December 7 2012
A lot of so-called massively multiplayer games these days really don't feel all that massive. There might be a thousand people in the chat lobby, but the battlefield itself rarely accommodates more than 64 players. The PlanetSide franchise has long stood out as an exception to that, and PlanetSide 2 is stretching the boundaries once again.
PlanetSide 2's new player experience is not the friendliest. After an appropriately brief character creation process, you are pod-dropped into one of game's "hot spots" where an almost certain death awaits, in part because you have no chance to configure your keyboard and mouse settings before this happens. If it's your first time in, note that you have some control over the pod using the WASD keys, and it's extremely lethal; any hostile unit you can hit with it is toast.
It's a harsh introduction, but then again, Auraxis is a harsh world. Aside from a few video tutorials that nobody watches, PlanetSide 2 largely leaves it up to you to figure out how it all works. Fortunately, if you've played a shooter before, the basics will come quickly. However, a lot of the game's key elements go completely unexplained, so learning the base layouts, the significance of shield generators, and the finer points of capturing territory does take a while.
PlanetSide 2 delivers on scale that very few games can match, with vast seamless continents that make Battlefield 3 maps seem small by comparison. As many as 2000 players can be engaged in the fight over one of these land massives, and while you won't see them all at once, it can still be very taxing for the average gaming PC when the action heats up. The shooting mechanics are solid and the graphics are remarkable, although you're likely going to experience the occasional spike of lag given the sheer number of players involved.
With infantry, ground vehicles, and aircraft, combined arms is a central feature of PlanetSide 2. The game makes it quite easy to go from packing a rifle to manning a turret or driving an ATV with a standard set of mouse and keyboard controls. Flying can also be done with mouse and keyboard, and given that the game's joystick/gamepad support is not great right now, I've been adjusting to the standard controllers.
As you can imagine, with such a wide range of weapons and vehicles all interacting with each other, there is endless debate about balance on the official forums. There are definitely areas that could use improvement, it won't be easy in a game of this scope, and it will be further complicated by the free-to-play business model. Expect every new vehicle and weapon added to the game, as well as every change to an existing item, to spark controversy.
In PlanetSide 2, you can win a battle, but by design, you can't win the war. While territory changes hands, the match never ends. The maps are divided into hexes and bases which are captured via proximity to a collection of control points. You often need to capture several points to capture a base, and they're almost always tucked away in a room that only infantry can reach. Given that there is currently no way to "lock down" a base for any length of time, there tends to be an excessive amount of capture point flipping. One side takes a point only to find it being contested again a minute later, and from there it quickly devolves into a game of whack-a-mole.
In some ways, the lattice system used by the original PlanetSide produced epic battles on a more regular basis, but they still happen in the sequel. I think the game would benefit tremendously from a slightly more sophisticated territorial control system, possibly employing some of the mechanics of the earlier lattice approach.
The Bottom Line
There is no doubt that PlanetSide 2's massive battles give it something that the average FPS, no matter how well executed, can offer. While bullets are flying around inside, tanks outside are engaged in a tug-of-war, and aircraft are exploding overhead. It's a glorious thing when in all comes together, even though it feels like there's a lot of work yet to be done. That may just be a sign of the times in this free-to-play day and age, when developers naturally want to know if a title is going to get any traction before sinking too much money into it, and gamers can try the game before voting with their wallets. For shooter fans that are ready to crank it up a few notches, PlanetSide 2 is not to be missed.