We got our hands on Titanfall 2's multiplayer (and we liked it a lot)

Previews
August 17, 2016 by Laura Michet

The multiplayer tech test is starting on the 19th.

Look, there was secretly one thing that TItanfall needed more than anything in the world. That thing is: a grappling hook. And Titanfall 2 has it.

This could be my entire article right here. “Titanfall 2 multiplayer has a grappling hook, and that is fantastic.” The end.

I’m being silly, but it’s the truth: Titanfall 2’s multiplayer— which I got to play for several hours at a press event in Los Angeles two weeks ago— has seen many, many small- to medium-sized improvements over the Titanfall 1 experience. It does feel like a very strong iteration on the first game. I’ll get this out of the way early: I liked it a lot, and I would definitely play it myself.

Personally, the improvements I am most in love with are the changes to jetpack movement and navigation. Titanfall 1’s 3D spatial navigation had a bit of a learning curve to it, but jump into Titanfall 2— particularly with a loadout that contains a grappling hook— and you will feel like an expert in five seconds. Look: you can grapple a titan and zip up to its head to ride it around. Every time I did this during the several hours I had with the game, I asked myself: why the hell wasn’t this in the first game??

The demo I played was much, much longer than the demo I played at E3, and it gave me three different modes to grapple around in. We played Bounty Hunt, a 5v5 mode where players rack up points by killing NPCs, and steal points from other players by killing them. There was Pilot vs Pilot, an 8v8 no-titans team deathmatch mode. Finally, we tried Amped Hardpoint, a 6v6 king-of-the-hill point-capture mode. Personally, my favorites were Bounty Hunt and Amped Hardpoint (I do not see the point of playing Titanfall without, you know, titans), but all three were pretty solid experiences. Pilot vs Pilot and Amped Hardpoint in particular were very familiar. You’ve seen modes like these before, and you’re probably familiar with the general mechanics. Titanfall 2 doesn’t screw them up.

The original Titanfall didn’t initially seem to screw its familiar modes up, either, but one of my strongest memories of its multiplayer is the struggle to get my team to play the objective rather than simply dash around shooting robots with giant guns. It seems like Respawn noticed the same thing. “One of the goals for Titanfall 2 was to move from a more reactive play style to a more predictable play style,” said Todd Alberman, the game’s multiplayer design lead. They told us that map design was a part of this change, and that the goal, in general, was to encourage everyone to play more strategically.

In a press event it’s hard to tell whether everyone will actually be playing more strategically— as journalists, a lot of us were mainly focused on testing everything out and capturing good video, so we were not the best group to use as a basis for guessing about post-launch team synergy. However, I did notice some changes even from the E3 demo I played of the Bounty Hunt mode which absolutely encouraged more strategic gameplay.

Bounty Hunt mode is a wave-based, three-way fight between NPC attackers and two teams of players. Killing NPCs earns the players points, but if you kill another player, you will halve their point total and earn a bunch of points yourself. Nobody’s points are safe until the end of the round, when a small number of “banks” open up on the map. The banks are only open for a limited time, so players rush to these banks to store their points as credit for their team. The banking mechanic is new since the E3 build I played, and it’s a big improvement. The hard motivation to rush to a specific point encourages quite a bit of strategic play— sneaky, murdery play that contrasts pretty well with the over-the-top frenzy of grunt-killing and NPC-titan-smashing that reigns during the rest of the match.

You can try to camp a bank, for example, and try to kill everyone who goes there. You can predict where enemy players will run at the end of the match if you know which bank location is closest to them. Some of my favorite moments involved sneaking up to the bank point, shooting down people who were in the middle of trying to bank their points, and rushing to store my points before someone came and did the same to me.

This is the best example I have of mode and map design encouraging strategic gameplay in Titanfall 2, but there’s another new feature coming which will probably have a big effect on player cooperation: Networks, a clan-organization feature split between the game client and the web.

Networks are, essentially, chat groups which players can ping to find people to play with. John Shiring, the lead on Networks development, told us that “…they are user created groups, they are unlimited size, they are searchable, you can be in many… when it goes live is when you'll really see it come into its own.” Obviously, since I was only playing a small demo, we didn’t get a very robust impression of what Networks would be like, but they do seem like a pretty dang convenient way of finding friends to cooperate with. You will be able to send invites to a Network, and to switch Networks whenever you want. Only one Network can be active at a time, but it seems like you could have a variety of different Networks for different friend groups, different modes, and so on. Respawn told us that they want the average player to be in a lot of different Networks.

Network managers will be able to communicate with their members through a messaging feature— each player can access their inbox in the game client itself and read notices from any of their Networks. However, a lot of Network maintenance features will apparently be on the Titanfall 2 website, so although I was able to create my own Network as a test, I wasn’t able to see all the group-management tools available.

From what I saw— and remember, I didn’t actually get to use the Networks feature like a real user would— it seems like Networks could be pretty dang useful. I’m particularly a fan of the ability to be in several Networks at once and swap between them at will. Players who join enough Networks will probably find it a lot easier to keep in touch with other active players. If you’ve ever played an MMO and experienced the long, slow withering of a guild, or played a multiplayer FPS and grown increasingly frustrated as all your friends gradually quit playing it, having access to an extremely large number of clans at once seems like a great idea. If you want to find infinite buddies to play Titanfall 2 with forever, Respawn seems to have your back.

And about that— the actual playing bit, I mean— yeah, it’s good! The original Titanfall’s guns, gear, and heavy weapons were very satisfying to me, and Titanfall 2 remains a slick, satisfying gun-shoots experience. You can shoot a gigantic robot with a laser. You can equip a sniper rifle that shoots two bullets at once. There’s a variety of non-gun-related loadout gear, too: you can equip technology which allows you to create a decoy hologram of yourself, or ping through walls with a radar knife, or, like I mentioned above, grapple.

The burn card feature from the first game appears to be completely gone, and I am honestly pleased with that; I feel like players are more familiar with and comfortable with strictly loadout-based customization systems, and the loadout options I saw in the demo were pretty good. You’ll go into battle with a moddable gun, a moddable titan template, a selected utility ability, a selected grenade, and a “boost” ability which charges during battle. Most of these come with a series of mods which the player can either unlock by leveling up, or purchase early with currently earned from winning matches.

Moment-to-moment match gameplay is largely very similar to Titanfall 1: you still charge your titan call with feats of pilot derring-do, you still kill titans with gigantic heavy weapons, you can still jump on a titan to injure it, and you can still relentlessly punch other titans to death with a giant clang-clang-clang metal fist. We tested two titans during our demo: Ion, which packs a projectile weapon, and Scorch, a titan focused around controlling map space with napalm grenades. I enjoyed both of them quite a bit. (Scorch has a move where he punches the ground and creates a kind of wall of fire. I like this very much.) There will, of course, be a larger number of titan templates post-launch. Piloting titans still made me feel like a complete badass, though I felt like much more of a badass with Ion, who seems to have an easier learning-curve.

In general, I was extremely pleased by what I saw. Soon, you will be able to see pretty much exactly what I saw, too: Titanfall 2 is running a multiplayer tech test over the next two weekends on both PS4 and XBO. The weekend of August 19th will feature Bounty Hunt and Pilot vs Pilot. The weekend of the 26th will see just Amped Hardpoint mode. If you liked Titanfall 1 or are even remotely interested in Titanfall 2, I highly recommend participating in both of these.

And please, check out the grappling hook.