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The Firing Line: Three reasons to love PlanetSide 2

Jef Reahard

So you've heard of this PlanetSide 2 thing, and you're fairly sure that some significant buzz is building. You know that Sony Online Entertainment wowed a lot of people with its demo at this month's E3, and you know that the game is a high-dollar sequel to one of our early genre stalwarts.

It's a shooter, though, and you're either not very good at shooters or not very enamored of their gameplay. The good news is that there's still room for you on the PS2 bandwagon, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the title even if it falls a bit outside your comfort zone.

PlanetSide 2 - Vanu gunner
It's massive
As the MMO genre has changed over the years, many games and game communities have become quite insular. The "massive" in massively multiplayer online roleplaying game has arguably fallen by the wayside, and this is due to both the rise of soloable MMO content and the instancing technology that separates groups of players from one another while they burn through group content.

PlanetSide 2 turns both of these conventions on their ear due to its lack of instancing and its gigantic open-world map. While you can technically solo in PlanetSide 2, you probably won't enjoy it unless you're quite adept at stealth and scouting (more on this in a bit).

PlanetSide 2- Galaxy transport
It's accessible
This one requires a bit of explanation, and it's of course open to interpretation depending on your proclivities. When I say accessible in regard to PlanetSide 2, I don't mean face-rolling gameplay, instant progression, or pay-to-win power items in the cash shop (I hope; more on this in a bit as well).

Accessibility on Auraxis is more about variety, and despite the fact that PlanetSide 2 is most definitely a team-based shooter, you'd be surprised at how many different roles players can create for themselves in what amounts to a combat sandbox.

Let me give you a personal example. My shooter glory days are pretty far back in the rear view mirror. My gaming reflexes aren't what they used to be, and I don't really have the free time (or the desire) to put in the hours required to compete with the young guys tearing up the competitive scene these days. Sometimes I'd rather not even be bothered with combat, to be quite honest, and while that may be heresy for a shooter fan, there it is.

PlanetSide 2 scratches that non-combat itch in a number of ways, though, despite the fact that it remains one of the hardest of hardcore combat-focused titles. No, you probably won't be roleplaying, decorating your player house, or crafting much of anything on Auraxis, but neither will you be forced to play the zerg-shoot-die-respawn game over and over again. Crucially, you don't have to be a pro at deflection shooting to enjoy yourself either. Here's a partial list of things you can do in PlanetSide 2 that don't require high twitch skills, years of aiming practice, or truckloads of Mountain Dew.
  • Be an infiltrator, spotter, or scout
  • Be an engineer, deploy turrets, repair equipment
  • Be a dedicated medic, possibly with AoE heals, revives, etc.
  • Be a vehicle gunner
  • Fly a troop transport
  • Drive a troop transport
  • Use lock-on targeting weapons (like rocket launchers)
As you can see, it's a combat-heavy list, but there's much more variety here than in your typical shooter primarily because of the large, instance-free world mentioned above as well as the tactics necessary to capture and defend portions of a persistent map.

Dedicated transport pilots and drivers will likely be in very high demand unless PS2 gameplay departs radically from its predecessor; battlefield logistics will likely be a very real consideration in almost every engagement. Added to this is the fact that both the Galaxy and the Sunderer vehicles serve as resupply and fallback points, which means there will be a premium placed on skilled operators who can both follow orders and improvise under fire.

PlanetSide 2 - Sunderer transport
It's free
Realistically this could be a reason to love or hate PS2, depending on SOE's implementation. For now, I'm choosing to focus on the potential positives until we get some more definitive information. For PlanetSide 2, player count is quite literally everything. Simply put, what's the point in playing a game built around thousand-player battles if you've got less than 500 people on in prime-time?

The game's reason-for-being is large-scale spectacle, so the open-door business model is the only logical choice given today's gaming (and economic) climate. If you're worried about the cash shop affecting gameplay, well, so am I. SOE has yet to offer specifics on the items available in the store, but my guess is that they will be both varied and fairly expensive, at least until the firm is able to suss out its average monthly user count (and more importantly, determine how many of those users will actually spend money).

One look at a PlanetSide 2 gameplay video will tell you that this is a pretty pricey title in terms of production costs. SOE developed its new Forgelight engine in-house specifically for PS2, and we're not talking about four-dev browser tech or network infrastructure that need only support 32 players per lobby. The good news is that SOE is saying all the right things about its business model, as you can see in this summary from creative director Matt Higby.
Planetside 2 has three fundamental types of items. Power adding items: [These are] items such as grenades, med kits, certain types of implants (like a run speed booster); these items fundamentally alter player power and are acquired exclusively with resources earned in game. Playstyle items: These are sidegrades for vehicles and weapons, these switch up playstyle, and as much as possible are balanced against one another to not add absolute power. These are available for resources earned in game or Station Cash. Non-gameplay affecting items: [These are] things like cosmetic skins, resource or XP boosts, etc. These don't have any impact on moment-to-moment gameplay, and therefore player power, and are available for Station Cash.

So as you can see, anything that gives any gameplay impact of any kind is always going to be available through gameplay. You wont be able to unlock a gameplay affecting item exclusively for Station Cash, there will be an in-game acquisition path as well, you're just bypassing (or short-cutting) it by using Station Cash.

Additionally, none of our item sidegrades really give a discrete power advantage, and those items which do (such as grenades, etc.) are available exclusively for in-game resources. So, while you can unlock different playstyle choices with Station Cash, you're not really buying an advantage overall, you're just unlocking different situational breadth.
Final thoughts
If you're on the fence about PlanetSide 2, then hopefully I've given you a little bit of food for thought and perhaps a nudge toward researching the title for yourself. Yeah, ultimately it is a shooter, but it's an utterly unique shooter that offers compelling gameplay for folks who aren't necessarily good at shooters. It's also more of a persistent world than many of the MMOs currently dominating the space, and as such, it's going to be what its players (possibly including you) make of it.

Until next week.

The Firing Line's Jef Reahard has a twitchy trigger finger, a love of online shooters, and an uncanny resemblance to Malcolm Reynolds. OK, maybe not, but at least if he ever kills you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing him, and you'll be armed.

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