Titanfall 1 vs. Titanfall 2 Beta: Innovative Mechanics in the Military FPS, Part 1
When Titanfall 1 dropped, it was the very first reason I decided to purchase my Xbox One. Trailers depicted a military shooter with a focus on movement, agility, and obviously mech combat, but the actual gameplay retailed with so much more, and Respawn Entertainment continued to grow the title with further DLC, game modes, and maps. For the most part, the original Titanfall received near-universal praise for its fun gameplay, but online discussion swirled as to why the longevity and player base of the game was decreasing rapidly. Fingers pointed to the lack of a campaign mode, low quantity of content to unlock, or perhaps to the low team size of 6v6, but for the most part the original game provided an experience that was unique and niche enough to stand on its own. After playing the sequel’s Beta this weekend, I reckon its high time to acknowledge some of the innovative elements that made Titanfall 1 so damned exquisite.
Titanfall 1: Movement Flow, Map Design, Unique Progression, and the Huge Scale of War
Having done my due diligence as a modern day gamer, I knew going into Titanfall that its campaign was fairly unorthodox. Instead of a stand-alone mission structure that has more or less perpetuated First-Person Shooters since their inception, Titanfall crafted a narrative driven PVP experience connecting the various game modes into a dozen or so matches. Essentially, the campaign had a scripted intro to each match depicting a single scene from either of the two factions, provided voice-over and a face-link video of characters describing objectives, and attempted to string the PVP-esque objectives into a sensible storyline…. but admittedly it was fairly unmemorable as a campaign due to its constraints . Unsurprisingly, it’s quite challenging to craft a driven story during the frenetic action of a PVP match, so voice lines and story hung in the background almost like lore rather than a defined narrative.
Nonetheless, I had not seen anything quite like it at the time and I attribute the resulting huge atmosphere of battle coming from this attempt to make PVP feel like single-player.
What Titanfall 1 nailed effectively was this giant war feeling and immersion .
Here’s all the dope shit that Titanfall crafted into its experience that few other titles have ever incorporated. In fact, if you’ve seen other titles that had similar experiences, please leave a comment to bring it to my attention!
Huge Battle Feel:
This over-arching achievement comes from several factors. First and foremost, the 6v6 match was ballooned to a huge scale because each team had corresponding AI Grunts or Sentries that populated the map. Each kill on these fools netted 1/4th the value of a real human player, but they were an often necessary part of the gameplay. Destroying these AI quickly raised your score and sped up your Titan delivery, but it also exposed you on the map and on enemy radar (lest your gameplay strat demanded AI decimation and you equipped a silencer to your main gun).
Largely cannon fodder, these creeps couldn’t be ignored if one set up camp in an occupying room. There’s nothing more embarrassing than getting squashed by a Grunt. They really made the entire map feel alive. The AI threw out voice lines about the battle gawking at basking in the presence of a pilot, and they provided a sort of visual cover from being immediately spotted on the map.
One of Titanfall’s main skill acquisitions is that of visual acuity. Filtering out unnecessary visual cues and identifying where your enemy is, reacting quickly to their presence, and honing one’s reflexes were an integral part of Titanfall’s high-speed gameplay. Besides Halo’s Warzone mode, there’s few games crafting such expansive battlegrounds in PVP matches.
When the score is complete, the battle doesn’t really end. There’s an evacuation objective for the losing team that works to switch up gameplay for 2-minutes, gives a sense of connectivity to each MP battle as there’s an actual extraction of troops, and can be a nerve-wracking experience.
Waiting with baited breath in a building 30 meters from the evac ship’s arrival while 3 enemy Titans swarm around the perimeter is a novel gameplay moment. As is the feeling of being the only one extracted, or successfully nuking the losing team’s evac to prevent extraction. A small gameplay mechanic (unseen in any other FPS I’ve played) yielding frequently interesting results.
One of the most interesting elements to Titanfall’s weapon leveling and prestige mode is that upon each new Generation of experience (reaching level 50 can be manually reset and the player is brought back to level 1, Generation 2), players are given mandatory pilot and Titan challenges they must complete in order to progress. This means that if you’re not adept at playing with the shotgun, you’re gonna have to play at least 5 matches with that bad boy to progress. Not a sniper? Start trying, homeboy. Oh, you’ve managed to get this far playing with only 1 weapon so far? Well that’s about to change.
In reality, this forces players to experience a larger variety of weapons (Burncards also assist in this), and it incentivizes it effectively. I really enjoyed this progression system as I think placing constraints on all players like this made the entire environment more diverse. You ended up seeing more Titan usage and more weapon variety throughout, all while honing new skills in your own playstyle. I’d love more games to have similar progression tiers, especially since gamers have a tendency to min/max weapons and kits to achieve optimal efficiency.
Titans and 2-tier map design:
So, obviously the Titans are incredible. It’s wonderful that effectively everyone gets a Titan in two minutes. So the first 2 minutes of gameplay are all pilot focused – players play a wallrunning and zipline infused mix of close-quarters combat, mid, or long-range style of gameplay depending on the openness of the map, peeping the radar constantly for any blips whilst using cover, windows, and buildings to great effect. Essentially, you play as a parkour infused COD pilot dedicated to agility rather than camping.
After 2 minutes, the whole scope of the map changes, and now Titans litter the streets, move through lanes with aggressive speed (Strider Titan) or methodical menace (Ogre Titan), and players experience the map from a different size. COD-esque agility-focused gameplay transforms into shield-based Halo-esque, team-focused jousts and mech warfare. Titans combat is a whole different beast as one becomes acutely aware of the other Titan threats as well as the bouncing, miniscule pilots hidden in nooks and crannies. The fact that the map design has to include viable combat for pilots and Titans and basically manages to succeed on a variety of levels (there’s a ton of map variety) shouldn’t be understated.
Movement Mechanics + Misc:
While not necessarily an entirely unique feature, I feel that Titanfall is top-tier for a sense of flow. This is due to the incredibly fine-tuned wall-running mechanics (which boost speed significantly) that incentivize playing “the floor is lava”. This wouldn’t work without incredible map-design that emphasizes verticality and jumpable gaps, wallrun routes, and a mix of open and tight spaces.
This freedom of movement crafted a higher skill-ceiling and made the learning curve a bit steeper than most other FPS titles, but damn if it isn’t absolutely a blast once you become proficient. Look at what high-caliber movement flow in this game looks like (which you can learn too!). Having Titanfall 2 double-down on movement abilities and how to increase flow would be a pretty damned important goal, in my eyes. Also important is the immersion into the battle. In addition to the first main atmospheric point, immersion is substantiated by the consistency in keeping the view 1st Jumping into the Titans, riding Titans, and getting your neck snapped always feel startling. Yikes!
Map design has a heavy focus on the flow and movement – “War Games is one of our most wallrunning friendly maps with a fun visual hook and plenty of space for Titans to engage in large scale battles. I hope you enjoy playing it and all the other levels in the Titanfall Expedition Pack – Jason McCord, Designer”
So Titanfall 1 had a pretty solid little fanbase, had an incredible feel of flow, had multiple skills to learn and master, had great progression mechanics, an incredibly sense of warfare and atmosphere, and a unique air to the gameplay that really resonated with me, and a ton of fans. I honestly think that it innovated more in the FPS realm than any FPS title in the last decade. Let me know if you’ve got other contenders pushing fields in the PVP field, homie.
PS: Titanfall 1 is only 5 bucks as of 8/23/16… Buy this shit.
In fact, after playing through the Titanfall 2 beta, I done gained a whole 50 levels of experience in Titanfall 1 over the weekend. Getting back into the flow of the game really demonstrated how fun getting into a flow state with the gameplay is, how solid the chaos of large-scale battles are, and much fun the Titans are. Much of this changes… changes for the worse in the Titanfall 2 Beta… so peep that discussion in Part 2, coming soon.
Titanfall 1 was incredibly innovative in its gameplay, mechanical features, and how straight up dope the blend between pilot and Titan combat was. Truly a pinnacle of FPS PVP’ing, ya dig? Titanfall 2 is shaping up to be an incredible experience with a dope campaign, a variety of new modes and lots of flow in gameplay… but will it change too much, too vehemently?
Will it change core tenets of Titanfall by making player too easy to spot, but making Titans too hot a commodity instead of a timed and predictive element? Will fans chew up the title and leave it playerless, similar to Titanfall 1 dwindling player-base? I certainly hope not. I have faith in the same developer that crafted the exquisite original experience, and I already had a blast playing Titanfall 2. I look forward to more gameplay this upcoming weekend, so perhaps I’ll update my thoughts then!
Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:
- AI minions (neutral or team-based): populate the map with these fools and make it feel HUGE. This also provides rewards and gameplay styles for a variety of gamers’ skill levels.
- End-game mini-games: the Evac gameplay adds a small element that allows another level objectives for the losing team, so it really softens the impact of a loss.
- Earning Titans or Abilities: If having a pivotal gameplay element that cements your game, consider making sure everyone has equal opportunity to experience it. This might be even more important when considering how one wants the mid-game battlefield to dynamically change. Titanfall is wholly unique in how it handles this mechanic, but other games have elements of this (Halo’s Warzone has more weapon tiers unlock for everyone, though not always simultaneously across teams).
- Challenge-based progression: encourage players to gain mastery with all sorts of Titans and weapons, and get a much broader amount of gameplay in the environment all at once.
- Agility mechanics: making a game enjoyable to play merely by moving about is a challenge, but crafting mechanics that enhance flow around a map are always a good idea.
- Visibility philosophy: considering how challenging enemy identification should be is a pivotal element to any PVP gameplay. Should the game be more about searching (COD-esque), or more about aiming (Halo-esque)?
Semi-arbitrary core, even though it’s been over 2 years: 9.0/10
Discussion and Comments: 9/6/16:
Blog has been posted thrice to various subreddits and a substantial amount of discussion has blossomed! One kind individual even gifted the post reddit Gold.