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Attack on Titan 2 Review - Freedom or Folly?

In 2016, Koei Tecmo released Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom - A fast paced action game, based on the highly successful Manga and Animé series of the same name. We loved it and for the most-part, so did everyone else. So with the sequel just around the corner, how much has the series improved and is it still just as thrilling as the original?

If you haven't read my original review for Attack on Titan: Wings of Freedom, be sure to check that out here, otherwise I'll jump straight in.

To begin, Attack on Titan 2 covers the events of the original game, taking up 60% of the plot in Story Mode. The next 36% is where the new content covering season 2 of the Animé takes place, with a fairly epic epilogue mission taking up the remaining 4%.

At first I found this to be a little pointless, because a lot of players who picked up the original game would already know what happened with Annie (as they would if they're fairly up to date with the Manga/Animé) and so it really didn't need to be shown again, unless perhaps Koei Tecmo were trying to brush aside the original title in favour of this more polished sequel.

It's time to slay the Titans and reclaim our home!
That said, the story is animated and pieced together in a much more complete way this time around. Unlike the original which suffered the problem a lot of Koei Tecmo's titles seem to have (where each mission feels like a separate event and not a single, ongoing plot), Attack on Titan 2 is very well put together. It's clear where the plot is going. It's clear that each and every event you take part in is leading up to a bigger, more climactic outcome and this is largely due to the fact you get to create your very own Cadet this time around.

This is the 104th Cadet Corp - Eren, Armin and Mikasa's troupe and where the previous title focused primarily on Eren and his transformation into a Titan, this sequel throws your custom created character right up front to centre-stage, giving interactive opportunities between your character and those we've all grown to know and love from the series. These interactions form the foundations for the friendship system, which is used to strengthen bonds between characters in a number of different ways, which I'll explain below.

Yea.....time to leave!
Roleplaying Opportunities
Outside of your main Story Missions, this is the primary way to strengthen your bonds with your fellow recruits and peers. In these voiced dialogue segments, you're given a number of multiple choice answers and depending on your decision, your friendship level will either increase slightly, greatly or not at all. Every character has their own likes and dislikes, so depending on how much you want to roleplay your character, your answers will determine how successful you are in deepening your relationship levels with the other characters. If you wish to play a cold-hearted character who chooses all of the least caring options for roleplay purposes, don't expect to do too well here.

Gift Giving
Okay, so you made a few mistakes and your friendship level hasn't increased with characters as much as you'd hoped. Now what? Well, try offering a gift. Though many gifts will help to increase the friendship level of most characters, there are some in particular that are received with a great deal of appreciation and again it's all character dependent. Give Levi cleaning items, Pyxis Alcohol or Sasha a Hunting Kit for example and you'll see your friendship rating sky-rocket, usually providing enough of a boost for your friendship level to increase. At this point, all you need to do is speak to the character, go through his/her dialogue path and if necessary, kill some Titans along the way in separate character bonding missions.

Everything about this game is gorgeous.
Survey Missions
If you didn't already have enough options here, participating in the Survey Missions not only increase friendship levels, but also give you rewards for completing them and help to level you up if you're having a particularly tough time with Story Mode. You can even invite other characters along with you (limited to one per mission) if you wish to build up a specific characters friendship level. Not only that, if you get an S Rank for every mission, you receive even greater rewards and if you play Another Mode (which is a mode separate to that of the main story) you can use any character you've unlocked to take on these Survey Missions. Doing this also increases that characters level and friendship score, so no matter what you do, you're constantly rewarded.

After all this talk on friendship levels, you're probably wondering what's the point? Simple - Skills. For each character, increasing your friendship rating a set number of levels will unlock more skills for your own personal character. Progressing Mikasa will allow you to upgrade your strength stat, air-dash multiple times and air boost for longer, where as Levi also provides stat increasing skills, along with his wind up and multi-attack signature moves. Even Jeans "Death from above" signature move is here. In short, if you wish to power up your character with great stats and some truly awesome moves/abilities, brush up on your people-pleasing skills because there are a ton of these to unlock and this is where the gameplay really opens up.

Good old Pyxis, telling it how it is.
Character Creation
Though a feature I wasn't expecting to appear, I have to say the character creation here is really very good. There aren't a lot of costumes to choose between, but there are a lot of accessories and tweaks you can make to your clothing and as for your characters physical bodily appearance, there are a huge amount of options to make a truly unique character, fitting of the AoT universe.

From hairstyles to hair colours, eye shapes and sizes, various nose options, mouths and facial shapes, you really can create a one of a kind character. You can re-position every facial feature, adjust your height, the shape of your torso, your head size and even your arm and leg width. It's certainly no tacked on feature and as I said above, the story focuses on your character, so the fact you can continue to fully edit your character even after the initial creation stage is a really nice touch. You're not stuck with a character you regret making because of a nose you're unhappy with or a hairstyle you've grown to hate.

In addition to this, in true Japanese fashion, characters refer to you by surname until they feel comfortable enough to address you by your forename. Yet another nice touch, this is something else that evolves through the friendship system.

Meet Nik, now in the elite of the 104th Cadets.
Though not as deep as the Animé or Manga, the story has come leaps and bounds since its last debut, with many of the highly stylised visuals taking place from a first person perspective, through the eyes of your character. Expect to see your creation pulling off some mean feats in-game too and not just under your control, as you earn the respect of your Titan-slaying comrades.

The plot gives you reason to join the cadets, shows what happened to Eren, Armin and Mikasa during the initial Colossal Titan assault and takes you all the way up to the aftermath of Eren's abduction and consequent return, which is exactly where season 2 of the Animé concludes. There are some differences in dialogue, which although not too dis-similar from the original content are different enough to have an impact on the story. For example, in my gameplay video further down this page, Ymir says "You're alive? Come with me.", implying she was expecting Christa to be dead, which would void the whole point in her transforming to save her in the first place. In the show however, Ymir says "Do you want to live? Grab my hair.", emphasising there's no time to hesitate as they're in the middle of a battle. As I said - a slight difference, but different enough to shift the meaning behind the original dialogue.

Replaying events of the first game also make a lot more sense when you realise you're seeing everything from a new perspective - Your characters perspective. Omega Force have used this time to fully integrate your character into the story, giving you a reason for being there in the first place. After all, being in the same training group as Eren and co makes a lot more sense than being some kind of special civilian dragged off the streets and conscripted for war for example.

That aside, with AOT2 running parallel to season 2 of the Animé, my guess is Koei Tecmo are going to do this with all future titles, likely providing a recap of each previous title in the lead up to whatever Animé season is most relevant at that time. If that's the case, there are many more titles to come, for the Manga is still ongoing.

Graphically, Attack on Titan 2 is stunning. Koei Tecmo did a fantastic job in portraying the characters in Wings of Freedom, did an even better job at portraying the characters in Berserk and the Band of the Hawk and the characters here are so true to the Animé, it's as if they were pulled straight from the show. Every screenshot in this review is one I captured myself, with the intention to drive home just how talented Omega Force are when it comes to Cel Shading. I mean just look at how amazingly detailed these characters are:

So much detail. The essence of each character has been captured beautifully.
The gameplay in AOT2 hasn't changed too much from the first and yet at the same time it has. To elaborate, the core mechanics are there, but instead of square doing all of the grappling and swinging around, you now have two buttons for a more precise and unique experience. Square is used to attach your cables to the environment, while triangle is solely dedicated to the eradication of Titans. Though Titans can be attached to and swung from with square (come on, most are big enough to be considered part of the environment, let's face it), it's triangle you'll want to use to latch onto them.

Targeting hasn't been simpler. L1 is your hard lock-on and the only way to target a Titan. Flicking the right analogue stick to the desired body part while locked on will allow you to change targets, though you have to manually aim away from the Titan you're on if you wish to target another. A little tricky maybe, but you'll adapt easily enough given time.

Additionally, X boosts as before, only this time it works in a straight line. While locked on, all you need to do is move your character with the left analogue stick and your 3D Manoeuvre Gear will do the rest for you, automatically boosting you about in whichever direction you please. I'm usually the guy who hates simplified controls, but here it works beautifully and doesn't detract from the game at all.

AOT2 also features base building - Whenever you rescue a comrade in distress (follow the green flare), you're awarded a signal flare. You use these flares to instantly put up a construction of your choice in one of the many allocated spots scattered across each and every battlefield. I personally found automated turrets and supply bases to be the most useful, each one replenishing your stock to a certain degree. If you regularly put these up you'll almost never have to worry about running out of blades or gas.

Once you get the hang of things (no pun intended), you'll stop swinging into buildings and trees (mostly) as you become quite the proficient Titan slayer. Within each mission you can enlist characters into your five man squad. Each character has their own abilities and where some will heal you or stun Titans with flash flares, others aid with cool team attacks and even their own solo signature finishing moves - Some of which deal colossal amounts of damage.

The scale is impressive.
You can also capture Titans for Hange's research, though I didn't do too much with this because for me, the fun is in the killing here. If you're aiming for fast completion times, the smallest titans can be captured with no effort at all, though you'll usually have to de-limb the larger ones before thinking about pulling them in. Doing so gives you rewards and more resources for the development of better equipment (you'll want to constantly upgrade, trust me), but you tend to gain enough of these as you progress through Story Mode.

New to the series is a new Sneak Attack ability, which is activated by holding R2. Doing so pulls up a scope you can use to aim at and target a far-off Titan, pulling yourself in with triangle for a slick insta-kill animation. Stronger Titans don't always die from this however, but you'll find yourself one-hit killing these monstrosities more often than not.

Unlike the original Wings of Freedom title, player controlled Titan transformation is no longer present in the Story Mode. Instead, it's now exclusive to Attack on Titan 2's Another Mode.

Not a good idea, Jean.
What is Another Mode?
Another Mode is set outside of the main story and at the same time, is fully integrated into it. It's where you'll be going for online missions, game modes and offline Survey missions. Although it carries over your Survey mission completion records from Story Mode and vice versa, the main difference in accessing it here is that you're not just limited to playing your own character.

In offline mode, you can pick from any of the characters you've unlocked and continue through the Survey missions from where you last left off. Unlike Wings of Freedom, Survey missions serve a greater purpose. They advance your friendship rating, earning you more skills specific to each character. I played about with Annie and Ymir and would just like to say how amazing it is to be able to transform. I know you could transform as Eren in the original, but this is Annie and Ymir we're talking about here. Both Annie and Ymir can transform into their Titan forms and lay the absolute smackdown on the opposition. Ymir is particularly vicious. Sadly, I didn't manage to unlock Bertholdt or Reiner at the time of writing this, but I have the sneaking suspicion you'll actually be able to play as the Colossal Titan and if that's the case, it's absolutely madness. Just think of the potential chaos!

A true Soldier takes his secrets to the grave.
The two last points I'd like to touch upon are sound and difficulty. The sound is amazingly crisp and clear and if you reach a point where your gear moves you fast enough, you can even hear the wind rushing past you. Many of the songs have been taken straight from the Animé, with the original sound files and effects created specifically for this game, succeeding in creating a believable and suitable atmosphere.

With easy mode as an option, difficulty isn't an issue. Not one to ever take the easy route, I left my difficulty on the default setting, which provided an almost perfectly balanced experience. With missions increasing in difficulty at the same rate my playing skills and character evolved, nothing felt unfair. The only exception to this is that I finished the Story Mode up to 96% in 16.5 hours. By this point I was level 50. I hadn't done any of the Survey Missions and only had my friendship quest completion at around 42%. Jumping into the final epilogue mission, I quickly discovered I was under-levelled and would need to take advantage of the other gameplay modes before I could return here. Try it for yourselves when the game hits shelves worldwide, but if you don't buy gifts to boost friendship levels or do any of the Survey Missions outside of the main story, you cannot complete the epilogue until doing so. The timer simply runs out beforehand.

Armin and Jean in the Forest of Giant Trees.
This is great for replay value and don't get me wrong, there's a lot of replayability to be had here, but for those of us who want to finish AOT2 100%, prepare yourselves for the grind ahead.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Attack on Titan 2. The controls are different enough that you have to learn from scratch, but once you get the swing of things, you're in for a whole world of fun. AOT2 takes everything the original did well and makes it better. It takes everything the original didn't do well and makes that better too. AOT2 far exceeded my expectations. It grinds its predecessor into dust and has proven itself to be one of the most fun, engaging and rewarding Animé related gaming experiences out there. This is a top game for fans and newbies alike and is one I'll be playing for a long time to come.

Attack on Titan 2 will be releasing next week, April 20th on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, available for purchase from all major retailers.

Not In-Game: I took the above image from the Animé before editing it.
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