Titanfall Beta Impressions

By Adam Ma on February 19, 2014, 4:56PM EDT

Developed by veterans that created the Call of Duty franchise and published by the industry's biggest rival to Activision, Titanfall is the game that many anticipate will help provide a major boost to Xbox One sales. Anyone who's followed the buzz over Titanfall knows there's a lot to be excited for. The promises here are staggering: expansively detailed levels, free flowing movement and organic mechanized combat, the list goes on. We're only a few weeks away from the launch of one of the most highly anticipated games of the year, and with the open beta just wrapping up we get a much better idea of whether or not Titanfall can truly live up to all the hype.

Titanfall's mechanics can be broken into two kinds of gameplay: the fast wall running stealth of pilots and the more hulking high-ordinance firepower of Titans - walking mechs that stand at two stories and provide brute strength to balance the pilots more delicate and precision based speed. Both styles of gameplay have their strengths and weaknesses but what's interesting is that neither is truly better than the other. Respawn was careful to make sure that Titan gameplay didn't entirely overshadow the pilot by giving the hulking mech a few intentional design flaws and these can only be compensated through effective teamwork, communication, and a good mix of Titans and pilots.

Pilots start the round with a countdown timer to calling in a Titan, which can be further reduced by killing either players or the many NPCs that wander the level acting as a mix of atmospheric filler, cannon fodder, and low level threats. They take fewer shots to kill but rarely provide a real challenge for players, instead giving more gamers who are not so adept at killing pilots a chance to earn a Titan quicker than normal, albeit at a much slower rate. Once the Titan is summoned, players can choose to either hop inside and take manual control or let it operate automatically, following players and engaging enemies based on proximity.

As a result Titanfall's gameplay is fast and furious, a blur of wall running and weaving through city streets and apartment buildings where enemy players can be anywhere and everywhere. Assault rifles, sniper rifles, SMGs, shotguns and pistols give a familiar backdrop for players to work with while rocket launchers and mini-rocket machine guns run standard for pilots looking to fight against Titans from buildings or their vantage points. It only takes a single shot for a Titan to kill a player but an agile pilot can not only avoid death but easily dispatch enemy mechs by hopping on and firing directly into a Titan's engine, bypassing its shields and armor.

Teams of six pilots go up against one another in a variety of game modes designed to take advantage of the distinct kinds of gameplay that both styles offer; and how quickly Titans show up to disrupt the battlefield will greatly depend on what game mode you play. Three game modes have been made available via the beta so far, Attrition being the easiest to understand as it most closely resembles a general Team Deathmatch with a few exceptions. NPCs, pilots and Titans are each given points per kill, so anything killed will earn points toward the overall goal (with more points being given for killing players).

Last Titan Standing and Hardpoint in particular do a better job of showing off the complexity that Titanfall has to offer as objective game types make far greater use of the difference between Titans and pilots. Hardpoint is a domination gametype that splits objectives into three kinds: Ones accessible to only pilots, one that can be taken by pilots or Titans, or one that can be taken by pilots but is easily assaulted by Titans. Generally this is done by keeping an objective indoors or in a wide open area, and Respawn does a great job playing multiple floors and rooftops to their advantage.

The last of Titanfall's big mechanics are burn cards, which can be used after dying to provide a temporary boost only useable for your next life. Burn cards vary greatly in what they do, and you'll only ever have access to three at any given time. Once it's used the card is removed from your deck, and must be earned/obtained again through playing matches. What's great about the cards (at least in Beta) is that they provide access to unique weapons and skills that aren't normally obtainable. Limitless grenades, higher damage versions of primary weapons, increased run speed, high powered explosives and even alternative Titans are all available through cards.

For all its unique differences, there are still aspects of Titanfall's design that raise some questions, and it may take a full review of the final product to answer them all. How many options for customization is the biggest question across both pilots and Titans, and though general weapons seem to be pretty even (save for the auto pistol, which is as puzzling as it is somewhat overpowered) whether or not the different kinds of Titans are evenly balanced is hard to tell. Limited use of the Ogre suit in beta gives a vague idea of the more defensive mech variant is like, but it'll be sustained play that tells us how far Respawn still has to go in better defining their mechanized combat.

Despite minor gripes Titanfall doesn't fail to impress, and with the game's unique learning curve comes an incredibly deep and rewarding experience that feels unlike anything else the industry has to offer. How expansive this multiplayer only game will truly be has yet to be seen, but things are looking pretty darn good so far. In the meantime be sure to keep an eye out for a much more in-depth review of the game near its North American release date of March 11th.

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