Tag Archives: FPS

Planetside (Part 2)

Continued from part one

Auraxis, as it looked before The Bending.
“Auraxis, as it looked before The Bending.”

When talking about how to get to the action in the last article I made passing mention of connections between warp gates and “spheres of influence” so let’s expand on that and go over the all-important map. In addition to those empire sanctuary islands, Auraxis was made up of ten continents of similar size and various biomes. Those continents were connected to each other via the same type of warp gates that connected some of them to sanctuary islands. Each continent was a massive, expansive land of a size and scale that is pretty much unheard of for an FPS game. While it might blow other sandbox FPS games out of the water in size, the world is pretty empty, with the only real points of interest outside of the occasional bridge or bunker being the facilities and the small guard towers near them, which are ultimately what we’re fighting over.

Ceryshen's continental map. Mostly controlled by the TR at the moment.
“Ceryshen’s continental map. Mostly controlled by the TR at the moment.”

Like the connections between continents, each facility was connected to at least one other facility on the continent, forming a “lattice” structure. The “lattice links” between these facilities were important in defining the battlefronts – your empire could only attack an enemy owned facility it had a link to, either by facilities you’ve captured, or by a warpgate connected back to your empire’s sanctuary or another continent you control. Thanks to these defined battlefronts, battles were mostly concentrated around these areas, helping keep the player population from being spread too thin. The continental lattice also provided benefits from facilities of certain types under your control. For example, if you were at a friendly facility that was connected to a tech plant your empire owned, you could spawn more advanced vehicle types from its vehicle terminals. This added a little bit more strategic consequence into decisions about which facility your empire should attack, and in what order.

As for the sphere of influence, this was simply an area around a facility or a tower that was “controlled” by the empire that owned that facility or tower. This area could not be directly dropped on (as mentioned) and enemy Combat Engineers couldn’t fill them with their own deployable equipment. The area also more generally functioned roughly as a mini “zone” in the traditional MMORPG sense, so things like how experience points for battles over the control of these facilities and the scope of the “broadcast” chat channel were based on these areas. In between these areas was, as mentioned, not a whole lot, but all of this other space was ripe to be turned into massive combined-arms battlegrounds as forces moved between facilities and towers, and the terrain was just varied and interesting enough to lead to some cool battle scenarios. I have vivid memories of battles around Searhus’s massive volcano crater’s rim, and the epic fights around the many long chokepoint bridges spanning bodies of water all across Auraxis are legendary, for example.

A nice, quiet VS tower, just waiting to be taken.
“A nice, quiet VS tower, just waiting to be taken.”

Outside of traveling between them, there were other reasons battles might take place in-between facilities that were directly linked to how taking over facilities worked. Let’s start from the beginning though. Each facility had a relatively small structure called a “tower” just outside of its sphere of influence. There were a few varieties of towers, with some having gun turrets, others having landing pads, but they were all close to identical on the inside. Dominated by a wide staircase wrapping from the basement, which contained spawn tubes and equipment terminals and was protected by a “pain field” to keep would-be enemy spawn campers at bay, up to the roof, with a control console near the top. There was not much to these towers, but they were key in how facility captures worked, as they allowed an attacking force to quickly gain a nearby foothold from which they could respawn and attack the main facility, and unlike facilities, control of the towers would instantly change once the control console was hacked, plus, not being tied to the lattice system, they could be hacked by anyone, at any time. Intense battles in and around towers weren’t uncommon, but they were also some of the more common places for great smaller fights to occur.

Tower fights could be bloody affairs. Get that loot!
“Tower fights could be bloody affairs. Get that loot!”

So, you hacked the door to a tower, made it up (or down, if you decided to land or drop on the roof from an aircraft) to the control console. You hacked it, and control of the tower went to your empire. If there were enemies around, they’d notice this pretty quickly and might immediately begin mounting a response to attempt to take it back from you. In the meantime, you and your allies could you set your sights on the facility itself. While there were other options for tactically deploying around a facility you were attacking, most notably a vehicle called the Advanced Mobile Station (AMS) which could be parked and “deployed” to cloak itself and act as a mobile spawn tube and equipment terminal, ownership of a facility’s tower was definitely a much more solid foothold.

Hacking a VS controlled facility's control console.
“Hacking a VS controlled facility’s control console.”

Taking a facility worked similarly. There were several different facility designs and layouts, but they were all surrounded by high, castle-like walls with turrets which would act as sentry turrets if unmanned, with only a few entrances on foot – either the large arched gates on either side of the courtyard that allowed vehicles in and out, or via the locked backdoor of the facility. This is where a Galaxy dropship is especially handy, allowing a full squad of troops to effectively bypass the outer defenses of a facility, dropping right into the courtyard or onto the upper levels of the main structure itself. Regardless, assuming you were able to make it into and through the courtyard, you’d make your way into the main facility and eventually find its control console room, usually fairly deep within the complex. Unlike the rather exposed control console of a tower, the control console of a facility was in a small, dedicated room that was much more defensible. Assuming you were then able to get in there and hack the control console, you’d then have to wait for a 15 minute timer to tick down before control of the facility finally changed. During that time, of course, you could expect a defense to mount if there wasn’t already one – enemies would drop in via HART from their sanctuary, arrive by various methods from nearby facilities, and enemies killed in their attempts would respawn there. 15 minutes can feel like a damn long time.

“Arson setting a bunch of Boomers (remote mines) to destroy a generator.”

One strategy that was often employed to help ease the burden of attacking a facility was purposely draining the facility of power. Every interactable device in the facility – equipment and vehicle terminals, spawn tubes, turrets, etc. ran on power provided by the facility’s generator, which was in turn fed by a supply of Nanite Technology Units (NTUs.) This power was drained much more quickly by the facility’s auto-repair systems, which would slowly repair any of these devices when damaged or destroyed. Once a facility was completely drained of NTUs, it would lose power and turn neutral, meaning no defenders could respawn there and it could be hacked freely once power was restored. Another version of this tactic involved blowing up the generator itself which would immediately cause the facility to lose power until it could be repaired, but this would also alert everyone that it was under attack as well as requiring it to be repaired before the facility could be back up and online. Still, it could be very effective to strategically take a facility’s generator down to deprive your enemies of the lattice linked benefits they’d get from it. Regardless, these strategies could allow small, coordinated groups to run special ops style “back-hacks” to assault facilities away from the frontline and take them over without much resistance.

An ANT refilling the NTU silo at a neutral facility
“An ANT refilling the NTU silo at a neutral facility”

One really cool element of the whole facility power system was that if a facility did run out of NTUs, it could be refueled. There was a special vehicle called an Advanced Nanite Transport (NTU) which could be driven out to a warp gate and deployed to fuel its tank, then driven back to a facility and deployed near its NTU silo to refuel it. Making NTU runs after a facility had been drained wasn’t usually too exciting, but making an emergency run during a huge battle could be edge of your seat intense. There were various ways to lessen the chances of your ANT run ending in a glorious, extra-large explosion, such as driving with an escort or even a whole convoy for protection, or using a Galaxy or Lodestar to haul one around in the air, but regardless, a well coordinated assault OR defense often involved accounting for the availability of NTU refuels.

Similarly, there was also a system added early into the game in which some facilities had a special device called a Lattice Logic Unit (LLU) which needed to be physically carried to another facility after a successful hack to complete the change of control rather than waiting out the timer. There were all kinds of conditions and limitations to who could carry the LLU and how – what vehicles they could ride in, etc. The LLU was, of course, a bit of a MacGuffin. It’s real purpose was to generate more battles outside of facilities similarly to those that could take place around ANT runs. While I don’t know how successful this ultimately was, I do recall being involved in some particularly intense battles that revolved around trying to protect or assault an LLU carrier.

A squad of NC Lightning tanks engaging.
“A squad of NC Lightning tanks engaging.”

As a quick aside, both of those systems seemed to be there to introduce more opportunity for fights to happen outside of facilities and, of course, using numerous vehicles. While it was common to use vehicles of all sorts to travel between facilities, which is when the most epic vehicle battles took place, and using certain vehicles like Galaxy dropships for infantry drops, AMSes to setup spawn points, and ANTs for refuel runs were very specific but common use-cases, running vehicles that required multiple crew members, like main battle tanks and the fearsome Liberator bomber, along with running multiple vehicles together, tended to be something more of a distraction to my outfit. Something we did for fun, but not something that often felt like it was contributing meaningfully to most battles. Likewise, running the lighter Mosquito and Reaver aircraft seemed like it was used for more quick transport and scouting behind the lines, and solo hunting of enemies. While all of these vehicles could be effective in combat in the right circumstances, due to the way facilities were structured and facility capturing worked, their effectiveness as “force multipliers” was limited.

So, as mentioned above, once you controlled a facility, the lattice link to other connected facilities opened up, expanding the front and allowing you to move on to more facilities. This went on (often involving struggles between all three sides) until eventually one empire controlled the entire continent. This temporarily locked all of the facilities on the continent from being captured, so efforts would usually move to one of the next connected continents. So on, and so forth. Honestly, this larger strategic part of the game was one of the weaker areas of Planetside in my opinion. There wasn’t any real purpose to taking over a continent, or indeed all of Auraxis. Unlike similar MMORPG territory-control based PVP systems, you’re not establishing your own strongholds where you can build housing or shops, or new areas to craft, hunt, or run dungeons, and there’s zero permanence to any of it. Planetside, it seemed, gambled on the fun of the actual fights being enough to inspire players rather than any end goal or rewards. This couldn’t have helped Planetside’s subscription base – it really only took a month or two of playing the game to have seen everything and have it totally figured out, and unlike most MMORPGs, there simply wasn’t enough variety of other diversions to keep players who were bored or just needed a break from cancelling.

A massive TR force gathers at a warp gate.
“A massive TR force gathers at a warp gate.”

I didn’t really mention the concept of “zerging” at all, and I should, because it comes up a lot in discussions around Planetside. The “zerg” was an obviously Starcraft-inspired term used to describe the largest masses of players, and “zerging” was the act of joining one of these groups and following them from enemy facility to enemy facility, overwhelming enemy resistance with sheer numbers. Most of the time these huge forces would inevitably meet, meaning that on every contested continent, there was usually at least one incredibly huge, lag inducing, ridiculously chaotic battle. Following the zerg was a way to guarantee access to Planetside’s largest fights, and more importantly, the experience points that came with them, but to many of us this was less exciting than smaller fights, special ops missions, coordinated vehicle runs, and numerous other experiences the sandbox nature of the game could provide. Getting online and following the zerg every night was the entire game to some people, and unsurprisingly, many of them quickly grew to consider Planetside as rather repetitive and dull.

A group of NC Lodestars hauling Vanguard main battle tanks behind enemy lines.
“A group of NC Lodestars hauling Vanguard main battle tanks behind enemy lines.”

That about wraps up my lengthy overview of Planetside’s gameplay. As mentioned, I played the game pretty steadily for its first year or so. In that year, development felt a little slow, especially given the monthly fee we were paying SOE for the privilege, but in reflection it wasn’t too bad. The Liberator bomber was added, along with a dedicated anti-air vehicle called the Skyguard. The aforementioned LLU system was added. They expanded hacking. They added platoons, which could be used to combine 3 squads into one larger unit. They also added the Lodestar, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times now. I do have to wonder just how many of those additions were holdovers that didn’t quite make release, but regardless, content is content. Actually, looking back, one of the issues I think Planetside’s development team had with adding new content to the game is that it was essentially already fairly well designed and balanced upon release. Anything all that interesting that they added to the game was sure to irreversibly alter that balance. Speaking of…

Core Combat's caverns looked like nothing else in the game.
“Core Combat’s caverns looked like nothing else in the game.”

The game’s first and only paid expansion, Core Combat, also came out at around this time. Core Combat added several huge underground cavern maps to Auraxis. These could be accessed via warp gate-like areas called “Geowarps” that were limited in their availability. The main appeal of these caverns was a shift to more CQB-inspired infantry combat, as the caverns featured a lot of cramped areas, a lot of verticality, and relied on teleporters and ziplines for traversal since vehicle usage was limited. While most of my outfit mates were excited about the concept, I don’t think I was alone in being fairly underwhelmed by the cavern-based combat experience. There was at least a reason to go down to the caverns, and that was the new facility module system. You could obtain and charge-up a “module” in a cavern which could then be brought back to the surface and installed at a facility, giving it a particular new benefit, which also extended to any other connected facilities your empire controlled. These benefits were things like adding an energy shield to the otherwise open gate entrances in the walls of your facilities, granting players faster movement speed and reducing spawn times to a facility, and allowing them to pull some of the new “ancient technology” vehicles added with expansion, such as the extremely useful Router (a deployable teleportation system) and the Flail (long distance artillery) from the facility’s vehicle terminals. I totally appreciate a lot of the ideas they were trying to implement with Core Combat, and cavern runs could be a fun diversion for smaller squads, but it ultimately felt like too much of a distraction from the core systems of the game, and a bit of misstep.

A TR BFR stomping across the battlefield.
“A TR BFR stomping across the battlefield.”

Still, even more was added later into the game’s life. Beyond things like bug fixes and numerous UI enhancements, they added new vehicles, such as the Fury ATV and new empire specific versions of The Deliverer troop transport. They added a merit/accommodation system and other improved ways to view and track your stats. There was “The Bending” patch that replaced one of the continents (Oshur) with several new smaller “Battle Islands” which each had its own special rules and restrictions, which was kind of neat for variety’s sake, but they also made each continent its own planet, changing the global map to a interstellar map in a rather stupid move. Then, in perhaps the most controversial thing to ever happen in the game, they added huge mech-like vehicles called BattleFrame Robotics (BFRs) which absolutely shook the game to its core. I had mixed feelings about BFRs myself. I mean, the panic instilled by being on foot when a towering BFR stomped onto the battlefield, leaving a path of destruction in its wake, was a totally new addition to the dynamic of the game, and was only topped by having a friendly BFR show up shortly thereafter and watching them go toe-to-toe in an epic scrap. Regardless of how much SOE “nerfed” and otherwise altered BFRs after first introducing them, a vocal part of the community completely hated their addition for reasons ranging from reasonable concerns about the balance and indeed the entire overland combat meta being altered, to simply hating the idea of “unrealistic” mechs being added to their sci-fi vidja game. Boy…

There was more after that, of course, as the game stayed online in one form or another until 2016, but the last time I stepped foot onto the virtual battlefields of Auraxis was around the time the BFRs were finally close to resembling being balanced. I’ve said it before, but Planetside was a special game to me – one where I got really into gaming with a community, and where I made friends I still have today. It was a unique game too, that, like so many online-only games, is sadly now gone to us outside of some unofficial preservation efforts. It’s also survived by Planetside 2, of course, and while Planetside 2 was influenced heavily by the first game and does a good job of respecting what it established, they’re also very different games. It may end up being quite an effort, but I’m hoping to compare and contrast those two games, as well as talk more about Planetside 2 in general, in a future article here. Stay tuned!

Pictures taken from my old NC outfit, The Praetorian Guard’s, archived website, JeffBeefjaw’s Imgur album, which looks quite similar, but from the TR perspective, and some newer pictures acquired while playing around on the PSForever server. Unfortunately the two former sources don’t really show any ACTUAL combat, as few people captured full time back in the day so most screenshots were of points of interest, outfit photo ops, and just dicking around rather than normal gameplay. I also had to grab the original world map, the Core Combat cavern, and the BFR pictures from wherever I could find them.

Planetside (Part 1)

I’d been in the MMO mood again recently and while looking for an appropriate new diversion I ended up jumping back into Planetside 2, this time with the goal of joining an outfit and coordinating with other players again. Just like the good old days!

It’s actually those “old days” I want to write about today. I’ve written about Planetside a couple of times before now, but thinking a lot about the differences between Planetside and Planetside 2 since diving back into it led me to realize I’ve forgotten quite a lot of the specifics about how the first Planetside actually worked. For a game that was so important to me, this simply won’t do! When I wrote this little tribute to the game years ago, I was actively avoiding going into the gameplay too much, but now, for posterity’s sake, that’s exactly what I aim to do. That said, having mostly only played it hardcore for its first year, I’ll be focusing on the state of the game at that point in its existence.

Planetside! I always thought it was odd that the logo from the title screen isn't the same logo used on the box and everywhere else.
“Planetside! I always thought it was odd that the logo from the title screen isn’t the same logo used on the box and everywhere else.”

Planetside was a 2003 MMOFPS released by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) who were most well-known at the time for their landmark MMORPG, Everquest. They’d follow Planetside up in short order with Star Wars Galaxies, a game that has achieved something of a legendary status amongst MMORPG aficionados, and yet Planetside is rarely part of the conversation. I believe I first found out about Planetside via a news blurb about the game going into beta testing in the pages of a PC Gamer or Computer Gaming World magazine. Already a fan of MMOs thanks to games like Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call 2, and of “combined arms” competitive FPS games thanks in large part to Battlefield 1942 (which I spent an absolute shit ton of time playing in 2002) Planetside sounded right up my alley and I managed to nab a copy on release day.

Far less notable back then than today, still not far removed from the original crop of MMORPGs, Planetside required both a full-priced retail purchase and a monthly subscription to play. I don’t think many people would argue with me when I say that the subscription was likely one of the main reasons Planetside wasn’t a lot more popular. It seemed to me, even at the time, that the Venn diagram of players who loved online, competitive first person shooters and those who wouldn’t mind paying a monthly subscription to play one had to have a fairly narrow overlap indeed. Hey, at least SOE wasn’t bilking us for microtransactions, right?

Creating a new character. Ahhh, these were simpler times...
“Creating a new character. Ahhh, these were simpler times…”

In typical MMORPG form, your first steps into Planetside involved picking a server and creating a character. Customization options were limited to picking a gender, a face, and a voice, but the most important thing was selecting a faction. Planetside featured three factions (or “empires”) all fighting for the domination of the planet Auraxis:

  • The Terran Republic (TR) represented what was left of Earth’s original occupying force and its remnant government was portrayed as an oppressive militaristic regime. They favored high rate of fire weapons and were identified by a red and black/gray color scheme.
  • The New Conglomerate (NC) were a rebel faction fighting for freedom from the Terran Republic’s tyranny. They favored slower but harder hitting weapons and had a particular affinity for shotguns. They were identified by a blue and yellow/gold color scheme.
  • The Vanu Sovereignty (VS) were a faction who believed in embracing the technology of the Vanu – the ancient aliens who once inhabited Auraxis. They used energy weapons and “MagLev” hover vehicles. They used a purple and teal/cyan color scheme.

I won’t go any further in talking about the story of Planetside as, let’s face it, it didn’t matter. In real terms, apart from some empire specific weapons and vehicles, there was no practical difference between the three factions. This of course meant that balance issues were limited to only those empire specific items, with everything else being shared between all three groups. The forums were filled with complaints about the NC’s “Jackhammer” and the VS’s “Lasher” (a couple of notable examples) all the same. I originally chose (and stuck with) the New Conglomerate because I liked the idea of being a rebel fighting against an oppressive regime, and I dug their more rugged, sci-fi militarist aesthetic, which was something like the UNSC marines from Halo but rocking a far less practical color scheme. That said, I was always a little jealous of the TR as their faction specific equipment always appealed to me.

Me cheesing the third person camera. Apparently it was working too, judging by the enemy backpack on the ground.
“Me cheesing the third person camera. Apparently it was working too, judging by the enemy backpack on the ground.”

Once you finished that up there were some basic tutorials to complete. I have to say, the combat itself was fairly bad compared to a lot of its contemporaries in the FPS genre. I never loved the way weapons, especially vehicle weapons, felt. I think for most of us the tradeoff was worth it for Planetside’s uniquely huge battles and open battlefields. Another artifact of its time, there was also an absolutely insane “cone of fire” associated with weapon accuracy. I personally never hated the idea, but I know some people have an extreme dislike for it, and Planetside’s implementation was pretty vicious. There was also a third person view that could be toggled and zoomed in and out, and yes, even outside of vehicles! This mode was garbage for actually playing the game, so it was mostly used for peeking around corners. Since everyone had that ability I never considered it unfair exactly, but definitely open to abuse and could lead to some pretty shitty deaths.

Some dirty TR scum hanging around Sanctuary.
“”Some dirty TR scum hanging around Sanctuary.”

Anyway, at some point you’d find yourself back in your empire’s sanctuary. The sanctuaries were small islands that represented each empire’s headquarters on Auraxis. From there you could access a VR training area where you could try out weapons and vehicles, various terminals to train and equip your character, use the HART (High Altitude Rapid Transport) shuttle to take a drop pod to wherever you’d like on Auraxis, or use a warp gate to warp to another continent. They also seem to have been intended as social hubs to some degree.

Back to your character. There were 20 “battle ranks” (BR) which were levels you progressed through as you gained experience by participating in facility captures, killing enemies, and destroying enemy vehicles and equipment. With each level-up you’d gained certification points (CP or just “certs”) which you could use to spend on a variety of skills or “certifications”. Certifications allowed you to use various equipment – armor, weapons, special devices, and vehicles. How many certification points each certification cost varied, but you could typically unlock some decent equipment by the time you completed the tutorial, and by the time you reached BR 20 you’d have quite a few of them selected. Apart from a few cases of advanced versions of certifications, this wasn’t some complicated tree with prerequisites and branching paths. As you can imagine, this meant that higher level characters had more options than lower level characters, but it didn’t necessarily mean they were any better. It was more of a horizontal progression, in other words. You also had the option of “forgetting” certifications, though only one at a time, and this was on a timer so it was more for correcting mistakes and failed experiments than a total “respec” of your character.

Using Nano Dispensers to try to save a damaged Vanguard. I think she's dead, boys!
“Using Nano Dispensers to try to save a damaged Vanguard. I think she’s dead, boys!”

A few certifications applied to special equipment, which was more akin to learning a new skill in a traditional RPG:

  • Medical Applicator – Allowed the use of a medical applicator, which was a pistol like device that allowed you to heal nearby friendly characters, or yourself. The advanced version of this certification allowed you to revive a dead friendly, which was a particularly powerful ability when playing closely with a squad.
  • Engineering – Allowed you to use a Body Armor Nano Kit (BANK) which worked similarly to a Medical Applicator to allow you to repair the armor of a nearby friendly character, or yourself. It also allowed you to use a Nano Dispenser, a larger device which let you repair vehicles, turrets, terminals, and other devices, which was damn handy for vehicle crews to keep in their inventory, by the way.
  • Combat Engineering – The advanced version of Engineering was so much more advanced it requires its own section. It made repairs quicker, but it also allowed the player to use an Adaptive Construction Engine (ACE) which let them construct various devices including mines, motion sensors, and automated “Spitfire” turrets. There were limits to how many of each of these you could have deployed at a time, of course.
  • Hacking – the normal Remote Electronics Kit (REK) was a pistol-like device that allowed you to hack IFF locked enemy doors and tower and facility control consoles. Pretty much essential for everyone to carry at all times. The hacking cert allowed this device to hack some enemy terminals, and to hack much faster. Advanced Hacking allowed even more types of terminals, notably equipment and vehicle turrets, and even unoccupied enemy vehicles in rare circumstances in which you might come across one. Powerful stuff!

Another subtle but neat thing about battle rank was that your character’s appearance changed as they ranked up through BRs. New Conglomerate troops, for instance, started with blue armor with some minor yellow highlights, and ended up being entirely yellow with some minor blue highlights. It didn’t take too long before almost everyone in my outfit looked the same, of course, but it was a nice touch.

Meatnog's blue coloring indicates that he's below BR7 while his two shinguards and wristguard indicate that he's CR3.
“Meatnog’s blue coloring indicates that he’s below BR7 while his two shinguards and wristguard indicate that he’s CR3.”

There was also “command rank” (CR.) Command rank was leveled up by experience gained as the leader of a squad and each CR would unlock special abilities that could be useful in organizing and participating in large coordinated battles – things the ability to talk in a special command chat channel, place waypoints for your squad on the map, or at later levels, powerful, limited-use abilities like the ability to reveal enemy locations on the map, or order EMP blasts and orbital strikes. As with battle rank, your character’s appearance would be altered slightly with each new command rank gained by having their armor adorned with some additional accessories. Pretty cool stuff.

Using an Equipment Terminal to create a loadout.
“Using an Equipment Terminal to create a loadout.”

The next and arguably most important thing about your character was your inventory. Planetside featured a full old fashioned, RPG-like grid-based inventory system. You could use your inventory to store additional weapons and ammo and the aforementioned special devices. The amount of inventory varied widely depending on the type of armor you equipped:

  • Standard Exo-suit: Your basic starter armor that provided very little protection and a 9 x 6 inventory. No certification required.
  • Agile Exo-suit: Light armor that had more protection, a second pistol slot, and a 9 x 9 inventory. This is the armor that was most often used by vehicle pilots but also allowed for faster movement than “Rexo” armor. I rarely used Agile while on foot myself, but did have a loadout which paired it with a “Sweeper” shotgun for speedy CQB assaults.
  • Reinforced Exo-suit: Also known as “Rexo” armor. Included yet more armor, a second rifle slot, and a 12 x 9 inventory space, but traded this for a slower movement speed and was restricted from driving in many vehicles. Most infantry used this armor for extra flexibility and protection.
  • Infiltration Suit: This suit provided no protection, and only included a single pistol holster and a tiny 6 x 6 inventory. The trade-off was an even faster movement speed than Agile and a unique cloaking ability, however. This obviously lended itself to some very specialized roles and playstyles.
  • Mechanized Assault Exo-Suit: “MAX” armor was more like a mini-vehicle than normal armor in some ways. Included built-in weaponry and abilities, a ton of protection, and a huge 16×12 inventory. Like Infiltrators, MAXes played more of a specialized role. I’ll talk about both later on.

Vehicles also had trunks which could be used for additional storage, but the practical uses for these were pretty limited. Likewise, there were storage lockers found at the facilities which were almost exclusively used for looting empire-specific weapons and ammo from fallen enemies and stashing them away to play with on a rainy day. Looting, as a whole, was a fairly unusual addition to the game, honestly.

Finally we had implants. The number of implant slots increased as you leveled up, eventually ending with 3 available slots. Implants granted some special abilities like the ability to run faster, to see cloaked infiltrators, or to hide yourself from enemy radars, for instance. They were typically toggleable rather than always passively enabled, and drained your character’s stamina in addition to requiring activation time after first spawning. While their usage was limited, they were still pretty powerful – the ability to see cloakers with “Darklight Vision” for instance, was fairly invaluable to me.

An NC column consisting of a Sunderer, 4 Vanguards, and a Harasser gather at a warp gate.
“An NC column consisting of a Sunderer, 4 Vanguards, and a Harasser gather at a warp gate.”

As mentioned, there were a number of vehicles available. You had to have a certification to drive / pilot most of them, and some required additional players to man some of their weapon positions. Most notable of these were the main battle tanks, in which the driver only drove and a second player controlled the main turret weaponry. Ground vehicles included one man ATVs, small armed buggies, a one person tank in addition to those main battle tanks, group transport vehicles, and the all important AMS and ANT vehicles (more on those later.) Air vehicles included a fighter / scout craft, an air to ground attack vehicle, a bomber, a massive troop transport vehicle, and later on, a vehicle transport.

As for putting all of this stuff together, most players would elect to join a squad, whether it was made up of friends or outfit mates or just other random people fighting in the same area. Squads were extremely useful for coordination as you could monitor your squadmates’ locations and status and communicate with text and even a half-decent built-in VoIP implementation, and as an added bonus allowed squad members to share experience points. Infantry squads would usually be made up of mostly soldiers in Rexo armor running whatever combination of certs and gear they preferred. I typically carried NC’s standard Gauss Rifle and a few Decimator dumbfire rocket launchers for the occasional run-in with MAX units (for which they excelled at handling) or vehicles. I’d also carry a Medical Applicator and a BANK for quick self-heals and repairs, along with healing and reviving of squadmates when necessary, and a REK for hacking the doors on enemy controlled structures and, of course, the structures themselves. I’d also pack some medkits for emergency heals and some frag grenades where I could squeeze them in. Oh, and of course, you’d have to account for extra ammo!

Me and my fellow NC MAX homies kickin' it.
“Me and my fellow NC MAX homies kickin’ it.”

How often MAX units would supplement squads really depended on the individual player – some people loved using MAX armor as much as possible, while others actively avoided it. Still, there were occasional strategies which involved attempting to overpower defenders (or less commonly, out live attackers) by massing MAXes. This was also known as a “MAX crash” due to the tendency for these groups of MAXes to charge into a room or through a chokepoint, as well as the strategy of “dropping” a large number of MAXes on a tower or a facility via a Galaxy dropship. Infiltrators sometimes supplemented a squad too, providing uniquely useful hacking and scouting support. More often than not, Infiltrators preferred to sow the seeds of chaos by playing solo though.

A cloaked NC Infiltrator about to backstab a VS soldier about to gun down an NC soldier about to hack a VS tower's command console.
“A cloaked NC Infiltrator about to backstab a VS soldier about to gun down an NC soldier about to hack a VS tower’s command console.”

Beyond those, probably the other most specialized infantry role was that of the Combat Engineer. Certain players gravitated hard to this role, and “maining” as a Combat Engineer was indeed a unique playstyle that concentrated on strategically placing, repairing, re-placing, and supplementing deployables like mines and Spitfire turrets, usually in a defensive position. Again, whether or not your squad had anyone playing as an engineer usually came down to personal preference, but I’d often see Combat Engineers playing solo or as part of small special ops squads fighting away from the main battlefronts.

Let’s take a quick step back and talk more about actually getting into the battle.

Planetside allowed you to get from your Sanctuary to the contested lands of Auraxis in a few different ways. First, although there was a timer on its use, “Instant Action” was only a keypress away. This feature would send you plummeting down to the earth in a drop pod to a “hotspot” – a location on the map where combat had recently occurred. Oftentimes this would bring you to one of the larger battles currently in-progress, although occasionally it might bring you to a small fight and maybe one that had already wrapped up. It also made no guarantees about landing you in a safe place, and might even send you into the middle of a battle that your allied empire wasn’t even involved in. This feature was interesting and could be super convenient for new and solo players, but most veteran players rarely used it since it was more desirable to join up with squad and/or outfit mates, or at the very least, strategically pick which fight you wanted to join.

An NC drop pod plummets down near a facility.
“An NC drop pod plummets down near a facility.”

That’s where taking the HART comes in. As mentioned before, the HART (High Altitude Rapid Transport) shuttle could be taken from the Sanctuary every few minutes and could drop you (again, via drop pod) to almost any location in Auraxis outside of an enemy facility’s sphere of influence and, of course, an enemy empire’s Sanctuary. Despite having to physically go to the shuttle terminal and wait on a timer between flights, it could take you to wherever you wanted to go, quickly and accurately, and was by far the most common way to join the action.

A huge squad of NC Lightning tanks gather at a warp gate.
“A huge squad of NC Lightning tanks gather at a warp gate.”

Finally, for the more organized players, there were “warp gates” that directly connected the Sanctuaries to specific continents. A player could walk into a warp gate and activate it to teleport to a warp gate on the connected continent. Of course, you wouldn’t want to actually walk – the continents in Planetside were huge and relatively barren. Instead, warp gates were primarily used for transporting coordinated vehicle pushes such as armor columns, air squadrons, or platoons of infantry preparing to drop from multiple Galaxy dropships. Given that they only went to specific places, these would most often be used when attacking directly connected continents since anything else required a lot more travel time – driving or flying from one warp gate to another, although that certainly wasn’t unheard of. In fact, one vehicle, the Lodestar, added late into the first year, seems to have been purpose built with that in mind, allowing you to fly a larger ground vehicle such as an AMS or a main battle tank around as well as serving as a potentially useful battlefield repair station. As an aside, warp gates were also safe zones, which sometimes made for some interesting meet ups with enemy forces. In fact, this was sometimes combined with the looting and advanced hacking systems to facilitate empire-specific weapon and vehicle trades.

In part two I’ll talk more about how the map works and the mechanics of taking it over, and wrap up by talking a bit about about how the game changed.

Pictures taken from my old NC outfit, The Praetorian Guard’s, archived website, JeffBeefjaw’s Imgur album, which looks quite similar, but from the TR perspective, and some newer pictures acquired while playing around on the PSForever server. Unfortunately the two former sources don’t really show any ACTUAL combat, as few people captured full time back in the day so most screenshots were of points of interest, outfit photo ops, and just dicking around rather than normal gameplay.

Halo Fest 2020: Halo 3

The Story So Far: Taking blame for the loss of Halo Installation 04, an Elite commander is tried for heresy. He’s given the opportunity to become the Arbiter, a position that serves at the Covenant leadership’s behest to embark on special, typically suicidal missions in order to atone for his failures. The Arbiter is then dispatched to recover 343 Guilty Spark. Meanwhile, a small Covenant fleet led by one of the Covenant leaders, the Prophet of Regret, arrives near Earth. During the ensuing battle, Regret’s ship gets through Earth’s defenses and begins to assault the city of New Mombasa. As the battle turns, Regret retreats, making a slipspace jump right above the city. The UNSC frigate that Master Chief and Cortana are on manages to jump along with them, arriving at another Halo installation. Master Chief and the small UNSC force with him head to the surface to prevent this new Halo from being activated and the Master Chief manages to kill the Prophet of Regret. The main Covenant fleet jumps in and the Arbiter is dispatched to intervene. While successful in stopping the humans, the Arbiter is then betrayed by Tartarus, the commander of the Brutes, as they assume the Elite’s power within the Covenant. As a civil war between the Brutes and the Elites breaks out, both the Master Chief and the Arbiter find themselves held captive by an intelligent Flood creature called the Gravemind. The Gravemind reveals to the Arbiter that he’s been lied to and then sends them both to stop the activation of the Halo installation; Master Chief to the Covenant’s mobile capital city High Charity and the Arbiter to stop Tartarus on the Halo installation. The Arbiter, teaming up with some of the remaining UNSC forces, succeeds in stopping Tartarus though, interrupting the activation already in progress, a failsafe system engages, threatening to remotely activate all of the remaining Halos. As the Flood begin to overrun High Charity, Master Chief tracks the last of the Covenant leaders, the Prophet of Truth, to an ancient Forerunner dreadnought in the city. The Master Chief manages to hitch a ride just as the ship takes off and jumps to Earth while Cortana remains behind to finish dealing with the Halo installation, and inadvertently, the Gravemind.

Unlike Halo 2, I was actually anticipating the release of Halo 3. As mentioned in my last post, I was actively working on finishing off the original Xbox games on my backlog before finally migrating to the Xbox 360, and I capped off the effort by purposely lining up another playthrough of Halo: CE and my first real playthrough of Halo 2 with the release of Halo 3. This felt like the perfect transition from one generation to the next and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the last installment of the trilogy. Probably more significantly, Halo 3 also became a highly social game between me and a few different groups of friends which continued on to some degree through the life of Halo: Reach. So many Xbox Live Slayer matches, innumerable in-person get-togethers for couch matches, custom game types and house rules, custom maps via Forge, coop over Live, etc. Halo 3’s multiplayer was for me, I suppose, what Halo 2’s was for so many Halo fans, and I look back on those times quite fondly.

Master Chief and the Arbiter, back together again!
“Master Chief and the Arbiter, back together again!”

So, playing the campaign for only the second time, I once again relied on the Master Chief Collection for Xbox One. This time I played it on my new Series X, which on my 1080p TV, only really benefits me in Halo 3 by way of quicker loading times. In any case, I mentioned last time that I was worried about playing this game right after playing the beautifully remastered version of Halo 2, but I’m glad to report that I have zero regrets. Despite lacking the extra layer of graphical flourish that Halo 2 Anniversary brought, Halo 3 still looks absolutely gorgeous today. Its only major shortcomings come down to some fairly hideous human faces and some jerky character animation during cutscenes, neither of which are an issue for the vast majority of the game.

As far as the game itself goes, I don’t know if it was actually a stated design goal for Halo 3, but if Halo 2 was “quite a different animal than the original Halo: Combat Evolved” (as I said in my Halo 2 post) than Halo 3 seemed to make purposeful efforts to find a middle ground between the two games, taking a lot of the best additions and changes brought by Halo 2 and smoothing over the rough edges just a bit, often taking a half step back towards Halo: CE. It’s not incredibly easy to summarize, but it feels blatant to me when playing the three games back to back like this.

Ahhh, my beloved AR. Fits like an old glove!
“Ahhh, my beloved AR. Fits like an old glove!”

Any weapon I had complaints about in Halo 2 feel much improved for one. The shotgun, being one I explicitly mentioned last time, is a perfect example of a “half step back” Halo 3 takes – while the rate of fire is still lower than Halo: CE’s shotgun, it definitely feels faster than Halo 2’s, and its range feels a lot closer to Halo: CE’s as well. Additionally, dual wielding no longer comes off like a gimmick that Bungie really wants you to test out, but just a handy thing you can do when it feels advantageous to do so. Oh, and the damn assault rifle is back! Melee feels reasonably powerful again too! Hoo-fucking-ray! While vehicle damage is largely unchanged, vehicles do at least seem a bit more resilient this time around – no more hopping into a vehicle to have it shot to pieces all around you within seconds.

Of course Bungie added some new things as well. Halo 2’s selection of weapons is further expanded with more Brute weapons such as the Mauler, the Spiker, the Spike Grenade, and the Gravity Hammer, and there’s some other goodies like the legendary Spartan Laser. There’s also the lovely addition of being able to pull mounted guns from their mounts and lug them with you which can’t go without mention despite being more cool than actually useful most times. Of course we get several new vehicles as well, like the UNSC’s Mongoose ATV and Hornet aircraft. Halo 3 also adds the concept of deployable equipment to go alongside the previously available power-ups. The relatively long list of these includes things like Bubble Shields, Power Drains, Trip Mines, and Gravity Lifts that you can toss out with various effects. These were pretty damn divisive (but pretty damn fun) when it came to multiplayer, but in terms of single player, while they can mix up encounters in some very cool ways, they always felt a little underwhelming to me. Having such a variety of equipment but only being able to hold one at a time meant certain effects couldn’t necessarily be relied upon, which in turned caused me to use them a lot less than I probably should have.

You'd better get used to blowing up Scarabs.
“You’d better get used to blowing up Scarabs.”

Level design was another area of improvement though. Both Halo 3’s open and more linear sections felt more open and more filled with possibilities than Halo 2’s. The pacing, both moment to moment and level to level, felt a lot more even to me as well. You could perhaps argue that Halo 3’s campaign was less “epic” than Halo 2’s, where each level felt more like its own interesting set piece. Hell, not counting the Scarab sections, Halo 3 didn’t even have any real “boss” battles to speak of, save for the very end of the game. You also don’t play as the Arbiter (though he’s often fighting alongside you, available for a second player to jump into when playing cooperatively) which loses that additional perspective on events in the story. Still, while Halo 2 might have had more big, memorable moments, Halo 3 was so much more playable and, well, fun. That extends to difficulty too. Playing through the campaign on “Heroic” again, this time I barely suffered for my choice – gone were the ridiculously bullet sponginess of the Brutes, the overabundance of enemies (except for when it made thematic sense, like in the level “Cortana”) and many of the cheaper feeling, frustration fueling deaths.

Flood extermination.
“Flood extermination.”

I’ll sum up Halo 3’s story when I post about Halo 4, but I did want to talk about an underappreciated character real quick: the Gravemind. In Halo: CE when we were originally introduced to the Flood they seemed to be little more than parasites and the mindless zombies they produced. Sure, there was obviously some sort of rudimentary (perhaps hive) intelligence there, but what we got in Halo 2 with the Gravemind was so much more sinister. Whether you realized it or not at the time, throughout the plots of both Halo 2 and Halo 3, the Gravemind successfully manipulated so much of what was occurring. For instance, in Halo 2, while it’s not explicitly explained, it seems clear that it had assumed control of Halo Installation 05 after capturing its caretaker AI, then it was able to capture the In Amber Clad specifically to spread itself to (and take over) High Charity. It then captured and interrogated Cortana, all but completely corrupting her programming and turning her, which surely led to much of what the Flood was able to accomplish in Halo 3. I liked fighting the Flood much more in Halo 3, actually – the new “pure form” was pretty damn cool, for one.

Warthog Run, version 2.0
“Warthog Run, version 2.0”

In so many respects Halo 3 feels like an attempt to make the sequel that some fans of Combat Evolved (like yours truly) wanted but didn’t quite get with Halo 2. Beyond all of the gameplay shifts back towards Halo: CE I mentioned above, there are even more, like how much more time was spent fighting on Earth this time around, addressing a complaint I and others had around Halo 2’s campaign, and how much more active and chattier your UNSC marine companions are. Then there’s all of the Easter eggs and intentional references to the previous games Halo 3 makes, like re-delivered lines and rehashed levels; Hell, the game ends with another (much improved) Warthog run sequence ala Halo: CE. As a fan of the first Halo, of course this all feels like an improvement to me, but more importantly, it was all just so goddamn fun to play through again. It’s the first one of these that, even before finishing, I felt compelled to play more of. Somehow I didn’t have that many fond memories of Halo 3’s campaign going into this, but man, I really loved it this time. Throw in all of the additional multiplayer features and things like Forge and Theater, and this is easily one of the best games in the series, and one of my favorites.

Special delivery!
“Special delivery!”

As an aside, Halo 3 also marks the start of live-action Halo content with what is known as Halo: Landfall as well as these Believe ad campaign shorts. Landfall is made up of three parts that show us some UNSC marines fighting Covenant forces on earth while attempting to locate Master Chief, while Believe shows brief interviews with veteran of those same battles recounting their experiences. While neat, they’re hardly essential, but as I plan on covering some other official Halo related video productions when we get to them, I thought it these were a worthy footnote.

All screenshots by me!? Thanks to the Xbox Series X controller’s new share button I’m finally able to easily grab good screenshots from my Xbox. Fuck yes! I’ve been bitching about this forever.