Titanfall! The first big platform exclusive game of the new generation that really inspired anything more than a shrug of the shoulders, and a damn fine multiplayer shooter to boot. When it launched early in 2014 it was all anyone could talk about, a breath of rarefied fresh air in the increasingly stale world of first-person shooters.
And then people kind of drifted away.
That’s the perception, at least, of Respawn’s mech-enhanced melee. It’s a perception that Respawn refutes (and to be fair they’ve got 7.5 million shifted units to help back up their case). “It’s really hard, because when the game launched you didn’t have player numbers in the game,” Drew McCoy told us at a preview event a couple of weeks ago. “So people were only left to say well it took me more than a second to find a match last night, so that must mean it’s dead. There was no data for people to look at. We have the data, we can look at the graphs and they follow a very normal curve of player fall-off. The thing that determines your player-base 12 months from launch all hinges on that first week.
“The one thing we did do differently, most games the majority only play on one day. People will play a couple of hours and then never play again – it’s bizarre, they spend $60 on a game and only play it once. We actually had more people come back on day two and three than day one and then it dropped off – there are all sorts of theories why that might have been, because the training was quite good so people could be more successful in multiplayer and stick around more. But it’s all theory, no-one actually knows – we have some ideas. But I think ‘that game died quickly’, that’s unfair.”
I popped on to Titanfall on Xbox One just before setting out to the developer’s LA office, and was pleasantly surprised by well-populated servers and the ability to jump into a game within seconds. Well, that’s providing I wanted to play Attrition (and thankfully I very much did).
The first impression was why haven’t I been playing this game more? There’s still nothing that can match the elegance and excitement of a decent Titanfall match, when well-versed players dance across walls and double-jumping from building to building while big angry mechs pummel each other in the background.
What to expect from the sequel, then? To be blunt, it’s all very familiar from the off – though that’s hardly a bad thing, given how well the original Titanfall worked. It’s only when you start chipping away that you can see the changes – small yet substantial tweaks that speak to an act of refinement over any major overhaul.
Titans now come in more defined flavours, acting like character classes themselves. In the forthcoming technical test there’s Scorch, wielding a thermite launcher and with the ability to use a walk of flames – a literal firewall – as well as a heat shield, while its special unleashes a wave of fire. There’s Ion, complete with a directed laser beam and a blinding special that unlocks the searing power of a laser core.
Pilots, meanwhile, benefit from the headline addition of a grappling hook (I’ll admit to not quite being able to get my head around it, though I did enjoy being repeatedly reeled in and kicked in the face by players more adept than me) and a power slide that’s a brilliant distillation of the godly Vanquish, allowing you to skate across great distances on your knees without losing any momentum.
The big change in Titanfall 2, though, isn’t going to be found by poring over weapon lists and mobility changes. What Respawn seems set on doing is having people play together more, shifting towards a more social style of multiplayer.
You’ll see it in game modes such as Bounty Hunt that see teams taking on waves of AI before a greedy rush to the bank when both sides attempt to tally up their assets. You’ll see it, too, in the way Titans are now downed by pilots – no longer does rodeoing a mech lead to an instant kill, with players instead stealing a battery and whittling away at the Titan’s health. Taking down a Titan is now much more of a team effort.
To that end, one of Titanfall 2’s biggest new features is also its driest. Dubbed Networks, it allows players to find and form groups – an in-game analogue, it seems, of sites like The 100 which perform similar tricks for Destiny players.
How well it works will only truly become apparent during the forthcoming technical tests, but it could be a smart move from Respawn – what binds Destiny, and what keeps players coming back for more, is the social element more than anything else. By adding in a little more glue, Titanfall 2 could well find the legs that for many its predecessor lacked.