Cold, tired, and dead: Hands-on with PlanetSide 2's newest continent

PlaneSide 2
PlanetSide 2 is a game that's all about huge maps and war on an epic scale. The MMOFPS title's continents are massive -- dozens of times larger than the average first-person-shooter map and packed with structures to dominate, vehicles to crash, and enemy players to kill. For the last few weeks, players have been content to murder one another in the various environments of Indar, the only continent available when the beta went live, but everything changed over the weekend.

Now, there's a new kid in town: a vast, frozen wasteland that brings new challenges and new stories to the game in a way that Indar perhaps never could. It's called Esamir, and I gave my life (several times) to control and defend it.

This is my PlanetSide 2 story.

Before I begin, it should be noted that I have exactly zero experience with PlanetSide 2 or the original PlanetSide game. I'm a fair shot in most FPS titles, but this adventure was clearly going to take me out of my comfort zone. After all, what other FPS games are there that use incredibly large maps, persistent warfare and thousands of combatants fighting simultaneously? If others exist, I surely haven't played them. When I fired up PlanetSide 2, I was hoping to experience the game but not to really be amazing or lead my troops as they surge to victory.

My Esamir experience began roughly, to say the least. After creating a character and being dropped into my faction's home base on Indar, I was immediately killed by friendly fire. Apparently, some joker decided to spend part of his day killing characters as they logged into the game. Sony Online Entertainment deliberately enabled friendly fire and has been clear on how it feels about abuse, but that didn't seem to stop some players from randomly killing friendlies. That would occur several times more during my various play sessions. Call it the consequence of a game still in transition.

PlanetSide 2 Team Kill
After respawning and managing not to be killed by a bored teammate, I decided my next goal was to make it from Indar to Esamir. This proved to be complicated, as the two continents don't seem to show up on the player map, and there isn't much in the way of instruction on how to get from one place to another. After wandering around my base for a few minutes, I finally found a terminal that could drop me into the new continent, so I happily warped to the Esamir home base. Here, another problem emerged: We were completely pinned down.

One of the core functions of PlanetSide 2 is that any one of the game's three factions can control various territories across a continent. In some cases, with concerted effort, a faction can rule an entire continent save for one small warp-in area that allows rival factions to stage for a comeback. When I zoned into Esamir, it became immediately apparent that one faction had taken total control; most of their army was staged outside of our base firing off artillery and killing anything that tried to escape. We were outnumbered and outgunned.

PlanetSide 2 Haze
I tried to make my way out of our protective bubble a couple of times but was killed almost immediately. And because I'm so amazing at video games, I also inadvertently helped out the enemy by crashing airborne vehicles I had no business attempting to fly. After a few minutes of incredible failure, I opted for my backup plan: roll on a new server and hope circumstances were a little friendlier for someone simply looking to take a tour and get an idea of what Esamir had to offer.

On my next server, as it turns out, the faction I chose happened to be in the process of dominating Esamir and making things a living nightmare for everyone else. This made my sightseeing tour much, much easier. Thanks to our impressive military prowess, I was able to freely explore the continent and see what I could see, which mostly was snow and haze.

PlanetSide 2 Haze
Esamir has an incredible sense of scale. The continent feels wide open and dangerous and was designed as such, but much of it is hidden behind oppressive fog. In an SOE-guided tour I took earlier in the week, it was explained that devs are still fine-tuning the environment, which is welcome news considering the way Esamir's frosty climate and gorgeous design seem to take a backseat to fog that renders most of the landscape barely visible. My visuals were maxed, so I'm fairly certain this wasn't a computer-specific issue.

Besides that one complaint though, Esamir truly is a sight to behold. Enormous structures stick out of the snow like skeletons of forgotten technology, tundra spreads wide and forces players to travel in groups or find some sort of vehicle in which to make the trek, and the sun glints off every surface giving the continent a strange quiet beauty that only sometimes erupts into chaotic violence. The map is intended to move more slowly than Indar, and wandering around it helps demonstrate how: Structures are few and far between. You certainly don't get anywhere on Esamir by accident.

PlanetSide 2 Structure
I was able to do my part in taking and defending one specific player structure, though I'm not exactly sure whether or not it mattered to the game in the long haul. One issue with PlanetSide 2 at the moment is that it's not exceptional at explaining to new players what to do or why to do it, so while I know I helped my faction in some vague sense, I don't really know the real impact (if any) of my actions. In a previous conversation with SOE, studio reps said they're still tuning the new player experience, so hopefully these minor kinks are worked out by launch time.

What I can say, however, is that combat feels quick and crisp, and the different classes give the game a cool arc of personalization that left me wanting more. After being dominated as a Light Assault player, I sneaked back in as a cloaked Infiltrator and capped off a few quick headshots. When that got old, I swapped into Heavy Assault and tried to avoid accidentally blowing up my teammates with my massive launcher. And finally, I ran back and forth as a medic helping to revive downed teammates and keep everyone alive.

PlanetSide 2 Combat
In my brief time with Esamir, I learned a few things about PlanetSide 2:
  • The game has incredible potential, and SOE seems to be on the right track when it comes to bringing it to bear.
  • This is a team sport; lone wolves may find the experience lacking, but those who look to join squads and make friends will find a rewarding experience waiting.
  • For all the vehicles and vast scope, PlanetSide 2 is very much a twitch-heavy shooter. In other words, the fastest click usually wins.
Esamir is a cold, miserable place. But its contrast to the existing continent in both theme and strategy make it a compelling addition to the PlanetSide 2 universe. I can't wait to see what SOE adds next.

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This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.