It took a bit of time to grasp how Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is different from that of the original game, but once it became clear, it was hard to shake. And that isn’t a good thing.
I’ll immediately undercut myself a bit here by saying that Titanfall 2 has, without a doubt, the smoothest, best-controlling player movement in a shooter that I’ve ever laid hands on. The abstraction layer between what I was doing on my controller and what I felt and saw on the screen felt paper-thin.
That mechanical near-perfection extends to weapons, which manage to feel separate in their use, if not their appearance — a minor complaint, but upon visual inspection Titanfall 2’s multiplayer armory bleeds together, which can be frustrating — and it’s not hard to see exactly where you can get to and how to get there.
“Feel” is a maddeningly vague term for a video game, especially a multiplayer title, but it’s the only thing I can really use to explain how Titanfall 2’s basic mechanics click together. The easiest comparison is Call of Duty, which would be lazy if not for the fact that the two series share an enormous amount of DNA, so much so that Titanfall 2 at times feel like a what-if for where the pre-eminent FPS might have gone if not for the machinations and fallout that chased Respawn’s founders out of the company they created. It has the same mix of audio and visual indicators when you score a hit on an enemy, the ones that you can almost feel in your bones.
The most clear change in Titanfall 2 is the broadening of pilot and titan abilities, which in part feels aimed at complaints at a lack of progression in the previous game. Now there are a host of different pilot abilities ranging from cloaking to a grappling hook that can attach to buildings and even titans, and each titan model has four specializations. This leads to more overall variety in tactical options and problems to deal with, though some just feel cheap — especially the active cloaking, which indulges in the worst sniper camping behavior I’ve seen in a shooter in ages.
That said, the new loadout options available across pilots and titans allow for a newfound sense of personalization and specificity that was missing in Titanfall, and in that regard feels like a direct response to complaints about the longevity of the first game. It’s a move that makes sense — in a sequel, developers try to fix their mistakes.
But Titanfall 2’s other big changes feel like attempts to fix what wasn’t broken.
There are two particular things that feel at odds with what Titanfall 2 does well. The first seems like a small change, at first: Titans in multiplayer no longer have an overshield and a health bar, instead having just non-regenerating health. Respawn does give you a way to refill a friendly titan’s health, as you can rodeo-ride an enemy titan and pull out its battery, which can in turn be loaded into your robot companion, or that of a teammate. In practice, this rarely felt like a meaningful bit of assistance (or deterrence).
In effect, this greatly reduces the ability for players to engage more than one enemy titan at all, and even one titan fight is likely enough to leave your robotic tank in bad shape. And pilot effectiveness against titans also feels greatly reduced, as anti-titan weapons seem far less potent here than they did in the first game. This had the effect of making lopsided matches even more so — if one team had just a couple more titans than the other, it frequently led to snowballing matches that spiraled out of control.
This felt further exacerbated on a number of maps that felt far more restricted and confined than the previous game. Verticality seems like less of a priority, but more frustratingly, several maps have large tunnel-like sections that make them feel downright claustrophobic. Feeling trapped seems counter to what Titanfall does well.
The end result is a multiplayer component with fantastic mechanics that often feels hamstrung by difficult-to-understand design choices. Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is fun despite that — Bounty Hunt mode takes the enemy AI component of Attrition from Titanfall and adds a great active element to scoring that leads to exciting matches with the potential for big turnarounds — but the dynamics are thrown off enough to make for something that doesn’t click together as well as it did before.
You can read the rest of Polygon’s Titanfall 2 review on Monday, Oct. 24 at 9 a.m. PT, including our full impressions of the game’s single-player campaign.