Attack on Titan 2 Review
An improved sequel that still has some adaption challenges to overcome
Attack on Titan is based on the hugely popular manga of the same name, which was released several years ago. It was subsequently turned into an anime, film, game, and much more. The premise is simple and quite refreshing: humans are no longer on the top of the food chain. Hulking “titans” have appeared, who tower over humanity, causing them to retreat behind the relative safety of their city walls. Over time, people have begun to fight back, rather than simply defend. The series’ protagonist, Eren, is one such human. He joins the military who, through special gear, can zip around their environment like Spider-Men (and Spider-Women), felling titans by attacking the weak points on the backs of their necks.
The first Attack on Titan game told the story of Eren and friends, rather faithfully following the story arcs and major beats of the first series of the TV show. Its main components were the battles themselves, which took place over varied, spacious environments, a “camp” area, where you could interact with characters and upgrade gear, and a multiplayer and free battle mode.
Attack on Titan 2 (AOT2) covers the first and second seasons of the show. To add a little variation the second time around, you no longer step into the shoes of characters from the show, but rather an entirely new, non-canon character. You operate more on the side-lines, like someone standing by the curtains at off stage while the main cast give you the odd sidelong glance.
To be fair, your character is integrated into the story well enough and even gets their own little arc with friends. It’s just you’re not really quite the arbiter of change or drama the main cast are. I think that's because you’re caught between adhering to canon while creating your own story in between the margins of the game’s history.
The most notable aspect of AOT2 is its battles. The sequel still manages to evoke a great sense of scale and the omnidirectional battle gear—which is how you zip around levels—has seen a few tweaks. Controlling the gear is simple and intuitive, and I still give the devs top marks for translating it so well. The speed and accessible controls let you fly around cities and forests with ease. You can boost, flip, and change directions on the go, but the real test is when you have to use your abilities to take out the titans.
AOT2’s titans, much like the first game, are both its biggest strength and weakness. They come in various sizes, from ones around the same size as the first floor of a house, while others tower above some of the tallest buildings. There are various ways to take them down, but to kill them quick you need to sever the back of their neck. You can cripple a titan’s limbs to weaken it, and then snap on to its neck through the limb targeting system. After building up enough momentum, you need to time your attack so that it connects well and causes optimal damage.
Titans are deadlier than they ever were before. They can lock onto you, turning the edges of the screen red, and you can time your dodge so that you can swing around and finish them off quickly. Another cool feature is the ability to execute a stealth attack, via a telescope. With this, you can spy a titan’s weak point from afar and then zip right to them to finish them off. This method of taking down titans is faithful and, again, translates well. But the problem is, you have to do it again… and again, and again.
In the anime, titans are deadly. You’re shown that right off the bat. They easily mow through citizens and gleefully chomp them in half. It’s a series where everyone is vulnerable, and the glut of characters makes it so that they are expendable. However, we’re in a game here, from Koei Tecmo no less, which means we’re taking out lots of titans.
The thing is, games where you take on massive enemies usually handle gameplay differently. Think of Shadow of the Colossus or Titan Souls. The former gets the scale and the work you must use to fell such a giant beast. It takes time and effort. Similarly, a game like Titan Souls demands perfection and planning, as well as a lot of risk balancing.
On the other hand, when you think of game with lots of “disposable” enemies, zombies may come to mind. There are hordes of them that you can easily cut through, and while they have their vulnerability—the head—most games are not really that strict in that regard. Even as Resident Evil progressed, you never had to explicitly attack the head to finish them off.
AOT2 tries to cover this middle ground but I still do not think it works for me. There is variety in battle, such as calling on your team, who have various skills in both support and attack—they can even rescue you when you’ve taken a near-fatal blow. However, the combat feedback loop is not satisfying. It’s always the same weak spot to deliver the killer blow. Even with the introduction of bigger enemies that require you to wear them down, it’s a matter of targeting their limbs first, then the nape, which just prolongs the battle and does not make it more engaging.
After several levels of the same thing, despite it being broken up with various rescue/recruitment missions, I don’t think combat is strong or varied enough to engender longevity. And this is coming from someone who will happily spend hours scything through soldiers in Dynasty Warriors and its various titles. Don’t ask me why my brain works this way. I’m still awaiting the test results. It just doesn’t click.
To AOT2’s credit, setting up bases and the inclusion of side missions and mid-missions is a solid attempt to break up the monotony; but the fault doesn’t lie with the devs. It’s simply because the premise works in every other medium except a game, and I don’t know how to fix that glaring issue.
When you’re not hacking through titans, you’ll be at your camp/base. This can be in the city itself or on the road. Here, you can interact with your fellow members, filling up your diary with information or building up your friendship metre with comrades, which unlocks various special abilities for characters and yourself.
There’s also the opportunity to upgrade/craft weapons to mould how you want to play. You can focus on attack but forgo weapon durability, make your canisters more powerful at the cost of air, to zip around quicker. Combined with the skills that you can set on your character, it really does conjure some of the tricks used in the Dynasty Warriors/Samurai Warriors titles. Much like previous games, I find the fact you have to replay levels to farm specific items was a chore.
Another gripe I have is the story itself, and AOT2 even goes so far as to lift scenes from the previous game. If you’ve played the first, you’ll be hard pressed to find any real variety until the game broaches the second season of the TV series. I understand that the game kind of had to do this so everything makes sense, but it does feel like a bit of a cop out. However, I believe the original voice cast is there for the game, which does add a sense of authenticity.
Graphically, AOT2 does show improvement from the first title, and its cell-shaded look, while nice and evokes the spirit of the anime, don’t push current-gen consoles to their limits. Characters and locations are all wonderfully realized, not to mention the fact that there seems to be a ton of blood this time around. And while it’s difficult to find a balance between intricate world-building and spacious levels, it does a great job of staying true to the source material.
AOT2’s free roam mode makes a return, so if you were hankering for taking Eren or any of the other cast out for a spin, you’re free to do so. Multiplayer is, of course, included. Co-op mode, where you can team up with a friend for missions, makes a return. A cool edition is Predator mode, where you take on the role of a titan, slaying humans and destroying buildings for points, which is reminiscent of Rampage and actually quite fun.
The new Annihilation mode sees two teams of 4 competing to get the highest score over a few minutes. In it, you’re basically hunting down the biggest titans and slaughtering them as quickly possible. It’s a mode that, like most multiplayer games, works best when you actually work as a team and don’t just stand there firing off emoticons. It can get quite cinematic at times, and a part of me wishes the single player could emulate the same kind of comradery/teamwork of the show.
In true Koei Tecmo fashion, menus are all quite simple and intuitive. The diary system, which allows you to view info on characters, is a nice touch, and the upgrade shops make it simple to understand what crafting materials you need. All equip menus are easy to navigate, and the fact you can zip between different locations and characters with a simple push of the button makes clearing up little quests quick and efficient. To go along with this, AOT2’s loading times are also rapid, and jumping into the next battle or between different scenes takes less than a few seconds.
Overall, AOT2 is an improvement in many aspects from the first game, most notably its combat and multiplayer components. However, I still think it’s a game that suffers from a basic premise that doesn’t quite gel with the nature of its gameplay. I found myself rather uninterested in the story missions and the grindier aspects of the game and more interested in creating my own cinematic moments online. If you have not played the first game and enjoy the series, you will probably get more out of it than I did, and if you just want something fun to while away the hours, it’s not a bad investment.