Amidst all the buzz and glamour, hype and excitement, I’d like to take a look at the recent release Titanfall. To begin, I’d like to point out that this is yet another EA First Person Shooter, as if we don’t have enough of those already. This game is a sort of “good news/bad news sandwich” where it has some great innovations but poor executions. Many of the issues I have with the game are legacy issues that carry over from one first person shooter to the next, and seems to be what appeals to the common player base for these sorts of games.
On the surface, Titanfall is a fast paced PVP mech combat game that focuses elements of scifi space travel with ground troupe military operations, which in and of itself, is fine. It is even a good sell-line for any story. The idea that people would want to test their skills against each other is great too, and competition is healthy. But the game approaches the aspect of PVP in a very ham-handed and brutal manner that is a major put off for more story-centric gamers, like myself.
So here’s my problems with Titanfall:
- Everything is PVP: There is no scaling or easing into PVP, there’s no transition, it just is. Even the campaign missions are
strictly player versus player. In theory, this could be an interesting notion, but in practice it does two things. The first thing is that it removes the need for clever level design. If players are both the antagonists and protagonists, you wind up with no specific characters and thus no character development and no real story elements to latch on to. There are just the players, faceless, emotionless, legion. The other problem is that it makes the game impossible. The difficulty level of games are usually based on predictability and linear progression. Because players are everywhere, can do nearly anything, and are rather unpredictable, their game devolves into a simple pestle where the mortar or progression grinds everything into a fine grey unrecognizable blob. Well, that and a contest of who has the largest need for phallus compensation.
- Origin: Origin is EA’s pale attempt to mimic the success of Valve’s digital marketplace game launcher, Steam. The servers cut in and out all the time. Disconnects are rampant and wide spread. And that has plagued Origin since the inception of Mass Effect 3‘s multiplier, not to mention the more recent Sim City debacle. Even worse, is that if you’ve fought your way through an entire level/match/whatever they are calling it, and disconnect at the last minute, all that progress and the experience points are lost to the nether-space, never to be seen again. This probably happens because the game’s saves are cloud based, which updates infrequently and not very often during play.
A half-made tutorial: When I played the tutorial, I was incredibly excited. It seemed great! The game could have continued with a single player mission based campaign and I would more than welcomed such a thing. I would even have welcomed the challenge of a co-operative story mode of Player vs. Environment experience, but that’s not what we got. Specifically in the tutorial, it teaches you the “basics” of movement and combat, which is a good chunk of information to go through. What they don’t tell you is how to play the game objectively. Things like “How to capture a flag”, “How to control a point”, and “How to board a dropship”, which seem to be important key points of gameplay, are never touched upon. I would like to also add to the list of tutorials the game needs: instructions on “How not to die in the first second of your spawning” and “How not to get spawn killed”. I feel those are most important.
- Matchmaking: If you can call it that. A good PVP matchmaking system ranks players on a scale that is relevant to their skill at performing certain tasks (such as getting a high kill count in a match and capturing many flags in a match). Then with that ranking system it finds players that have similar ranks and puts them all together. New players with new players, hardcore veterans (who have unlocked the better weapons and better robot equipment better everything) with hardcore veterans. No-brainier, right? Well, I don’t know if it’s Titanfall or Origin, but there is no matchmaking process whatsoever. It’s just “who’s logged on matched with who logged on next”. So, you’ll have players like me, semi-new to FPS PVP matched with players that have over 7 times my “Player Level”, every gun, every upgrade, and everything else unlocked and gold plated. Needless to say, my gaming experience is “spawn, live for 1 sec, die” rinse and repeat for 5 minutes until the your team loses the game… not what I’d call “a fun game”.
- Objectives: Nothing is explained. You come into a map at random positions, and you run around hoping not to die in your brief seconds of existence. I’m left with so many questions after each mission. In the campaign, it starts by trying to tell you what you are supposed to be doing, but through all the chaos, it makes absolutely no sense. There are no objectives, only death. Not only that, but there is some random number generator for each team called “Attrition points”. I believe that you gain these points by stopping the enemy team from doing something important or by butchering tons of them, but really, it’s anybody’s guess. The game never tells you how those points are obtained, they just “are” and my team is always just a bunch of “have-nots”.
- Everything is made of the thinnest and cheapest poor quality paper: One of my biggest complaints is that nothing, including yourself, lives long enough for you to “enjoy” the experience of being alive in that world. As soon as you call down your big robot, of which you get ~1 per game if your lucky, you can just pretty much ignore it. It was blown up before you even thought of pushing the call button. As soon as the game developers decided this was how they wanted to make the game, your “titan” (for which the game was named) had already been killed by the opponent players.
- Everybody spawns everywhere: There are very few games that I have found where PVP follows clear cut directions and has a dedicated flow to the levels and maps. It usually stands with a “base” or some “safe room” and you are pointed to the direction of an enemy “base” or “safe room”. Games like Team Fortress 2 and Halo 1 have very good concepts of that, let alone non FPS PVP games such as World of Warcraft and Dota2/League of Legends. But Titanfall (like many military shooters) doesn’t seem to learn anything from those successful titles. You spawn haphazardly throughout the maps and the chips fall where they spawn. You usually come into the game with an enemy shotgun shoved down your throat. “Welcome to Earth” BLAM! and then you can basically roll the credits because that’s the whole game.
- Disturbing trends of the industry revealed: I should have known that Titanfall would end up this way, with it being an EA game. Pulled in with the hype and promise of a unique giant robot filled experience, I took the bait and I feel sucker-punched as a player. Not only is the game being marketed at full premium price, they want you to buy a DLC pack for an extra $30. I guess we should feel lucky that EA isn’t charging us USD per titan call, of which there are many. If you think about it, all of the above are “trends” of this genre, and it really is what makes this genre so terrible and cancerous to the gaming industry as a whole. The fact that there isn’t much upfront in this game, and people will throw money hand over fist to get it… I’m floored. You get maybe 2 minutes of gameplay total per match, and then the rest of it is looking at loading screens and spawn timers.
- Community toxicity: I used to look over the tales of Call of Duty style players who go absolutely ballistic, spitting bile and hate at each other and anyone who dared to get too close to them. You see it carry over into other games a lot, too. Even League of Legends became notorious for how terribly their players treated each other. After playing neigh thirty minutes of Titanfall, I now understand it completely. The toxicity of the players is by design of the game itself. I do want to note down, that I don’t think it is explicitly intentional or out of malicious intent, but I do want to state that it is because the game itself puts such high stress upon the players and then punches them over and over with the utmost levels of despair and frustration. And because it is Player vs. Player, they do it to themselves and each other. For a non gamer, pretend, if you will, that you are in your car trying to drive down a road to go somewhere important. Every 20 feet or so there is an intersection with a green light for you. You are trying to go to your important thing on time but as the seconds tick by hundreds of people slam on their gas and cut you off at every light and you never seem to go anywhere because of it. Over and over, for an endless amount of time. That is the stress that piles upon the shoulders of the gamers of these player vs player style games, and that is why communities of generally nice and co-operative folks turn hostile and ugly. And now Titanfall introduced personalized giant robots that get torn down as soon as they come in to that mix.
On a slightly brighter side, what’s there is pretty polished. The world is pretty, though because it is only PVP, you can’t explore any of it. The game’s controls flow very easily, and the pathing system determines the difference between wall-running and mounting ledges on its own with simplicity and with barely any input from players. The story between the campaign missions seems like it would be very interesting, but whatever the story would be is completely botched by the PVP mechanics.
The way that they did the robotic combat is wonderfully done, and the controls for them flow very naturally. The look and scale of the big bots is looks great and well refined. The character animations, rigging, and weight painting of the mechs is delightfully in depth, and completely fantastic. It’s a shame it explodes so easily and so quickly as there seems like there should be a lot more to do with them.
You know, if they would pull the game down off the servers, take a year or two to re-develop it as a player vs environment experience, it would do nothing but benefit from it. Shave away the chaotic confusion of mandatory PVP and leave only the purity of the game itself… it could be glorious.
All in all, if you like the fast pace Player vs Player style of other military shooters that have no rules, lots of loading screens, non-smart matchmaking, 1-4 second life spans (which is X Call of Duty/Metal of Honor/Battlefield game that has ever existed), than this game is right up your alley.
If you’re like me, a player that likes to play video games for any sort of immersive story driven experiences, a player that likes games to be intuitive, have clear cut objectives and appropriately scaled challenges, this is not a game for you.
As a side note: I think what really is a shame is that all of the high action mech/giant robot combat games that have come out in the last year or so are all PVP only/DLC driven monstrosities. Mechwarrior online and Hawken both went the freemium (pay money to do better) player vs player combat way and now, Titanfall is yet another x PVP only robot game. So here’s an interesting notion: what would happen if a game company did the opposite? Now that giant robot player vs player military shooter battles are the set industry norm, would breaking the mold by making a player vs environment style mech combat game be more than worth it to give players something new and different? Wouldn’t that give us a place for players who absolutely love mechs, but who might not want to be associated with the grizzled hardcore foulmouthed 12 year old Call of Duty veterans? Well, it might not have Mechs, but Bungie’s Destiny is sure looking better and better.