I noticed a few weeks ago that some of the news sites had picked up on the story that SOE has been poking around about Planetside 2 lately, in particular by putting out a survey to gauge interest in it and, probably more notably, figure out how to improve things for the sequel. I’m generally pretty excited about the possibilities of the MMOFPS genre’s future but until hearing about this seemingly sudden interest in developing a sequel to Planetside I wasn’t very optimistic about it. It seems as if many non-massively multiplayer FPS games like the Battlefield series and its imitators are delivering more massive, semi-persistent FPS experiences than some of the new and upcoming MMOFPS titles. Planetside, it seems, was one of the few games to actually deliver on the concept. Sure, there are other games that could be considered both FPSes and MMOs but most of them (i.e. Neocron and the newly released Fallen Earth) feature RPG elements much heavily in the mix than Planetside ever did.
“Staring up in awe as a friendly Galaxy dropship’s pilot ejects, sending it crashing directly into my face.”
Do I sound like I’m gushing about Planetside yet? Good. I’m a big fan of the game. I’d have to admit that it’s highly flawed in many respects, but not only did I love my time in the game (and I’ve gone back to it many times!) but it also holds some of my best online gaming memories. It’s also where I met The Praetorian Guard – a clan/guild that I ran with for several years in quite a few games, many of the members of which I’m still in contact with.
“A rare meet up with enemy soldiers in a Warp Gate’s safe zone.”
Let me try to briefly sum up the game for those who had never played it: The player picks one of three factions to fight for that each have their own distinct look as well as some faction only weapons and vehicles. Players are awarded “certification points” as they level which allow them to purchase different “certifications” that let them use certain types of weapons, vehicles, and utility items which include things like medical, repair, and hacking equipment. Players are also awarded a few “implants” along their character’s progression which they can select from to give them additional special abilities. This is one of the coolest things about Planetside in my opinion – the only thing separating a new player from a veteran is how many certifications they can have at once. For example, my level 5 character might be able to drive tanks and use assault rifles just like my level 20 opponent, but the level 20 can fly a dropship as well. This adds flexibility to characters without destroying the balance by making it so that the best weapons can only be accessed by the highest level characters. Additionally these certifications and implants can be changed more or less at will so, while a low level character might not be able to do everything at once, they certainly aren’t cut off from experiencing all aspects of the game.
“One of TPG’s infamous vehicle nights. This time the hilarious Lightning light tanks menaced the countryside.”
There’s a variety of weapons from your standard fare of assault rifles, missile launchers, and sniper rifles, and even different levels of armor, from the sneaky stealth suit all the way up to the walking tank-like MAX armor. Vehicles include ATVs, buggies, personal tanks, main battle tanks, flying vehicles, bombers, and utility vehicles such the all important ANT fuel tanker, the Galaxy dropship, and even a flying vehicle transport. Players are free to go, whether in groups or by themselves, to practically anywhere in the world from their faction’s home area via a variety of methods, including some designed to get them into the fight as soon as possible. Once in the field the action resembles that of a game of Battlefield or maybe Tribes at first, though on a much, much larger map with potential many, many more players. The actual core of the gameplay involves taking over and defending bases and towers. Because of the open world battlefield, battles often rolls seamlessly across the map from tower to tower, base to base, along ever shifting battlefronts until one side eventually drives the other off the continent. That’s about as much as I can say without going overboard with specifics.
“Stupid stunts were also a fun diversion.”
As I mentioned the game does indeed have its flaws. I’m not planning on writing anything resembling a real review, but just off the top of my head the lack of any real persistent change in the world is probably the biggest issue for me. The only real persistence is your own character’s (and I suppose the other player’s, friend and foe) progression. This could make logging in for the night for the 2nd or 3rd month in a row feel a feel tedious and pointless, especially after reaching the basic level cap. The lack of interesting things in the world, be it wildlife, cities or other buildings, or even more variety in bases and towers, adds together with that flaw to conjure up a hilariously bleak vision of what life must be like for these imaginary Planetside soldiers – constantly fighting over the same towers and bases and eventually dying in vicious battle, only to be reborn, and do it all over again in the exact same places the very next day.
“One good backstab deserves another.”
Another problem I had with the game was the payment model. I personally didn’t mind paying 15 bucks a month for Planetside though quite a few of the FPS gamers the game set out to hook wouldn’t even look its general direction because of it. I did, however, want a bit more out of my money. I expected the content patches to roll in much more quickly. What do FPS players want? More vehicles, more weapons, etc. I feel like if they had cranked out updates at a quicker pace I would have initially stayed hooked much, much longer. Still, I feel like the large amount of content they added over the years was mostly pretty good, and even the BFRs mechs they added ended up being decent additions once they were eventually somewhat balanced. It was pretty clear from the onset that the various producers of the game (a constantly revolving cast) didn’t really seem to know what to do with the game and/or how to do it. Hopefully Planetside 2 will be designed more with providing compelling updates in mind though it is probably more likely they’ll just implement an entirely different subscription model.
“An annoyed enemy in a Reaver aircraft watches me on the other side of a bulletproof window.”
There were plenty of issues with the game such as how there always seemed to be one weapon or vehicle that was generally considered out of balance, though of course the grass was always greener on the other side, in another faction. I’ll probably talk more about Planetside in the future. For now, in tribute to it here’s an exert from a quick blog entry I made about the game two days after playing it for the first time, on launch day, inspired because of how anxious I was to get home from work and play it again. Enjoy!
It took me a good portion of the first night to install the game, patch it, and setup my account. I then went through all of the offline training missions which give you some of the basics on the game engine and are quite worth doing, though only once. Next I created my character on the Konried server (new, lower population, and east coast) and joined the “New Conglomerate” army because I liked their politics (not that they affect gameplay) and the way they look. I had read on the Planetside forums that you could get to rank 3 simply by going through the “virtual reality training” so I decided to do that first. VR training is actually QUITE a cool feature that more MMOGs should have – it lets you try out all of the weapons and vehicles without actually having to meet the normal game requirements to do so. I can imagine popping in there for a bit when I’m thinking of trying a new skill template just to test it out.
Anyway, after training I decided against spending my 6 “certification points” until I have a bit more combat experience to help me make a better decision so I hopped on the “HART” (High Altitude Rapid Transport) shuttle system which basically lets you go ANYWHERE in the world. I picked a fairly isolated battle which I thought would be good for getting my feet wet. I slowly approached the scene but while I was screwing around with the interface I accidentally hit the “instant action” button. The instant action feature will spawn you at a random battle that your forces are involved in somewhere in the world. I respawned, re-armed, and started creeping around this new area. It took me awhile to figure out that I spawned in a NEARBY base rather than the one where the battle was… doh! This is when I learned about the nifty waypoint system and started my run to the action.
I slowly approached the scene of the battle… a road leading to a large enemy complex with a huge open gate and a few scattered bunkers around it. I could see several of my own men on the opposite side of the road pinned down in a rock formation, part of a large firefight unfolding. I, however, had somehow (by dumb luck) flanked both my own troops and the enemy’s! Eventually my troops made a run for it to the gate so I joined in. I ran to the opposite side of the gate and once again they were pinned down. I decided to run to their side to join them, possibly putting myself in EVERYONE’s line of sight and just when I made it I watched all but one of them get gunned down. The remaining soldier dove into a bunker leaving me standing next to the wall. I then noticed what looked like cloaked soldier… and he wasn’t wearing my army’s colors! He seems to ignore me for whatever reason and was going after my comrade in the bunker. It took me awhile to decide to do it, but I jumped out and opened fire. Wow, dead before I had even realized… my first kill! The troops ended up inviting me to their squad and I racked for 7 kills in the short time I played.
The entire next day I prepared for Planetside – reading forums, strategies, investigating outfits (Planetside’s name for clans) and deciding what to spend my valuable certification points on. After a quick trip to the VR trainer I decided I’d purchase “medium assault” which gives me access to some groovy weapons like the more accurate Gauss Gun and the assault gun with the auxiliary rocket/grenade launcher. I also decided to try out the fast light scout aircraft the Mosquito. Again, I took a HART out to a fairly isolated battle. This time I got a Mosquito and went scanning around for enemies. I spotted a few and managed to blow them away with the craft’s minicannon… yay! Then I approached the main battle. I ended up doing something incredibly stupid and ramming my plane into the communication tower of the base and had to land and go it on foot. I went in and helped a large squad attack and then defend the base’s flag room… lots of fun killing stealthers!
D’aww. I was so young and naïve! It’s depressingly astounding how little my writing style and voice has changed over the years though. Well, that is one of the main reasons for this blog… to get better. Ugh. I also can’t believe it’s been a month since my last update. Believe me, it’s not for a lack of trying. I just haven’t had the free time I used to have. 🙁 Hopefully the next post will be in very short order.