After finishing the last of the single-player missions in Battlefield 1 this weekend, I sat back and reflected. The missions themselves were varied – each “chapter” followed different people – but they had a commonality that was annoying: stealth. Battlefield 1 is not a stealth game. You can still run and gun for most of them, but it was weird pretending that the game was something it was not.
Facing the Multiplayer screen once again, I then came to a disappointing conclusion: Battlefield 1 is not a Battlefield game.
By that I mean it is not the sort of game I can see myself playing months from now. Or even minutes. It is just… exhausting. I am still trying to examine what specifically is causing this feeling. I don’t think it is the tone or the setting or the weapons necessarily.
Perhaps it is the simple fact that trench warfare is so required by virtue of insanely powerful sniper rifles. Apparently sniper rifles have a sweet spot that will instantly kill you with a body-shot at certain ranges. Pretty sure that has not been a thing in recent Battlefields outside of headshots. Between that, and the crazy power of armored vehicles (few counters), and the general sense of futility in attacking alone, I just get the sense that nothing matters.
Which, again, matches the time period. It just isn’t all that fun to experience.
So I closed Battlefield 1 down and spent around 3 hours playing Titanfall 2. And had fun.
I don’t anticipate Titanfall 2 to be a long-term game for me, certainly not on the same scale as BF2/3/4. But it absolutely is a fine “shoot someone in the face” game with occasional mech action. There happened to be a double-XP event going on this weekend, so I managed to unlock a slew of new weapons/gear, which went a long way in making the matches more interesting. I still think the devs screwed up Pilot vs Titan combat, but at least other parts have improved. And I am hoping that once I unlock Satchel Charges, that particular matchup will be more interesting.
It is amazing how just a few tweaks can completely ruin a game for me.
First, the good: Titanfall 2 has a single-player campaign. The lack of one was a common criticism for the original, and one that I shared. Actually, I think the original technically had a weird sort of “multiplayer match with a vague voiceover” story mode, but that hardly counts. This one is legit, and it is decently fun. A lot of game sites are gushing over the Effect and Cause mission for some reason, but it’s not ground-breaking or anything. Perhaps higher brow from a technical standpoint than typical arcade shooter FPS fare, but I’ve played a lot of inventive FPS games, and this one was okay.
Having said that… where it matters, Titanfall 2 fails hard. Specifically: Titans.
A big part of the original game was the interplay between the Pilots and the Titans. Titans could basically one-shot Pilots in a number of ways, but clever usage of the jump jets and such from a Pilot could all but spell doom for the Titan. “Rodeoing” was when a Pilot jumped on a Titan, peeled off an exterior armor panel, and blasted the Titan’s internal circuitry with whatever weapon they had. Pretty much the only recourse the Titan had was Electric Smoke, which had a cooldown/limited uses. Otherwise you’d either need a friendly player to shoot the Pilot off, or disembark to do it yourself, if you were currently piloting the Titan.
For some utterly bizarre reason, the designers changed all that. Now? A Pilot jumps on a Titan and… removes a battery. This deals about 30% damage to the Titan, and immediately highlights the offending Pilot to everyone with a big battery symbol. The battery’s function is to recharge shields/empower a friendly Titan, either by re-entering your own or jumping on the back of someone else’s and jamming it inside. Not that that ever fucking happens though, because the FIRST and ONLY thing that occurs is the enemy Titan looks around and instantly blasts the giant green battery icon that is attempting to get away. Then the enemy Pilot disembarks, grabs their own battery, and re-enters the Titan, charging their shields.
Folks, I can’t even.
There was a crazy amount of elegance to the original design. Different weapons dealt a different amount of damage to the Titan hull once you pulled off the armor panel. If all you had was a grenade launcher, guess what? You took splash damage. I often went with a harder-hitting pistol secondary expressly because it dealt more Titan damage when Rodeo’d, even though it was tougher to hit a Pilot with it. Then there was the fact that a Pilot attached to your Titan was a (slow) death sentence unless you specifically dealt with him/her. The Titanfall 2 system is basically a free Pilot kill.
Also, if I recall correctly, the original Titanfall had Titans with regenerating shields. It really only protected the Titan from 1-2 shots, but the current system is zero shields (unless you get a battery). This subtle change makes Titans much less durable, which actively counters the apparent “steal enemy Titan batteries for your own Titan” design, because yours will be dead before you get back. Assuming you get further than 10 feet away with a battery in the first place.
Then there is the changed Attrition mode. The core part of the map type is the same: kill either AI units or enemy Pilots to get points. In the original, the AI bots were total cannon fodder. In this game, the AI… is still mostly cannon fodder, but can kill you rather surprisingly easy. If you try to melee Grunts, they will melee you back, and basically get you to 50% HP. Stalker/Spectres are bullet sponges that can definitely give you away. Then you have Reapers, which as basically mini-Titans that will chase you around rooftops and basically unkillable outside of Titans.
In principle, the new bots are fine. The problem is actually finding any. In the original Titanfall, you could actually select a gadget that would show all bot location on your minimap (at the expense of more useful anti-Pilot measures). That doesn’t really exist here, and you can often run around for 1-2 minutes without encountering a single bot anywhere. Given how matches are only 10 minutes long, that’s fairly significant. It also means that if your team falls behind, there is no way to make it back.
The bottom line is really this: Titanfall 2 is just not as fun as the original game. This is Respawn’s Signs follow-up to their Sixth Sense. It’s really a shame because there wasn’t much they needed to improve upon in the original game. Instead, they have weaker Titans, weaker anti-Titan moves, worse maps with less wall-running opportunities, and… well, just less all the things that made the first game cool. If they continue on this trajectory, the third one is going to be The Village.
Have you ever been in the mood to play a particular game, but couldn’t for whatever reason, and then nothing else you happen to play in the meantime can measure up?
As it turns out, I was going through that with Battlefield 1, which is slated to be delivered this coming Saturday. Tried booting up some unplayed Steam games, but those went nowhere. Then I tried a few rounds of Overwatch. Which was kinda close, but not quite the same itch.
So I ended up buying Titanfall 2 at the last minute of the sale:
Yep, even though I explicitly said $28 was too high, that I was worried about it not lasting, etc etc etc. I wanted to play a new FPS right now, and not wait until Saturday to do so. So I am. It technically cost a bit more to purchase direct from Origin ($34 after tax), but I wanted to be able to download it overnight. Which it did successfully (cough cough). Impressions to follow.
Dirty Bomb is an Overwatch-esque* TF2 clone in perpetual Open “we’ll take your money though” Beta. It features fast gunplay, pseudo-Titanfall maneuvering, overpowered abilities, and a large roster of $9.99 characters.
I only became interested in Dirty Bomb after the recent Humble Bundle was offering multiple character unlocks and 50,000 points (enough to unlock another character) in the $1 tier. Now that I have around 10 hours invested, I can perhaps see this game as being a stopgap FPS solution to my Overwatch itch.
There are some interesting things going on in Dirty Bomb. Before heading into a match, you have to lock-in three Mercs – while you will be free to swap between them mid-match, you cannot select any others. Running speed is affected by your currently equipped weapon ala Counter-Strike, so running around with knives out is the best way to get around. There is a limited amount of wall-jumping and various “long-jump” shenanigans.
One of the mechanics I enjoy a lot is the downed state. Basically, when you “die” you really fall to the ground and writhe around until the wave-based respawn timer triggers. While on the ground you can be revived by any character if they spend 5ish seconds holding F down, or instantly by any of the Medic class abilities. The other team can prevent a rez by finishing you off, either by pumping more bullets into your prone form, or landing a melee hit. I enjoy the tension in the choice to finish someone off, as bullets are in short supply (you basically have 2-3 clips unless you have an Ammo guy on your team) and splitting your attention in the middle of a firefight can be deadly. Do you finish that guy off, or try to take out more people and risk a Medic zipping in and instantly reviving him?
There are some shortcomings in Dirty Bomb. First, the game looks like it came out in 2010. While that does ensure that it’s playable on a number of PCs, the lack of production values of almost any kind makes me leery of “investing” in expanding the roster. Not necessarily in the money-sense – if you only play with Missions up (which reset every 3 hours), you can unlock a new Merc every ~10 hours of gameplay – but in the time-sense.
Second, the game feels unbalanced all to hell. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “Execution” mode, which is essentially Dirty Bomb pretending to be Counter-Strike… with a grand total of two maps. With respawns disabled, it becomes very evident that the characters with airstrike and orbital laser bombardment abilities are far and away better than more generic characters, in the sense that they can one-shot most everyone.
Overall though, Dirty Bomb is fine for what it is: a F2P FPS distraction. If you are like me and have zero interest in trying to get into TF2 after nearly a decade of updates and uber-veterans, you could probably do worse. Maybe. Whatever, it’s fun.
* Obviously Dirty Bomb came out before Overwatch, so it’s not technically Overwatch-esque, but you know what I mean.
I managed to get into the Overwatch beta stress test this past weekend, and ended up logging a dozen or so hours with the game. Did I have fun with the game? Absolutely, yes. Am I still concerned with the game’s longevity and overall direction? Sadly, also yes.
Matches in Overwatch are generally over quick. In fact, here is one with me playing Pharah:
That’s five minutes from start to finish. Respawn timers are 10 seconds. There were a few matches that went for 10-15 minutes, but for the most part, the only downtime you’ll experience in this game are either in-between matches or running back from the spawn room to the fight. Time-to-Kill generally depends on the character, but you can be one-shot or otherwise die within 1 second depending on what goes on. Fighting is almost always quick, manic action from start to finish.
One thing that I’ve enjoyed more than I thought I would are the MOBA-ish elements. There are four archetypes – Offense, Defense, Tank, Support – and each character generally has two abilities with cooldowns and an Ultimate ability that charges from damage. I also like how the character select screen will warn your team if it is missing the expected balance, e.g. no Support characters, no “builders,” and so on. Sometimes you can ignore the warnings depending on the maps, but for the most part it is accurate; without a Tank, it’s tough to push capture points and otherwise stop enemy advances.
(Incidentally, my feelings on the TF2 vs Overwatch matter haven’t changed from a year ago.)
That brings me to my first issue, actually. I kinda feel like the competitive scene of this game will be a joke, and there really isn’t anything Blizzard will be able to do about it. Such a conclusion was driven home to me rather forcibly in one of the most absurdly bad matches I have ever played, perhaps in any videogame:
The enemy team was Attacking in Hanamura, which meant they needed to capture Point A in King of the Hill fashion, then Point B to win the match. As you can see above, the enemy team consisted of three D.Va characters and a Winston (all four of which are Tanks), and Lucio, who is an passive AoE healer with an Ultimate that puts a huge shield around every friendly nearby. That they also had a Pharah is immaterial.
The short version of this match is that all the Tanks, whom all have the ability to jump/fly past barriers by the way, just rushed Point A and sat on it. I hesitate to say that such an attack is impossible to defend against, but I honestly have no idea how you’re supposed to within the time you are given. Your balanced team is just going to get murdered, and by the time you respawn, Point A will already have been taken.
Even if Blizzard made it so that only one person can be a certain character, there are enough Tanks to reproduce this strategy. And it’s not even a particularly risky strategy when Attacking. I’ll talk about the overpowered D.Va in a moment, but the only way I can imagine beating this would be to have Defense consist of 3-4 Junkrats just spamming the capture point with grenades. And even that might not be enough.
In this context, what is the Pro Scene going to consist of? Maybe Blizzard doesn’t particular care about the Pro Scene. In which case, I’d be nervous about “investing” in this game in the long-term.
As I said before, I have had fun with Overwatch. I kinda want to be playing it right now, actually. But at the end of each match, there is a lingering worry that this is just another Titanfall. In other words, it’s a game you’ll have fun playing for a week, and then never play it again. Which, admittedly, is how most games you buy end up. But when I look back at Battlefield 2/3/4, I see shooters that I had fun playing over months and even years. It would take some really crazy good progression system from Blizzard to engender a similar feeling of “investment,” and I just don’t see how that would be possible given the switch of Overwatch to the B2P model. Cosmetic unlocks could be a thing, but I doubt alternate guns will factor in, and unlocking new characters is totally off the table.
I am not quite sure how much more tweaking Blizzard plans to do with the characters, but some are crazy OP and others are just downright awful.
The Tank character D.Va is one of my favorites, and absolutely belongs to the former category. Her default Mech mode features dual-shotgun cannons that fire quickly and never need reloaded; her L-Shift ability lets her fly around for 3 seconds, reaching high ledges or just escaping; her E ability negates all incoming projectiles in a cone in front of her, including many Ultimate abilities. And D.Va’s Ultimate? She primes her Mech to self-destruct, which is instant death to all enemies (and herself) in an entirely way too large area. When “killed” in Mech form, D.Va bails out and runs around with a legitimately respectable gun but no other abilities. If she racks up enough damage, she’ll prime her other Ultimate, which is summoning another Mech to pilot. If you use the self-destruct Ultimate and it kills 1-2 people (not hard to do), that will be enough to allow D.Va to hop into another Mech right away.
Like I said, crazy OP.
An example of the opposite is Symettra, who is classified as Support and also technically a Builder. She “supports” by press E on teammates once and giving them a recharging shield. Which is okay, I guess, but that’s the extent of your healing support; if you see a teammate going down and you already gave them a shield earlier, there is zero you can do to assist them. Symettra can create up to 6 little laser turrets which deal damage and slow enemies, but unless you spam a bunch of them in one area, they are easily destroyed and do next to nothing. Finally, her Ultimate is creating a Teleporter. Which, while useful, isn’t likely to swing matches given how quickly they end.
The injury to the insult of Symettra’s abilities though is her weak-ass attacks. Left-click is a super-short range auto-target beam that deals more damage the longer it fires. Good luck surviving that long as a goddamn Support character at short range. Right-click is a less than useless charged-up, lethargic orb of energy that crawls across the map. I don’t know how much damage it deals, and I kinda doubt anyone does, as it’s unlikely anybody has ever actually been hit by it.
The rest of the characters are a mixed bag. I enjoy Pharah, but her Ultimate is almost always a waste of time as it makes you a huge, bullet-attracting beacon in the sky. Some of the Tanks are weird, because they’re terrible by themselves but way better “support tanks.” For example, Zarya couldn’t hold a point to save her life even with healer backup, but Zarya + Reinhardt/Roadhog is almost good enough of a combo to not need a healer at all. Winston’s sole function in life seems to be an anti-Reinhardt (the electricity gun goes through Reinhardt’s shield), as he will easily die to any other Tank 1v1.
I’m not going to go through every character – there are 21 of them, after all – but I do appreciate exactly how different each one of them end up being. If you can’t find a character that matches your play-style, then you probably just don’t like FPS games. Honestly, it’s actually to the point where I have to wonder what other characters Blizzard could really add in the presumed expansions.
Overwatch is fun. Is it $60 fun? Not right now. We’ll see what Blizzard adds, but it’s possible nothing will make Overwatch more than just another Titanfall.
Way back before I got distracted with Crowfall news, Rohan had an interesting few posts exploring the challenges of structured PvP vs transient PvP. Namely, how do you solve the “3rd/4th faction” problem of people migrating to the winning side in structured PvP? The clear answer involves incentives to stay on the losing/outnumbered side, but the implementation is tricky.
Or is it?
I consider one of the gold standards of loss incentives to be Titanfall’s Extraction phase. At the end of each match – be it CTF, Death Match, etc – there is a no-respawn phase in which the losing team tries to make it to a waiting drop ship. If all losing members make it, the entire team receives a significant bonus (less than a win, but not by much). The winning team will of course try and kill the stragglers, but they can also destroy the drop ship and get bonus points. While it is still possible to queue into a complete blowout match in which the other team practically insta-kills the drop ship, most battles end with the drop ship taking off. Not only do the extra points for an Extraction soften the blow of losing perhaps a close match, the psychological reward for “escaping” is immense.
You lost, but you didn’t lose. And, yes, there is a difference.
This might seem weird to say, but I actually enjoy hopeless defenses in many games. Whenever I
play used to play PlanetSide 2, for example, I looked for the bases under attack by near-overwhelming odds. From my perspective, such bases present A) easy opportunity for kills in the chaos, B) no expectation for success, C) small chance for epic comeback. Being spawn-camped by tank spam is miserable, but anything less can be great low-pressure fun.
The same sentiment existed even in WoW PvP for me. Being farmed at the Graveyard in WSG is enough to make one ragequit. Dial it back a few notches though, and I found it immensely entertaining simply being annoying, e.g. by tanking DPS as a healer, taking potshots and then forcing someone to chase me for two minutes, and so on. My team might lose, but I still won. Some of my favorite PvP memories was on my Rogue, when I ran around Sapping everyone into diminishing returns and watching their futile attempts at unstealthing me.
All of the above examples (except for PS2) are from transient PvP rather than structured PvP. Still, I think you can achieve a similar incentive structure using the same principals. For example, if a certain team is way behind or outnumbered, start giving them an alternative currency (call it Honor or whatever), or even a bonus to the normal PvP currency. In this way, winning becomes much less of a zero-sum game, and offers an “out” for those players who would, strictly speaking, be better off defecting to the winning side. Plus it would attract goofballs such as myself to hopeless defenses, thereby making the match more entertaining for everyone involved.
Let’s talk about Overwatch for a second.
A lot of the Overwatch reactions that I have been reading on blogs basically revolves around the “TF2 clone” observation. And it’s true: Overwatch does kinda sorta maybe look like TF2 when you squint at it. But I get the feeling from many of the posts that “being a clone” is somehow being considered a value judgment against the game.
Which is a little weird considering WoW was a clone of EQ, LoL was a clone of DotA, and so on. In other words, being a clone of something has very little to do with the merit of the final product. Unless the gameplay was directly cut and paste from the source material, it’s entirely possible for one or two (or more) key tweaks to change the overall feeling of a game. And if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been playing MMOs for very long.
As for myself, I remain mostly ambivalent towards Overwatch. I have played a grand total of about an hour of TF2, which was long enough for me to realize I have little interest in diving into seven years of accumulated competitive minutia; learning the maps, the weapons, the classes, and strategies of each while playing against hardened veterans isn’t exactly my idea of fun. Even if it were a total TF2 clone, Overwatch acts as a rather convenient “reset” of sorts that levels the playing field between vets and newbs, at least for a time. So in that sense, I am interested in playing it and seeing if it’s fun.
At the same time, my experience with Titanfall is giving me pause about the 6v6 format. I have long stated that Titanfall is an amazing game, but the smaller team size means a lot of pressure is put on the skill level of your best and worst players. In other words, a big fish on the enemy team can crowd out the pond. Which is the way things are “suppose to be,” but I’m not particularly inclined to play games in which I spend the majority of the time on the respawn screen. I much prefer larger games like Battlefield and PlanetSide in that gaming gods can rule some minor fiefdom (typically the air game) while everyone else is pounding the ground and having fun.
I don’t necessarily need to win to have fun playing something, but do 6v6 maps give the necessary space to have fun? Typically not, in my experience. We’ll see.
Remember BorderHaloLands, more commonly known as Destiny? You might recall I have mentioned it before. Well, yesterday was the first day of a press junket and the overarching narrative is… not good, with Kotaku and Destructoid basically calling it boring. They also called it rather amazingly detailed and lush and beautiful. And barren. And lifeless. And populated with level 2 mobs with health bars that you shoot to power your rechargable super-skills. Yeeeeaaahh.
There is a mega-thread on Reddit if you want more sources and commentary.
What’s kinda funny to me are the understated dangers of game design, at least when you let the hype train roll along just a tad too long and it misses it’s station. In just about every article I’ve read on Destiny, unfavorable comparisons are being drawn between Destiny and Titanfall. And why not? Both are next-gen sci-fi shooters trying to establish new IPs. The problem is that, like it or not, Titanfall pretty much ate Destiny’s lunch before he even got to the cashier. Just look at these developer quotes in the Polygon article:
“The way we like to think about it, is not everybody is going to want to play Destiny, but everybody is going to be able to play Destiny if they want to,” Parsons added. “We’ve made significant improvements to the way players are going to play. People are surprised at how quickly they master the controls and get up to speed and having a great time.”
“It might not feel new compared to some of the other things that have come out recently, like Titanfall,” said design lead Lars Bakken, who added that there are changes, like free-floating double-jumps that can last for a long time. “But we’ve been prototyping for a long time and we’ve created experiences that you’ve never been able to experience before in the previous games that we’ve made, especially because it’s inherent to your character.”
I mean, I laughed at the design lead sheepishly trying to draw a parallel between the now-genre-defining wall-running parkour of Titanfall and his own game’s “long-lasting double jumps.” And then I felt sad for them. Because how were they supposed to know? As I mention in the comments yesterday, I was all gung-ho for Hex to the tune of an $85 Kickstarter pledge right up until Hearthstone came out of nowhere – 3 short months later – and pretty much flipped the proverbial design table. Now I feel like anyone coming out with a digital TCG that requires you to spam-click “Pass Priority” a dozen times a turn is basically Dead On Arrival. Hex has moved on to beta recently, but I’m not even sure I have the alpha client still installed. Why bother?
In any case, the word on the street is still that there won’t be any PC version of Destiny. The reason?
Parsons also said creating and releasing a PC version of Bungie’s shared world shooter would not be as easy as many believe, because all versions of the game connect to the same persistent video game world, which itself extends to multiple platforms.
“It is not nearly as simple as you think,” he said. “It is one central world no matter what the platform, and so that requires lots of intensive thought.
Err… okay. It sorta sounds like they’re implying that people on a Xbone can play with people on a PS4, but I’m relatively certain that that’s not actually going to happen. Just like the chances of me considering a purchase of this game. But good luck, Bungie, all the same. You’re going to need it in this new environment, especially considering you’ve already got the next 10 years of this IP all planned out. If Destiny 2 doesn’t have wall-running, you’re going to be in for a bad time.
I don’t think I have ever had something like matchmaking so completely and totally ruin a game for me. I mean, queuing up as Alliance for BGs in WoW was pretty bad towards the end, but Titanfall? Holy Jesus, it’s bad. So bad that I started an Imgur album to detail it. Examples:
This matchmaking is so terrible it cannot possibly be random chance. I mean, I can understand a little bit of snowballing – god knows that if I see a veteran on my team, I play it out until I get sick of the game – but this sort of shit is just stupid. All Titanfall has is it’s moment-to-moment gameplay, so for you to face an entire 10 minute match with your nose in the carpet the entire goddamn time is worse than the most banal daily quest in any MMO. I’d rather be grinding Golden Lotus rep – at least at the end of the day, I’d have something to show for my blood, sweat, and ample tears.
I tried to play some PlanetSide 2 to wash the taste out of my mouth, but the game crashed to desktop after about 20 minutes.
Remember when I said I never buy games near their release days and/or at full MSRP? This is why. If I could resell Titanfall or get a refund, I would; then maybe come back when the developers got their shit together.