Last week I read this critique of Titanfall’s “unlock” system, as compared to Call of Duty. “Unlock” isn’t really the right word, since the author isn’t talking about Titanfall’s progression system (whereby you earn XP by playing and completing challenges, and level up to earn new weapons / modifications / etc). Rather, the argument is something like: Since you have access to really powerful features (like dropping Titans) as a new player, you’ll get bored since more power isn’t unlocked over time.
Yet this supposed solution also creates new problems. What you get in the first round is what you get in every match you play, and while unlocks, loadouts and Burn Cards offer flexibility and empower different playstyles, they don’t afford any tangible increase in power. As you get better, you get your hands on the toys quicker, but none ever really boosts your chances of winning.
The author’s example of a better system is the killstreak implementation in CoD 4: MW. If, and only if, you are able to run up a high killstreak are you allowed to summon an AC-130, tactical nuke, or other high-tech shenanigans. The point is that this system makes it a much rarer event to unleash something truly powerful (which is true), and that is therefore better because otherwise the game would become stale (which I disagree with).
The reaction that came to mind when I read the article was, “What about Team Fortress 2? Or Quake? Or CounterStrike: Any Version Ever?” None of these best-in-class multiplayer FPSes have killstreaks that unlock temporary power boosts, yet seem to have no problem flourishing.
Killstreaks encourage a specific kind of gameplay that may make sense in a Call of Duty world. It is less obvious they would make Quake 3 a better or longer-lasting game.
I was expecting a critique of the weapon unlock system in Titanfall - why am I forced to grind through 50 levels of XP to play with all the toys I paid $60 for? Titanfall’s progression system has it’s issues, but one of them is definitely not the fact that you get to drop Titans all. the. goddamn. time. The name of the game is Titanfall - how on earth would it be better served by only letting players summon a Titans when they reached a killstreak of 10? The article closes with:
Clearly, Respawn will tinker with Titanfall’s framework in the inevitable sequels to come. As it does, it would do well to remind itself why the multiplayer FPS exists. When power is permanent, the fantasy rather loses its shine.
Multiplayer FPSes exist because it is fun to be a badass and to crush your opponents. The authors would do well to remind themselves that blanket applying a mechanic from one game in a genre to all other games in that genre is unbelievably short-sighted.