Hands-on Preview: Like its predecessor, PLANETSIDE 2 is trying to tackle the MMOFPS genre in exciting and unique ways, but does it have enough going for it to draw in a large audience? We jumped into the beta to see all it had to offer.
Betas used to be about helping developers find bugs so they could fix them before release. Lately, though, a lot of developers seem to use them as little more than glorified demos: a way to promote a game shortly before release.
The Planetside 2 beta isn’t one of those betas. This is a down and dirty beta that is full of bugs, incomplete features, lags and exploits, but beneath all of that there is a great large scale persistent MMOFPS that has a lot of promise and a dedicated dev team behind it. With the release date so close, though, they’re going to have to fix things quickly.
Currently, Planetside 2 has two large continents that are divided between three factions: the Vanu, who have some neat alien technology, the imperialistic Terran Republic, and the freedom fighters who call themselves New Conglomerate. Each faction is constantly struggling to take over new territories that provide specific resources to whoever captures it, meaning there’s always a strategic meta-game going on alongside the FPS action. Unfortunately, there is currently no way for your faction to win in the grand scheme of things, but there are plenty of battles to fight, many ways to customize your character, and eventually there will be more to the strategic side of the game.
Your characters in Planetside 2 will progress, just like in any modern multiplayer FPS, and you can unlock new weapons, equipment and skills. You do this all with certifications, which are earned by getting experience through combat or conquering enemy territories. The system isn’t restricted just to your infantry classes: each vehicle also has many different weapons and unlocks, such as increased zoom, armor plating, anti-air cannons, and stronger thrusters on a plane. The system works well, but it pretty much just feels like every other customization system out there, and so, despite the depth, it fails to offer any innovation.
The Galaxy is king
Sony Online Entertainment is going huge with Planetside 2, and are delivering epic battles that have hundreds of players fighting by land and air. That approach is very similar to the first game, which was released back in 2003, but most of the game’s mechanics are different and they were meant to be different. A great number of players, especially Planetside 1 veterans, have been attacking the game for being different, but SOE President John Smedley purposely and clearly stated that Planetside 2 is not going to be exactly like the first game: and I say thank goodness for that.
The first game had the potential to have great battles, but it was immensely difficult to get involved in those battles and the whole system didn’t work all that well. In Planetside 2, you can see many of those same ideas, some of which are still frustrating and uninspired, while others are still horribly exciting: like the ability to actually fight in what feels like a real army with hundreds of players, or the the large number of options in combat, or the massive open maps.
In the first Planetside, everyone roamed around in armored personnel carriers that functioned as mobile spawns, among other things, and that is going to be the case once again in Planetside 2. Furthermore, the giant boat of the sky that is the Galaxy is going to have its respawn ability turned into something that dedicated pilots have to unlock. It will be a very interesting change for the game and it will hopefully bring about some slower paced combat.
At the moment, Planetside 2′s mobile spawn is a large armored drop ship that is very defensible and difficult to take down. It is tremendously enjoyable to be part of a group that goes from area to area deploying out of a Galaxy, taking a base and working as an actual army, but it all feels a little bit wrong.
Something about a mobile spawn that can fly over or around any defenses, except for anti-air turrets, doesn’t feel very balanced, especially when the Galaxies can take so many hits. Galaxies can go anywhere and deploy anywhere, which makes any type of ground unit feel very inferior to this giant flying fortress that can simultaneously transport many infantry while defending itself with multiple gun positions. However, there are weapon unlocks for vehicles and infantry units that let them hit air, but they are expensive unlocks and you don’t need to unlock a single thing to have this big spawn boat of a Galaxy at your disposal. However, the developers are impressively active and all of this is already being addressed.