Someone, somewhere deep in the bowels of EA headquarters, is regretting the decision to launch Titanfall 2 in peak shooter season, the meat in a sandwich between Call of Duty and Battlefield. Despite bullish proclamations from all parties since, there's simply no denying the fact: a game as good as Titanfall 2 should be selling by the bucket load, not seeing heavy discounts just weeks after launch.
When all's said and done, it has been a stellar year for shooters. Titanfall, alongside the aforementioned release of this year's Call of Duty, and the return of Battlefield now built around an enthusiastically received World War I setting, has meant this year's holiday run-in has been particularly well-stocked as far as shooters go. And that's not taking into account the earlier releases of a rejuvenated Doom and a superlative Overwatch, co-op bloodfest Killing Floor 2, the indie flair of Superhot, or even the stealth and trickery of Dishonored 2 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
So it has been a good year, yeah? That's something we can probably all agree on. There are some great studios out there, and at the moment they're making great games (some of them are even seeing their past classics getting remastered; Bioshock and Modern Warfare spring immediately to mind). In 2016 we've been spoilt for choice.
Respawn is certainly a great studio, and this year they most certainly made a great game. This still up and coming outfit has only shipped two titles to date, but they were founded by minds with vision and the kind of self-belief that saw them leave EA for the warm embrace of Activision, only to eventually return to the bosom of the publisher that originally set them on their path.
To the casual observer they seem an assured team, filled with talent and experience. Similarly kind words could be lavished on their game, which would normally be far too polished and accomplished to be only the second work of a studio. But then, when you discover the heritage of Respawn, tracing their roots back to Medal of Honor by way of Call of Duty, it becomes crystal clear why and how Titanfall 2 ended up being so good.
How ironic it is, then, that this confident young studio ended up crushed under the weight of the beast that it created in a past life, a weight made heavier by another shooter, EA's flagship shooter series now that Medal of Honor has been put out to pasture. A victim of overconfidence, Titanfall should never have been put in the ironsights of the big two, and the relative success of the first game as an Xbox and PC exclusive already proved that it was a shooter series with the chops to succeed if positioned properly on the calendar.
It's this one oversight that has cast a shadow over otherwise brilliant work, but it needn't have been this way. Respawn had to bust a gut to get Titanfall 2 ready in time for its date with destiny, and it's with the help of hindsight that we can now see how they should have given it another six months in the oven, freeing up more time for spit and polish, and maybe even some extra content.
Ahead of the game's launch we had the chance to sit down with lead single-player designer Mackey McCandlish, and we discussed ways that they might have got more mileage out of the excellent single-player campaign (and there's lots of things they could do, such as locking a play-through to a certain Titan, introducing a New Game+, or adding arcade features for high score chasers), but we were told that there was barely enough time to finish the credits sequence at the end of the campaign. Given what we know now, it's frustrating to think that they could and should have been given a release date in early 2017. It's not time that they absolutely needed, but it's certainly time that they could have made good use of, and those extra months would have pushed them out of the path of the undisputed heavyweights.
Having said that, hindsight is wonderful thing, and there was obviously meetings at EA head office, with managers there who collectively figured that Titanfall 2 could go toe-to-toe with Battlefield 1 and Infinite Warfare. Obviously this wasn't the case.
Another factor that almost certainly chomped into the Titanfall user-base is the release of Modern Warfare Remastered, which came bundled along with this year's main COD, but at an inflated price, in the process eating up the budgets of prospective players. Given that there are a lot of similarities between Respawn's new franchise and the one they established when the studio was the beating heart of Infinity Ward, is it really a surprise to think that franchise fans didn't want two (maybe three if you include MWR) bites from a similar tasting apple?
Finally, maybe it's worth bearing in mind a different perspective, one that flies in the face of the aforementioned theory. Perhaps players on PC and Xbox just didn't fancy jumping aboard a sequel to a game that didn't have the online tail that most AAA shooters enjoy, and in turn, perhaps those on PlayStation 4 followed suit and decided to pass in favour of picking up something that guaranteed more longevity. The decision to release all future DLC for the sequel looks and sounds like a PR win on the face of it, but could it be more calculated than that, with free content updates a means of keeping the community alive and together for longer?
Either way, when it's all said and done, sluggish launch sales are not the end of the world, and Respawn will live to fight another day. The studio's collective quality practically ensures that there'll be more to see from them in the future. What we might have to see, however, is a reevaluation of their place in the pecking order. With perfect positioning there's nothing to stop the studio from building their franchise into something bigger and better than we've seen before, and with their past creation beginning to waver in terms of sales, who's to say that one day they won't do to Call of Duty what that franchise did to Medal of Honor.