Let me preface this by saying I've been playing games for a long time. Not as long as some, but since Quake came out in the early 90s and massively competitive multiplayer was born. I'm going to borrow on that experience to make my case for why I think Titanfall is the most important FPS of this decade.
The Wrong Questions
I see a lot of people arguing about whether Titanfall is the CoD killer. I'm going to tell you that is the wrong question. CoD has consistently failed to engage its audience since CoD4. The most recent release, CoD: Ghosts is so underwhelming as a title that many CoD players don't actually enjoy playing it. The only reason CoD hasn't died already is because it is entrenched so firmly in the competitive scene that the community will keep playing it regardless of how enjoyable the gameplay is or isn't.
There's no alternative that fills the competitive niche the way CoD does, at least for the competitive console FPS community. Given CoD's history of releasing lackluster titles that do little more than tweak the graphics and add a new set of maps, it doesn't matter if a new game can "kill CoD". The real question is: can a console FPS deliver new and exciting gameplay mechanics that make console FPS fun to play again?
To that question, I give a resounding yes. Titanfall's gameplay is unlike any other FPS I've played. There are similarities to CoD, especially in the aiming and firing of most of the weapons revealed in the beta, but that's about where the similarities end. And it's not just that the gameplay is new, it's also GOOD. It felt natural to run around on walls and double jump my way across the map. Even as a life-long PC gamer who has two-left thumbs, it felt good to jump into windows and climb skyscrapers, or jump on the backs of the huge titans that roam the maps. And it felt natural that I'd be able to do these things in the game.
But is it competitive? This is another question that I see asked a lot. Again, the answer is that this is the wrong question. Name for me one successful game that was designed to be competitive from the first release of the series. In fact, other than Shootmania, there really hasn't been any other game that was designed specifically with competitive features in mind, and Shootmania flopped hard.
One could also argue that Black Ops 2 was designed to be competitive, although as a sequel at the end of a long string of CoD titles it isn't realistic to compare BO2 to Titanfall. Also, BO2 was replaced by CoD: Ghosts. While BO2 was a noteworthy success, developer pressure forced the competitive scene to move on to CoD: Ghosts, the game that no one likes. Ghosts removed all of the competitive features that the community loved. With that kind of history, I think the more important question CoD players should be asking is: why do I think Titanfall will be any less of a success due to a lack of competitive features when CoD wantonly adds and removes the same competitive features almost randomly?
On the other hand, if I list games that were developed with the purpose of creating a fun player experience and enjoyable gameplay mechanics, the list would look something like:
- Starcraft, Starcraft: Brood War, and Starcraft 2,
- League of Legends,
- DotA and Dota2,
That's right, every major successful esport that has endured for the past decade and the biggest esports titles still to this day. Do I even need to elaborate on this point? Who cares if the game was designed to be competitive on release. If the game is a success and people want to play it competitively, then it will become an esport. There is no magic formula or set of features that are prerequisites in order for a title to be successful competitively other than that people want to play the game and see it played competitively. Something that I feel Titanfall delivers in a big way.
The Realism Trap
For a long time CoD has tried to fulfill the fantasy of a "realistic" war simulator. The problem is, the thing they are trying to simulate isn't fun for most people. It takes creativity to make a game fun, not a dogmatic adherence to realism. For example, one of my favorite mechanics in FPS games has always been rocket jumping. It gives you tactical and mobile superiority and makes the game more exciting and fast-paced. No where in reality would you EVER see someone point a rocket launcher on the ground in order to perform aerial acrobatics. It's fun in part because it is divorced from reality. It allows me to exist in a world that is not constrained by the limits of everyday life.
The movement in Titanfall has found a way to faithfully reproduce that feeling of mobility. Along with a few other really cool features (like cloaking), this game is just extremely fun to play. And it's fun to play because it escapes from the "realistic" trope and focuses instead on fun gameplay elements. For this reason, I do not have much faith that CoD ever CAN innovate in a way that meaningfully adds interesting new gameplay elements.
This Has All Happened Before...
What I see people in the CoD community saying is the same thing that SC2 fans were saying about LoL in 2010. "The game is too simple", "it's for children", "the skill cap is too low", "it's not as competitive". I think Blizzard has shown us that when you focus your development efforts on creating a competitive title at the expense of solid gameplay, you lose. Just flat out you lose. That doesn't mean that SC2 is dead, not fun to play, or that it's not a solid competitive game, but look at how big LoL has become in comparison. If you aren't focused on creating an enjoyable experience for the person playing the game, then it doesn't matter how many competitive features there are or how high the skillcap is, you won't be as successful as the guy who is creating a fun, engaging game.
So will Titanfall kill CoD? Only in the sense that LoL killed SC2, which is to say, not really. SC2 still has a pretty healthy competitive scene and lots of people follow it and watch the game. But, barring some disaster, I really do believe Titanfall will eclipse CoD in the competitive scene in much the same way LoL has eclipsed SC2. In 10 years I think we'll all still be playing Titanfall or its successors, but I do not believe that CoD will still be around given its current trajectory—with or without Titanfall.
What About Hype?
So then how much of this is just hype and how much of it is real? Believe me, I have been around to see games hyped beyond realistic expectations before and I do not see the same patterns here. Halo Reach was hailed as the game that was going to save the ailing Halo franchise and dying competitive scene, but the developers failed to deliver. Why is that? The sad reality is that, aside from some slick graphical updates, Reach was essentially the same game as every other Halo that has ever been released.
As a spectator, I've never sat down at MLG to watch a Halo match and thought "Wow, this looks way more fun and exciting than the previous version". I can only imagine how repetitive and stale it must have gotten for true competitors who sat down to practice and grind for hours on a regular basis. Without sufficiently complex gameplay mechanics, the game simply doesn't engage an audience that has mastered lining up the crosshairs and pulling the trigger.
The same thing happened with Rift. Everyone hailed it as the WoW killer due to the "Rift" feature that would spawn mini-raid encounters at random locations around the world. This sounds really neat, but when you are operating with the same basic mechanics of target, push buttons, repeat, then even new features seem stale and repetitive. Rift didn't fail to kill WoW because of a lack of new ideas, but because, ultimately, it didn't offer a new experience for the user playing the game.
And that is why I don't think that there is just hype surrounding Titanfall. The gameplay IS different. The experience for players IS good. And with all the wall running, double jumping, and complex titan battles, there will be an enormous amount to learn and improve upon for the competitive player. Maps are no longer a two-dimensional series of boxes and corridors, but now are a three-dimensional puzzle to be navigated and exploited by the smarter, more experienced player. It's no longer about who has the better ping or who can set their crosshairs on who faster, but who can maneuver better and gain an advantage through superior mobility. And it's not enough to just have better gun skill, but which team can manage and coordinate their titans to gain an advantage before having to eject and start over.
Respawn has taken a genre that was previously defined by simple point-and-click mechanics, and created a game that is engaging strategically and tactically. They have taken a genre that was focused too hard on realism and created a game that is fun and complex. They have redefined what an FPS is and what it will take to be a good FPS player. THAT is why Titanfall is the most important FPS of this decade. I hope you'll join us while we participate in this historic game!