Titanfall vs. Titanfall 2 Beta, part deux: Minor Changes Yield Large Consequences, but some Fun & Flow are Still There
Take a look at a breakdown of the magic behind Titanfall 1 in part 1 before jumping into the meat of part 2 here, as it takes a big picture of the dazzling mechanics in the original to understand how the sequel may be impacted.
So, over the last 2 weekends the Titanfall 2 Beta Tech Test Pre-Alpha Pre-Release Marketing build, or what-have-you, has been released. Much to dismay of fans and casual gamers, the internet (mostly reddit, really) is ablaze with negativity and vitriol… despite like good intentions. More than a handful of those top posts of the year were negativity about the Beta experience. While some of that hostility certainly makes sense, it’s hard to gauge how much is reactionary, and how much is influenced by the small-scope of the Beta. I played the Beta for about 5 hours over 2 weekends, then went back and played Titanfall 1 for about 10 hours.
My overall thoughts of the Beta (I call it a Beta because it feels like a Marketing Beta) was that it merited a half-hearted head nod. It certainly felt like Titanfall with a more cartoony aesthetic, but there were definitely some minor changes that led to large changes in feel… however ominous and difficult to parse out those changes might actually be. It wasn’t even until I played the Beta, then bounced back to the original, then back to the Beta that the true differences became much bolder… almost as if highlighted dramatically by a red outline.
The varying minimal difference in gameplay can make for a dramatically different experience:
Movement and Map Design:
This seemed like a large complaint buzzing about the forums, but Respawn actually made adjustments to the movement for the 2nd weekend that alleviated some concerns. However, to me, bouncing back and forth between TF1 and TF2, something felt a bit off… There was a bit more heft to the feel of running about, but it appears that run speed is actually the same? Or maybe FOV changed? Or maybe it didn’t? Or maybe it needs an actual analysis of movement speed? Clearly, analyzing how minor changes can make large impacts to feel is tricky.
Regardless, because to me, the speed felt more or less the same except the relative lack of speed boost when wallrunning plus wall jumping. This was somewhat nullified by the new and excellent grappling hook, which becomes a blast once you realize you can generate momentum by swinging around pillars and walls instead of ascending towards them. I’d love for this movement focus to be a bit smoother and more responsive, and for everyone to have one, but we’ll see how that might impact the flow around maps. I noticed that while focusing on the grappling hook, my wallrunning was impacted a bit since I over-used the hook. I can say that I absolutely loved the slide mechanic. I was actually startled to find the original didn’t have a slide mechanic as it’s one of my constantly used mechanics in any FPS that has one (literally sprint + slide, sprint + slide, double-jump, wall-run, repeat). I absolutely love that you stay crouched and have free-look while sliding. It kind of feels like you slide forever, and it’s pretty dope.
While the movement seems to be pretty robust, a larger issue appears with the map design itself. This is the biggest issue that I discovered in the 3 maps that we got to play. The maps are open, have few walls to chain together wallrunning, and appear to reward camping for players. Some players have stepped up their game and demonstrated inspirational gameplay nonetheless, but achieving this type of flow was a more serious struggle compared to TF1.
Unlike TF1 where pilots could earn a Titan in just 4 minutes doing absolutely nothing, the time it took to earn Titans in TF2 nearly doubled at 8.5 minutes. This is likely the biggest fire in the game according to folks online, and despite a lack of clarity around if this is a gamemode issue (Bounty Hunter is quite different than Attrition), it is somewhat worrisome. Though I earned 3 titans my first game (likely due to decent performance) and many more afterwards, having one’s Titan on an objective based meter does result in less Titan combat for all players, and it results in less Titans to battle around the 2 or 3 minute mark for everyone. The battleground doesn’t change for everyone, but rather Titans trickle in and the combat is staggered, and a stomping team can run away with the gameplay even more.
Titan Mechanics and Movement:
Titans now no longer have a shield, and instead the pilot must get out of the Titan to find a shield pack on the ground (marked green on the minimap). That means the TF1 juxtaposition to Titan gameplay being similar to Halo mechanics has disappeared, and we’re left with a health-pack scouring focus. This isn’t awful, and it does create an new element to the gameplay where one can steal packs from enemy titans, gift shields to teammates, and reinforce one’s own titan with shields. For the future, it’ll be interesting to see how this impacts gameplay as a whole.
My beef with this style is that it results in quicker death for a Titan vs Titan battle, and escape (I loved my agile Strider Titans) + guerilla combat is less viable because my shield doesn’t always protect me with a buffer against initial attacks. A larger annoyance however, is that picking up a shield wrecks the flow of being in the Titan as you have to exit and experience the immersion breaking 3rd person views. Not smooth. Additionally, Titans don’t come with a shield, but a pilot can jump onto your Titan, steal a battery pack from it, be killed, and you can actually reclaim your own battery to gain a shield you previously did not have. This causes a strange ludonarrative dissonance (gameplay clashes with realism) that feels a little goofy.
On the positive side, it looks like the Titans might have defensive capabilities added and some new perks. Unfortunately, not every Titan has a dash ability, which is no bueno for me. This seems to be hinting at a larger amount of class based Titan choices, which means specific Titans will likely be filling specific roles and come with a defined and predictable aesthetic that denotes its abilities. This is likely very interesting as it might mean a more diverse team composition will be in the mix for TF2 when it comes to Titan choice.
Titan Rodeo Mechanics:
We’ll see how the Titan rodeoing plays out as well, which is another major change to the gameplay style. Instead of legitimately riding on top of a Titan and spraying lead at its exposed circuitry, TF2 has pilots doing multiple jumps on and off the Titan to do major damage. First, a Titan gets stripped of its battery, then on the second jump the pilot will throw a grenade down the battery tube. This is what happens the third, fourth, and fifth time if the Titan does not die due to each grenade. I will admit that in TF1, getting rodeo’d was quite the nuisance so it seems like TF2 is bring leverage to the Titans (which is nice because they are weaker than the Titans in TF1). It seems that the gameplay will be more focused on Titan vs. Titan, as the pesky rodeo (and need to house electric smoke) may die out more and more.
Interestingly the game has increased the visibility of pilots significantly, and also changed how the radar functions to provide general direction (like Destiny) vs. a direct ping on the detailed map (like Titanfall 1). It makes seeing enemies easier visually, but does encourage more camping as spotting dudes is effortless across the map. I feel that Titanfall 1 had a huge demand for visual acuity and identifying pilots amongst the minions, but Titanfall 2 has appears to place that skill on the backburner. Combined with a fairly lacking amount of minions (which I hope is handedly remedied), pilots are effectively exposed and easy to spot. Now, I do enjoy an element of reflex + shooting over visual identification, but I’m not entirely sure if this change benefits campers or parkour experts. I’m thinking it makes hiding in window easier, which could be somewhat unfortunate… I don’t feel that the TTK is way too quick, compared to TF1, as they both feel similar (but folks echo that it feels much quicker).
The pilots in TF2 give off a slight red glow, even amongst the foliage to make them stand out a bit more. Sometimes this is a necessity when textures in games get too dense, but it’s unclear how this might impact the overall combat.
I love seeing customization for aiming preferences, and TF2 has this in spades. Default, Classic, Linear, Fine Aim, and High Velocity are some of these options. It’s wonderful to see considerations for classic folks so they don’t have to re-habituate to a new aiming style, and it’s just good practice for accessibility and respecting the high diversity in gamers by packaging multiple customization options for how to handle one’s controller.
Networking and Party System:
This is probably the worst part of the experience, as simply inviting a friend to a lobby doesn’t currently work. The whole networking thing might be cool if it works, but as it stood, it took us 30 minutes to play 1 game, multiple restarts, then countless connection issues. Likely a tech server issue, so it’s mostly a minor note.
So how does one evaluate a Beta? I’ve played many Betas before that have gotten me downright thirsty for the full game. Then I’ve played several Betas that felt like extended demos that I could leave as is, and never think about again. In direct comparison to Titanfall 1, the Beta experience for TF2 was a head-scratcher. The design philosophy for a slower, more predictable game became clearer and intentional, with design decisions indicating the developers were veering off course from what I found passionate in the first place. Some of the movement is there, and some of the Titan combat remains, but much has changed about the battle environment. Is this good, or is this bad?
I remember the backlash Halo 2 brought onto the world from the fans of Halo 1. I recall vividly all the changes Halo has made to its design, to its gameplay, yet managing to retain the quintessential Halo feel. In a lot of ways, TF2 feels very much like Titanfall. I’m sure the full game will have a host of movement mechanics and perks that feel welcome, so I’m choosing to remain hopeful that the game is every bit a phenomenal successor to one of the most unique FPS games of its time. Perhaps it’ll surprise us all and have some grand innovations that I couldn’t possibly have predicted.
TF2 movement mechanics feel slower, the Titans feel weaker, there are major changes to the Titan shield system, rodeo system, and the map design leaves a slightly bitter taste in my mouth as I struggle to link wallruns between overly-spaced rocks. Yet… I’m hopeful that this Beta experience a slice of the wrong piece of the pie, and the full experience blossoms like nobody’s business. If nothing else, Titanfall 1 is only $5 bucks right now… so go buy that.
Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:
- Increased enemy visibility = less incentive to move freely?: When you make the enemies easy to spot around the map, you create an incentive to camp and move less for players, hiding behind obstacles to conceal the glow. Whereas movement was once your protection, windowsills now are.
- Aiming customization: Creating a diverse variety of preset controls is always a good idea. Especially if you’re changing how they feel from the last game, make sure to include the original settings.
- Core movement deserves the maps to utilize it: If you’re going to prioritize movement that utilizes walls in your game, make sure to make maps with lots of walls. Otherwise gamers can’t utilize the fancy mechanics to their best abilities.
Semi-Arbitrary Score: I don’t think I can adequately rate a Beta, even semi-arbitrarily.