Titanfall – The First Three Months

The good is great, the bad is acceptable but the ugly sucks.

Titanfall is a first-person shooter for PC, Xbox One and Xbox 360 that released on March 11, 2014. First revealed at E3 2013, I knew Respawn Entertainment (comprised of many former Infinity Ward members who departed in the exodus during the creation of Modern Warfare 2 and creators of the highly renowned and truly fantastic Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) was on to something with their first game. Having waited years for an FPS title to live up to the likes of Call of Duty 4, Quake, Unreal Tournament and many other since come-and-gone games of the genre, Titanfall looked to have that spark that’s been missing for many years.

I followed Titanfall closely and got into the PC beta about a day after it began. While it had some problems like flawed Origin integration, downtime (excusable due to it being a beta) and being limited to 60 FPS, I was hooked instantly. Respawn had got it right – they focused on the core gameplay experience. The movement was familiar enough to me, being a combination of Mirror’s Edge parkour-style movement as well as a basis in the traditional sprint-aim-down-sight-duck-for-cover playstyle made popular by the Call of Duty franchise. Once you score enough points and/or the timer reaches zero, you drop your Titan and can climb inside or leave it free to guard or roam the map on its own.

Once inside the Titan, gameplay reminded me a lot of Halo. Titans have a shield that will regenerate if you spend enough time out of combat over top of a hull that cannot be repaired, similar to the mechanics in Halo. With a team of friends, we would perform maneuvers such as the “switchout” in which one of us would change places in the fight with another as soon as our shields were depleted, a skill we had rehearsed many years past.

Titanfall had managed to combine nearly everything I love about the FPS genre:  Extremely fast paced movement, dynamic gameplay utilizing all 3 dimensions, a solid emphasis on teamwork but still with the potential to dominate on your own, maps designed around the gameplay mechanics and momentum swings based on map control in the Titan/Pilot dichotomy. I was hooked. During the beta period which lasted under a week, I logged over 30 hours, playing whenever I could get the chance deep into the night.

After the beta ended, I took to the community to begin speculating about what we might see in the final release: Many were hoping for higher than 60fps and we were all expecting more maps, titans, weapons and content in general. Respawn delivered  on the content – many new maps, weapons and titans for us to try, but the vast majority of the technical fixes weren’t there. We were still locked at 60fps and many users were complaining about performance being noticeably worse than it was in the beta.

I continued playing Titanfall, trying many 120 FPS fixes found by the community to no avail. Performance definitely WAS worse than it was in the beta, likely a combination of both the higher population of players and Respawn having their own road map for fixes. As much as I’m not a fan of playing broken games, Titanfall was relatively complete content-wise and none of the issues were game-breaking.

Titanfall runs on Microsoft’s Azure cloud, hosting the servers and crunching the math on all of the in-game AI’s performance. When you launch Titanfall, you can select the Azure data center of your choice based on latency and geographic proximity and matchmaking will place you with other players in matches ran on servers in those data centers. I usually play on US West – being from Edmonton, Canada, my average latency is anywhere from 40 to 75ms. Certainly within playable conditions.

Unfortunately, my cable ISP (Shaw) has some bad routing between my node and a number of the different locations not only in Northwestern America but across the continent (I’ve confirmed with tracert). This results in me periodically being dropped into matches where I’ll have in excess of 300ms, enough to make even the slowest-paced FPS barely playable. To make matters worse, I have to go through Titanfall’s matchmaking system every time I want to find a new match. I’ve spent entire evenings leaving and joining new matches, reconfiguring router settings and changing data centers in the hopes I get connected to a match on a server I have proper connectivity to, only to give up and play the game with 300 ping in its hitch-tastic glory.

This is as much a problem with my ISP as it is with Titanfall, particularly some of the developer’s choices regarding how players find matches. Many PC gamers have been vocal towards the addition of a full-blown server browser, but I’d settle for a few more controls over my matchmaking settings (such as maximum latency) so I can avoid connecting to matches where something is screwed up and diminishing the quality of my game.  For the time being, I’ve elected to simply put up with it. I’ll be moving to a different part of the city in July, and I’ll be switching to the local ADSL ISP (Telus), whom I have friends and colleagues using their services (to play Titanfall no less) with no problems.

Respawn recently released the Expedition DLC along with a fairly major update, patching in support for up to 144Hz displays, and a number of bugfixes and changes. The addition of 120 FPS support and a fantastic new set of maps has hugely increased my enjoyment in the gameplay itself, but I’m finding the matchmaking problems difficult to get by.

When the matchmaking does work, if I queued with even two or three friends of mine (who are almost unanimously skilled FPS players) the matches will have the same outcome: We will win. The matchmaking is simply unable to find a match equal to our skill. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re not the best Titanfall players on the planet, so I’m entirely unclear as to why the matchmaking struggles to find challenging opponents (although this conveniently makes the 300ms matches a bit more playable).

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Respawn has been quite open about their development plans and they fully acknowledge that their game is far from perfect. Their humility has earned my respect and thus my patience, and I look forward to seeing what becomes of their first game and new franchise. I’ll be doing a video review of the new Expedition DLC here on WeBreakTech, the first of three DLC packs slated for this year. Standby for Titanfall!

About Josh Folland

Josh Folland is a technologist and marketing professional with a strong interest in video games and video game culture. His talents as a systems administrator are complimented by audio and video skills. He can strafe jump with the best of them and when he clicks on you, you're done for.

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