As the big shooter season rolls in once again, Respawn has chosen the perfect time to unleash its next batch of maps. And Frontier's Edge, the second set of Titanfall DLC, arrives alongside the most significant title update the game has received yet.
Season Pass owners will gain immediate access to Frontier's Edge, another trio of accurately crafted arenas in which to wall-run, shotgun and Titan your way to fast-paced supremacy, but even those who've not dabbled in DLC get to enjoy to the patch.
The most prominent change to the fundamental game comes in the form of a new 'black market' for Burn Cards - impenetrable nonsense if you're not a Titanfall devotee, but a significant new wrinkle if you are. The burn cards (one-off perks activated upon death) that you have filling up your deck can now be sold for credits. Earn enough through sales, or by completing in-game challenges, and you can purchase a themed pack from the Black Market, which lays out a random selection of cards, much like in FIFA Ultimate Team.
Before you jump down Respawn's chrome-protected oesophagus, though, know this. There's not a microtransaction in sight, and no sign they're coming. Respawn has always maintained that this business model has no place in its game, and has reiterated as such in a blog on its own site mere days ago.
The Black Market helps refocus players on the importance of Burn Cards, and how their well-timed use can turn the tide of battle. Map Hack, for example, is a crucial card on Pilot Hunter as it reveals the position of every enemy on the radar. Combine that with a Titan and you're in business.
And it's not just Burn Cards. With the increased power available to developers on Xbox One, Titanfall finally has some of its framerate issues ironed out. It's still not flawless, but there's noticeably less screen tearing and it now never drops into zoetrope mode when multiple Titans battle in a small area.
Great stuff already then, but what about those maps? If you've been following Titanfall's narrative - if you can call it that - then you may be aware that Frontier's Edge is set in the far reaches of the universe, where the battle between the IMC and the Militia rages on over some sort of mining... I'm boring myself even talking about it.
All this actually means is that two of the maps are based around mining sites. The first, imaginatively called Dig Site, is the least immediate of the three. Brown, muddy walls, crates, dark skies and metal everywhere. It reeks of rushed-together DLC, but once you actually start to investigate the vertiginous buildings and well-crafted parkour branches between them, you realise Respawn isn't in the business of rushing things.
As always, the map scales beautifully. It's a blast on everything from Attrition to Last Titan Standing, offering natural choke points for the latter and a good selection of well-layered buildings for the former. Perhaps the only issue, apart from its lack of handsomeness, is the struggle in dealing with opponents who camp on top of the map's higher structures. They're a nightmare to actually see. This may evolve into a serious frustration, or naturally sort itself out over time. Titanfall has never suffered with camping problems, so it's fair to veer on the side of positivity I think.
Next up is Haven, a bright, blue-skied affair set in a beach resort. Imagine charging through an all-inclusive complex in Mallorca with a giant robot and you've pretty much got the idea. Haven is full of tight alleyways and smaller buildings, with clever shortcuts and criss-cross parkour routes. It makes the map a must for Capture The Flag - skilled pilots can actually navigate the map's central route entire across the walls if they're rocking the Enhanced Parkour kit. Scoring a rapid-fire flag capture while team-mates scrap below is the type of lightning-quick glory only Titanfall can produce.
Rounding off the package, then, is Export, set in a coastal mining town. It's a more circular map than the other two, offering a natural clockwise flow between capture points in Hardpoint, and three distinct paths for Last Titan Standing. Again, it's a map of immaculate design - every open window lines up with every precision jump, and every room has multiple exit points - and its muted colours bring to mind Brighton or Bournemouth on a cloudy day, with slightly less violence.
Export includes an odd gimmick, though. Titanfall isn't a game that really bothers itself with in-map occurrences, so this comes as a bit out of leftfield. In an upper floor room above capture point B, a large column of exposed wires flashes red. Shoot it, and you unleash an electrical charge on the other side of the map, killing anyone unfortunate enough to be stuck there.
It's not overpowered, and it's certainly a nice treat if you blast it on your way through and pick up a sneaky kill for your troubles, but it has brought about a few issues. There's an achievement for grabbing a kill in this manner, so naturally players are flocking to control this room, and abandoning the rest of the map.
Hopefully that will subside as the community inevitably grabs the achievement and moves on with their collective lives, but it's also hard to overstate the temptation of a giant red flashy thing. You're naturally drawn there, and so are campers hiding in the corner like Call Of Duty players.
This isn't game breaking stuff, but it's typically so rare to see players hiding in the dark in Titanfall that it's hard not to get frustrated. Again, this isn't a hugely detrimental flaw, but it's odd to even see such a gimmick in a Titanfall map.
Especially given that the general level of design is so strong. This isn't an outstanding, revolutionary piece of DLC, but instead a further example of a team of experts plying their trade. Frontier's Edge doesn't look as spectacular as its predecessor, Expedition, but it feels like it has been designed specifically with how the community now plays the game in mind. The flow between the buildings, the perfect scaling, the ingenious short-cuts.
There' a reason the minds at Respawn changed the world once with Call Of Duty's multiplayer. Titfanfall may not have made that same sort of impact, but for those on the inside, those who spend their evenings stomping around in giant robots, there is simply no online shooter that can touch it.