My Titanfall Beta Impressions

Shortly after it went live (in closed form) on February 14th, I dived into the very exciting beta version of Respawn Entertainment’s upcoming Xbox One pseudo-exclusive Titanfall and played quite a bit of it. Since then it has moved into open status and then finished up entirely. If you didn’t have a chance to play it or simply feel like reading about a different perspective on the whirlwind week, read on.
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MOTION FLOW

The first thing I noticed when I got started in the Titanfall beta was the immense focus on constant movement. Titanfall thrives on ensuring that every action flows easily into another action and it is this, rather than the presence of Titans per se, that defines the game. At least half of every match (much more if you’re me) is spent outside of a Titan, but that part of the experience doesn’t feel like a standard FPS might, due mostly to the ability to “wall-run” and double jump with the aid of a jetpack-style implement. Sure, you can stay low and take people on at street level as a Titan-less pilot, but that puts you at a tremendous disadvantage should you meet one. Verticality is the name of the game and going up is easy. Once you get the hang of the airborne movement mechanics, which are all about just one button and a sense of timing, the feeling is awesome. Comparing it to the action of anime series Attack on Titan yields more than just name-based similarities.

Another crucial part of making sure actions flow into one another is the presence of “bots” in addition to standard human enemies on the battlefield. These rather stupid AI-controlled fighters arrive in drop pods throughout a match and serve one main purpose: To serve as fodder. Sure, they fill out the battlefield as well, increasing the scope of each game (matches are only 6-on-6 in terms of humans, after all), but they also literally die in one hit from most weapons. In this way they serve a purpose not unlike that of the minions in League of Legends (well, in my limited understanding of that game anyway): They feed your next Titan drop. The player who can kill the most minions early in a game will usually be the first to achieve Titanfall, as the major reward currency for getting kills is time off your next three minute Titan build countdown.

If this sounds like it makes Titanfall a baby game then your concern is genuine, if perhaps misplaced. Your six opponents and their giant mechs are still likely to give you more than enough of a challenge, just as they would in any other online FPS. Respawn Entertainment is very clearly interested in making sure that you don’t think of the AI grunts as traditional single player-style AI enemies. They are there to get you to your Titan as quickly as possible. They have just as much of a place in competitive play as creeps in DotA. Of course, there’s another side to this: bringing in casual players. There is no good reason to deny this. Euphoric momentum is everything in Titanfall and Respawn wants every player to feel the rush that comes from getting consecutive kills, even if only one or two of them are humans, and then continuing your spree in a towering mechanical marvel. Everything essential to the Titanfall experience needs to be immediately accessible if the potential series is to expand and become a juggernaut. So it is. And that’s fine.

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TITAN MECHANICS

Of course, Titans are the stars of the show, and they feel great. Crucially, given how often they show up in battle, they are not overpowered. If something is in your Titan’s sights it will take a LOT of damage, but your bucket of bolts is also a giant walking target. Choosing your personal Titan loadout before a match is as easy as choosing your pilot loadout, with weapon types and the equivalent of perks galore from which to choose. Both unsurprisingly share a lot in common with choosing a Call of Duty class, given that much of Respawn’s personnel comes from Infinity Ward, engineers of the Modern Warfare sub-series. Your Titan is an asset in battle that can be used in a surprising variety of ways, from direct piloting to use as an AI-controlled personal bodyguard to a strategic positional ally. Tailoring your loadout appropriately is key.

Despite their size, Titans are quite mobile, with the ability to dash quickly in any direction, crouch, sprint and do just about anything a normal pilot can do except, very crucially, jump. This ensures that they dominate open spaces on the ground but are hamstrung when trying to engage pilots who are elevated. All pilot loadouts come with an anti-Titran weapon, which when used well enough can scrap a Titan rather effectively. Titans are not guaranteed game-winners, but rather only one half of a game that seems, at present at least, quite well balanced. That, if you ask me, is incredibly exciting.
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THE MAPS, MODES AND WEAPONS

The two maps featured in the now-completed beta were the maps the internet had already seen in the E3 and Gamescom demos respectively (the Gamescom demo being the one I sampled at last year’s EB Games Expo). Angel City is that latter map, a close-quarters urban sprawl with plenty of streets for Titan warfare, several rooftops to traverse with le parkour and plenty of tight enclosed spaces that I tended to avoid like the plague. Fracture, on the other hand, is the map from the initial E3 reveal, a large-ish arena punctuated by dilapidated buildings overgrown with lashings of nature. This was by far my favourite of the two, as several high points throughout allow for gigantic fields of vision where shooting Titans with rockets is easy and pretty much without consequence.

There were three modes available in the beta. The first was Attrition, basically traditional team deathmatch but with the added element of an “epilogue” in which the winning team attempts to stop the airborne evacuation of the losers. Hardpoint was basically your run of the mill control-the-objective-zones mode, where setting your Titan to guard mode is particularly satisfying. Finally there was Last Titan Standing, where everyone starts in Titans, there is no respawning and, well, the last team left with a Titan wins. I’m pretty rubbish at shooters in general so the latter was my least favourite mode until I realised I could still eject from my Titan, set it to do its own thing and have some fun of my own.

In terms of weapons, the Titanfall beta ticked all the boxes expected of a modern FPS, with shotguns, SMGs and assault rifles to suit every taste. A slot in every pilot loadout was reserved for heavy anti-Titan ordnance such as rocket launchers There was a sniper, too, and it felt more like a Halo weapon to me than a Call of Duty or Battlefield one. That’s just me, though, and I’ll admit I barely used it. To be honest, 95% of my time with the beta was spent with the “smart pistol”, arguably Titanfall’s oddest and freshest weapon. The pistol automatically locks onto enemies (and, conveniently, all grenades), which takes an instant if you are targeting grunts but a couple of seconds if you have a human player in your sights. It then instantly dispatches the foe with one trigger pull. The smart pistol is hardly the most time-efficient weapon but is immensely satisfying to pull off, especially when you factor in its ability to lock onto multiple targets at once.
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THE DIFFERENCE

With Titanfall, it’s clear that Respawn is aiming for an experience that doesn’t feel like just another Call of Duty or Halo. Sure, it’s grounded in elements of both highly successful franchises, but the game offers more than enough fresh ideas to stand on its own. I’ve already outlined most of them, but there’s more to the picture. Burn Cards, for example, are a quite brilliant twist on the well-worn “killstreak” formula from other shooters. Once you reach the prerequisite level, you are able to earn random cards, each representing a one time power-up, for achieving objectives in a match. You can then go through your deck pre-match and throw any card you like into one of three slots for use in the match at any time. Each lasts until you die and each is immensely enjoyable to use. Effects range from beefed-up weapons to increased speed to X-Ray vision to instant Titan drops, which keeps things fresh. You get so many cards that there is no reason to hoard them, although like any collectible card system you can get obscenely powerful rare ones.


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Having said all this the Titanfall beta brought many memorable moments and here are my personal top five:
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5. Parkour Roll

In any decently-designed multiplayer game, you’ll occasionally find yourself stringing together a series of little victories – getting the basics just right – without obstacle until your confidence simply soars. That happened to me in one match on the Angel City map, just as I was starting to really get a feel for the wallrunning and jumping physics of Titanfall. For at least half the game I was in near-constant motion, bouncing off walls and bounding between rooftops without once touching the ground. Along the way I dispatched human and AI players alike with aggressive use of the smart pistol, occasionally pausing to send a guided rocket at a Titan before taking cover and leaping away in a different direction. Everything just lined up. Fluke or not, it felt great.

4. Pincer Attack

Instances like the above were rare, as my natural inclination in most competitive videogames is to play conservatively. Perhaps surprisingly, Titanfall accommodates players like me in a way that can lead to a good degree of success. By making sure that Titans are unable to reach higher levels of the map and giving players the ability to control their mounts remotely, decoy moves and flanking become pieces of cake. Once I worked this out my default style of Titanfall play soon became: obtain Titanfall drop, find high vantage point, wait for enemy Titans to arrive in area, call down own Titan right into the mess to distract and damage said Titans, shoot them in the back while they’re distracted, destroy Titans, lose own Titan, rinse, repeat. It’s ridiculous how often this method worked.

3. Mag Launcher Spree

The first Burn Card I actually used in combat was the Amped Mag Launcher, which replaced my standard anti-Titan weapon with a devastating fully automatic magnetic grenade launcher. These grenades act like duds when used against pilots but explode on contact with Titans, which I knew from my brief time with the alpha build at the EB Expo. So I activated it during one life and went looking for Titans. I soon found one that I was able to shadow from a parallel rooftop (oh yeah, pilots also have a personal cloaking device that works way better against Titans than other pilots – I used that pretty much every time it was available), unleashing enough magnetic destruction that I destroyed it before it was able to turn around. Another one arrived on the scene and saw me, so I had to play a bit of hide-and-seek with it, but luckily cover was around and besting it became a satisfying triumph. A third kill came around the corner a few seconds later and just like that I decided to made sure I treasured that delicious Burn Card the next time it popped up.

2. Shoulder Wars

A great deal of my Beta-playing time has been spent with my Mega Ultra Blast Cast colleague Eraofshamus (who once wrote a vicious attack on God of War: Ascension for this very blog). Due to the pretty unintuitive current state of the Xbox Live party chat system on Xbox One, we couldn’t be bothered to talk to one another, so our actual direct teamwork was very limited until one particularly exciting match on the Angel City map. While attempting to escape a sniper, I noticed his Titan walking past just below my rooftop and leaped onto it. Holding X allowed me to tether myself to its “head”. Cue several minutes of intense firefights in which I had next to no idea what was going on, such was the craziness of the screen movement. Yet my anti-Titan weapon and smart pistol still nabbed plenty of kills and the whole spree felt great.

While on the subject of shoulder mounting, I enjoyed a rather amusing moment in a later game when I attached myself to a random ally Titan and an enemy human attempted to “rodeo” (land on and destroy) said Titan. He or she clearly did not understand why the normal button process was not working, trying multiple times to latch on. Each time this pilot’s head popped up on my screen, it met with a bullet from my pistol, yet still it tried. Until it was dead.

1. Titanhammer

Another Burn Card related incident, the moment I first cashed in my right to hold a so-called “amped” Archer homing missile launcher I knew I was dealing with something special. The “Titanhammer” missiles this behemoth fired were ridiculously powerful, taking up most of the screen with the sheer visual force of their golden launch. My first two shots with this beast resulted in two scrapped Titans. Sure, both had suffered prior damage, but that’s still ridiculous. I wasn’t too proud of what happened next, as I backed out of my hiding place into the open air only to be stepped on by another Titan, but man, dat launcher. When I came across the same Burn Card later in a Last Titan Standing match, I was over the moon, because there’s a mode where the mechanical action on the ground is so intense that I was able to pick off weakened enemy Titans from rooftops with impunity.

…Although I will say this latter situation led to a rather embarrassing match in which I was the literal Last Titan Standing, while outside of my Titan, but didn’t realise there was a time limit and forgot that I had five teammates, including a friend of mine, watching me stand on a high tower just waiting for the final enemy Titan to show itself. Then we lost, cause the other Titan had “less damage”. They must have been like “who is this guy?” Worst.

Finally, here’s some footage of my friend Kegsworthable on a particularly impressive Titan rampage during the beta:

Visit his YouTube channel for more craziness.

So bring on the 13th of March!

…Or, you know, the 16th or so, when the inevitable launch server issues are fixed. Damnit, EA.

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