There’s this dreaded three letter acronym floating around in the gaming community, one that puts fear in the hearts of even the most dedicated of gamers; MMO: massively multiplayer online. MMOs are something of a poisoned chalice for game developers; they either go on to accomplish great things and prove hugely successful, or they crash and burn with nary a second thought given.
They’re big games too; they could be full of bugs the development team never noticed, and the cost of their development and maintenance could even end up bankrupting a company. Even worse off are the players of the game, who get labeled as nerds and geeks merely by uttering those three letters. This is often thrown around by the “cool” kids, many of whom play video games from a library restricted to Call of Duty and sports titles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, what if we were to tell you that there exists a game that combines the giant, open-world layout and huge numbers of players normally associated with MMOs with the run-and-gun action of an FPS? If Sony Online Entertainment is a doctor, it has just filled our prescription; meet Planetside 2.
A sequel to SOE’s 2003 PC smash hit Planetside, Planetside 2 offers much the same action as its predecessor, but it has been redesigned for modern gamers’ expectations. The huge scale combat, vehicle battles that would make a Battlefield player’s head spin and the unique territory capture system that made Planetside what it was have returned in all their glory.
Players start off by choosing one of three factions to represent: Terran Republic, New Conglomerate and Vanu Sovereignty - three different groups all eyeing the same prize; the planet of Auraxis which houses alien technology.
The Terran Republic is an authoritarian government that makes use of a strong military to control its people. This is the group that originally landed on Auraxis over 200 years ago and discovered the alien hardware. It was soon discovered that this technology could bring people back to life, which led to civil unrest between certain groups within the Republic. Eventually, two opposing factions were formed: The Vanu Sovereignty, scientists who believe the technology should be used to further the evolution of humans, and the New Conglomerate, pirates who are against the Vanu’s ideas and oppose the Terran’s controlling ways.
You can customize your character’s gender and race, but that’s about as far as it goes, which is unusual for an MMO, but then that’s not the focus of Planetside 2. Once your basic alterations have been made, it’s a case of picking a server and getting ready for action.
The first thing that pops up is a selection screen, where you choose your class and can check out the map. The first thing you should notice is the sheer size of this map. It’s big. It’s the kind of big where you’ll want to use a vehicle to get to your destination or make use of the deployment system. If you enjoy idea of sprinting in to battle you can do that as well. A sniper might kill you since open areas make you a perfect target, but that’s all down to personal preference. You have the option of deploying right into a battle-heavy zone via orbital drop in, but this feature has a 15-minute cool down. Otherwise, based on how much territory your faction holds, you usually have your choice multiple spawn points available, such as your faction’s main base of operations, or an outpost close to a battle zone.
The class selection is pretty standard for an FPS. You can choose from light infantry, heavy infantry, medic, sniper and engineer. Each class comes with a special ability, such as the sniper’s ability to cloak or the light infantry’s jetpack. Having a solid balance of different classes on your team is essential, as a team weighed down with snipers won’t stand a chance against a force of heavily armoured tanks. Try as you might, your sniper bullet will not penetrate that tank’s armour, save it for a more realistic target!
Your battle rank is your character’s level in the game. To level up you need to gain experience, which can be earned through killing players or capturing territories. As you increase your BR, you’ll gain various titles and additional load out and implant slots, which can hold a resource or experience booster item. Capturing territories on foot is troublesome though, as you tend to die. A lot. Whoever decided to pack tanks for the trip was definitely thinking ahead.
Vehicular combat is nothing short of satisfying. Driving up to a giant enemy base in a tank with your teammates alongside you, all well versed and prepared for the battle ahead gives a giddy feeling of destruction. If you prefer the air though, you can always take to the skies with different types of fighter planes to rain carnage upon your enemies. Recently added to the list of vehicles was the Mechanized Assault Exo-Suit (MAX). MAX was originally the sixth class choice, but players soon realized they could do MAX zergs and easily take over a base, which greatly unbalanced gameplay.
What we’ve covered so far doesn’t really differentiate Planetside 2 from any of the other shooters on the market, so what makes it different? Besides being one of the only MMOFPS’ to grace the market, the thing really sets it aside is its territorial captures system.
The continents of Auraxis are divided in to several territories, which are then split in to sectors that can be captured by the various empires. When a sector is captured, the empire that captured gains more resources, which are needed to purchase vehicles. The more important the area captured, the better the reward in terms of experience and resources.
When you capture the territory, you’ll want to hold it as best you can, as territories exert something called influence which directly effects the capture time of bases. If an attacking force’s land surrounds a territory, that territory will be much easier to capture for them. On the flip side, if a territory is deep inside it’s own lines, it will be much harder to capture. This keeps empires on their toes and encourages strategic play rather than random running and gunning.
Of course, we’ve left out the single best part of Planetside 2 - it’s free. As in: no cost. As in go download it right now, you won’t regret it. SOE has made use of the freemium business model for Planetside 2, wherein the game itself is free, but the company charges for micro-transactions via the in-game store. Players can purchase several things in the shop, including visual customizations, unlockables also available through in-game progression, and implants that boost your experience and resource gain. Several games, including Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends, have been making use of this business model to extraordinary effect, so we know it’s something that resonates with gamers. It’s humbling to see another company warm up to the idea, and hopefully will encourage more to follow-suit.
Planetside 2 has a plenty to offer in terms of gameplay, and a huge amount of potential depth to be unlocked in the future. The MMOFPS is still a relatively rare beast, but one with plenty of promise, especially if developed correctly. For now, we have Planetside 2 to keep us company on those cold nights. It’s that itch that’s just been waiting to be scratched.