Planetside 2 – Review
In 2003 I played a game that I really loved. It was from one of my favourite developers at the time, the people who had produced one of the best sandbox games I’d ever played, set in a galaxy far, far away. The game itself provided the same type of sandbox gameplay, but from a first-person perspective. You were an immortal soldier, thrown into an endless war against other immortal soldiers, fighting over kilometres of terrain in bases and outposts. On the ground and in the air, that war still rages, even now. That game was Planetside, from Sony Online Entertainment, more commonly known as SOE, and it, along with a few other games, defined an era in my gaming life.
To say I was a little excited by the news of a sequel is something of an understatement. The original Planetside delivered a solid online FPS experience, with hundreds of players a side, while still having an interesting, strategic side-game, not only at a squad level, where tactical play was rewarded, but at an overarching strategic level, where commanders could manage platoons on a continental and global scale. Admittedly, the visuals dated rather quickly as the game was designed for hundreds of players, playing online with machines of the day. It was not without its faults, however, and as with many online shooters the players who knew their way about would find it incredibly easy to pick off the newer players, leading many to become discouraged by the near continuous deaths.
Still, what it did well, it did very well and many players were left caring deeply about the particular faction they were in, joining guilds for life and taking part in battles that could last for hours at a time. In the years since, Planetside has become a bit of a distant memory for me. A time I remember fondly, but vaguely. Still, I remember that sense of camaraderie with my fellow soldiers, friends I had made on voice chat and that, above all else, there is no greater feeling than performing a well-executed galaxy drop and capturing a base. SOE faced an uphill battle to win over the old timers who wanted nothing more than that same tactical gameplay and the new Call of Duty generation of FPS players, who want slick shooter mechanics. To me at least it seems that Planetside 2, released December 2012, was punted straight down that middle ground.
Despite the two at the end of its name, Planetside 2 is, in fact, a remake of the original. The story remains more or less the same, although this has been fleshed out by Marv Wolfman, author of comics like Crisis on Infinite Earths. In short, Earth has united under the banner of the Terran Republic. Following a disastrous expedition into a newly discovered wormhole, stranded survivors settle on the planet Auraxis. Around 150 years after these events, a war breaks out between three major factions among the settlers. The authoritarian Terran Republic, corporate New Conglomerate, and the technologically advanced Vanu Sovereignty, continue the war for another 150 years, and with the advent of rebirth technology the war becomes endless as soldiers return to the fight as soon as they die.
Strangely though, much of this story is not in the game. Detailed short stories and lore entries on the Planetside Wiki are all you will have to go on, and this background info is really left to the player to find. It’s hoped that Marv Wolfman will continue to develop the storyline as the game continues, something that was missed in the original, where new story content would only really be issued around the release of a new expansion. Still, in a game like this, story is not the main driver of gameplay, which remains the joy of shooting an enemy in the face… with a tank.
As I said above, to please both the old guard and the new generation of FPS player, SOE would have to create a game that captures the sense of tactical gameplay that made the original unique, while creating a slick modern-day shooter. It seems they have done at least part of this and combat is brought right up to the standard you would expect today. If you have played Battlefield or Call of Duty then you will have a very similar experience running around in Planetside 2. There are issues, however, and the game currently has quite a high spec PC requirement to run it well. If you happen to come in slightly under this spec, the game can be unplayable, especially considering its online nature – no one wants to play a jittery first person shooter, and in a brutal online environment you won’t last very long.
Weapons and vehicles make up the bulk of what you will use to crush your enemies. Planetside 2 has both in spades and players have access to a number of classes: Infiltrator, Combat Medic, Light Assault, Engineer, and Heavy, and all factions have their own unique MAX suits. The classes are pretty self-explanatory, but the MAX is a signature of the original Planetside. Think Iron Man with his wings clipped; these mobile weapon platforms are the battering-ram of the infantry forces, often used to break through lines of well-entrenched troops defending facilities. Each class has its own unique role in combat, as you would expect, and players can switch between them at any time if they can find a resupply terminal or when you respawn.
Weapons are unlocked through each of the classes by using certification points (the equivalent of skill points), or by spending some Station cash. Scopes and other useful attachments, like the under-mounted grenade launcher, can also be unlocked through cert. points. The classes also have a number of upgrades that players can apply, ranging from minor stat bonuses to utility weapons, such as the medical applicator, or even extra grenade slots. Loadouts can be set to allow for speedy resupplying and additional slots are unlocked as you gain experience and level up. There isn’t much here that you won’t have seen before if you have played games like Call of Duty online.
Vehicles are a vitally important part of Planetside 2, not just in the previously mentioned crushing of your enemies, but to support your allies. Each side has its own empire specific heavy tank and fighter aircraft, while all sides have access to the utility vehicles and more standard transports. Vanu vehicles are quick and manoeuvrable; the Magrider is a hover tank that skims along the ground using an anti-gravity generator, allowing it to quickly traverse difficult terrain. The New Conglomerate focus on heavy armour and slow-firing heavy-hitting weapons, meaning their Vanguard tank is a tough nut to crack. The Terran Republic use weapons with a high rates of fire, and while their Prowler tank has reasonably thick armour, it is also bristling with guns. All players can spawn a utility vehicle, the Sunderer, which acts as a transport and anything from a mobile spawn-vehicle to a repair-and-rearm station.
Where the game differs from others is in its enormous scale, and with that scale there is not only the visual impact of hundreds of players piling in to a fight, but the sense that you are an important part of that fight. You are not just a guy running around a map shooting others in the face for points. If you fall, the enemy might break through the line, they might flank around and take out the spawn site for this particular area and cause the entire front to have to fall back. The player becomes part of a massive rolling warfront.
The game is currently split across three continents; the deserts of Indar, Hoth like Esamir and temperate mountainous Amerish, are all around 64km2 each and can hold about 2000 players. Each map contains three warp gates, the equivalent of a faction home base, which acts as the foothold that troops use to advance out and capture small outposts, towers and the large base complexes. Each faction can only be pushed back as far as the warp gate, however, meaning they can never be completely thrown off a continent.
Capturing a facility at a squad level works just like any other FPS; players fight to control points inside a facility, the more players of a particular faction standing on that point, the quicker the capture bar moves down. In the large complexes, routes in to the central control points are protected by base shields and vehicle spawn points. Players then have to take down the generators of these shields so that they can gain access to the capture points, also attempting to take down the generator powering the base-spawn rooms, cutting off the defenders’ reinforcements. At the continent level, all facilities are linked together, each with a hexagonal influence range that connects it to other facilities nearby. To capture a base quickly you have to have territory connected to it. The larger complexes inside your territorial influence provide continent-wide bonuses, such as access to the heavier vehicles or faster respawn times.
Unfortunately, at the minute, the current system is a boiled-down version of this base capture meta game found in the original Planetside, which has left a number of old school players feeling a little left out in the cold. That’s not to say the new system doesn’t work – because it does – it’s just nowhere near the depth that was found in the original. Hopefully this is something SOE will address soon and eventually the older players will feel comfortable joining the game.
One area in which the game has had a very shiny new upgrade is in its engine and graphics. Using SOE’s new ForgeLight engine the developers have created quite a stunning looking game. When played on full settings at night the game takes on a whole new dimension as plasma weapons and missiles light up the night sky. The day/night cycle means that on some maps incredibly easy day time battles become completely different when fighting at night. Players have to invest in thermal and night-vision scopes for their guns or risk being at a huge disadvantage. All of this adds another element to what can be quite a random game, in which the player can have very similar fights over the same base complex or a completely random fight that happens in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
That being said, the new ForgeLight engine is also blamed for a number of problems players are having. As I said before, if you don’t have a decent system to run this, you will struggle and there are only a really low number of graphics cards properly supported. SOE are making moves to resolve these issues and to optimise like crazy, but the question is will they do this quickly enough to keep their initial player surge interested?
Luckily for SOE this may not be a problem, as they have opted for the free-to play-model. As many MMORPG/FPS players will know, this often means that players accessing the game for free are usually at a huge disadvantage over others. This is something I feel SOE have done right with Planetside 2, however, as from the get go you can create an account for free and, with the starter weapons, kill players who have been around for months. The only advantage to subscribing is getting access to weapons and certification points more quickly, which don’t really matter if you are just not that good. I’ve been playing for about two months now as an unsubscribed player and can still go toe to toe with a subscribed battle rank 40 player. The only thing holding me back is my complete lack of FPS skills.
Beyond everything I’ve mentioned, there is one thing you have to remember with this type of game. Due to its nature it’s as much a co-op game as it is a player verses player experience. You work with your empire to battle the others, but much of the fun comes from joining an outfit – Planetside’s name for a guild. Being on VOIP and celebrating with your team mates as you take over a base, or take out that enemy tank with a lucky missile strike, is actually what this game is all about. That’s not to say you can’t jump on for an hour or two and quickly get into combat, but part of the enjoyment is the community and camaraderie, fighting alongside your squad mates. The Planetside 2 developers have recognised this and included some of the best integrated voice over IP tools and even video capture tech for those wannabe YouTube stars.Pros
- Epic scale
- Stunning visuals
- Huge scope for character customisation
- Galaxy drops!
- Requires a decent PC to play
- Lack of story in the game leaves you questioning the purpose of all the fighting
- Some of the vehicles are currently over-powered and one or two don’t have much use at all
- A number of bugs
At its core, Planetside 2 is a solid first person shooter. It delivers not only exciting combat on a truly grand scale across beautiful maps, but allows the more strategically minded players to get involved in commanding the men and women of their faction. There are issues and it is by no stretch the perfect example of an FPS; as with any MMO, post launch, there are some bugs and they will likely take time to resolve. Not only that, but the technical spec needed to run the game is still very high for something that should be aimed at a very wide audience.
I have only been playing the game for around a month or so but I’ve seen and been involved in combat that I’ve not experienced outside of the choreographed set pieces of Call of Duty or Battlefield. This all happens at random in Planetside 2 and no shooter can match it for its scale. One minute you could be flying out of the warp gate on your way to an outpost and the next you are part of an armour column laying siege to a facility, all the while your actions effect a massive overarching ground and air war that continues after you log off. The game is rarely the same day to day and that is what makes it just like that old sandbox game from 2003 that I loved so much.
Ultimately, if you like shooters this game is a must play and it won’t cost you a penny. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be with the Long Forgotten Soldiers over on Miller, bringing the enlightenment of Vanu to some cave dwellers.
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