I played a lot of the first Titanfall. It was a breath of fresh air in a realm where Call of Duty was king; it was especially sweet knowing that its developer, Respawn Entertainment, was founded in the aftermath of some messy dismissals from Infinity Ward. When it was announced that Respawn were rolling out a weekend’s worth of Titanfall 2 multiplayer goodness, I couldn’t help but indulge.

The weekends of free play are touted as being pre-alpha tech tests, where an unfinished build of the game is being subjected to the rigors of worldwide server strain, and a handful of the more interesting components of the full game have been cherry picked for showcasing. Completely oblivious to all of this, I plunged head first into one of the new game modes, called “Bounty Hunt”. Even after sitting through the short informative video that plays when you start, I was utterly lost. It was a maelstrom of grapple hooks, fizzing thermite and financial micromanagement.

After the round finished (a defeat), I reined in my excitement, and explored the initial set of menus. One major difference was the absence of the burn cards. In the original Titanfall, you could gain any number of advantages by assembling a deck of three burn cards and using them before spawning. This added a level of customization to the game that gave each match a flavor of the unpredictable. A new system, “Boosts”, replaces this in Titanfall 2. Currently, only two Boosts are available: Amped Guns and Ticks. The first is self explanatory, and the second sends out a murderous fleet of robotic critters. I found them mostly useless when Amped Guns allows you to increase the damage output of your setup and mow down enemies with ease.

Scorch
Scorch. Source: Titanfall.com

The trend towards simplification spreads to the Pilot and Titan customization. For the limited selection of weapons, you can earn attachments for each by nabbing kills in game. It’s a welcome change in my eyes, as it does away with the exhaustive list of challenges relating to almost everything in Titanfall. For the Titans, instead of having three base classes that you could equip with the same array of weaponry, now each Titan’s arsenal is fixed.

In the tech test, we were given two Titans: Scorch and Ion. Scorch spews fire, and lots of it. Your main weapon launches thermite that either sticks to other Titans or leaves a lingering puddle on the ground. This effect is amplified by the flaming core ability. Other abilities include pounding the earth to send out a wall of flame, and firing an extremely flammable rotten egg. The use of the flame shield eluded me, but holding RB and rubbing it in other Titan’s faces seemed effective.

Ion
Ion. Source: Titanfall.com

Ion’s host of electrifying abilities is much more direct. The main weapon fires like an assault rifle, and when aiming down the sights turns it into Dead Space’s Plasma Cutter, firing a flat line of potent energy. There’s another shield like ability that absorbs damage, a trip-wire mine trap, and a high-powered one-shot laser beam. Ion’s core ability is probably the most spectacular out of everything in the tech test, turning the Titan’s chest into a death ray that unleashes mayhem upon the field.

All in all, even though this new system is far simpler than in the predecessor, it is also far better. Picking a Titan now becomes a tactical choice, as you’ll have to decide which Titan’s abilities best fit the current situation. Armed with my new found knowledge, I ventured once more into Bounty Hunt.

The mode is actually far simpler that it seems. Earn cash by killing AI controlled minions at drop points throughout the map, kill other pilots to steal their cash, and then deposit your earnings into a bank between waves. There are also “boss” Titans that drop into the game that you can damage and kill to earn large bonuses for your team.

Bounty Hunt is enjoyable and infuriating at the same time. Working with your team to take out stomping metal goliaths gets the cash counter trickling towards the winning total. This joy is frequently snuffed out when sneaky enemy Pilots camp near the bank, stealing half of your hard earned bonus. The other two game modes, Pilot vs Pilot and Amped Hardpoint offer a taste of the familiar. Although now in Amped Hardpoint, you can hold a Hardpoint for an extra minute to “Amp” it, and earn double points.

The field of battle
The field of battle

If I had to pick one thing from the host of new features that stood out above all else, it would have to be the grapple hook. If you find yourself out of wall to run along and fear losing momentum, you can now fling your hook at the nearest building, and after some practice, never let your speed drop. One of my standout moments came when an enemy began shooting at me from the ledge I had just jumped from. Spinning 180 degrees, I unleashed the grapple hook, latching onto the enemy pilot. The hook dragged me towards them for a satisfying melee kill.

Where it took some time to get to grips with the tweaks, both subtle and major, I found myself playing the tech test for longer than I needed to. I loved Titanfall. It blew me away from the first moment I laid eyes upon it at the 2013 Eurogamer Expo in London. Though Titanfall 2 didn’t have the same initial impact, it felt like getting back on your old bike — even for an initial alpha tech demo. Except now, the bike is made from slim lined carbon fiber. And hopefully the full release will attach a much needed assortment of bells and whistles.