UPDATE 23RD NOV 2020: Respawn appears to be sorting out Titanfall's rough launch on Steam.
Late on Sunday the developers issued an audio issue patch, which fixes the awful audio issues the game had at launch. I've tested Titanfall on Steam this morning and confirm the audio is now as it should be. "Thanks for all your patience," reads a note.
Meanwhile, while some are still reporting matchmaking issues, I've found the game relatively stable since Sunday, and I've been able to complete the training. It looks like Respawn is getting on top of Titanfall's issues, and its "Mostly Negative" Steam user review rating has improved to "Mixed".
ORIGINAL STORY 21ST NOV 2020: Titanfall surprise-launched on Steam last night - and it was met with an immediate "Mostly Negative" reception.
Respawn's multiplayer-only shooter came out in 2014, and six years later it seems it is struggling on PC not because of a dwindling playerbase, but because of severe technical issues.
Customers are reporting matchmaking issues. Some have reported the game thinks they don't have all the DLC map packs installed when they do. There are also audio issues that cause extremely loud static.
The video below reveals the typical experience of playing Titanfall on PC right now:
"Respawn/EA are basically selling us broken abandonware on Steam," one irate Steam user, Matoro Zeliph said in a review.
"Sadly, the audio does not work and nine out of the 10 times I clicked play it booted me to the main menu," added Steam user Elemental.
"The one time I did manage to get into the training, which I played through with a static-y noise every time a sound was supposed to happen. I restarted the game hoping that would help, which it didn't.
"I'm really hoping this will get fixed either by Respawn themselves or with someone finding out how to fix it. If that happens, I'm 100 per cent certain the gameplay will hold up to this day and I'll swap this over to a recommended review instantly."
The issue is exacerbated because Titanfall is an online-only game. Its story is told through multiplayer. Even its tutorial is played online.
So what's going on? Users on reddit familiar with Titanfall on PC spoke of an infamous hacker who had at one point used a script to boot players from matchmaking.
"It's been going on for years and I just verified that it's still a problem," redditor capn_hector said.
"Respawn is just putting abandonware on Steam and hoping that a few per cent of the players don't refund it."
This is not a new issue, either. Here's a post from redditor Hiticonic - dated a year ago - that details the same problem:
"Right now the game is basically unplayable and this has been going on for many months. Through simple exploits in the Titanfall servers and clients this person can crash game servers, end matches early and crash game clients. Slowly the playerbase has been dwindling even more because it's simply not fun to crash out over and over again. Respawn should either fix the game and servers or enable the dev console and release server binaries if they don't have the resources to fix these issues."
Whether Titanfall's struggles on Steam are the result of the same hacker or group of hackers is unclear. But what is clear is the game has suffered a rough launch. I've had a go at playing Titanfall through Steam this morning (Saturday, 21st November 2020), and I have to say it's a broken mess. As well as blisteringly-loud static bursting through my headset (something to do with the audio installation failing), I can't even get into the training. My one success at jumping into a multiplayer game booted me out after about 10 seconds.
It's a shame Titanfall was released on Steam in this state, as it probably hobbles any chance of reviving the playerbase for the game. Titanfall does not show up in Valve's official top 100 games by concurrent player count right now. Hopefully now the game has launched on Steam, Respawn will sort its online out so people can actually play the game.