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After the Hype: Titanfall has lots of hits, but a few big misses

by William Schwartz

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It’s been two weeks since Titanfall, the first offering from fledgling developer Respawn Entertainment, released as one of the most anticipated games in recent memory, and it delivers an fresh experience that strives to keep pace with the game’s pre-launch hype. Amidst the mechs and mayhem, however, Titanfall has a few areas that leave something to be desired.

THE CAMPAIGN

Titanfall’s focus is strictly multiplayer with no single-player option to speak of. Instead, the game’s “campaign” is little more than a series of sequential multiplayer matches loosely tied together by an underlying narrative. In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Respawn’s CEO and co-founder Vince Zampella said the decision was made to omit a traditional single-player campaign in order to focus the studio’s efforts on the multiplayer experience.

“We make these single-player missions that take up all the focus of the studio, that take a huge team six months to make, and players run through it in 8 minutes,” Zampella said. “So why do all the resources go there? To us it made sense to put it here. Now everybody sees all those resources, and multiplayer is better.”

The reasoning is sound, especially with gamers still wincing from the sub-par single-player offerings included in DICE’s Battlefield 3 and 4. Unfortunately, the delivery of Titanfall’s multiplayer campaign makes it feel like a recovery effort, as though the studio was half-way through developing a standalone campaign when it was scrubbed, but they didn’t want to waste the content that had already been created.

The campaign narrative does have its bright spots. The voice acting is excellent throughout, and the brief glimpses into the storyline indicate the potential for a compelling plot and strong character development.
The problem lies in the fact that the plot and characters are included, but players are given absolutely no reason to care about either. In fact, the only incentive for playing the campaign at all lies with the additional Titan chassis that player unlock by playing through both sides of the campaign. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not asking for a full-fledged solo experience, but including what little campaign content there is accomplishes nothing and makes the whole idea seem like yet another half-hearted attempt.

Bottom line: Flesh it out or leave it out.

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THE PLAYER COUNT

Titanfall’s multiplayer matches are capped at 6v6, much to the chagrin of gamers accustomed to higher player counts, even on previous-generation hardware. The balance of each team is made up of artificial intelligence bots. Killing bots will shave time off your Titan cooldown and allow you to call in your next mech sooner, and many in-game achievements require downing a certain number of bots, but the A.I. serve little other purpose. They won’t capture objectives and pose virtually no threat to human-controlled players or Titans.

The most obvious drawback to the presence of bots happens in Attrition, Titanfall’s team deathmatch game mode. Here, killing bots counts every bit as much as killing an enemy pilot, but takes considerably less skill and is considerably less enjoyable. Attrition matches typically boil down to “who can kill the most bots the fastest” instead of pitting players against each other in gun battles.

Zampella touted the 12-player limit as “the best balance” via his Twitter account, and game designer Justin Hendry told Polygon that the studio had tested the game with additional human-controlled players before settling on 6v6.  This makes sense when you consider the sheer madness that would occur if there were 24 player-controlled Titans roaming the map, but including the bots represents a missed opportunity on Respawn’s part.

The bots are clearly intended to fill out the matches and keep the action from slumping.  A better solution would have been to split each team into two different playable classes: Pilots and Grunts. Pilots would get to call in Titans, Grunts would not. In exchange, Grunts alone would have access to unique abilities and weapons to help bring down enemy Titans. Upping the player count to 12 per side and eliminating the bots would keep the game interesting and give players a third level of persistence in addition to their progression as Pilots and Titans.

Bottom line: If there’s room for bots, there’s room for players.

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THE VARIATION

Titanfall certainly has a mild Call of Duty flavor to it, but the ability to stomp around the map in a giant robot suit adds another dimension to the gameplay that CoD doesn’t offer. Having said that, the gameplay in Titanfall doesn’t vary much after ten or twelve hours, and by the time you’ve finished your first run to the level cap of 50, the action starts to feel a little stale. The gameplay in Titanfall is only two layers deep: play as a Pilot, or jump in a Titan.

I’m not comparing genres here, but when gamers have the option to boot up other, concurrent titles like Battlefield or Grand Theft Auto, the lack of variation in Titanfall’s gameplay simply doesn’t stack up. New game modes have been announced, but the upcoming “drop-pods” will hopefully include other additions to keep the game fresh and players interested. Without that, the fanfare surrounding Titanfall’s release might fade quicker than anybody expected.

Bottom line: Variety means ‘replayability.’

Ultimately, Titanfall is a solid new IP for the gaming community and a great start for Respawn Entertainment. There are a lot of things done right in Titanfall, but there is always room for improvement, and these three issues are the most glaring at present. With updates and DLC yet to come, there’s still hope that Titanfall will make a lasting mark as the next great name in online shooters.

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