Since the original Planetside hit PCs in 2003, all other attempts at creating a massively-multiplayer first-person shooter have largely been considered unsuccessful. Taking something as focused and direct as the first person shooter genre and adapting it to large-scale, open combat scenarios is a daunting concept in itself, let alone making it a persistent online experience. SOE took what they learned from the original game and adapted it to fit the spirit of Planetside while also integrating advances in modern gameplay and technology using their proprietary engine Forgelight.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, the world of Planetside 2 is enormous. In the portion of the game that we were shown, creative director Matthew Higby took to the skies in his helicopter (one of many customizable vehicles in the game) and flew through a battle that was taking place in a canyon between two bases. Throughout the course of this battle, the world turned dark--thanks to the game’s realistic day/night system--showing the true brilliance of Planetside 2: huge battles that take place whenever and wherever players meet.
It was only when the sun went away that I was able to truly realize this as the onslaught of glowing rockets flew across the screen toward the enemy battalion quickly closing in. Despite this battle only involving thirty players--as opposed to the theoretical thousands that SOE claims will be able to participate at once--it felt as though the player’s actions really mattered in the overall scheme of things. Whether they were involved in ground combat or were circling the skies above in gunships taking out enemy tanks, their actions had great impact on the situation at hand.
Events are always happening in Planetside 2 that permanently effect the world for other players. If a group of players capture a base, they are in charge of that territory. They gain the resources that are available from that area of the world, which can later be used to purchase in-game items that don’t directly influence gameplay, and are in charge of protecting it from future enemy attacks. Each of these territories are about the size of a typical Call of Duty or Battlefield map, but there isn’t a set plan for how the battle needs to take place.
If players are attempting to take over a base and realize that they are outnumbered, they can simply retreat back to one of their bases and try again at another time. Player guilds can even decide to pull a surprise attack late at night, sending the defending faction scrambling to get more players online to join them. Each base capture is such a small area of the map that--with each of the three factions constantly trying to take over the entire continent--gives the factions an always moving front line offensive that brings an almost Risk-like strategy element to the way that factions plan their battles.
The gameplay feels very similar to the Battlefield series, in that players must balance their focus between the large-scale vehicle battles and the close-quarters base takeovers. There are a variety of different vehicles that players can customize and bring into battle, but they seemed to be more useful for just getting between places and for the random battles that take place in the wastelands. Vehicle customization offers a few different options and even allows multiple loadouts per vehicle, but it doesn’t seem to be anything beyond cosmetic changes.
Weapon and character customization seems to be the same way, with nothing beyond making a gun look pretty or trading the rate of fire for lower damage. It seems as though the customization elements are more thrown in to allow room for microtransactions, which Higby claims will only be for cosmetic items and nothing that has an influence on gameplay.
Since the persistence of Planetside 2 is such a big part of the experience, SOE is launching an online ‘hub’ similar to Call of Duty Elite that allows players to check battle stats, character information and the state of their online world. This allows people to follow the game’s activities more closely and even see when their guild needs help defending against an enemy attack. Due to the strong community presence that the original Planetside had, SOE has taken all these tools that they created and will release them to the public so that web and app developers can create both new ways to use the information and new ways for players to access it.
The return of Planetside is a pretty big deal for PC gaming and with what we’ve seen so far there’s no question as to why: it’s more Planetside. But there’s still questions that need to be answered and technical aspects that need to be addressed. For Planetside 2 to succeed SOE need to hit this multiple thousand player threshold, but we still haven’t seen any indication of what it will look like with more than 30 people in a world at once.
That’s the kind of thing that will make or break the experience for players, and it needs to be a primary focus for them. I’m hopeful that this will be addressed in the coming months leading up to release through a beta or some other form of exhibition. Because at this point, a free-to-play MMOFPS doesn’t mean anything if there is no one to shoot at.