When Titanfall 2 launches on October 28, players will be getting a considerably different experience to the one they remember from 2014. This highly anticipated sequel throws a few spanners in the works, with a multiplayer outing — undoubtedly the component that defines the Titanfall experience — looking to explore and expand the bond between player and titan.
Certainly one of the more anticipated additions to Titanfall 2 is that of its campaign. The first entry launched with a fascinating lore but little in the way of narrative drive to really flesh it out. The “campaign” doubled as a tutorial for the multiplayer, and as such players were left to battle it out in a sci-fi universe that felt disappointingly shallow, even with the background noise of its galactic war.
That will change in Titanfall 2. Players are getting the campaign they’ve been craving, and it promises to reach the heights established by the lore in the first game. The question remains, however: why now?
“The community was loud and clear that we should consider doing single-player,” Titanfall 2 art director Joel Emslie told FENIX Bazaar at gamescom 2016. “We’ve been doing single-player for years before starting Respawn and doing Titanfall, but we made it clear with Titanfall 1 that we wanted to tackle online and figure out the server and netcode, really iron that out. It was a new console generation, so it was a huge job to figure that out.”
Titanfall 2‘s development process is unlike most other shooters on the market. While other studios focus on core elements of each component — single-player and multiplayer — Respawn has split the studio in two, with one team focusing on the multiplayer, followed by another team focusing on the campaign. “It’s interesting,” Emslie continued, “you normally develop the other way around.”
The guiding light, according to Emslie, was the players: the obvious improvements craved by the community were in multiplayer, but expanding the Titanfall universe and humanising the titans were just as important. “People wanted to explore Titanfall in the narrative sense,” Emslie said.
Respawn is no stranger to this whole process. Many of its team members have worked on franchises such as Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honor. The challenge of bridging the campaign and multiplayer experiences is all too common for Emslie and the rest of the Respawn team.
“A lot of the team was there during Medal of Honor,” Emslie explained. “[Respawn COO] Dusty Welch was there for the first Call Of Duty. There’s a pedigree there, a brain trust there. Lots of experience and great ideas. But admittedly, adapting that to the Titanfall universe has been a challenge.”
Something even the more modest Titanfall fan would love to see more of is the relationship between Pilot and Titan. In the first game, Respawn wanted players to establish a bond between the two characters. Being a multiplayer game, however, made that difficult.
“The team tried for that and it was always a fine line,” Welch explained. “In multiplayer you’ll see more of the bond. It doesn’t carry over from single-player, nor should it, but the fact you can deeply customise your pilot and titan, there’s a layer of personality that’s going to translate into the multiplayer and you’re going to build a relationship with your titan and try to preserve it.
The bond is important, because it’s ultimately what drives the story in Titanfall 2‘s campaign: your ability to establish, maintain and grow a relationship with your titan. It took months for Respawn to develop the visual language for BT-7274, one of the campaign’s most important characters. The fact Respawn has even managed to emotionalise the titans is testament to the studio’s commitment to building a powerful story.
This ties into the general pacing and immersion of Titanfall‘s campaign: making sure the player “feels” part of the world, and as one with the pilot and titan driving the plot.
“We don’t like to lock the player in place and force them to watch a movie that they can’t interact with,” Emslie said. “So storytelling was important to us and the bond between you and your titan, BT for example, in single-player, was a core pillar.”
Players will be able to converse with their titans, something that is completely optional but allows a deep insight into the story, lore and titan. “It helps build that relationship,” Emslie continued, “and [BT] says some pretty hilarious stuff. He’s an analytical character with some humanity and some humour, and I think there’s some sympathy you’ll feel for this titan early on in this game.”
You’ll need to “earn the titan’s respect”, Emslie said, because he’s basically “had to settle for you”. As a pilot, you’ll need to prove yourself to him. This engrossing plot device, melded with Respawn’s intentions of minimising cutscenes is something many modern shooters shun in favour of extravagant, explosive cutscenes to drive the plot forward. This, Welch says, makes Titanfall 2 unlike anything the Respawn team has worked on before, as they look to gaming classics for inspiration.
“It’s an interesting balance between Titanfall 2, because it’s several games in one,” Welch explained. “With the single-player being what it is, it’s not quite what the team has made before with the likes of Call Of Duty, where you go down to the corridor, walk down the hallways, cutscene, shoot something. It hearkens back to, say, Half-Life 1. We want to let you as a player explore that bond between the machine and the man, and explore this universe that way.”
Upon release in 1998, Half-Life received wide critical acclaim from critics and gamers alike. Its storytelling devices and ability to keep the player constantly immersed in a free-flowing narrative was unlike most shooters at the time, which used cutscenes to detail plot points.
And while Titanfall 2 may not reach the heights achieved by Valve’s iconic shooter, Respawn’s intention here is admirable and exciting, with the bond between pilot and titan driving what will hopefully be the Titanfall campaign we’ve been waiting for.
Stay tuned for our full interview Respawn in the coming days