PlanetSide 2 Esamir
PlanetSide 2, currently in development over at Sony Online Entertainment, is an MMO like no other. The game is a first-person shooter that boasts a persistent online world, strategy-focused gameplay and a skill-based reward system. There are experience points, unlocks, class specializations and customization options, along with piles of guns, numerous vehicles and twitch-heavy skill-based rapid-fire combat. In short, it's everything you might expect to find in a game bearing the MMOFPS moniker.

The combat in PlanetSide 2 takes place on enormous continents packed with defensible structures and environmental hazards. And while SOE plans to launch the game with three continents total, current beta participants have so far only had access to the canyon/forest/desert terrain of Indar.

Lucky for those testers ready for a change of scenery, SOE has just announced the addition of Esamir, a second playable continent that promises to bring a host of new challenges along with new visuals and new hidden secrets.

We sat down with SOE's Leonard Gullo and Tramell Isaac to get an up-close look Esamir and find out what lies in store for those willing to brave its harsh climates.

Understanding continents

Before we delve too deeply into Esamir, it's important to understand exactly what a "continent" is in the context of PlanetSide 2. Unlike other FPS games that drop players into matches, ask them to capture or defend points, then reset those points when a new match begins, PlanetSide forces players to take a longer view of victory and strategy. Fights can last for hours, days or even weeks, meaning gains made during one play session will be left to other players to defend or abandon. There are three factions competing for resources, and the end goal is for actions on all continents to be tied together via a global resources system. In other words, it takes teamwork and strategy to be victorious, and victory is often the result of thousands of different players playing at different times.

Esamir's Frozen Wastes
Each continent in the game is massive -- dozens of times larger than some of the multiplayer maps to which players may have grown accustomed in other games. And every continent supports around 2,000 players actively defending, attacking, subverting and hiding. More impressively, maps are designed by hand to provide a variety of specific challenges to players through both artificial structure and environmental concerns. There are no building blocks or random structure placements; everything is where it is on purpose and for a reason.

To put it in terms perhaps more MMO fans will understand: Take Arathi Basin's control and capture gameplay, give everyone guns, then make the map as large as the entire Eastern Kingdoms. Finally, drop a bunch of vehicles in for transportation, defense and assault, and watch as players attempt to outsmart each other in an expansive, ever-shifting battle.

Introducing Esamir

Indar, the existing continent, boasts a wide range of environments and an abundance of player facilities ripe for the taking. Players will find canyons, forests, a desert and a variety of strategic situations designed with specific solutions in mind. Esamir, the new continent, is similar, but has a more unified theme of frozen tundra and expansive spaces. The map is barren and open, with roughly half the number of player structures than Indar in a similar amount of space. It's a continent that provides players with long travel times and large areas in which to move instead of the fast-paced, constant chaos fights that unfold on Indar.

Esamir Structures
This is by design, of course. SOE noticed that due to the proximity of bases on Indar, players would often end up defending a base from attack immediately after capture. So, in the interest of providing a slower, more measured map that relies on strategy and organization, the devs specifically spread out and minimized Esamir's resources. The end result? A new continent that not only looks different from the existing one, but plays completely different as well.

SOE incorporated player feedback from Indar tests to make Esamir structurally and functionally different from the content that already exists, creating an environment that supports slower, more stable matches with more travel time and organization. It will demand a different skillset and different approach, and will likely rope in a different type of player. Everything on Esamir, like Indar, is designed by hand to enhance this overall design goal. Civilian outposts, biolabs, tech labs and other facilities litter the landscape, and each one has a story to tell and strategic significance.

Esamir Facilities
There are more subtle differences between the maps that players may not notice until they actually hop into a game. Indar has a completely different day and night cycle from Esamir (which in turn requires different gear loadouts), due to the two continents being located on different parts of the planet. Snow and ice are more than aesthetic -- they actually affect the way vehicles handle and perform. The space feels more vast, with a longer draw distance and a lot more exposure.

Playstyles through design

SOE also changed the way it approached the philosophy of design when work on Esamir began. With Indar, the devs designed each sub-area of the continent to have a preferred method of capture and defense. Some areas are clearly for air domination, some demand infantry. Such designed provide a measured and consistent method for players to learn the best ways to snag each point and hold onto it for the duration of a match.

With Esamir, the studio took the exact opposite approach. The areas are not designed with any specific capture strategy in mind. And while the map as a whole depends heavily on vehicular combat, there's no guarantee that capping a point via air superiority in one match will work again in another. Esamir is intended to be a less predictable battlefield that rewards patience and creative thinking over applying the same old tactics time and time again.

Esamir Tundra
SOE believes that in mixing up the way continents play out, they'll deliver to players the ability to choose a fight that suits various play styles. Those interested in long-con strategy and slower paces will head to Esamir, and those who want something faster and more hectic will be drawn to Indar. The third continent, still under wraps, will likely thread the two together with more of a hybrid approach. Once all three are implemented, players will be able to deploy to any fight they wish at any time.

SOE has a bold vision for PlanetSide 2, and if it's able to achieve this vision in the way the devs described, the game will be quite the contender in the (admittedly niche) free-to-play MMOFPS arena. We'll have more on the game next week, but for now, we have to admit that we're excited to see what SOE has up its sleeve when it comes to future plans, additions and the game's official launch.

Have you jumped into the beta? What are your thoughts so far?

Editor's Note: SOE has confirmed that Esamir will go live for all beta participants later today.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

This article was originally published on Massively.
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