Far from being a mere video game adaptation of the anime, Attack on Titan 2 stands strongly as a character-driven action-RPG in its own right, with rewarding combat that feels fluid and fast and a story that's equal parts charming and shocking. While it shares many similarities with the first game in the series, Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, the sequel feels like a better package overall with a cleaner visual style and tighter combat. Despite its story taking some time to really dig its anchors in, it gets there and then some, entrancing you all the way until the closing of the final chapter.
Based on the second season of the popular anime series, the story puts you at the center of the conflict between humanity and Titans--a race of giant, people-eating humanoids that one day appeared out of thin air, wiping out a large percentage of the population. Forced to seek a new life behind three huge walls built to keep the Titans out, humanity tried to rebuild, but the Titans managed to find a way through. Faced with extinction, it's up to you and the rest of the military to stop them.
After creating a character--who, if you choose a woman, will still be weirdly referred to as "our man" by the game's narrator--the game opens with you joining the military cadets and becoming a part of the 104th Cadet Corps. The first few hours cover the same ground as Wings of Freedom, putting you through military training and effectively re-living the events of the first game, albeit in a more condensed setting. Also, each character is voiced in Japanese, so you'll rely on subtitles to keep on top of things.
The plot closely follows the anime, so fans are already familiar with what's going on. But it's a story that will pull you in, hard, though not without its fair share of melodrama. While much of the early game feels a little dragged down by some excessive exposition, you come to appreciate those sequences later on, particularly as characters you grow to like face death in shocking ways. Not that the game is overly violent--although the Bloodborne-esque spatter from killing a Titan is pretty messy--it's more that the characters grow on you over time. Watching them struggle through the Titan invasion becomes less of a drudge and more an emotional rollercoaster.
The game is made up of numerous large combat areas and some smaller, peaceful hubs where you can go about your daily life: upgrading weapons, buying materials, and maintaining friendships that grant you different equippable skills that can upgrade your stats. While not all that interesting visually, the hub areas serve as a good bookend between each battle, as well as a chance to debrief with the other characters about the last mission and your next moves.
The larger, more-open combat zones, which vary from green valleys and large towns to snowy, abandoned villages and giant forests, are far more interesting to move through. A big part of what makes the movement so vital and exciting is your omni-directional mobility gear, or ODM for short. The ODM gear fires anchors into a distant object like a house, a tree or even a Titan, and with the help of two side-loaded gas canisters, thrusts you along the ground and up into the air. It can get a little janky; sometimes you’ll catch the underside of a roof or hit a cliff face that’ll halt your momentum. But more often than not, gliding through buildings or between giant trees feels effortlessly satisfying.
Similarly great is the combat, which manages to feel faster and better paced than it did in Wings of Freedom. Titans can only be taken down by slicing out the nape of their necks. You have to fire your anchors into any one of five spots on a Titan you can lock onto, circle around it in mid-air, and then launch at it, swinging your blades wildly. It can feel a little clumsy at first, but within an hour I was dodging attacks in the air and flinging between Titans like it was nothing. The rapid switching of targets and close calls while maneuvering between enemies during a fight never loses its allure, only getting more intense as the story builds.
The Titans themselves are the true stars here. With their ridiculous grins, ambling movements and saggy butts, they look amazingly creepy. On higher difficulty levels, the Titans become faster and more aggressive. Their limbs flail impishly as they freely counter your attacks, flick off ODM anchors like they're swatting flies, and pick fellow Scouts out of the air. Moments like this amp up the intensity tenfold, especially when you're caught between responding to an urgent request for help or going to the aid of someone who's been grabbed by a Titan. It's hard not to feel the pressure in the moment, and it's great.
Despite its slow start, Attack on Titan 2 offers exciting gameplay along with a deep and intriguing plot that, melodrama aside, tugs on the heart strings. It's well-paced and offers some impressive spaces to move through. The unique combination of the movement and combat mechanics combines with a gripping story to make Attack on Titan 2 one of the more surprising releases of the year.