November 6 2012
I'm a big fan of the original PlanetSide, so I got caught up in the excitement when SOE started revealing plans for a second installment in the franchise. The game has been in beta testing for quite a while, and last weekend I downloaded a massive patch that added the continent of Amerish, along with a long list of performance improvements and bug fixes. It's current state is probably pretty close to what we are going to get when the game launches later this month.
As I pointed out in my PlanetSide 2 Primer, the core game has many similarities to the first release. You will recognize the 3 factions, most of the vehicles, and so far, even the names of the continents. Once again, you'll be fighting over territory in enormous outdoor environments with hundreds of other players. However, it doesn't take much hands-on time with PS2 to realize that, underneath the hood, it's really a completely different animal.
Graphics and More
Obviously, the graphics are incomparably better than the original, which goes way back to 2003. PS2 takes advantage of current technology which not only makes it look better, but it's capable of rendering explosions, smoke, lighting conditions, and other details in much more convincing ways. The environments are far more detailed and varied, with bases and towers that aren't always carbon-copies of each other. Bases can also be enormous to the extent that it will take a while to get to know them.
The shooting mechanics are greatly improved, which translates into a game that feels more twitchy and has much better ballistics than the first PlanetSide, which made compromises in this area to accommodate the high player count. As expected, physics have also been brought up to date with standards set by current FPS game engines.
There is a semi-realistic flight model in place that grants plenty of freedom for tricks like loops and barrel rolls. It takes some practice to fly with the mouse and keyboard, but it can still be done. While I'm not sure they've found the perfect balance between air and anti-air yet, the last patch brought them a lot closer.
Territorial control is handled quite differently than it was in the original. Rather than capturing facilities by "hacking" them, a proximity-based system is used. A base can have several points that need to be captured to gain full control over it. As well, the map is divided into hexes, each of which provides a resource to players of the controlling empire. Holding a hex gives your faction "influence" over adjoining hexes, which reduces the time required to capture them. This encourages the formation of frontlines in the battlefield. It's possible to drop in behind enemy lines and start taking territory, but it's difficult and you don't benefit from the resources unless there is a hex connection to your empire's warpgate.
There is a lot of potential in this system, although I suspect that there are still significant adjustments to be made before it is working as intended. The lattice system in PlanetSide 1 seemed to work quite well, so many fans would have liked to see a more sophisticated version of that in PS2. I think the hex system stands a better chance of spreading the fight out a little if it gets properly implemented.
Where's My Advanced Mobile Station?
Spawning into the game may seem like a simple thing, but how it is handled is critical to a good experience in this kind of title. You need to get people into the action quickly without allowing them to spam any point on the map with players (excepting their home warpgate, which serves as the Sanctuary in PS2). The spawn system has seen many changes over the course of the beta, and it sounds like they're not finished with it yet.
Like many fans, I lament the absence of the AMS (Advanced Mobile Station), a mobile spawn point that was of extremely high strategic value in the old PlanetSide. They've moved some of its functionality to the Sunderer, a heavily armored personel carrier, but it doesn't create the same excitement as getting an AMS into position and deployed.
The certification system has completely changed in PS2, in part to accommodate their free-to-play business model, but that will have to wait for another article. Watch for the release of this massively multiplayer shooter on November 20, 2012.