On the Frontier’s Edge with ‘Titanfall’

Riding into the great unknown in the belly of a metal beast. This beast also has a machine gun.

Titanfall’s second DLC pack, Frontier’s Edge is out and the name couldn’t be more fitting. It’s not really because of the in-game thematic meaning; the Titanfall’s unobtrusive space imperialists vs. space rebels remains an interesting, yet relatively unimportant backdrop. The idea of the frontier is more of a meta theme. Where does the game go from here and am I going to be able to follow?

“How did he do that?”

When it comes to competitive multiplayer games, I’m a casual bandwagon jumper. I rarely get in on the ground floor and usually sample a game during its popularity only to flit to the next thing that captures my attention In a break from my usual habits, I started Titanfall on launch day and have been relatively faithful to it for almost six months.

Still, it’s been hard to keep up. In the early days, I would hover around the top third of the rankings for any given match, but that has begun to slip. I miss a weekend here and there and suddenly people just seem to see me before I know what’s going on. I’ve hit the level cap several times, but I’m still usually one of the lowest level people in a match. It’s still frustrating to see that kill cam pop up after something from across the map blows me up, but those precious few seconds have become my curriculum. I now have to meticulously study my own demise in order to have any hope of beating what I imagine to be an army of cybernetically-enhanced teens with more time than money.

I want to deny it, but I may be approaching the boundaries of my skill. While others blaze a trail with new techniques and increasingly high kill-death ratios, I might have to settle down and start a farm.

Rebooting the HUD

Months after its release, Titanfall continues to receive meaningful balance patches and feature enhancements. However, these enhancements call attention to some of the game’s usability challenges. It’s hard to describe clunky menus and difficult workflows, so I made a video instead:

Titanfall already had a lot going on and unfortunately those that play it the most will feel the pain of its interface limits most acutely.

War Has Changed

The biggest question Titanfall‘s latest update raises is more existential in nature. What is the fate of a traditionally-priced multiplayer shooter in today’s video game landscape?

I still admire Titanfall’s approach to addressing nearly everything that bothers me about Call of Duty’s mechanics. Other than the obvious inclusion of huge mechs, Titanfall brings a sense of speed and mobility back to the FPS scene that I haven’t felt since Quake 3. The Titans and burn cards take the place of perks but instead of being locked away and doled out to only the best players, they allow the losing side to turn the tide and give leaders the chance to prove their skill when they’re outgunned. The MOBA-inspired dynamic of downing AI infantry for faster bonuses is a brilliant way to add some long-term strategy into the match, and it’s something I’m sure we’ll see in more games very soon.

Still, Titanfall doesn’t quite feel like the genre-altering event that Halo or Modern Warfare were. Perhaps it’s that the oft-ignored single player modes of those games are more important than we realize. A story and characters (even a silly ones) make a game easier to market in a cinematic way. Another very real possibility is that the multiplayer landscape has shifted to the MOBA space. Dota 2 and League of Legends are leading the way but behind them is an army of other team-based RTS games. Perhaps their best weapon is their price, or rather the lack thereof. In a world dominated by free-to-play multiplayer experiences, a developer that emphatically states NO MICROTRANSACTIONS! may be choosing nobility at the expense of liquidity.

I hope that this isn’t the case because Titanfall blazes some promising new paths. It’s taken me to what feels like the edge of my FPS skills and is straining against some of its internal boundaries. At this point, the Frontier’s Edge could the start of a new way forward or the beginning of a journey’s end.