By John Shadle (Sephorus), OnRPG Journalist
PlanetSide 2, developed and published by Sony Online Entertainment, is (in case it wasn’t apparent already) the sequel to the 2003 MMOFPS hit PlanetSide. Sporting the same style of three-faction warfare as its predecessor, PlanetSide 2 brings a class system, heavily-improved visuals, and a free-to-play model to the table in order to bring the title into present-day gaming. The title has also gone through some pretty regular content updates and has just seen Game Update 10 roll onto the live servers. Given the changes, I gave PlanetSide 2 a bit of a revisit and, in short, came away pretty damn impressed.
Basic controls, for the most part, are pretty straightforward and should be pretty comfortable to anyone who’s played first-person shooters on the PC before. There’s a few controls and Planetside 2-specifics with a bit of a learning curve – vehicle controls, how to attack and/or defend bases, respawning, the map overlay, etc. While I had planned on noting that my one complaint about the game was a lack of a proper tutorial on such matters, Game Update 9 saw a tutorial added for new characters, so while my initial experience involved stumbling around to learn how things work with a hefty amount of death involved, new players should have a far easier time getting settled into their proverbial boots before touching down on Auraxis. It’s almost like SOE was in my head with this update, really.
… you guys aren’t actually reading my thoughts, are you? Anyways.
Each of the three factions has access to six classes, each with their own equipment list, special ability, and possible functions on the battlefield. The Light Assault comes equipped with a jetpack that can either function as a jump booster or a hover pack (but not both at once), making hit-and-run tactics a viable option and superior mobility their greatest defense. The Heavy Assault, by contrast, swaps out the jetpack for a modifiable energy shield to soak up some additional punishment; they’re also the only class capable of utilizing light machine guns, heavy weapons, and rocket launchers. The Infiltrator has slightly lower health than all other classes, but comes equipped with a cloaking device. They’re also capable of hacking enemy terminals and defenses to open them up for your own faction and are also the only class capable of using sniper rifles. The Engineer comes equipped with a variety of nanite-channeling tools, which allows them to deploy ammunition packs and portable turrets – along with being able to repair friendly vehicles and turret defenses. The Combat Medic sports both a medical applicator and nano-regenerator field devices, allowing them to both heal and revive friendly infantry units. Finally, there’s the Mechanized Assault Exoskeleton – more commonly known as a MAX. The MAX is more of an infantry-sized vehicle that’s capable of soaking up far more punishment than other classes and comes with a weapon held – or mounted – on each hand. However, unlike the other classes, MAX units move far slower, cannot ride in most vehicles, cost precious resources to deploy each time they’re utilized and lack personal shields of any kind, making them less of a regular class choice and more of an option on the battlefield.
Each of the factions has its own array of weaponry that revolves around a particular theme for each empire. Terran Republic weapons tend to feature bigger magazines and higher rates of fire compared to the other factions, making them more capable of laying down a hail of bullets for extended periods of time. New Conglomerate weaponry tends to kick slightly harder, but packs more of a punch than other weaponry, which plays very well to shock-and-awe tactics. Vanu Sovereignty weapons, unlike the other factions, use plasma cores instead of traditional ballistic cartridges, making bullet drop over long distances a non-issue for them. There’s also a small selection of Nanite Systems weaponry, colloquially called ‘common pool’ as all three factions can utilize them. NS weapons tend to feature more attachment options when compared to similar weapons, making them attractive options as multi-purpose platforms, but not as specialized as other choices may be. That’s a key point to make, as no one weapon is superior above all others in all situations – at least, that’s the intent – which makes weapon choice and various attachments more of a sidegrade instead of an upgrade.
Each faction also has an array of vehicles at its disposal, and like weaponry, each can be modified to fill a variety of roles. However, unlike weapons, where most of the options are faction-specific, most of the vehicles are provided by Nanite Systems with a small selection being faction specific. The Flash is a two-man ATV that’s meant more as a personal transport vehicle, but can be modified with a weapon for more hit-and-run tactics. The Harasser is a three-man buggy that seems like the Flash’s big brother that can take a bit more of a beating; additionally, the third seat is large enough to transport a MAX unit. The Lightning is a one-man tank that can be modified with anti-tank, anti-air, or anti-infantry weaponry, allowing it to specialize in shutting down a particular threat or left to be capable against a wider array of targets. The Sunderer is a twelve-person transport vehicle that can be set up as a mobile spawn point, vehicle repair or resupply station, or can be modified to pass through shields around any base controlled by another faction.
The Liberator is a three-man aerial bomber that’s capable of providing a lot of firepower against ground targets, whether infantry, vehicle, or a mix of both. The Galaxy is a twelve-man transport aircraft with enough gunner seats to provide a lot of air support, and is also the only aircraft that allows infantry to safely airdrop by default. Each faction also has a specific two-person heavy tank (the TR Prowler, NC Vanguard, and VS Magrider) and a one-person aircraft (the Mosquito, Reaver, and Scythe, respectively), and while my less-than-stellar piloting skills hasn’t been conducive to trying them out for myself much, the tanks seem more durable and harder hitting than their Lightning counterparts, while the aircraft boast an impressive weapons array and high maneuverability.
Progression in Planetside 2 is pretty straightforward. You earn XP by doing almost anything that helps your faction, and for each 250 XP you earn, you’ll gain 1 Certification Point to spend on unlocking new weapons, weapon attachments, class upgrades, vehicle modifications, and the like – although some unlocks (namely, Squadron Leader abilities) require a certain Battle Rank before purchasing, even if you have the appropriate amount of points to spend. Things like taking down enemy players or vehicles grant a fair amount of XP, but the more support-oriented actions – supplying an ammunition pack as an Engineer, recovering health as a Combat Medic, hacking terminals as an Infiltrator, participating in successful territory captures, etc. – offer XP (and thus, Cert Points) as well. Racking up a certain number of kills with a particular weapon will also eventually earn medals, which award a flat bonus of Cert Points instead of any amount of XP. Two more recent additions to Planetside 2 are the Alert and Ribbon systems. Alerts are periodic contests for one empire to fully capture a given continent in two hours that grant a slight XP boost for actions there and a large chunk of XP to the winning faction. Ribbons are periodic chunks of 250 XP awarded for repeated actions – kills with a particular weapon, certain amounts of damage repaired, etc. – and also grant bonus XP for the first five Ribbons earned in a day.
The actual gameplay consists of each faction attempting to gain control of three continents – the desert-styled Indar, the wilderness-covered Amerish, and the frozen wasteland of Esamir. Each has a variety of facilities to assault and/or defend, and each will provide either aerospace, mechanized, or infantry resources to spend on vehicles or personal equipment (med packs, grenades, C-4, etc.). There’s no overall mission system built into the game (IE: no “attack this base next!” prompt), and while the game’s periodic Alerts tend to focus players to fight over a given continent, the entirety of the action is player driven. This makes the ebb and flow of battles fairly organic overall, and while the possibility of constantly reacting to the unknown might be daunting for some, I have to say that some of the best moments I encountered during my time on Auraxis revolved around either a small faction-versus-faction skirmish turning into a three-way all-out assault over a territory or manning some sort of gunner emplacement and not being entirely sure of the number of targets we’d find over the next mountain ridge. There’s a tension in the random nature of combat on this scale that’s simply not present elsewhere, and it’s nothing short of awesome.
Graphically, Planetside 2 is running on SOE’s proprietary Forgelight engine, and while I couldn’t possibly give you appropriate technical specifications of its capabilities, I can tell you that it’s able to support a lot of moving targets at once and look damn good while doing it. Bullets can be seen whizzing across the battlefield, explosions off in the distance (or up close, if you’re unlucky!) will light up the area, and various plasma emitters, generators, and forcefields give off an eerie glow – all of which is even more striking if you’re dealing with a nighttime assault. While long-range targets can render a little less cleanly if you look closely enough, it does little to detract from the fact that, from the landscape to the various bases to the vehicles and troops out to conquer said landscape, everything in Planetside 2 looks pretty damn impressive.
The audio work in Planetside 2 is equally as excellent. There’s not a large amount of musical score – which is understandable as it could block out more critical sounds in a firefight – but the brief clips you hear for each faction during character creation/selection, redeployment, and base capture go a long way towards establishing a theme and identity for each faction. More prevalent are weapon sounds, which are fairly distinct for not only each faction, but each class of weapon as well. Pay attention enough and you’ll pick up some differences between, say, an NC carbine and an NC assault rifle. For the most part, there’s an appropriate amount of audible oomph that accompanies each pull of the trigger – Vanu’s plasma weaponry being a sole exception I can think of, but can’t really call a complaint as they’re apparently looking at a sound retooling for VS weaponry ‘soon’. Still, overall, it’s impressive ear candy.
The cash shop in Planetside 2 is one that, truthfully, strikes a very good balance between selling useful items and not simply selling power. Most weapons, whether for infantry or vehicles, can either be purchased with Certification Points or Station Cash, although there’s a few visual-upgrade models that are Station Cash only. Weapon attachments, class upgrades, and deployable weapons (grenades, mines, etc.) can only be snagged with Cert Points, so while it’s possible to throw down hundreds of dollars to unlock every weapon available, you’d still have to rack up enough XP to modify those weapons into something more useful than the stock model. There’s also a few consumable boosts and a large assortment cosmetic items – helmets, camo patterns, vehicle dashboard trinkets, etc. – in the cash shop, so there’s a bit for people to spend SC on if they’ve already gotten their weapon of choice. Overall, it’s a pretty good implementation.
All in all, Planetside 2 is one hell of a game – and one that caught me completely off guard, given that I normally am not a fan of purely-competitive shooters. Once you get past the steep learning curve (which should be easier now, given the tutorial), there’s enough fun to be had on Auraxis for a myriad of playstyles. I can’t call it a perfect game, if only because I know that not everyone is a fan of first-person shooters. If you are, though, it’s worth an extended stay on Auraxis, or at least a brief check-out given the low entry price of free. Regardless, Planetside 2 is a game that I simply cannot recommend enough.