A boy and his bot.
Titanfall 2 had a shaky summer. Its multiplayer beta was met with mixed reactions and left us with a few lingering concerns. The series' first single-player campaign, meanwhile, made a promising debut, but our brief hands-off demo was only enough to pique our interest. Thankfully, autumn is shaping up to be a stronger season for Respawn's shooter sequel. Our recent hands-on time with a far more complete version of the multiplayer assuaged some of those earlier fears, and now, a far more in-depth look at the campaign has given us a much better idea of what to expect from Titanfall 2's brand new story mode.
Unlike the original Titanfall's narrative-infused multiplayer, Titanfall 2's campaign is a true, dedicated single-player mode in the grand tradition of cinematic blockbusters like Halo and Call of Duty--at least broadly speaking. You'll progress through a series of roughly linear levels punctuated with set pieces, cutscenes, and story moments throughout. It's a tried and true format, but one that leaves plenty of room for Titanfall's particular mix of highly-mobile shooting, massive mech battles, and established sci-fi lore.
You don't need to be familiar with the original in order to understand the sequel, according to the team at Respawn, but Titanfall 2's narrative does build on the existing universe. The story picks up immediately after the conflicts depicted in the original game: a ragtag militia of colonists has scored a minor victory against the greedy, oppressive Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation, but the fight for the Frontier--a rare, resource-rich system of habitable planets far from Earth--continues to intensify.
Rather than focus on the struggle as a whole, however, Titanfall 2 tells the tale of one specific character: Rifleman Jack Cooper, an aspiring Pilot who's left stranded on a mysterious planet called Typhon that's teeming with IMC activity. After watching his mentor go down swinging--outnumbered by a squad of mercenary Titans led by a returning character named Blisk--Cooper is left to partner with the now Pilot-less Titan, BT-7274, and complete his mentor's mission. Unfortunately, much like Typhon, that mission is a mystery, even to BT. You simply have to forge ahead one objective at a time until that mystery, presumably, unravels.
While the melodramatic opening is painfully hackneyed (Cooper's mentor literally dies in your arms five minutes into the game), the dynamic that quickly emerged between Cooper and BT during my demo proved both more original and more substantive. BT is an adaptive learning AI whose personality seems to fall somewhere between Cortana and Loaderbot of Tales from the Borderlands fame. Cooper, meanwhile, starts as a shaky, wide-eyed soldier who gradually grows more comfortable in his role as a Pilot--a position he previously adulated, as if they're some kind of less spiritual Jedi.
As you might expect, the two characters banter consistently throughout the game. If I wasn't shooting, I was chatting with BT, and even then, he would occasionally chime in to earnestly state the obvious or offer unhelpful but well-intended encouragement. It was generally pretty funny. Fascinatingly, many if not most of our non-combat exchanges gave me a chance to select different dialogue options. According to Respawn, your choices won't direct the story; rather, they're simply an opportunity to shape your relationship with BT in a unique way, similar to Firewatch's intimate but ultimately immaterial conversations.
Fascinatingly, many if not most of our non-combat exchanges gave me a chance to select different dialogue options.
In addition to expanding Titanfall's existing lore, the campaign also capitalizes on the series' essential mechanics. Wall-running, for example, played a major role in the sections I was able to play. Environments ranged from a lush jungle lined with sheer, rocky cliffs to a futuristic manufacturing plant buried deep within a cavern, but nearly every area featured multiple potential paths and plenty of surfaces to traverse using Cooper's rocket-boosted wall-running and double-jumping.
I even encountered a few traversal puzzles designed to test players' platforming abilities, similar to the more challenging sections of the recent Mirror's Edge reboot. Near the beginning of that production plant, for example, I had to bounce through a series of pipes without stopping, as allowing my momentum to dissipate would have sent me plummeting into the abyss below. Later I had to leap at a moving wall that was dangling over an immense chasm, testing both my timing and my faith in the mechanics. I genuinely wasn't sure I could clear the gap and held my breath until I landed safely.
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Traversal also works hand-in-hand with combat, especially now that Respawn has added a fast-paced, Vanquish-esque knee slide. Not only does it provide another way to maintain your momentum when maneuvering through battlefields--an excellent strategy for flanking enemies and avoiding direct fire--it also allows you to easily aim and shoot on the move. In a way, it's an appropriate and satisfying substitute for something slower like a tactical roll, and the layouts of Titanfall 2's various environments seemed to accommodate or even reward this highly mobile playstyle.
Of course, you have other options as well. There's no cover system, but the familiar cloaking ability has made its way over from multiplayer, allowing you to stealth your way through certain sections if you choose. Though Respawn reps hinted that other multiplayer abilities might periodically pop up during the campaign, cloaking will be the standard option throughout.
The campaign features several story-driven face-offs with other Titans--more specifically, the group of mercenary Titans that murdered Cooper's mentor.
The limited weapon loadout from multiplayer also carries over: you'll have two primary weapons, a sidearm, and a single grenade-type at most. I found plenty of weapon and ammo crates scattered throughout each level, however, so I was generally able to swap out firearms as needed. And regardless of which weapons I selected, the shooting proved immensely satisfying. Aiming felt smooth and responsive, and every gun produced punchy sound effects--and more importantly, enemies always reacted believably when fired upon. Shotgun blasts even sent IMC soldiers flying as they crumpled and bled.
Enemies weren't pure fodder, though--the AI seemed sophisticated enough to use the environment and their greater numbers to their advantage. But they also weren't magically omniscient like the enemy AI in some shooters. If I darted up over a building out of sight, my pursuers generally lost track of me, allowing me to ambush them again, hit-and-run-style. This proved useful since enemies have a pretty substantial amount of health. They're by no means bullet sponges, but most could withstand at least a couple headshots before keeling over. Expect more of a threat than the multiplayer grunts provide, especially since they now have some added robotic units on their side.
Thankfully, you'll have your own robot, and BT, it turns out, is even better in combat than he is in conversation. I was able to play through the first half of a mission while stomping around as BT, easily laying waste to the grunts on the ground. You can actually exit BT at any time during these sections, but I mostly stayed put because, well, who wouldn't want to be inside a giant mech suit? Plus, the campaign features several story-driven face-offs with other Titans--more specifically, the group of mercenary Titans that murdered Cooper's mentor.
During my demo, I eventually battled a sleek android named Ash who piloted a Ronin Titan, but during the mission leading up to our fight, I was consistently to subjected to her and Blisk bickering and taunting me over BT's comms system. It gave me a chance to develop an understanding of and animosity towards my enemy, which definitely made our encounter feel more like an epic showdown. With any luck, every boss battle will receive that same kind of attention.
Regardless of how the other battles play out, however, each one will grant BT a new weapon loadout until eventually he can outfit his chassis with any of the six Titan models featured in multiplayer, plus two extras: Brute and Expedition. Brute's primary weapon is a quad-rocket launcher--which should be familiar to returning players--while Expedition's primary is a standard assault rifle. Brute and Expedition's other abilities simply borrow from the other Titan models (Brute uses Northstar's VTOL, for example), and while that may not be all that exciting, it does mean you're have a couple more options when swapping weapon sets on the fly.
According to Respawn, the campaign consists roughly of 50% Pilot combat, 25% Titan combat, 25% Pilot traversal or other gameplay, which is about what I expected. In fact, the campaign general is about what I expected, but I enjoyed my demo nonetheless. It's everything we know and love about Titanfall, just in single-player form. There's still much more to see that it's too early to determine whether or not the campaign will succeed overall, but I'm excited to see more as we draw closer to Titanfall 2's October 28 release date.