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Think before you attack: ‘Titanfall 2’ goes meta in multiplayer mode

Titanfall 2, one could argue, will have to thread a tricky needle to achieve success. On the one hand, it has a lot to prove to its fans of the original shooter game, who decried the Xbox One exclusive’s halfhearted campaign mode and overall lack of content. Meanwhile, it still needs to make a strong first impression with the millions of PS4 players who never got a chance to play the original. Since every sequel has to walk the line between appeasing its fan base and appealing to new players, Developer Respawn Entertainment has to prove itself to both sides, while staying true to the promise of the original.

Based on playing a short amount of time with the game’s multiplayer, it seems like they’re on the right track. Titanfall 2 iterates on free-running-and-gunning gameplay, making strategically systematic changes that strengthen the game’s core components, and adding new abilities that grant new depth to each pilot, which plays into competitive gamers’ current love of strategic “meta” planning.

Titanfall 2 pushes players to choose what weapons and abilities to bring to a fight and plan strategies around them.

Like the original, players split time between controlling agile pilots and controlling giant robots called Titans. In addition to players and their Titans, the match is populated by AI-controlled “grunt” soldiers, who rove around the map and generally serve as cannon fodder to make players feel productive, even when they aren’t directly attacking an objective. Where the original game gave players access to a Titan every few minutes, Titanfall 2 only dispenses them when players have earned them by killing players, completing objectives, or (you guessed it) killing grunts. So now, instead of simply placating players, killing grunts allow players to earn Titans more quickly.

In the demo, Respawn showed off a new multiplayer mode called Bounty Hunt, which combines two standard multiplayer modes, “king of the hill” and “assassination.” Players fight to control temporary zones to build their score, but rather than allowing a team to capture and hold those points, the game throws neutral Titans and other defenses to keep players out, creating the opportunity to score extra points from taking them down. Collecting that “bounty,” however, isn’t quite as simple as you might expect: You only get the extra points for jumping on a Titan’s back and killing it rodeo-style, or delivering the final blow with a melee attack while piloting a Titan of your own.

Meanwhile, both the pilots and Titans have new sets of skills that encourage players to think about what they can do, as well as what their opponents can. Pilots now have to choose equipment that gives players abilities they can genuinely build a play style around. The most obvious (and highly publicized) choice is the grappling hook, which allows players to pull themselves up to ledges, as well as pull enemies close to be quickly dispensed with, even out of midair. If you’re worried about getting picked off, you can choose the ability to produce a holographic clone, which can trick someone into using their grappling hook (or another weapon) and exposing their position. Where in the original, you could simply choose whatever weapons fit how you liked to play, Titanfall 2 pushes players to choose what weapons and abilities to bring to a fight and plan strategies around them.

And your Titan is a part of that strategy. Rather than choosing a whole separate loadout for your giant robot soldier, players can choose from six distinct Titans, each of which has their own preset weapon, abilities, and chargeable “core” abilities. The demo featured two of the six: Scorch, a heavily armored option carrying a “thermite” grenade launcher, can create a wall of fire to limit player mobility. The other, Ion, is a “normal”-sized option with a laser cannon that can place anti-Titan mines. In both cases, deciding what Titan to use, and when to use it, has become a much more complex decision. Of course, any Titan can squash a pilot, but their value seems to come from their ability to control the flow of combat, rather than simply acting as a temporary power boost.

While we’re a long way from knowing whether or not Titanfall II can do everything it needs to do garner the massive following it’s clearly vying for: The game’s single-player campaign, which I haven’t played yet, is still a large question. Based on the multiplayer, though, one thing is clear: Titanfall 2 will be a very thoughtful, well-considered shooter.

Titanfall 2 comes to PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 28.