A.O.T. 2, or Attack on Titan 2 if you’re not Koei Tecmo and care about brand recognition, is a game rife with contradictions. It straddles the line between reimagining and sequel without really neatly falling into either. It introduces an almost overwhelming amount of new stuff while also rehashing a lot of the previous game. It takes chances to build on Hajime Isayama’s rich universe, yet struggles with the same pacing problems its source material does.
With so many seemingly contradictory elements, A.O.T. 2 perplexes me. I am perplexed. All I can really say with any certainty, even after finishing the game, is that I liked it. That, and it’s easily the best adaptation the Attack on Titan anime has had to date.
For those who’ve missed the cultural runaway freight train that is Attack on Titan, here’s a quick primer: 100 years before the story began, naked, human-eating giants called Titans appeared, and to avoid extinction humankind hid themselves behind three concentric walls. 100 years later, more powerful Titans attack the outermost wall, killing hero Eren Jaeger’s mother in the process. Flash forward five years, and Eren’s now a soldier with the goal of eliminating every single Titan through the use of ODM gear – really freaking cool grappling hooks.
A.O.T. 2 perplexes me. I am perplexed. All I can really say with any certainty, even after finishing the game, is that I liked it.
If you’ve ever played a Warriors game, you know the gist of how A.O.T. 2 plays. Each mission is a huge, sandbox map filled with hordes of Titans that need slaying, primary objectives that involve slaying more Titans, and then the odd side-mission that pressures you into saving characters from Titans… by slaying them. The AOT games shake things up a bit through the use of ODM gear to let you soar through the air and target the Titans’ limbs and their weakspot on the nape of the neck, which makes environmental awareness a hugely important factor to the flow of any mission.
Much like its predecessor, movement is incredibly satisfying thanks to the ODM gear. Entire streets rush past you in the blink of an eye, and getting the timing and speed required to successfully attack a Titan requires genuine skill rather than mindless button-mashing. Unfortunately, A.O.T. 2 seems to have made even the basic Titans a bit more resilient than in the first game, as encounters can quickly turn into slightly repetitive dances of backing off, dashing back in with the ODM gear, attacking, and repeating until a limb is gone or the Titan is dead.
There is the introduction of a stealth attack, where aiming from a distance can let you close the distance and do massive damage at the same time, but it doesn’t feel as great as going on a rampage did before. The previous game let you feel like a Titan-killing monster who can flit around the map and leave a trail of enemies’ steaming corpses in your wake, while this one makes feeling like an unstoppable badass a much rarer, less satisfying occurrence.
Only for the final 40% of the story does it decide to move on beyond its predecessor and into the uncharted territory of the second season of the anime
Contradiction number one: despite it having “2” in the title, A.O.T. 2 isn’t a sequel in the strictest sense. Only for the final 40% of the story does it decide to move on beyond its predecessor and into the uncharted territory of the second season of the anime. Instead, it shows a lot of the events of the previous game and the first season from a slightly different perspective, shedding light on some of the unshown workings behind major events. It does this by pulling the focus away from the major players and instead onto a player-created soldier who is always in the side-lines of major events, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-style.
On the one hand, this shift of perspective also lets Omega Force introduce a whole host of new features that push the game almost into fully-fledged RPG territory: explorable hubs based on areas not explored much in other adaptations, relationship-building dialogue systems not wholly unlike the Persona games, but featuring almost every named character in the series, and a rudimentary renown system that can be used to buy upgrades for the Scout Regiment. All of this wouldn’t have been possible had the game still been focussed on the main trio of Eren, Mikasa and Armin, as they are forced into situations and swept along by the story much more than an everyday soldier is.
It also lets the game show events from an interesting perspective, as some are shown from a first-person perspective. Seeing ODM gear in use through the eyes of a soldier, really understanding the scale of the Titans, and having major characters interact with you in such a direct way is a massive fan-service moment that I wish Omega Force had dedicated itself to a bit more, as they are the highlight of the story. But are interspersed with almost scene-for-scene recreations of the anime, which, even if it wasn’t made in that weirdly stiff, sometimes lifeless Koei Tecmo-style of animation and would struggle to compare to the absolutely gorgeous anime. More importantly, the first game also did this – seeing the same scenes recreated in the same way in what is supposed to be a sequel is really missing out on the excellent thing the game has going for it with its shifted perspective.
It’s easy to argue that the game revisits the events of the first season of the show because the second season was only half the length. The last 40% of the game, when it finally covers season two, is easily where the game hits its stride and becomes its most interesting, but on its own wouldn’t have been enough to hold up an entire game. But it’s worth pointing out that Attack on Titan has prequels and OVAs that are distinct from the show, meaning there is enough material not yet adapted, meaning the game could have gone in a vastly different direction from what it did. For it to give itself the freedom to break from Eren’s story, thanks to its original player character, and then recycle the same old stuff instead is hugely, hugely disappointing.
For it to give itself the freedom to break free from Eren’s story, thanks to its original player character, and then recycle the same old stuff instead is hugely, hugely disappointing.
This leads us onto contradiction number two: A.O.T. 2 features a hell of a lot of new stuff, and almost all of it is a welcome improvement over the first game, yet a significant amount has also been recycled from the predecessor, making this less of a worthwhile purchase for fans who enjoyed Wings of Freedom.
Everything that is new is very, very good, like the new dialogue system. Almost every named character, be they a major one or not, are able to be conversed with, and feature their own smaller side-stories that can provide new skills for your character. It helps encourage diversity in your 5-character teams on missions, as using characters helps build the relationship with them. It also helps better flesh out characters that were only given a brief part in Eren’s story and give them a new lease of life, such as the terrified garrison commander Kitz.
In the manga and the anime, Kitz is blinded by his fear, and comes off as an unstable, cowardly arsehole. But in A.O.T. 2, a greater amount of his character is shown through his dialogue with the player, and he is shown to be stressed and scared, but passionate and supportive of his subordinates at the same time. For newcomers to Attack on Titan, this won’t mean much, but for long-term fans, exploring smaller characters in this way is easily one of the best bits of the game.
[Base-building] provides more to do on a mission than simply zipping around and killing Titans.
There are also some changes to how the missions play out, primarily in the base-building mechanics. Every map has a number of areas where towers can be erected to provide different boosts, such as canons to attack nearby Titans, mines to generate items earned after the mission, and resource stations to provide consumables for use during it. Erecting these and defending them from attack can make or break particularly difficult missions, splitting your attention between the main objective and keeping various support structures up. Some bases are vastly more important than others – the ones I’ve mentioned were the only ones I actually used for the whole game -, but it provides more to do on a mission than simply zipping around and killing Titans like in the first one.
The big problem is that all the new features, dialogue, skills, items, and hub locations in the world don’t make the numerous maps straight lifted from the first game any less noticeable. The most obvious example is a map set on the edge of the Forest of Giant Trees, full of rural land and dotted with small settlements. It was cool in the first game, but after the third mission set in it in A.O.T. 2, it becomes less impressive. Trost District’s battle map also feels eerily similar to the first game, and an entire arc of the story is set in it.
Thanks to all of this, there’s a question lingering over the game that is as huge as a Titan: who is it actually for? People who played the first game? Definitely not, unless you fancy revisiting the same maps and seeing the same story for the first 60% of it. Series newcomers? The anime is still the best way to experience the story thanks to its sublime animation and intensity Koei Tecmo just can’t quite pull off. The only answer I can come up with is die-hard Attack on Titan fans who somehow missed the first game, which feels like a remarkably slim group of people.
There’s a question lingering over the game that is as huge as a Titan: who is it actually for?
Is A.O.T. 2 good? Yes, absolutely. It identified what was good about the first game, ramped that up to eleven, and let players have fun experiencing the Isayama’s world. It’s bursting with character and flying around on ODM gear is still a treat, even if the time-to-kill frequently borders on the excessive. If you can put up with seeing the first season of the show, and locations from the first game, yet again, there are definitely worse ways of experiencing one of the biggest manga franchises this decade than A.O.T. 2.
A review copy and press kit were provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PlayStation 4 [reviewed]/Xbox One/PC/Nintendo Switch
Developer/Publisher: Omega Force/Koei Tecmo
Release date: March 20, 2018