Review: Attack on Titan 2

Omega Force hasn’t had a pleasant year so far. The developer kicked 2018 off by releasing the highly-anticipated ninth mainline entry in their flagship Dynasty Warriors series, which unfortunately failed to rise above its empty map and repetitive gameplay, and it wound up being received as a mediocre, albeit well-meaning, attempt to revitalize a series that’s grown stale over the past few years. Seeing their big release for the year received like this has got to sting, but the tides might yet turn in Omega Force’s favor. Even though most gamers won’t necessarily be familiar with its source material, Attack on Titan 2 delivers an experience that’s easy to get into and sure to please both fans and newcomers alike.

Attack on Titan 2 tells the story of Eren Yeager and his comrades in arms as they struggle to save themselves and the rest of humanity from mindless, man-eating, giants known as “Titans.” The game does a good job of retelling what’s already been covered in the anime, so while fans who’ve been keeping up all along might be disappointed in the lack of new plot points, the game serves as an excellent entry point for those who haven’t seen this world yet. Unlike its predecessor, Attack on Titan 2 follows the story from the perspective of an unnamed soldier referred to as “our man.” This character serves as a means for players to plausibly involve themselves in the world and story of Attack on Titan while also enabling them to learn more about their favorite characters.

While it’s not the most all-encompassing character creator out there, the customization options available in Attack on Titan 2 should allow most players to create their ideal soldier. “Our man” can be either male or female; tall or short; an eye patch-sporting rogue dressed in nothing but black; an austere nobleman warrior who’s too good to be slumming it with the common riff-raff; a pupil-less anime demigod or anything in between. The creator is fun to play around in and functions in a way that encourages experimentation. Players will have to go out of their way to produce the kind of ugly that happens all too easily in other games, and if one should ever grow tired of their character’s looks or name, then they can just go to their private room and make an adjustment whenever they want. Having the ability to try out different looks at any time brings out the full potential of the feature and leads one to wonder why more games don’t allow for it.

Once a player settles on a look for their version of “our man,” it’s time to dig into the real meat and potatoes of Attack on Titan 2: slaying Titans. Players spend most of their time in this game flinging themselves against these towering monstrosities, and to Omega Force’s credit, combating them feels pretty good. Like any fresh recruit, players must learn the ins and outs of controlling the game’s main mode of transportation: the “Omni-Directional Gear (aka ODM).” The control scheme has more or less been lifted straight from the previous Attack on Titan game, so those who played it should feel right at home here. For everyone else, there mastering the controls is going to take a bit of practice. To its credit, the game dedicates a decent amount of time to each element of the essential movement and attack move sets. Getting around is actually pretty straightforward, it’s transitioning from free movement into combat that will take some getting used to.

To combat a Titan, a player must first lock onto it by clicking the right shoulder button and then highlighting one of five points on its body to attack. After that it’s a matter of latching on to them and timing the strike just right. As mentioned above, this does take some getting used to, but overall feels quite good once mastered. Zipping around with the ODM has a real sense of speed and spectacle to it most of the time, and can even inspire a gleeful smile when it’s really clicking. “Our man” spins and flips as they orient themselves in order to properly orient the gear, and successfully landing the killing blow on a Titan has a satisfying punch to it. Attack on Titan 2 also allows for full-customization of the control scheme, so anything that still isn’t feeling quite right can be tweaked to one’s liking.

In addition to the basic movements and actions of combat, players also have their squad and resources to consider. As in the first game, blades and gas diminish with use and must be carefully managed so as to not find oneself in a bind late mission. Unlike the first game, both can be replenished at bases that can be built around the map. Base building relies on a consumable flare item though so one must be careful about how often they build and where. This scarcity might be annoying, and it certainly can be in later missions, but it also serves as incentive to respond to the rescue sidequests that pop up. Completing them awards resources, squad members and, perhaps most importantly, base building flares. As for squad members, controlling them is a simple matter of holding the left shoulder button and choosing a direction on the D-pad. Depending on the character’s ability, they’ll do anything from a combo kill with the avatar to shooting a stun flare to draw a pursuing Titan’s attention. It can be difficult to keep track of everyone at times, but making good use of one’s squad goes a long way towards keeping missions manageable and the combat from getting stale. All that said, Attack on Titan 2’s combat and movement systems are not completely without their drawbacks.

The main issues keeping this from being a flawless experience are in found in the camera, the boss enemies, and in the general ease of normal combat. Attack on Titan 2’s camera does a much better job of keeping everything of importance in center screen, but it can sometimes be thwarted by having too many enemies on screen. Most Titans are towering figures, and thus the camera needs a lot of room in order to properly keep them in frame. Get three or four of them really close together, and focusing on just one can be a hassle. It can also be easy to lose track of one’s avatar in the mobs of soldiers that sometimes form around the boss level Titans. Speaking of, these Titans are more bullet-sponge than elevated challenge, and they wind up slowing a normally fast-paced game down to a crawl. Learning how to dispatch them helps, but they’re still a black mark on an otherwise solid experience. As for normal Titans, while striking them down never really gets old, their behaviours don’t develop as quickly as one would like. They do get tougher on normal difficulty, but it feels as though they’re always a step behind “our man” in terms of development. Those looking for a bit more challenge should do themselves a favor and play on hard difficulty. None of these are deal-breakers, not by a long shot. However, they are issues that crop up enough to pull one out of the experience.

Combat only makes up half of Attack on Titan 2’s experience though. Soldiers need downtime in order to train and keep their morale up after all. This is where the “Town Life portion of the game comes in. It’s in this mode that players will be spending most of their time between missions. Town life offers players the opportunity to explore a few small sections of the city, build up friendships, craft equipment upgrades and apply buffs to their upcoming battles. Of these activities, the most important is probably creating equipment upgrades. Soldiers who rely only on standard-issue gear are more likely to die, so consistently building new and more powerful gear is important. Once a few different options have been unlocked through the story, players can craft different variants for their swords, scabbard and ODM so as to keep up with their enemies and emphasize their preferred playstyle. It doesn’t quite go as far as letting players create character builds outright, but it comes close. For example, if a player enjoys hitting hard and hitting fast, then they’ll want to craft gear that favors attributes like sharpness, gas pressure and winding speed instead of durability, gas capacity or anchor strength. This doesn’t drastically change the combat’s feel, but it is enough to notice. Next, there’s character friendships.

Character friendships serve two functions in Attack on Titan 2. One is providing opportunities for fans to get to know their favorite characters a little better, while the other is gaining skills to build up one’s avatar. Players will have many opportunities to converse with the various characters of Attack on Titan over the course of the game. Saying things that they agree with will earn the avatar favor with them and will eventually increase their friendship rank. Ranking up a friendship will trigger a short cutscene that include more chances to speak with them. Once it’s over, the player will be returned to the Town Life hub and be awarded a skill related to that character. Earning higher ranks yields better skills and makes a given character more effective in combat. The cutscenes themselves aren’t particularly revelatory, but they do offer further insight into a character’s personality or their world view. More would be nice, but the bonus skills make it worth doing in and of themselves.

After getting through the initial chapters of the story, players will gain the ability to take part in Scout Management and Scout Missions. Players receive “Wings of Freedom” crests by performing well in missions and behaving/speaking like an exemplary soldier in Town Life; the idea being that they’re gaining “influence” within the Scouts. Players can then take this influence to the Scouts leadership and use it to convince them to either upgrade the capabilities of bases or apply various buffs going into the next fight. Scout Missions serve as a means for players to gain crests, experience and resources outside of progressing the main story. These missions consist of anywhere from two to five parts and get progressively more difficult at each stage. Players can end the mission early after any section, but doing so will ensure that they miss out on the best rewards. This set of features isn’t essential to progression, but the rewards and additional level of customization it offers makes it hard to ignore.

Everything mentioned above takes place in Attack on Titan 2’s story mode, but that’s not the only mode it offers. One other mode, literally called “Another Mode,” gives players the chance to both enjoy the game outside the confines of its story and bring in another player. “Another Mode” can be played alone offline, but the only thing to do is play Scout Missions as a different character. The online version offers much more. By entering the online version of “Another Mode,” players can link up to do Scout Missions cooperatively, engage in joint development or battle against each other in Annihilation mode. Cooperative scout missions and Joint Development only allow for two-player co-op, while Annihilation mode pits two teams of four against each other. Further details on Annihilation mode can be found in our first look at the game, but the short version is that two teams compete and interfere with each other in order to kill the most Titans. Those who find themselves enjoying the combat in the main game will probably enjoy it in this mode too. Joint Development allows two players to pool their resources in order to craft gear they can’t get with just their own reserves. Gear and resources are shared between Story Mode and Another Mode, so this could be a good way to get one’s hands on higher level gear a bit earlier than normal. The PS4, Xbox and PC versions only offer multiplayer online, but the Switch version will also offer this via local wireless.

Closing Comments:

Even though I’d briefly tried and enjoyed it earlier this year, I went into Attack on Titan 2 expecting little more than fairly-interesting combat and a straight adaptation of the story. What I played was a game that was indeed centered around its combat and movement experience, but those components had a well-crafted support structure to hold them up. The game runs well on the PS4 (above 30fps most of the time) and its art direction results in a 3D version of the Attack on Titan world that’s true to the show it’s based on. Aside from some occasional camera hiccups and an initially confusing control scheme, the combat and movement systems feel good and do a great job of making the player feel fast and powerful. Its character customization system is surprisingly robust and the insertion of the players’ custom character into the story works much more smoothly than expected. Combine that with opportunity to befriend one’s favorite characters, side content that’s worth doing and decent online play, and the result is a surprisingly solid game that Omega Force should be proud of.