The Titans are the worst thing about Titanfall 2 [official site]. In the campaign, your robot buddy BT provides occasionally amusing commentary and support, but the game really sings when you're free of him and permitted to engage in the kind of wall-jumping, face-kicking heroics that are usually the domain of cutscenes rather than actual play. Multiplayer is where Titans shine, acting as both a cathartic death-dealing reward in some circumstances, and a welcome change of pace in others, but they're still the worst thing about the game.
They're great though. It's just that everything else is so much better.
In multiplayer, Titans feel like an actual godsend at times, screaming down from the heavens as they do like avenging angels. They're improved since the first game, as is everything else, more flexible and yet more focused at the same time. The varied loadouts allow players to use their bots as support, kamikaze murderbot, tricksy sniper or teleporting melee beast, and the timing of drops (the titular Titanfalls) ensures that the arrival of a bot on the battlefield usually feels like a game-changing event rather than an interruption to the flow of the superb infantry combat.
If you'd rather not have super-weapons invading your game though – and because pilots are so mobile no-foot, Titans feel like weapons rather than vehicles to me – there is a Titanless pilot vs pilot mode, along with the returning Attrition team deathmatch and variants, and the all-new Bounty Hunter, which introduces waves of AI enemies into the field. As in Attrition, you can rack up points by taking out the AI, but here they're an independent force rather than auxiliaries to one of the player-led teams, and you'll need to cash in your winnings between waves. Die without reaching a deposit point and you lose a chunk of what you've earned from your kills.
There are few changes to the actual rules of play. Burn Cards, the one-shot items activated for a single round, are out, and I don't miss them a bit. It's good to know that when a Titan unleashes a seemingly endless barrage of missiles, that's because the pilot inside it has been playing well in the here and now rather than bringing in an advantage earned in a different battle entirely. The longer a pilot and Titan survive, the closer they get to unleashing total devastation, and Respawn encourage smart teamwork by allowing those without their own robots to retrieve batteries from fallen enemy Titans or set locations on the battlefield. These can then be delivered to an allied Titan.
Titans support infantry and infantry support Titans. The relationship feels much more symbiotic and healthy, and, importantly, Titans don't feel like an end-goal, leaving those who don't manage to call one feeling left out of the fight. The greatest hero in any match isn't the person piloting a Ronin and darting around the battlefield taking out enemies with grace and precision; the hero is the person who sees that pilot preparing to eject after taking heavy damage, then sprints and leaps across the battlefield to jump onto an enemy Titan rodeo-style, rip out their battery, and return it to the Ronin, bringing it back into action before it is abandoned.
What was a good multiplayer game has become a great multiplayer game. The skill ceiling is high but the structure of Titan and infantry teamplay, and the rules of the various modes, ensure everyone has something to do. As well as being a good thing as a general practice, the abandonment of a season pass model seems appropriate because Titanfall 2 feels like a beautifully updated version of a classic FPS in which you become better by learning the game and linking together gunplay, traversal and the nifty gadgets that can aid both. There are things to unlock as you play but they're dished out generously so after a few hours play, you're not going to be at an enormous disadvantage, or left without options when it comes to your loadout.
And then there's the campaign. I've already gone into some detail about how brilliant it is so I won't repeat myself, but I do want to say something more about quite why it works so well.
First of all, the few hours that the campaign lasts will probably always be my favourite part of Titanfall 2. I've sprinted beneath an enemy Titan in Attrition multiplayer, sliding between its legs just as it unleashes a stream of flames that destroy everything in its line of sight. I've grappled and boosted my way across warzones, pirouetting in mid-air above exploding Titans to pick off a pilot on a distant rooftop. The campaign begins with a cutscene that shows a pilot in action, the voiceover speaking of his skills and efficiency, awestruck. You can become that character in the cutscene – it's not an exaggerated version of the skillset you're given, it's an honest portrayal. Far more slick than anything I can pull off when facing human opponents, sure, but that's on me, not on the game.
The campaign brings the thumping brilliance of the gunplay and the elegance of the traversal system to a series of beautifully crafted levels. They're inventive, both visually and mechanically, and to spoil the best of them would be unjust. It's so tempting to spoil them though because I don't think anyone was expecting this kind of creativity from Titanfall 2's singleplayer. What could have been a pleasant side dish or drab afterthought is instead playing with ideas that other games would use as the main salvo of their marketing campaign.
It never abandons the superb fundamentals of combat and movement that make the multiplayer such a pleasure to play, but it embellishes it and creates areas of such convincingly impressive scale that I want to revisit them just to look at them on my TV rather than my monitor. Titanfall 2 deserves to be on the biggest screen possible.
I've had one technical hitch, with grenades and other thrown projectiles lagging in front of me for a second when I lob them. As far as I can tell, it doesn't actually affect their trajectory but it makes it difficult to know how long I've been cooking them for before throwing, and trying to aim at a moving target is next to impossible when it happens. But its only happening maybe one time in ten, more often in the campaign than in multiplayer oddly, as if there's some server communication slowing things down that is only obvious at those particular moments.
If one of my favourite studios had released Titanfall 2 back in the day (I mentioned Monolith in my previous article), I'd be recommending people go back and savour it, and learn its lessons, at every opportunity. As it is, wedged between Battlefield and Call of Duty in the release schedule, and likely reliant on strong initial sales due to the promise of free maps and modes, Titanfall 2 risks becoming precisely the kind of game that people will need to be reminded about ten years down the line.
Don't take this as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if, in the long-term, sales are relatively poor, there will almost certainly be enough devoted players to keep the online portion of the game alive. If you're even mildly interested in buying a new multiplayer FPS, you won't go wrong with this, and if you enjoy smart level design, the singleplayer is vital, though the pricetag is hard to justify given the short running time. None of those ideas I'm refusing to describe so as not to spoil them are going to add replay value either, unless, like me, you're likely to replay just to show people the spectacle of it all.
Whether there's more Titanfall in the future or not will almost certainly depend on the commercial success of this second game in the series. It's superb but that's no guarantee of success, and I wouldn't even like to guess how EA will measure success in this case. Respawn's next release is probably going to be their third-person Star Wars game, announced in February. Though I'd like to see the studio fleshing out the world of its own IP, there's very little in what is great about the singleplayer campaign that relies on the specifics of Titanfall's backstory and setting. The Titans are swell, even if they are the worst thing about the game, but there's military machinery enough in Star Wars, and plenty of opportunities for odd couple buddy-banter.
The highlights of Titanfalls 2's design would work in Star Wars or just about anywhere else, and on this evidence, a sci-fi action game couldn't be in better hands.
Titanfall 2 is out now for Windows via Origin for £50.