Review: PlanetSide 2
Sony Online Entertainment
Sony Online Entertainment
First-Person Shooter, Massively Multiplayer RPG
Review copy provided by the publisher
The original PlanetSide was an answer to a question many gamers have asked while playing shooters – why am I limited to only a few dozen people to shoot on this server? By throwing hundreds of players into the same area and forcing them to work together to kill one another, the original accomplished something unique in the MMO world, a working MMOFPS. It had it’s share of problems, but in general offered a unique and fun experience, attracting both MMO fans and shooter fans.
Things started getting a bit silly when the giant robots arrived, and the planet players are on just happened to explode. Fans started to drift away, and the game languished, without a free to play or Station Pass option the game languished as mother Sony Online Entertainment shoved it into a corner to pay attention to her more popular children. PlanetSide 2 is here though, and so is a new era for the game, and the MMOFPS genre, and it’s swinging for the fences.
The first thing you notice about PlanetSide 2 is of course the graphics. Sony has used it as a proving ground of the new Forgelight engine to prepare for their flagship sequel, Everquest Next, though you won’t hear anyone complaining because it looks stunning. MMO graphics are traditionally a bit cartoony or behind the times to help with the fact that there will be so many players to display. Sony seems to have gotten around this problem by simply telling everyone with an older system to go take a hike.
The minimum requirements for the game are rather steep, especially on the graphics cards. If your card predates DirectX 11, there’s a very good chance the game simply won’t load up for you, so do check the list on their website before purchasing. This isn’t the first time Sony has done this with MMOs, so it’s not totally unexpected, just a pain for those who have been putting off upgrading for one reason or another.
Speaking of MMOs, it’s important to recognize what makes this game different from, say, World of Warcraft. Even more so now than in the original, your level or battle rank means just about nothing. A level one player can kill a level twenty simply by shooting him in the face. While in the original, additional levels brought more certification points to allow more types of weapons to be used at once, this has been decoupled in the sequel. Certification points are now gained separately and cannot be re-allocated.
Much to my chagrin, PlanetSide 2 does have a class system, unlike the original. They’re basically the same classes one might expect to find in a first person shooter game, assault, engineer, medic, sniper. Instead of just throwing on whatever weapons you desire, PlanetSide 2 now restricts you to those appropriate to your class, but it’s not all bad. There’s a wide range of options for each class that can be unlocked and upgraded with certification points.
It was about this time in my exploration of the game that an eerie feeling of familiarity crept over me. A little while later when I was adding upgrades to my first sniper rifle it finally hit, I was playing Battlefield 3 in space. Yes, PlanetSide 2 has grown up and matured from the bright eyed and innovative child to the efficient corporate drone. This is not exactly a negative though. Many of the extreme customization features of the original made the learning curve too steep, and with the changes, Sony is clearly intending the game to reach a larger audience, which means more success, support, and content hopefully.
The game is also much more streamlined than its predecessor. With less than half of the vehicle types of the original PlanetSide, one might look to the stripped down free to play Tribes Ascend for comparison, but I don’t think that applies here. Yes, PlanetSide 2 may look like it was chopped down at first, and it is free to play, but the reduction in vehicles is not what it initially seems like. Veterans of the first game will remember that there were so many we almost never used, and when they were used, it was just for a ride to the next base and a ditch.
PlanetSide 2 has far fewer vehicles available to the player, at least for now, but makes use of them much more thoroughly. For instance, the “get me there faster so I can shoot things” vehicle line has been reduced to the nimble Flash ATV. Even many smaller outposts have the ability to spawn one, and with no requirements and barely any resource costs they make a great way for players on their own to get around. So while there are less vehicles, nothing of real value has been lost.
Resources are one of the few truly new features to the game, they are gained by holding territories on the map, and spent on vehicles and infantry power armor like the MAX suits. This is one of the ways in which SOE intends to draw profit from the player base as well. Subscribers will gain resources at an increased rate, and have a higher capacity stockpile them for later. While I imagine the rates are still being adjusted, I never had much of an issue obtaining a vehicle that I wanted, so I worry that they might loose out on revenue here, or squeeze the player base too hard.
One thing veterans will notice right away about the vehicles is the Advanced Mobile Station is gone. The AMS was a deployable spawn point on wheels that was a crucial necessity for invasions. In PlanetSide 2 however, the Sunderer “Battle Bus” and Galaxy transport aircraft can both be deployed as an AMS when properly upgraded. The benefit here is that a team can move in together, deploy the vehicle, and have a respawn point nearby for their operations.
Vehicle upgradability and customization is something that’s also new, and gives a new twist to the game. While tank columns are common sights, before you could take one on knowing what to expect. Now, it may be dangerous to attack from the air if some of the tanks have replaced their gunners seat machine gun with a flak gun. As with everything in the game, the customizations will not allow one tank to excel against everything, but rather start as a generalized jack of all trades, and grow into a specialist killing machine that can work as part of a larger group.
Vehicles aren’t the only thing that have a specialization however, your choice of empire will have a huge impact on all weapon and vehicle choices available. It’s no longer three different colors with different tanks and heavy weapons, everything now bears some marks of your empire’s choice. While unlocking new weapons will help suit any play style, ultimately you will have to make a choice when starting out.
The Terran Republic focuses on fast firing weapons with large clips and low damage, perfect for spray and pray. Even their tank has two barrels instead of one, so you’ll have two weaker shots to pound the enemy with. The empire’s aircraft, the Mosquito, is fast and nimble, but lacks armor. I loved their semi-automatic sniper rifle with a generous clip. While it took several shots to down a person, missing one or two wouldn’t be a catastrophe. Plus, being the “bad guys” is always fun too.
The New Conglomerate were perhaps my favorite, known for their shotguns and brutal firepower above all else. Everything they have is focuses on heavy armor and high damage. Smaller clips and longer reload times mean accuracy is critical, especially when using the bolt action sniper rifle as I did, but it can pay off in other ways, such as the heavily armored Reaver aircraft and it’s ability to linger long enough for devastation rocket salvos.
Finally the Vanu Sovereignty are the ones obsessed with alien tech, and while this is more cosmetic then anything else, they do generally have a nice balance between the other two empires, with some interesting bonuses. For instance, their tanks, the Magrider, can hover, allowing it to glide across water and rough terrain and get into firing positions impossible for other tanks. It’s only drawbacks are light armor and a turret that cannot rotate.
The story this time around is quite literally the same. Instead of being a sequel, PlanetSide 2 is more of a re-boot. Auraxis (not Arrakis, there’s no spice or worms) is found by the Terran Republic through a wormhole. They discover alien technology to store and clone minds and bodies quickly, effectively giving a person immortality. When the wormhole closes, dissidents break off from the oppressive Terran Republic and the war begins. Not much in the way of story, but hey, you’re not really here for that.
There is plenty to conquer though, with a few continents that we’ve already seen being quite enjoyable. Instead of the old maps with a few bases linked together, requiring them to be captured in order, PlanetSide 2 has large open maps roughly divided into thirds for the empires, with the usual base types and towers, but also many smaller outposts in between. The bases themselves have shrunk to be much more manageable While a bit of the fun of siege warfare is lost, it’s much easier to defend a base with only a dozen people rather than needing several dozen.
Amerish, a lush green map, Esamir’s icy tundra, and Indar’s desert wastes are all primed and ready to go for launch. The exclusions of the other four known continents may be a bit of a red flag for veterans, but SOE has confirmed all but Cyssor will eventually appear in the game. Honestly, there’s enough already that starting with three will be good enough I feel. Especially as a sniper, I got a good feel of the terrain, and I can tell it was crafted with care. Someone took the time to stand on each hill and say “Ok, who can I shoot from here?”
Yes, in this case it’s definitely quality over quantity. The trickle of new contents will also help keep the player base motivated. Part of the problem here is the same as the original, there’s never a “winner.” Once you’ve fought over the same base a thousand times it looses it’s luster. New areas should help keep things fresh, along with new vehicles as long as they’re careful to balance them with what’s already available. The addition of giant mechs called Battle Frame Robotics created a severe imbalance in the first game.
New content may also be paid content, which would be sold through the Station Cash store. They’ll definitely need something, since the current offering are a bit slim. Subscibers get a boost to experience, priority login and some offline leveling, along with additional resources, but nothing that gives a real concrete advantage. While you can buy weapons and skins with Station Cash, upgrades must be earned. It keeps things fair but may not be the best for Sony’s wallet. The FPS community is used to moving from game to game, I worry that PlanetSide 2 may not be able to hold the non-MMO crowd and will need to squeeze it’s loyal players more.
Looking at the big picture, PlanetSide 2 is a major improvement over the original. While it is no longer quite the unique game it used to be, it’s also good to have a game that will be trying to attract a larger base of players. There are less choices in weapons and vehicles, but the customization of them makes up for it. While there are fewer continents, their size and detail provide more than enough content for the game to get off the ground. I have my doubts about how the game will hold up in the market, but overall it’s a solid piece of work.
If you’re a fan of the original, PlanetSide 2 will fit like a glove and you’ll be a killing machine in an hour once you learn some tricks and un-learn a few others. For new players, it’s simple enough to hit instant action and run in shooting. Find an outfit fast though as the real enjoyment of the game comes through teamwork, and the game is designed so you can’t kill your way through the hordes of enemy players alone. It’s still possible to work solo, but less so than even in the original, where a cloaked infiltrator could capture a base with a hacking tool and their knife.
Sony has a rough road ahead to make the free to play game successful. They will need to fine tune resources and station cash to make it profitable without choking players. They will also need a continuous drip of new content, more so than a normal MMO game to keep things fresh. Events and additions will be critical to the game’s long terms survival. If the support stays, so will the players, but I fear things will dry up quickly without fresh content.
In closing, PlanetSide 2 is a large leap ahead for the series and the genre. More than just a remake with a fresh coat of paint, but not exactly groundbreaking on it’s own. The game has a few minor bugs left to iron out, but none that should noticeably impact players. The beta was well polished which leaves me very confident that the product will ship in excellent condition. Fans will love it, if they aren’t getting their guns loaded already, and new players will find a fun, challenging and mind-bendingly massive arena for team warfare on a scale not seen elsewhere.