When Titanfall launched in 2014, it was a new IP brimming with potential.
Made by Respawn, a new developer formed by alumni of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward, it looked like an interesting evolution of the first-person shooter genre.
Titanfall took the first-person shooter mechanics Respawn had helped popularize and made combat more vertical and kinetic with parkour mechanics. Oh, and players periodically had the chance to pilot massive robots called Titans.
Though the title was met with a strong critical reaction and had initially promising sales, its player base dropped off considerably post-launch with gamers complaining about a lack of story mode and little to keep gamers engaged long-term in the multiplayer mode.
Now Respawn is launching a sequel. This time, the game boasts a single player narrative that tells the story of the ‘bond’ between Pilot and Titan.
“We haven’t just talked single player on,” art director Joel Emslie says.
“We weren’t out to just go down a checklist that Titanfall 2 needed. It was a conscious effort by a team that has a pedigree of doing single player in the past. It’s not normal to start a multiplayer game then build single player off that; normally it works the other way around. Even for us, that was new.
“Bringing the mechanics of Titanfall’s multiplayer into a single player environment with a narrative and telling the story properly while also not hamstringing players – that was incredibly challenging to do.
“The design team had to come at it in an entirely new way. They had to rethink how they would design the game. We have also taken multiplayer and evolved the hell out of it – really tightening the screws and making sure the pacing is right. The first game was incredibly kinetic to the point that players became fatigued playing it. Balancing that all out in multiplayer was a challenge.”
But why was story mode such a focus for the team? After all, those buying shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield often head straight to multiplayer when they boot up the game.
“Single player has an awesome story and all the main Titanfall mechanics, but where we can introduce multiplayer elements,” Emslie says.
“It’s a great place for players to cut their teeth on multiplayer mechanics in a narrative environment with a lot of cool stuff to do. You can then hop into multiplayer with all this knowledge understanding the Titan types and all the core mechanics.”
He continues: “Every single level in single player is a completely new experience. It would have been very easy to simply take multiplayer and throw it on a rail shooter and get it done – put crazy moments in there but it ended up absolutely not being that at all. It seems that every level has something new to offer mechanically that you can experience. It changes it up so much.”
Last time the story mode was a series of multiplayer levels tied together by a vague plot. It was an enticing look at the world that Respawn had created and one that appears to be more fully realized this time around. COO Dusty Welch even goes as far as to compare Titanfall 2’s story to that of acclaimed sci-fi television show, Battlestar Galactica.
“The audience said that they loved the audience and characters that were introduced in the original Titanfall, but they wanted more,” he explains.
“We gave very little. So single player affords us that narrative, that landscape where we can paint some more of the universe and the characters and that humanistic story. It’s like Battlestar Galactica, which we love. It’s set in the future but it’s relatable. The tone is relatable future with the same human struggles that we are experiencing today.”
“Titanfall 2 us really a new IP. The Xbox One install base is much bigger than when the first game launched. Then there’s the PS4 audience.”
Dusty Welch, Respawn
As well as adding a dedicated story mode, Titanfall 2 is coming to PlayStation 4 as well as Xbox One and PC. The original skipped PlayStation – something Respawn has kept in mind when developing Titanfall 2.
“We’re really excited to welcome back that original Xbox One, 360 and PC audience,” Respawn COO Dusty Welch says.
“But Titanfall 2 is really a new IP at launch if you think about it. The Xbox One install base is two or three times what it was when Titanfall launched, the PC audience continues to grow. Then there’s the PS4 install base, which is enormous. It has a ‘2’ next to its name, but that signifies the dual elements of Titan and Pilot, and the single player and multiplayer.”
Emslie added: “We have to consider that there’s a whole community that hasn’t played Titanfall before. That was a challenge for us – how do we make sure that Titanfall 2 is something that anyone could pick up and you don’t need to have a played the original? For fans of the first game, we’ve added a lot of story elements and secrets that they’ll appreciate. But it’s a game that stands alone. It can reach out to that new community and they can enjoy it for the first time.”
Titanfall 2 is hitting shelves at the end of October. That’s one week after EA’s other shooter, Battlefield 1 launches, and a week before not one, but two Call of Duty games – Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered are released. Yet Respawn is bullish in the face of massive competition in the shooter genre.
“There’s a place in the games community for a Battlefield and a place for Titanfall 2 and a place for the other folks,” Emslie says.
“We have our own distinctive personality, and that was really important. If everyone has their own thing, that makes a better environment for gamers in general. They have a lot of choose from. You may not pick one title up on day one but you may play it a month or so later. Having a unique quality to your game that people can experience just there, that’s the most important part.”
Welch adds: “I’m confident that consumers are going to play Titanfall day one, without a doubt. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, we’re going to end up having the most memorable, deepest story from our single player model. People are going to be really mesmerized by that.
“As a first-person shooter gamer myself, people like me are hungering and thirsting for something deeper in single player. We want something meaty, something memorable, we want to be taken back to a time when we could explore and not just walk down a hallway. That’s what Titanfall 2 has. The multiplayer is unique and has a great progression system. It’s so repeatable, learnable and balanced. It’s really rewarding and very different to something like Battlefield.
“They’re different consumers, but there is some overlap. At the end of the day, I’m confident in what the team can do. I’m confident that EA, as our publisher, is going to find a way to clear the halls for Titanfall 2.”
Emslie also believes that Titanfall being a relatively new franchise will work in the game’s favor.
“We’re launching with a lot of sequels. They’re not just sequels either, they’re way into the series. If gamers are looking for something brand new to play, even though Titanfall 2 is a sequel, it’s the first time we’ve added the single player to it, it’s something new and fresh that people can get behind. Even the way we had to develop it was new and fresh. We had to tackle it from a different angle. People will hop on board.
“There are things you can do in Titanfall 2 that you absolutely cannot get anywhere else.”