The death of Titanfall has been greatly exaggerated.
A year on from its storied Xbox One and PC release, Respawn's debut has unquestionably seen its player base dwindle significantly. Its YouTube following never really blossomed in the way many Elgato heroes might have hoped, and its place in the 'Champions' League' spots at the top of the FPS Premiership has been threatened, but there's plenty of fight left behind its battle-scarred armour.
Jump onto the Xbox One version, and you'll still see a few thousand waging war on Titanfall's staple deathmatch-like mode, Attrition. Matches on specific objective modes are scarce, sure, but it took me less than two minutes to find full games in Variety Pack, the mode with all the modes. With no sequel in its immediate future (although one announced and highly anticipated), it's still a solid and core player base. The bottom line - if you want to play Titanfall, you can.
And trust me, you really do want to play Titanfall. Whether you wall jumped on at launch and left in the first few weeks or skipped it all together, you've missed - for me at least - the absolute pinnacle of competitive First Person Shooting. Counterstrike is more technical, Battlefield more expansive and Call Of Duty more immediate, but none can match's Titanfall's pace, its rhythm and its sheer kinetic thrill. When you finish a great match on Titanfall, you feel like you've been in a fight.
This has always been the case - the combination of genre-redefining player movement, two-tiered combat and its small but beautifully balanced weapon set ensured greatness from the get go. Respawn hasn't just let its baby rest, though. The team has pushed out a steady stream of new gametypes, new maps (DLC which is now free to anyone), new customisation options and even a fully-fledged coop mode in order to keep its player base refreshed and refuelled.
What was once a sparse set of modes is now a suite of options. While there's still no campaign, and nor will there be (no matter how many terrible cutscenes that might try to convince us otherwise), Titanfall now presents itself as a large, confident and multifaceted game, and importantly, one that's still welcoming to new players.
One of the game's true master strokes is the inclusion of the bot 'grunts' that populate each map. They serve multiple functions. They exist to give newer and lower-skilled players something to shoot, making them feel like they're part of the fight, and that they can still enjoy themselves even if they're not capable of doing damage to player-controlled Pilots. Intermediate players begin to ignore the grunts, knowing that Pilots offer more points in Attrition mode and more of an advantage in Objective games.
Those who are wily in the ways of the Titan, though, know that the grunts are vital. Take out a crew of five or six and you've scored more points than you would for a Pilot kill anyway, and you've knocked a significant amount of time off your Titan clock, meaning you're closer to your next, potentially game-changing Titanfall. Couple that with some well-selected Burn Cards (the single-life perks that can now be bought in the game's Black Market, without a microtransaction in sight), and you can cultivate an offensive force using far more than just accurate thumbs and a light trigger finger.
If you've spent the entire year playing Titanfall, too, then you'll likely have 'Regenned' a number of times. Respawn's reimagining of the Prestige is subtle - you still reset at level 50, much like many other games - but as you move from your first regeneration to your tenth, you're asked to complete different challenges in order to qualify.
These force you to switch up your play-style and your loadouts, meaning you'll eventually get extensive time with every single weapon, ordnance and Titan set up in the game. It's a stroke of genius quite frankly, because Titanfall only improves when players are using every option at their disposal. That Titan railgun you thought was useless? Once you're forced to get your head around it, the thing is absolutely devastating. Didn't think sniping would ever work in Titanfall? Think again. You're never forced to deviate from your chosen set up, but the game nudges you towards truly exploring its every nuance.
Throughout the year, Titanfall's changes have been subtle rather than ground-shaking. A balance tweak there, a Burn Card change there, but nothing that truly flips the game on its head. A new in-game ranking system is a nice addition that will likely appear in other games - you're scored as you play, not dissimilarly to a Forza Horizon or even a Hotline Miami. Bolder, faster play ranks you up in game, and you aim to get from Bronze to Gold by being a better, more complete player. It's also a great way to quickly show how skilled your opponents actually are, as the classic rankings become meaningless after this amount of time has passed.
The most significant alteration, of course, is the supremely generous Frontier Defence mode. This completely free add-on offers Horde-style coop, where new Titan and enemy types charge upon a fixed Beacon, and you and three buddies have to fend them off. It requires close communication and an understanding of the map, as each arena specifically dictates the difficulty and the adversaries you'll face. It's not as strong as Gears Of War 3's Horde, but as a freebie, it's a hell of a mode.
There are niggles and irritations, of course, but little to genuinely complain about. Screen tearing and the odd frame drop are prevalent on Xbox One, but much improved from launch. If you just want to play capture the flag, well, you're going to struggle, but it will pop up in Variety pack with regularity. And once you've regenned ten times there's not a great deal to do - the sequel will likely bring a much broader weapon set with stronger customisation options.
One year on, though, this is still one of the most electric and compelling FPS games around and a far better experience now than when it launched. It might not have the retention rate of decade-long franchises, but Respawn has built something special here, and promises to do so again, this time with both major consoles to play with. Your Titan is ready.