I wonder what it feels like to be one of the grunts.
When you see the pilots outfitted in their top-of-the-line gear - the jumppacks, the kinetic redistribution body suit, the advanced helmets with IR tactical feeds, the collapsible assault rifles and rapid fire micro-rocket launchers, knowing that they have a multi-ton robot waiting on their beck and call for an orbital drop – how does it feel to be stuffed into a cramped drop pod with 5 other random dudes? When they shove a rusty rifle with all the accuracy of a rental paintball marker into your hands and tell you that your body armour is "confidence"? I mean, they know it can't end well right? Do they ever request that the Spectre robots get dropped into the battle first? If the robots are billed as "disposable", what does that say about the poor shumcks they drop in BEFORE them to soak up artillery fire? It really seems like a raw deal.
These are the questions I ponder while scrapping the red mush of a former grunt off the fist of my Titan.
The internet really boiled down the discussion about the AI troops in Titanfall quick didn't it? The beta has only been out for a short time, but we already have our narrative and strawmen ready to go. The doddering old timers and limp casuals who have the gall to like the NPCs on one hand, and the bloodthirsty 13 year old "xX420BluntzXx" of the gaming world who have nothing but disdain for such cheap populace diversions on the other.
And people wonder why developers never try anything new?
The main criticism I see levied against the NPC grunts is that they are too harmless to meaningfully factor into the game. You have to go out of your way to get yourself killed by them, which essentially renders them moot. Players who spend time taking them out to "help their team" are accomplishing little else but painting a bullseye on their back for the infinitely more lethal human controlled Pilots. There is a belief that the AI troops only exist to validate "bads"who want to pantomime at contributing to the team despite a glaring lack of skill.
In a way, I suppose this is true. But in a much more accurate way, it's completely wrong. And I don't know why people don't get it.
The AI troops are essentially the same as creep waves from a MOBA. They don't exist as an actual threat, but as a tricky resource to exploit. While the direct helpfulness of killing grunts is dubious, the benefit of getting a Titan sooner by racking up a good number of points off them should be clear to anyone. Of course it's always going to be better to take out a real player character (just like in DOTA), but failing that, you might as well do what you can to tip the odds in your favour as much as possible, IE, farming creeps/grunts to get your skills/Titan faster than the other guy. Once you're in a Titan, it's worth going out of your way to stomp a few extra grunts since that will power up your core ability faster (the firepower enhancing Damage Core in the Atlas' case) and give you a dramatic advantage when you run into an enemy Titan.
When it comes to the sturdier robot Spectres, there is even more reason to target them. While again, the Spectres aren't exactly threatening, they do pose one significant problem – they target Titans. They don't do much damage of course, but their tiny little weapon blasts stop a Titan's shields from regenerating. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to withdraw from a fight to regen only to be harried by a group of android fuckwits. It's worth the extra effort to get rid of them, and if you can swing it, it's worth hacking a group of them. They don't do much, but anything you can do to put momentum on your side is a solid course of action.
I suspect that this isn't a hard concept to understand. I don't think I'm somehow the only one with the razor sharp acumen and sagely wisdom to crack the Da Vinci Code of the game. I'd wager that 80% of the trolls cluttering up comment sections across the web understand the practical benefit of the NPC troops, both in terms of gameplay and public perception (while the grunts do add to the game, it is reasonable to assume that Respawn was looking for ways to draw in a broader, less-FPS dedicated, audience by providing some easy targets), they'd have to be staggeringly stupid not to (although it IS the internet...)
So why is this such a hot topic? Why are commenters carrying on this kayfabe of actually giving a shit about a non-issue? That's actually a far more interesting question that bleeds into all sorts of areas - the exclusionary nature of "hardcore gamer" identity, collateral damage of the console war (diehard Sony supporters MUST find criticisms for the one genuinely exciting Xbone exclusive), the insanely negative nature of online gaming communities that is scaring off devs and stifling conversation, and so on.
It's weird. I'm not even interested in defending the game design (even though in my personal estimation it's a pretty slick addition to the genre), I'm just fascinated by the number of people who are being intentionally, vocally, obtuse about the point of what seems to be a rather obvious and superfluous inclusion.
In the weird melting pot of modern game design - where shooters borrow stat progression and character building from RPGs, where RPGs take ideas from rhythm games, and action games veer closer and closer to fighting game technicality – I would never have thought that an FPS taking a pinch of flavour from MOBAs would be the breaking point.
Especially when we've seen it before (Monday Night Combat must get terribly jaded that nobody remembers it. Maybe it can sit at the bar and sulk next to Brink, the first FPS to try and weave story elements into multiplayer).
Sometimes it gets a little exhausting to pay attention to the gaming community.