I got into the Titanfall beta this weekend, and despite some server issues I managed to play for a few hours this afternoon. What I found wasn't terribly surprising, but it was terribly refreshing! Let's dig into the Titanfall beta and extract the nifty elements.
Assuming it's still open, you can sign up for the Titanfall beta here. I signed up for the PC version, as I still haven't taken the "Xbox One Plunge." The game is coming out in mid-March for PC and XB1, and for X360 sometime thereafter. Microsoft paid Respawn for exclusivity, so this won't be on PS3/4.
Whatever they paid, it was worth it. This is the Halo: CE of this generation.
Titanfall is Respawn's first game, but these guys are veterans of Infinity Ward, the studio that developed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2. Much of Infinity Ward got tossed in the garbage owing to a dispute between them and Activision. The ex-pats from that studio formed Respawn.
Thus, there's a lot of elements of Titanfall that are borrowed heavily from Call of Duty, and there are more than a few taken from Halo as well. I'm assuming some level of familiarity with both franchises here. Sadly, if you don't like CoD or Halo, chances are Titanfall isn't going to change your mind about console-focused FPS'es.
From Call of Duty
- Loadouts - Player loadouts are very similar. You've got primary and secondary weapons, perks, grenades, attachments, etc.
- Killstreaks - There's one and only one thing that could be considered your "killstreak" and that's your Titan. It also has a customizable loadout. The changes to the way the Titan "killstreak" works I'll cover later on, but there's a pretty strong similarity here.
- Challenges - Getting kills with this or that weapon, or in this or that situation. Challenges are a good way to earn XP in CoD and they make an almost identical appearance in Titanfall.
- On-Foot Combat Feel - CoD has a very "twitch-based" combat feel to it. The on-foot combat is this way. It takes just a few shots to kill, and melee kills are one-hit.
- Future Tech - The CoD series tends to be rooted in historical, present-day, or near future weaponry. Halo is more focused on far-future weapons with unique properties. There's a pistol in Titanfall that really reminds me of the Needler, for example.
- The Mantis - The Titan "killstreak" is very similar to the Mantis from Halo 4. In turn, this is similar to bipedal mechs from other universes, like Mechwarrior. The Titan is a bit more maneuverable and versatile, but we'll cover that later.
- Mobility - Halo: Reach and Halo 4 both featured mobility enhancements like jetpacks. Titanfall has these as well, although from what I've seen they're available to all classes rather than being a perk or loadout slot you'd choose.
- Vehicle Combat - Combat in the Halo series is very strategic, with weapons that balance, shields that recharge, and engagements that last for minutes rather than milliseconds. Titan-vs-Titan combat in Titanfall has a lot of similarities.
So yes, this game doesn't break all the molds. There's a lot of carryover from CoD or Halo. However, it introduces some new concepts that change the dynamics in interesting ways, and address long-standing issues with the CoD formula especially.
In CoD, it's pretty easy for a semi-coordinated team to win by holding a particular chokepoint with some decent players. This is technically camping, but the game seems to encourage it and there aren't a lot of ways to break a good set of campers. Titanfall says "screw this, that's boring." It does so in a way that might not be obvious at first.
Each team has waves of AI-controlled bots that arrive on the map and are fairly easy to kill. They will meander about and fight each other, but they're generally pretty easy to down for any human player. In the beta's "attrition" mode, they count for a small amount of points, but they count nonetheless.
Thus, say the entire enemy team is camping in some far-off building. You could charge them and feed them kills, but why bother? Just go slaughter their AI bots and watch them lose by not playing.
This feature forces players to engage, and it keeps portions of the battlefield from growing stale due to a lack of action - these bots will drop in where things aren't happening and start a firefight, which you can choose to engage as you're moving across the map.
In CoD (and borrowed for Halo 4) there is the concept of the killstreak. Killstreaks are rewards for doing well. The problem with killstreaks is that they tend to tip the balance further towards the winning team. If you're losing and the enemy team starts calling in killstreaks, you're likely to get discouraged as you're further from victory than you were before.
Modern Warfare 3 attempted to address this by adding the "Support" package, which let you keep your accumulated kills towards your killstreaks even if you die. They also let more actions count towards your killstreaks, so accomplishing objectives was an effective way of earning them.
Titanfall has just one killstreak reward, and that's the Titan. The Titan is a giant mech suit, similar to the Mantis in Halo 4. However, the enemy can never steal your Titan. It is yours until destroyed, even if you die.
Unlike a CoD killstreak, your Titan is coming, regardless of what you do. You can sit in the corner of the map and cower in fear and you'll still earn it. Earning kills makes it come faster, though. And you want it faster. It's strong, it's got heavy armaments, a rechargeable shield, and a smart AI.
Yes, it has its own AI. If you get out, it can be ordered to guard a location or to follow you and shoot the bad guys. When you're in it, it will warn you about incoming fire, when you're outmatched, and it will even show your enemy's health. It's worth customizing, and it's worth getting. It's got some cool abilities, like it can absorb and then reflect incoming fire, similar to Armor Lock in Halo: Reach.
That said, the Titan is still vulnerable. If you're on foot, you can cloak and sneak up on it, and then ride it, much like you can ride the Mantis or Rhino in Halo. This isn't as quick a death sentence, especially if you've got weaker weapons. It takes a while to gnaw off the Titan's armor, and you're vulnerable while doing so. The Titan rider can even eject and try to kill you before you kill the Titan, for instance.
One of our favorite classes in the CoD series is the fast-moving knife guy. If you take enough mobility perks and are willing to live with some really weak weapons, you can be absolutely devastating in close quarters.
Titanfall nods and says "yes." Then they added a bunch of other craziness. For instance, soldiers on foot can double jump, sprint infinitely, and wallrun. That doesn't include the cloaking device, either. This adds all sorts of vertical approaches for the close quarters warrior. One of the beta weapons is a pistol that locks on after a short period, so you can hide, line up your shot, charge out, and take an enemy down with a single pull of the trigger.
Every class has these abilities, but it means that wars are no longer 2-D, that there's no longer one or two approaches to a building - you can jump in through a second story window, or approach on the upper tier of a back alleyway. Those run-and-knife tricks and skills carry over, but the game has been amplified to make them even more fun.
Titanfall is the game that CoD and Halo players have been waiting for. If you're tired of the yearly "CoD Tax" and the crufty design decisions of that series, this is the game you want.
That said, if you're looking for a return to the more "arcade" action of games like Quake or Unreal, this isn't the game that will break the console FPS mold. It's just too similar to CoD or Halo to really break free of that framework completely.