Titanfall's achievement lies in allowing the player to find fun in failure

Opinion

The Titanfall servers have been packed with press, industry folks and people who are likely on the development team itself.

When the game’s servers are turned on only to be filled with level 28 characters, it’s safe to assume that the individuals playing have some inside knowledge of the game.

Then you bump into the IGN crew, who seem to be preternaturally adept at the game, although they’re likely playing as a team in the same room, their skills aided by alcohol consumption and other unfair advantages that allow me to feel better about my losing streak.

The community that exists before launch doesn’t much resemble the player base that will exist when the game is released, and this often leads to matches where your kill / death ratio exists as something of a sick joke. There was one ten match streak where my team was only able to win a solitary round. Titanfall’s genius is that being reduced to a smear on the battlefield doesn’t hurt your enjoyment of the game.

While other competitive first-person shooters may feel like slamming into a brick wall as you learn the rules, Titanfall offers multiple paths to victory, points and enjoyment. It makes all the difference.

The victorious dead

There have been few games so dogged in rewarding players for their time than Titanfall. The smart pistol is there for people who need help aiming, and don’t mind being a little sneaky to get their kills. You can farm creeps to gain quicker access to your Titan or to gain points for your team.

The game features meta-challenges that give you bonus XP for a certain number of kills for each weapon, or even just for time spent playing the game. No matter your skill level, no matter how you like to play, there will be a steady stream of rewards and experience points that will move you upwards into new weapons and equipment.

Nothing has been nerfed, and the best players will always be rewarded with more points, more kills and more options on the battlefield. The lower tiers of players will simply have more fun than we're used to from this sort of game, while contributing to their teams in ways that aren't possible in competing franchises.

Winning is important, but I’ve often walked away from a losing round thinking about the time I jumped onto the back of a Titan and took it down with my shotgun. The vocabulary of battle has been changed in Titanfall, and more verbs have been added to the conversation.

Exploring the game's systems and choosing between all the options available to you, is a rush. I’ve had someone destroy my Titan only to successfully eject, throw grenades under me, and take them out. Or I’ve set up my Titan to cause a large explosion when destroyed, wiping out other enemies in the area. The game throws options at the player, and this allows you different ways to snatch some form of satisfaction in even the most demoralizing defeats.

Which is why it's so easy to have fun during even brutal losing streaks. The game even allows you to escape your opponents in the case of defeat, and there is nothing better than being inside the drop ship as it pulls away from battle, the bullets and rockets of your enemy splashing impotently against the ship's shields. It's a little way to give the winning side the middle finger while earning yourself a few extra experience points.

There's nothing like earning a bonus because your entire team made it out alive, meaning the winning side failed to kill a single pilot on the way out. They still won, sure ... but it feels like you may have gotten away with an even trickier victory.

This feeling can go away very quickly when the opposing side lines up four or five Titans and destroys the ship almost as soon as it arrives to pick you up, and this give and take can almost feel like an extra round of combat tacked onto the greater struggle.

You can be on the losing side but still earn a large amount of experience points. Or you can fail at everything except executing Titans on the field. Or you can do everything poorly but still manage to escape at the end. You're a net asset to your team in Attrition if you kill five grunts before you die. You might cash in a burn card to gain a more powerful weapon to aid in the destruction of a Titan that's been harassing you all match.

Most matches give every player having at least one interesting story about something they either saw or accomplished, and this sense of ongoing tension and release means that your overall win / loss record is less important. Your kill / death ratio is only one number, and there are many to look at while judging your own performance.

It's okay to lose, and the median skill level of players will only rise after the game is released, but Titanfall offers so many ways for each player to contribute that you can almost luck into amazing moments as long as you stick with it. Other games seem to take joy in giving experienced players a boot to place on your neck, but Titanfall avoids that trap by giving everyone such a wide range of tactical options.

Titanfall succeeds in many ways, but the most important is the way it opens the language of modern first-person shooters to include so many news ways of interacting with the battle. There is always a way to give something to the battle, even if you lack the skills that are assumed in most games of this genre. Titanfall doesn't promise you a win, and you'll certainly earn every kill. But it does allow every player to have fun while failing, and that's a rare thing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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