I didn’t want to review this until after it had been out for a week or so because much of this game is tied to the community and how many people are playing for each of the three factions. Planetside is a franchise that takes place on a planet where three corporations/governments are vying for total control over the planetary resources. The zealotus Vanu Sovereignty , the authoritarian Terran Republic, and the rebellious New Conglomerate each provide their troops with a wide array of weapons, mobile armored suits and vehicles. Among the three different factions there is a unique reason for each one’s interest in the planet Auraxis but while playing Planetside 2 you begin to lose sight as the never-ending fight soon envelopes you.
Planetside 2 is very much an updated version of the original game that came out in 2003. The game and the world you play in harkens back to the original title in almost every way. Using weapons, vehicles, and attacking enemy strongholds is almost entirely the same even this many years later. One has to wonder if Sony Computer Entertainment took the original idea and just updated it with newer graphics and a slightly updated story. Considering the idea is now outdated and subscribers to the original game have waned has Sony made a good choice in reviving the game almost entirely intact?
When it came out the original Plantside was a game that was truly unique, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that took the FPS genre and opened it up to a world of hundreds if not thousands of players. Now nearly a decade later countless online role-playing games have come and gone with players purchasing them and quickly becoming bored. When a person leaves an MMO they depart for better and newer products. Because Planetside 2 is a free-to-play game it will need to retain its subscribers for a longer period of time and over that time get subscription costs through micro-transactions. If players drop the game after a month the micro-transaction model is already broken for Planetside 2.
The graphics for Planetside 2 are just below top-notch. Not quite AAA material but still able to display easily on a wide range of computers without expensive hardware. Much of this compatibility comes from the fact that the engine seems as though it is an updated version of the original. Explosions deform the atmosphere, environmental effects shape large swaths of land but still the environment doesn’t seem too much different.
The website says that players will fight over expansive deserts, secluded fortresses and massive installations. This is all true but there is also mention of urbanized battlefields and this is something I did not encounter during my entire playthrough of Planetside 2. Auraxis is still an undeveloped colony world and it shows. There is no development, no housing and most importantly no civilian facilities.
The new Forgelight engine displays some radical new achievements in graphics on such a large scale. I didn’t notice any glitches graphically and my gaming experience from beta to release was free of errors or complications.
The environmental effects are simple awesome, some of the best I’ve ever seen. I played a stealth class and that meant long spans of time secluded at the top of a mountain waiting for the perfect shot with a long-range rifle. This vantage point allowed me to see the expanses below and what I saw was glorious. Environmental lighting is not just a fancy word with Planetside 2, you can actually see it! Missiles casting their light on the terrain as they streak towards their unsuspecting targets. In the snowy wastes the auroras over the valleys create a light show on the barren landscape that’s hard to capture in a simple screenshot. In short If you’re looking for an updated FPS MMO with fantastic graphics you can stop here.
What should be the most redeeming aspect of Planetside and Planetside 2 is the gameplay. As one of the three factions you will fight for control over key points on one of three extremely large areas. Snow, jungle and desert environments are equally represented but if you’ve played other MMOs or even Planetside before you’ll feel right at home. If you jumped in a fast airship and pushed out across the play environment it would take you almost 5 minutes to cross the entire expanse even while using speed boosts like afterburners.
It is extremely fun to spawn a Galaxy class transport ship, load it with 12 troopers and pretend to be a Blackhawk helicopter while strafing the nearest enemy base. You can also opt to pilot a Sunderer and ferry half a dozen soldiers in a mobile respawn & supply utility vehicle. Lastly you can go solo as a ground troop & even take to the sky in a light fighter capable of taking down multiple heavy vehicles. This is Planetside’s strength and it excels in providing hours of gameplay through this mechanic, it is easy to log in and get started with a fight any time of day. I had no problem throwing my character into huge battles as late as midnight or even 4-5 in the morning.
Inherently the three factions are equally balanced as far as weapons and vehicles are concerned. Each weapon has its counterpart in the other corporations so you won’t really be bringing something entirely unique to a fight. Because of this equality it does feel sometimes as though the only difference between each faction are the skins and models for the individual items or classes.
As you play you will level your character with certification points and levels. Levels will unlock customization or loadout options whereas certification points can be spent to give you modifications and skills for your character’s weapons and vehicles. Overtime the simple sniper rifle or light machine gun you started with can be modified to be a vicious and tactful weapon.
Sound has long been an overlooked aspect of games with more and more recent titles relying on 3D positional elements and environmental effects to further distort basic sound effects. In Planetside 2 I immediately noticed a key difference from other game engines I had recently played. As an ATV passed by in the valleys around me the low frequencies echoed back and forth on the valley walls creating an haunting echo that could be heard from miles around. I eventually became very aware of the sound and looked for easy prey that I could snipe in the valleys as they passed on the vulnerable but speedy vehicles. Close by the simple ATVs didn’t emit the sound but from a few hundred yards away it sounded as if they were being driven through a large tunnel or stadium.
Airships and vehicles also benefitted from this advanced sound design as the doppler effect and distortion added a certain amount of realism. I would run out to a Galaxy and the jet wash from the repulsors would seem as though it was pulsing over me. This has been a key tenant of Planetside for the last decade, keep it as big and as visceral as possible with the current technology.
My biggest problem with Planetside 2 is probably its only way of making money in the long term. Most of the game’s customization and features are locked behind micro-transaction walls that would take months to unlock without paying a fee. If you’re a new player to the free-to-play genre and you start playing Planetside 2 you might be done with the game after only a few days. Once you’ve unlocked the limited guns and armor offered with the beginning package it could take quite a while to get the next weapon if you didn’t want to shell out money.
A full 3/4’s of the game’s weapons or vehicles are locked behind a wall that most players will never experience if they don’t pay into the game. Admitedly some of the locked weapons and modifications really do expand upon the gameplay mechanics of Planetside 2 but are they enough to entice the average player or will they continue to play for free?
Certain items get discounted every few days with weapons such as the advanced shotgun going on sale during my playthrough. The sale mechanic will certainly increase the rate of micro-transactions but what Planetside 2 really needs is advanced customization, unique skins and custom taunts to compete with other FTP giants like League of Legends or DOTA 2.
ConclusionGreat graphics and sound effects that literally had me stopping in my tracks to admire their effect set this MMO apart in a field of other free-to-play games. The same great Planetside gameplay is there waiting to pull you in if you like piloting ships or building up your character’s profile but the expanded story hinted at in the beta or game lore is completely missing. At time no one seems sure what they are fighting for and most players seem disorganized or unmotivated.
Most of my time spent playing Planetside 2 the last few weeks has been spent wondering why I’m fighting over the same facility or installation day after day. There is little incentive to keep or hold points of interest. There is no resource or reward system to drive the expanded meta-game of this giant free-to-play MMO. If Micro-transactions based on weapons aren’t enough to drive sales in the next few weeks I’d say that this infant MMO is due for some rough patches in the months ahead.
I’ve enjoyed flying ships, ferrying via transports and sniping enemies from hilltops in the past few weeks but now that I’ve experienced the first round of what Planetside 2 has to offer what is next? I may actually sit idle for a few weeks and let my initial investment percolate waiting for new content to come out after the launch. Sony’s MMO FPS has now billed itself as a long-haul game banking its success on micro-transactions so it will be interesting to see what exclusive content is planned to compete with other games soon coming out. Free-to-play MMO shooter DUST 514 on the PlayStation 3 is just around the corner so Planetside 2 may soon have more than just another simple competitor.