Right out of the gate, Attack on Titan was successful in adapting the Grimm-fairy-tale-meets-Band of Brothers anime on which it’s based. For the sequel, Omega Force could have just used the same engine, thrown in some cutscenes from the anime’s second season, slapped a “2” on the box, and walked away. After all, the developer has more or less been doing the same thing over the years with each title in its Dynasty Warriors franchise. But Attack on Titan 2 is a game that has its sights set higher. For one, the inherent rush in charging toward targets at full speed with knives out is spiked with new purpose. This, then, is less a direct sequel than a game that retroactively makes the first one seem like an expensive, protracted demo.
The Attack on Titan anime and manga focus on Survey Corps soldier Eren Yeager and his compatriots, who enlist in the military after their hometown is destroyed. They do battle against massive humanoid monsters with disturbing rictus faces known as Titans, using omni-directional movement gear that allows them to swing across cities like Spider-Man, so as to kill the Titans the only way they know how: severing the spine at the nape of the neck. That mechanic was translated to the first Attack on Titan game in a fun, if shallow, way. This sequel doesn’t rock the boat too much, as the general feel and flow of a battle remains the same, and the sense of speed and swift brutality hasn’t been dulled. The graphics are still a step below cutting edge, with muddy clarity and the occasional choppiness when there’s too much destruction playing out on screen, but the cel-shaded style now benefits from an updated lighting system that bathes stages in beautiful sunset hues.
A few little welcome additions have been made to the combat system. Players can now swing in for a Titan kill after a dodge, or target an enemy’s neck from across the playing field and zoom in at high speed. And the reward for executing such moves is a flashier, more efficient kill. A minor base-building mechanic has also been built into Attack on Titan 2, with players no longer having to just receive items at various points around the map; now you can build automated defense towers to damage Titans the moment they’re in range, or mining outposts to receive more post-battle materials.
Additionally, the Titans’ A.I. has been improved, as the beasts will now fight against their own destruction like terrifying, frightened animals instead of just lining up like lumbering cannon fodder. And with an online co-op mode now incorporated into the mix, coordinating strategy with another human being to take down the Titans is a delight, especially in busy stages where frantically calling out the next target or weak spot becomes paramount for success.
What was altogether missing from the previous title is the source material’s pervasive sense of dread and gravitas, where we watch individuals—many of whom are still teenagers—struggle through all manner of post-traumatic stress to even pick up a sword, let alone swallow their own all-consuming fear to get close enough to a Titan to kill it. In my review for the first game, I wrote that Omega Force would have to transform the game into a full-blown RPG in order to portray that aspect with any sort of power. And, surprisingly, a full-blown action RPG is exactly what the developer has now given us.
Instead of being centered on Eren or his friends, Attack on Titan 2’s narrative sees military brass finding a war journal written by your custom-made character—who, strangely, is always addressed as “him” and “our man” regardless of gender assignment—who grew up in the same village as Eren and his crew, and enlisted around the same time. The game’s early going is a worst-case creative scenario, as your character is essentially Forrest Gump, milling in the background of every Eren-centric scene from the anime’s first season. But after a short time, the game gets you out of Eren’s shadow.
Much of the game is spent on military grounds, between trainings and missions, with your character talking to fellow soldiers. You see the fronts they put up to avoid constantly crying, their determination to train harder, the façades that shatter when they fail. Your interactions aren’t necessarily on the same level as they would be if Telltale was this game’s developer, but your input does matter. Developing an ongoing friendship with a character doesn’t just give the player perks—though those are utterly invaluable—but it gives your missions a personal touch that was wholly missing from the last title.
If a soldier has a name on the field of battle, it’s because you’ve spoken to this person, maybe even given them comfort and the will to carry on. A new feature allows you to lead a small squad into battle, and order them to strike Titans on command. How effective they are at that is completely dependent on the relationship you have with these people outside of combat. The fact that they could simply not be there—that they could be eaten while you’re on the other side of the map from them, just another empty bed when you get back from the front—is a subtly affecting narrative flourish that even some of the more polished war titles out there fail to execute with any great depth.
In addition, your character has his or her own arc: to become a reliable talent who gets the notice of the lauded Scout Regiment from the series. Your relationships and leadership translate into points and perks that can be poured into specific skills, allowing players to become Titan slayers of their own making. But if there’s a major flaw to how Attack on Titan 2 ties these actions into its perk system it’s that many of the material rewards for going above and beyond the call of duty don’t wind up being worth much of anything in the end. Only the rarest of materials allow you to upgrade a piece of equipment even once beyond its base statistic, and stores are extremely slow to bring in new gear that can simply be bought outright.
As a result of so many added narrative parts, Attack on Titan 2 is a considerably longer game than its predecessor, and you’ll spend a lot of time mired in the same season-one story beats that the previous title portrayed in half the time before getting to the season-two story around the 20-hour mark of the campaign. And yet, it’s extra time well spent. Because every hour of the game is padded in purposeful ways, giving profound insight to every second of a grueling struggle against humanity’s extinction, and the brave people risking more than just life and limb to keep their species alive one more day.