Titanfall 2’s Toughest Mode Taught me How Difficulty Can be a Detriment

Let’s not make this harder than it has to be…

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When Titanfall 2 originally released in October, 2016, it quickly became one of my favorite games of that year. Funnily enough, I had little interest in picking the game up prior to its release. However, after hearing considerably good things about its single player campaign – something that was notably absent from its predecessor – I decided to check it out.

The first time I beat Titanfall 2, I did so on its Regular difficulty. That seemed appropriate considering I was essentially only playing it to see all of those “big moments” that so many critics and fans alike were clamoring on about. By the time I saw credits, though, I had completely fallen in love with the game.
The gunplay felt phenomenal, the rate at which the developers consistently introduced new, interesting mechanics kept everything feeling fresh, and I never expected to care so much about an enormous robot that keeps the most overpowered weapon from the original game inside of its head. The game is fantastic for multiple reasons, but its emphasis on movement and mobility is what most sticks out to me.

For those unfamiliar, in Titanfall 2 you play as a pilot. More specifically, you assume the role of Jack Cooper, known far and wide for having the most generic protagonist name in all of video games, who aspires to someday become a pilot. In the Titanfall universe, pilots – named for the giant robotic titans that they control – are skilled in combat both with mechs and on-foot. In terms of the game itself, this means that when players aren’t stomping around in a twenty foot tall robot, they’re constantly sprinting around, running on walls, and knee sliding past enemies. Oh, and there’s a double jump.

All of these mechanics, combined with a diverse arsenal of weapons to use, make you feel like a total badass, and make even smaller enemy encounters fun and interesting. Needless to say, I was craving more Titanfall 2 by the time I saw the campaign through to its conclusion, so I decided to justify an immediate second playthrough by loading the game up on its toughest difficulty setting: Master. What I expected was a significantly harder version of the game I had just played. What I got was something slightly different…

In its opening combat engagements, Titanfall 2 on Master difficulty borderline felt as though it actively penalized me for taking advantage of the best thing about the game: its movement. Combat arenas were relatively open, enemies were much more accurate, and the amount of shots I could withstand before dying was greatly decreased. This led to multiple occasions where my only feasible option was to duck behind cover, peeking out occasionally to take pot shots at my foes, which is the least satisfying way to play the game. In a game all about movement and mobility, I was expected to sit in a corner and chip away at my foes. Feeling as though Titanfall 2 had all but been stripped of its greatest assets, I began to question whether or not I even wanted to continue on Master.

Once I finally managed to push through those initial enemy encounters, though, the real game began. All of the movement/mobility options that lend the Titanfall games their uniqueness were back and better than ever, amplified by the game’s difficulty and lower margin for error. As I fought my way back through the game’s outstanding campaign for a second time, however, I began to wonder how an uninitiated player might tackle those later fight rooms had they opted to jump right into the game on Master.

Outside of a few mandatory platforming sections that pop up throughout the game, nothing is really done to encourage the player to utilize the movement abilities at their disposal, and borderline none of those sections contain enemies. This had me wondering if someone who initially booted the game up on Master would inevitably stick with the early-game strategy of hunkering down behind cover for the entire game. To put it frankly, I pity anyone who spent the entire campaign playing it like a Call Of Duty game.

In games, we often equate difficulty to skill level. Think you’re hot shit? Play it on hard. Easy mode? What are you, a baby? And to be fair, it’s not so unreasonable to think this way because, well, in most games that’s the case. In most games, upping or lowering the difficulty does little more than change the numbers. In a game on hard mode, for example, enemies likely do much more damage while you do significantly less. On easy, it’s the inverse. The days of straight up adding or subtracting objectives in a game like Goldeneye for the N64 (or more importantly, Perfect Dark) are mostly behind us, meaning games nowadays very rarely become drastically different experiences based on their difficulties. I would argue, though, that Titanfall 2, in fact, does. And it’s not the only one.
The Last Of Us, for example, is a game that I personally would only ever want to play on easy or hard. On easy, one can experience the outstanding narrative that developer Naughty Dog crafted without having their experience potentially spoiled by having to regularly repeat gameplay sections. Conversely, hard mode turns the game into a much harsher, more unforgiving experience, appropriate for the kind of dour, post-apocalyptic world that the game takes place in. It borderline turns it into an honest and true survival game. Perhaps The Last Of Us, Titanfall 2, or even Goldeneye benefit from the fact that they are linear single player experiences though.

In a world of 60+ hour gigantic open world games, it is easy to see why someone might be inclined to jump right in on the toughest setting available. In an ideal world, one would take the time to learn a game first before jumping into its hardest mode, but we don’t live in an ideal world where people have infinite free time available to play games, evidenced by plenty of articles criticizing the length of Ubisoft’s most recent Assassin’s Creed entry. People go to school. People have jobs and families. Most of us only have so much time to devote to playing games – even games that we love – meaning most of us are seldom inclined to spend 30-100 hours playing a game on medium before dumping another however-many hours into it on a harder mode. For better or worse, in other words, not everything can be Capcom’s phenomenal Resident Evil 2 Remake, a roughly 8-10 hour game that I personally have beaten multiple times on both its normal and hardcore modes.

In a Call Of Duty game, Veteran mode can often feel unforgiving because players are expected to already know basic things like where enemies spawn, where they need to go, etc. Very few people passed Modern Warfare’s obstacle course flawlessly their first time through, I’d wager. Meanwhile, Halo’s Legendary difficulty could be an absolute slog for the uninitiated, potentially tarnishing someone’s feelings towards the game. Ultimately, I think, it is the player’s responsibility to decide which difficulty is most right for them. That sometimes isn’t easy to do, though, when you’ve never played the game before. By no means am I looking to deter someone from starting a game on hard, but rather cautioning them to perhaps think a bit harder about that choice. Titanfall 2 taught me that far more can go into choosing a difficulty than pure confidence in skill level. Would I have spent my entire adventure with BT-7274 crouched behind waist-high cover had I not initially played the game on Regular? I don’t know, but my heart goes out to anyone who did.

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