Attack on Titan 2 / A.O.T. 2 review: Among giants

The Attack on Titan anime and manga hype a few years back completely passed me by, so reviewing Attack on Titan 2 (or A.O.T 2, as it’s known in Europe and Oceania, presumably for licensing reasons) put me in the odd position of approaching it as a newcomer to the franchise. Some licensed games are great at pulling in new fans—Koei Tecmo’s own Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is a great example of that, while others are squarely aimed at diehard fans, almost to the exclusion of everyone.

Attack on Titan 2 sits somewhere in the middle. Despite being a sequel, it covers the current full span of the anime, from the first episode right up until the end of season 2. As such, there’s no need to worry about missing critical pieces of backstory if you haven’t played the first game; you can jump right in here without being left behind. You’ll quickly get up to speed on the state of a world overrun with deadly, mindless giants (or “Titans”), where the last of humankind live in fear within three massive walls. You’ll go through the escalating conflicts between the titans and the human military, armed with special “Omni-Directional Gear” that lets them zip around like Spider-Men and attack the titans’ only weak spots at the nape of their neck.

On the other hand, trying to cram some 40 episodes worth of anime storytelling into a 12-odd hour action game means a lot of details got cut. From what I’ve heard, the Attack on Titan has a good balance between the intense action and the slower-paced but crucial personal and political drama. Attack on Titan 2 focuses squarely on the action, to the detriment of that other side of the coin. This game puts very little time towards letting characters develop and relationships grow, so it’s hard to care about any of the characters unless you already know them from other media. That pulls the rug out from what should be very dramatic, emotional scenes—Attack of Titan kills off its characters often, and in brutal fashion—leaving them void of the impact they should have.

In a sense, Attack on Titan 2 feels like a Cliff’s Notes version of the Attack on Titan story. It goes through all the key events and introduces you to all the important people, but it’s more of a sweeping overview than any kind of in-depth account of the story from the anime or manga. I often found myself reading episode synopses as I was playing, to get a better understanding of what was happening before me, and that’s not a great situation for a game adaptation to be in.

Attack on Titan 2 makes the somewhat odd choice of letting you create your own character, rather than playing as the protagonists of the source material. You’re framed as a soldier forgotten by the history books, who nonetheless plays a key role in the many battles between the titans and the army. Through that lens, you get to witness the events of the anime series as something of an outsider; you’re not the star of the show, but you play an important role in everything happening the way it does.

For a franchise veteran, that’s probably a fresh, unique take that avoids this simply being another retelling of the same story. But as someone brand new, I found the framing made it even harder to attach myself to what was going on, or to make any sort of connection with the characters driving all the action. It didn’t help that despite my character being a woman, the narrator kept referring to them as “he”, “him”, or “our man”—if you’re going to have different gender options in your character creator, and you’re going to have narration that refers to the player’s character by pronoun, you need to have multiple voice tracks with different pronouns.

In fact, Attack on Titan 2 has a few of these weird little localisation errors. One character is called “Conny” and “Connie” interchangeably, and in a few scenes even gets referred to as a woman, despite clearly being male and being referred to as “he” most of the time. In one battle, I got an alert saying “A group of Eren appears!”—Eren being Attack on Titan‘s main character. There’s only one of him, so how a whole group should appear is beyond me.

What kept me going, though, was how much fun Attack on Titan 2 is to actually play. Omega Force certainly knows their way around large-scale action games, and Attack on Titan is a perfect fit for that setup. As in the anime and manga, combat and mobility are all built around the Omni-Directional Mobility gear, which lets its user grapple between buildings and swing around the environment, Spider-Man style. The only way to take out a Titan is to attack the weak spot at the nape of its neck—far out of reach of a grounded human—so attacking is a case of grappling onto the giant, lining up a good angle of attack, and then reeling in the ODM so you can slash at high speed.

That creates a very unusual, very exhilarating combat experience. It’s neither about big, flashy combos nor slow, methodical weapon physics; it’s all about momentum and lining up the perfect strike. When you get everything just so, you can find yourself zipping from Titan to Titan, rapidly taking them out one after another without ever touching the ground.

Bigger Titans have multiple target points, the destruction of which can make it easier to get to their fragile napes. Destroy a Titan’s legs, and it’ll collapse, unable to move; destroy its arms, and it loses its main form of attack. On the easiest difficulty, you can mostly ignore those and just go for the killing blow right away, but on harder settings weakening the foe first becomes vital.

Attack on Titan 2 doesn’t have traditional health bars, at least for your characters. Titans attack by trying to grab and eat you, and you die immediately if they’re successful. However, should you get grabbed, you can break free by mashing a button, which will leave you alive but in a weakened state until you use a health potion to recover. How easy it is to break out of a grab depends on your character’s stats, but the ideal, naturally, is to make use of your ODM to avoid getting snatched in the first place.

There’s also a light strategy element in choosing how best to use base-building sites scattered about each battlefield. Automated turrets are good at peppering Titans with gunfire, while manual turrets allow for much more damage at the cost of requiring you to operate them. Supply stations are vital for recovering gas (which powers your ODM) and replacing broken weapons, while mines can be a good source of extra materials, which are used between battles to strengthen your equipment. Unfortunately, the impact of these bases isn’t that great, and I found myself only really bothering with the supply stations.

Attack on Titan 2 review

In between battles, you get to spend some downtime in the military base and surrounding town. The main goal of these “daily life” sections is to build up your friendships with other characters by spending time with them; as each relationship levels up, you’ll learn new skills that can be equipped to improve performance in combat. You can also undertake optional Scout Missions to earn some extra rewards—and just to enjoy the game’s combat some more—and in a separate game mode, called Another Mode, you can play as any other characters you’ve unlocked.

That all leaves Attack on Titan 2 in an odd position for me. The combat at the heart of it is fresh and exciting, and enjoyable enough to carry the rest of the game, but the way the story’s been handled leaves me very cold. The game provides a good overview of the Attack on Titan story, but its focus on the action side of things comes at the cost of meaningful characterisation. For fans of the series who already have those bonds with the characters, that won’t be a problem, but it makes it hard for a newcomer like me to get invested beyond just pushing buttons and taking down Titans.

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Attack on Titan 2 / A.O.T. 2 is developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. It’s available now on PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC.

A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.