The problem with Titanfall's Burn Cards

Warning: I'm about to go off the speculation deep end, for a game that's still in beta. The Internet has dredged up nearly every Burn Card available in the Titanfall beta,as seen on CVG News. If you didn't partake in Titanfall's early access extravaganza that's been going on for the past week, here's the skinny: Burn Cards are items you'll randomly collect while playing, and they grant temporary benefits when activated (a la Call of Duty's deathstreaks). But there are a few things that worry me about the Burn Card mechanic--and they hint at some pretty unappealing possibilities that could be bubbling under Titanfall's sleek chassis.

First off, let's look at how Burn Cards actually function. You can equip three Burn Cards per match, and you can only use them once before they go away forever. If you die, the effects of the Burn Card--things like running slightly faster, having an upgraded version of a weapon, or reducing the wait before you can summon your Titan--go away. You have no control over which Burn Cards you get, because they're randomly awarded after each match, based on your performance.

Right away, this creates an imbalance between players, because some will have access to benefits that others do not. In Call of Duty, this is balanced via a limited selection of perks, all of which provide minor, permanent benefits at the cost of giving up the potential advantages of other perks (recent entries give you the full selection right away, letting you pick and choose what you want). Contrast this with Burn Cards, which--if you're horribly unlucky enough--may involve you never, ever getting the benefits you want.

Because your Burn Card goes away when you die, using them becomes an unnecessarily stressful situation. If you take a bullet to the head the instant you use your Burn Card, then ouch--it was a complete waste. If you get a few kills with an Amped Mag Launcher before getting fragged, you'll feel like you should've gotten more. When you aren't feeling the effects of a Burn Card, you'll wish you had one; when you do have one, you'll wish you had an unlimited supply instead of a finite, fleeting taste of greatness. And who could blame you--the Magic: The Gathering-style flavor text at the bottom of each card is totally sweet.

I'll say it again: this is all speculation, gathered from my limited time with a game I'm greatly anticipating. But what really scares me is the Spider Sense-like tingle I'm getting about microtransactions tied to Burn Cards. Nothing--I repeat, nothing--in official statements has indicated that this is a possibility. But randomized, highly beneficial boosts are a staple of the microtransaction model. Of particular interest is the Fast Learner card, which simply grants double XP. This has zero gameplay benefit during an actual match, but it's the perfect way to level up quick and acquire new gear in the process. That kind of convenience is what developers will happily charge money for, free of guilt or retribution from players complaining about imbalance.

Xbox One gamers are no strangers to microtransactions, seeing as they sprout up in seemingly every other game for the console. If microtransactions are indeed the master plan behind Burn Cards, it's entirely possible that we still wouldn't realize it; Respawn Entertainment managed to keep the possible existence of NPC monsters in their game under wraps until Titanfall was only a month away. Seeing Burn Card booster packs for sale would leave a bad taste in my mouth--and distaste like that can hamstring the excitement of an AAA shooter like Titanfall.

I can't wait until Titanfall finally launches, and I fully expect to be playing it a metric butt-ton at release. It's so fine-tuned to make each match feel like a riveting action movie; every kill, capture, and Titan I scored delivered the same overstimulating exhilaration as the scripted moments you see in most single-player games. But I fear that the existence of Burn Cards, and the effect they could have on moment-to-moment gameplay, could take away from that excitement. The last thing I want to think about when playing Titanfall--or any multiplayer FPS, for that matter--is how unfair my situation feels.

Lucas Sullivan

Lucas Sullivan is the former US Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. Lucas spent seven years working for GR, starting as an Associate Editor in 2012 before climbing the ranks. He left us in 2019 to pursue a career path on the other side of the fence, joining 2K Games as a Global Content Manager. Lucas doesn't get to write about games like Borderlands and Mafia anymore, but he does get to help make and market them.