The joys of organised choas.
There’s something undeniably old school about SOE’s next big online effort. The persistent first-person action multiplayer shooter doesn’t have any NPCs, any kind of progressive plot or even a worthwhile tutorial to explain its existence – instead it just simply is. An arena which can cater for hundreds of players on giant hundred kilometre maps with three factions fighting for control over territory on a beautiful planet in a sci-fi future.
The original Planetside was a little bit before our time, so we didn’t have any preconceived notions of what this sequel actually was, but really that didn’t matter as ten minutes in we were hitching rides on flying APCs tailored for sixteen people, sniping enemies from afar before cloaking into the background and spawning our own custom tanks to get to the action faster. It might be because we’ve played plenty of online shooters before, but we immediately took to Planetside 2.
Even for an MMOFPS, the gameplay is brutally fast paced with dedicated servers ensuring that your projectiles head to where they should, and the easy to understand map in your HUD, ensures you know exactly where the big battles are taking place and can easily commute there. As the environments are so large, vehicles are an absolute must to get around, but every thirty minutes or so you can bypass that annoyance and go for a Hotspot spawn, which drops you right into a battle hotspot (symbolised by explosions on the map), via a orbital drop-pod.
Planetside 2’s greatest asset is its ability to clump players together in order to make grand battles on the scale of the Normandy Landings a regular enough occurrence for you to keep playing. Being part of these massive skirmishes as buggies speed past you and tanks clunkily aim for each other, while grand dogfights take place overhead is the stuff MMO gaming used to aim for, and the Forge Light engine manages the carnage without a groan or chugging.
We’ve seen as many as one hundred players all fighting over ownership on one point on the map, yet there hasn’t been any increased lag or stuttering – for a sequel as beautiful and latency intensive as this game is, that’s mighty impressive. It’s these kinds of moments where Planetside 2 comes into its own, battles where you feel like a tiny component of a much bigger push back against an enemy which is just as numerous and committed as you and your allies. Those moments of heroism, be they reviving an ally or saving a friend from squad of enemy ambushers , stick with you and keep you entertained until the next big battle begins to establish itself. The frontlines are always changing as factions gain ownership over different hexagonal quadrants on the map, by invading a facility and staying around a central point long enough for ownership to switch, but there’s usually a couple of battle hotspots taking place at one time.
This simulated war concept has been tried before, but never on this scale and never with this attention to detail as Planetside 2’s other big strength is its customisation system. Rather than just ‘speccing’ out your soldier, who can switch between Infiltrator, Light Assault, Combat Medic, Engineer, Heavy Assault and the mechanised Max role at will, players can also customise their vehicles with the same amount of minuscule tweaking. Weapons can be switched out and new combat modules can be added to increase speed, tweak durability or change functionality. To do this you just head to the vehicle kiosk, choose your mechanical monstrosity of choice, fiddle with a few toggles and roll out. Again it’s a simple system, but one that means each vehicle in the game should be subtly different from one another. This kind of depth is vital as it adds an extra tactical element to vehicular battle, although each of the game’s factions have their own roster of equipment and expertise.
Thankfully there’s the ability to create characters for each faction – the well funded Terran Republic, mysteriously powerful Vanu Soveriegnty and the likeable New Conglomerate scroungers – so you can find a spec that suits you.
Match this depth with classes which all have their own skill tree – dubbed certifications – which unlock new abilities, gear and weaponry, and you have an MMOFPS where the number of different customisation aspects are so finely tweaked that any player regardless of rank has a set of subtle, yet defined, strengths and weaknesses. This depth is what makes the game stay interesting, as that grand battle narrative gives way to constant strategic obsession; Why did I die? What build did my killer have? What is the best class for this situation?
After spending a weekend with Planetside 2 we can certainly see why some of the older MMO gamers out there are so excited about its return. However we’re a bit concerned with the real cash in-game shop, as it still isn’t implemented into the current build.
That in itself isn’t a problem, but SOE need to be careful that the wares which require actual cash to buy, don’t neuter the progression structure too much or make those willing to part with money more powerful than those who aren’t. It’s worth noting that Sony have a good record in this regard, but it’s clear they’re still plenty of tweaking and balancing still to be done.
We really hope they get the balance right as Planetside 2 has all the makings of a genuine online phenomenon. A fresh voice in an MMO landscape that’s needs innovation arguably now more than ever. From what we played over a very enjoyable weekend, Planetside 2 seems to be exactly that.
Tags: PlanetSide 2
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