuvrability however, then you may find the Chaingun a little too weak to eliminate a Titan before you need to eject.

40MM Cannon (Primary) –  Described as a ‘semi-automatic’, the 40MM is again very adept at dealing with infantry, but I struggled to deal with Titans. There is a short pause in between shots and it often caused me to miss a moving target which is highly detrimental with a weapon such as this. You could put it down to me lacking ability, but controlled bursts on other weapons actually feel ‘controlled’. With this auto-regulating itself, aiming was a pain if it was any target that required consistent pressure.

Titan-Loadout

Quad Rocket (Primary) – My personal favourite of the three primary weapons on offer, the Quad Rocket may have just attracted me with it’s beautiful swirling shell formation when fired, but it might have been the result that actually drew me to it. Couple with the Atlas shoulder rockets, a quick barrage could knock off half a Titans health in one swoop and it seemed that the rockets spread out when fired. As most of the Titan vs Titan firefights didn’t allow for much movement, this made it difficult for opponents to move out of their line of fire. From what I gather, the drawback is that the rockets move very slowly when fired, which makes targeting an enemy at long range an issue. As I say though, as long as you can keep them relatively trapped, there is little they can do besides the aforementioned Vortex Shield trick, which can then lead to a hilarious game of catch with thirty or so rockets.

Damage Core – This was the ability given to aid the Titans in the beta. This simply, whilst activated, increased damage dealt for a set period of time.

Maps

As with most other elements of the title, the beta format is intending to give players as wide a taste of the game as possible without giving everything away right from the start. This is included with the two maps on offer, which have been chosen to showcase the wide and closed areas to function within –

Angel City – Instantly recognisable as the map from the trailer, Angel City is structured on the idea that players can theoretically move from one end of the map to the other without ever touching the ground. Any building structure can be scaled and used as a springboard to reach some of the more unusual areas of the map and the tight roads are designed to bottleneck Titans and force large firefights. A central courtyard is the focal point for much of the action, though as games progressed and Titans began to arrive, many of the remaining Pilots took to the rooftops in an attempt to remain out of the way.

Fracture – Designed as a much more open map, Fracture features the remains of previous colony which lays surrounded by a grassy, woodland area. As you can imagine, this gives Titans more free reign whilst limiting cover for Pilots attempting to cross from one side of the map to the other. The fallout from this is that game modes such as Hardpoint become incredibly competitive as it is difficult to control any one area for a given period of time. Buildings will be teeming with Pilots and Titans on the outside will be constantly attacking these areas if no counter-force is present.

Burn Cards

Described to me by artist Joel Emslie as ‘a quirky addition’, Burn Cards feature as a supplementary ability that can be equipped in the pre-game lobby and applied during a killcam. Up to three can be selected for any one match and they range from the ability to move faster to an alternative weapon such as the Amped Mag Launcher which fires multiple explosive rounds that detonate after a few seconds. Not only does the bonus affect your ability within the game, but the added threat of it disappearing after your death can give a sense of worth to your life; meaning that cat and mouse skirmishes with the Titan just got a bit tenser. Burn Cards can be earned by successfully accomplishing certain challenges.

Burn-Cards

Important Notes

I realise that I have essentially just gushed about the main aspects of the game and therefore only scratched the surface of what everyone would want to know. As such, the finer details below are an attempt to summarise any other key influences on the game or any unknown points of interest are noted below.

  • The build described here is the EXACT replica of the beta build.
  • Pilots cannot go prone in the game. This is due to, as community manager Abbie Heppe described it to me, the fluid movement system as players would end up looking like they are doing ‘the worm’.
  • The HUD in the top left of the screen displays Grunts and Spectres as small dots whilst human players are bigger and Titans are the largest.
  • Weapon attachments are unlocked by completing in-game challenges.
  • Melee moves include the drop kick seen in the trailer and the neck snap (more may be available).
  • ‘Titanfalling’ is the art of aiming your own Titanfall so it lands on an enemy. This tactic can destroy opposing Titans in one hit and Abbie claimed it was the ‘ultimate humiliation’ amongst the developers. Your Titanfall will occur roughly where your Pilot is looking and will take five seconds from request till landing.
  • When a Titan arrives, a shield will protect from incoming fire but cannot prevent enemies from entering.
  • A ‘Rodeo’ is the act of jumping on an opposing Titan to open up a hatch in its head and apply direct fire to the Titan. The Titan’s shields will actually protect you if Rodeoing.
  • If an enemy has managed to Rodeo you, a message will indicate this and the only way to deal with it is to either leave the Titan and eliminate the threat or call a teammate to assist.
  • Simply causing damage can reduce the time until your Titan arrives.
  • Spectres arrive when a Titanfall is called in.
  • The voice message of ‘Command acknowledged, Standby for Titanfall’ is stupidly awesome.

Summary

It sounds odd to say, but I found that watching playback of mine and others games from the day was actually a little boring and I believe this is down to now actually having played the game. It feels so different to how I imagined it that it has been hard to put down into words. I can’t stress how much you at least need to try it, even if not to purchase as if my experience was anything to go by, it will surprise you. It is worth noting that for the record, the beta was incredibly smooth with no major issues or glitches. The odd Pilot got tossed through a wall and there was a slight issue with server connection in the lobby, but it has certainly reached a standard which is incredibly promising for the full title.

As I have said, I am aware may not have covered everything so if there is any information, opinions or aspects you want to know about, let me know in the comments below.

Archer-Locked

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