PlanetSide 2 officially announced with amygdala-stroking trailer

PlanetSide 2’s (finally official) announcement, at least for this editor, is the most exciting game announcement of the year – by a long shot. You may be asking, “What the heck is PlanetSide?” Well, the main thing you need to know is that it’s an MMOFPS, which should immediately prick up your ears if you love FPS games. “But wait,” you say, “I hate MMOs!” Have no fear: PlanetSide is almost nothing like the typical MMO, because it’s not an RPG, but an actual skill-based game, but with more players than you’ve ever encountered in an FPS before (MAG doesn’t even come close). It’s so amazing I insisted it be included in ourTop 100 games of all time. And now, with PlanetSide 2 incoming, I have high hopes that gamers who would have loved the original game but missed out on it will finally see what all of (my) fuss is about. Of course, I don’t know if the sequel will actually be good yet, but I’m more excited and hopeful for this game than I’ve been for any game in probably ten years. Seriously.

First let’s check out that trailer:

It’s possible after watching that you’ll say “Eh, looks like a generic sci-fi FPS.” And I wouldn’t blame you. PlanetSide’s art style has never been overtly flamboyant, but it has tiny details you don’t notice at first. With some deliberation the creative aspect of the armor, weapon, and vehicle designs becomes clear. Plus, that video shows a tiny fraction of what the game will offer. The video barely showed the infantry weapons, vehicles, and just a hint of the aircraft. Strangely, the true scale of the game isn’t obvious from the trailer – you get a glimpse of it, especially at the end with the fleet of aircraft, but I’m telling you, take everything you see in the video and multiply the number of players by ten to twenty and you’ll get an idea of just how massive the battles will be. And if PlanetSide 2 can pull off the same balance of roles that the first game did, these giant battles won’t be a huge mess like you might worry about. Other FPS games become total chaos when you get too many players on one map, but not PlanetSide. It’s a beautiful orchestra of foot soldiers, tanks, buggies, fighters and bombers, support units, invisible stealth dudes and much, much more.

Above: Note the vast distances involved - those curving structures in the upper-right are parts of a warpgate, which is what you use to move between continents, so if you can see it, you can travel to it

After I played the first PlanetSide, every round-based shooter afterward felt like a hollow shell that only made me want to go back to PlanetSide, because not only is the scale so much bigger, but there’s also the persistent world. You have a character that levels up, joins a permanent Outfit (think guild), and wages war over continents that are always there, always changing hands. After that, simple shooter rounds that repeat over and over feel outdated. So if PlanetSide 2 can pull off what the first did and draw in a new audience, be prepared to never look at other shooters the same way again. You’re going to be spoiled. That said, let’s take a look at some of the interesting parts of the announcement.

Above: This building has us baffled - it's bigger than the original game's towers, but smaller than the bases. We have no idea what its purpose is

The fact sheet mentions “tightly-packed urban centers” which is absolutely huge for PlanetSide fans. The first game started off with just big, wide-open fields, forests and mountains surrounding bases that look like futuristic castles. Players wanted to fight in an urban environment, but the Core Combat expansion, which was supposed to provide that, instead gave us giant caves full of crystalline “buildings” that may have in spirit provided urban-style combat, but never felt like a city. If we get true cities this time around, the game will have an appeal that will draw in players that never got enough traditional FPS combat from PlanetSide’s uninspired indoor level design (even if base battles were enormously fun despite the weak designs).

There’s also mention of “holding territories and controlling resources.” PlanetSide 1 has essentially only one type of thing to control – the bases. There are no real resources to speak of. The idea of resources in PS 2 is both exciting and worrying. On the one hand it could provide strategically deeper gameplay, but on the other hand it could introduce a slippery-slope dynamic often found in RTS games where once a side is losing, the resource disadvantage makes victory increasingly unlikely. This is especially dangerous in a persistent shooter because without rounds to reset teams’ advantages, one side could be in trouble for a very long time. Of course, we don’t know what these resources are or how they work yet, so we’ll have to wait and see. One thing that stands out, though, is the mention of “fuel bonuses,” which is strange because it implies that vehicles will require fuel – a radically different concept from PS 1 and also from most shooters that have vehicles. Again this is worrying and also potentially great: having to deal with fuel might make vehicle driving a pain (and some players dedicate their entire playstyle to vehicle driving), but on the other hand it may be a good check against the power of vehicles versus infantry, which is a bit out of whack in PS 1 – infantry being fodder for vehicles.

Above: We noticed the cliffs at the top of those mountains, which has us worried again. In PS 1 there were few places a foot soldier or ground vehicle couldn't travel, so if those cliffs are prevalent, it means more restrictive maps

Another key quote is this: “PlanetSide 2 will launch with several continent maps.” The emphasis here is mine. PS 1 has ten continents, and that’s what it launched with (with six continent-sized caves added later). “Several” implies fewer than ten, but this may be a smart design choice: it will keep players closer together, ensuring huge battles instead of having people too spread out. And if the game takes off, they can always add more continents later, as implied by the at “launch” phrasing. They also mention that “landmass will have intrinsic value even without notable installations or major features.” This is particularly interesting because with PS 1’s bases, fights always centered on certain points of the continents, whereas if in PS 2 you gain something by owning every inch of land, there will be much more diverse battles because people will be fighting over random parts of the world no one would otherwise pay attention to.

Let's check out the concept art for the MAX suits for all three empires:

Above: MAX suits are sort of like indoor tanks - they are heavily armored foot soldiers designed to punch through stalemates. You can see here how the three empires have beautifully unique design styles

Now we get to the big item that has me and other fans worried: a “free-form class-based system.” That may sound cool to PlanetSide newbies, but understand the PS 1 has no discrete classes, and that’s one of the features that makes it stand out amongst other shooters. In the original game, you can slot-in individual certifications for weapons and vehicles, meaning you can truly create any custom “class” you can imagine. If PS 2 restricts us to classes, that may take away a big part of PS 1’s unique flavor. However, some players argued that the original system allowed people to be one-man armies, discouraging teamwork. So it’s possible a class system (which they make sure to say is still customizable) could be good for teamwork-oriented players.

Apparently there’s going to be a mission system, which is something I had wanted for a long time in the original game. It’s implied that players in leadership roles will be able to create missions for their underlings – if this turns out how I’m hoping, it will mean coordination on a mass scale that possibly no FPS has ever achieved (MAG’s scale just doesn’t match up).

Above: Whoa, whoa, whoa! This is just concept art but what's up with that giant airship? Yes, please!

And finally, they talk about 20 basic weapons and 15 vehicles, but understand that the original game started with roughly that many pieces of equipment, but got far more by the later years. The real big question marks remain: what kind of subscription model will it have (the original has a monthly subscription), and will it be PC-only? We’re not sure how the game could possibly work on PS3 (this is a Sony game, so don’t expect a 360 version), and frankly although we like the idea of PlanetSide 2 reaching a bigger audience, if the game is designed around being ported to PS3, it will almost certainly have to be dumbed down, considering the original game got me to use more keys on my keyboard than any game I’ve ever played.

If you’re still not sure what the big deal is about this game, don’t worry - I’ll be talking about it more as information trickles out.

Jul 8, 2011

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.