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PAX Prime 2012: Hands-on with PlanetSide 2

Sony Online Entertainment's PlanetSide 2 is still in the process of development and beta testing, but the team brought the game to PAX for its North American tradeshow debut. If you really want to know what it's like, you can always sign up for the beta yourself. Otherwise, you can skip below this cut to hear about our hands-on time with the game on the show floor.

This was my first time getting my hands on the game, despite its ongoing beta. It's not necessarily the type of game I ordinarily gravitate toward, so I was a wee bit surprised to find myself liking it as much as I did.

I'm a big fan of this idea of hugely large-scale PvP. The persistent world and ongoing ebb and flow of battle are what really pull me in and put the close-quarters combat and maneuvering within a larger and more interesting framework. Drop points and the simplicity of joining the action make it easy to feel engaged.

Because of the nature of the demo-beast, I didn't do a lot of interacting within my squad. We were all working to take and defend the same control point, but it's not as if we were communicating to execute flawlessly coordinated maneuvers. That lack of inter-personal connection did affect my experience (I like playing games with people) but didn't ruin it and certainly seems as if it wouldn't be a problem in normal gameplay.

Squad member or no, I certainly found it easy to find some allies and a fight in PS2. It doesn't feel as if the game's ever really going to let you feel totally lost: If you can find other people, you'll be able to figure out whassup.

PAX Prime 2012 Handson with PlanetSide 2
There's always something to be doing in PS2. Feel up to taking on a support role? Run around as a Combat Medic. Looking for ways to be useful right after taking over a control point? Switch over to being an Engineer and repair turrets. Things too quiet where you are? Spin up a vehicle and get yourself somewhere else.

I began playing as a Combat Medic because I'm a fan of actively cooperative play. The medic role is also a dandy way to get acquainted with the flow of things, as it lends itself a bit more to following and watching than charging forward, guns a-blazin'. The Engineer is also fairly supportive, with options to fix up standing machinery like anti-aircraft turrets and heal the heavy Max suit fighters. While I spent a little time dabbling with the agile Light Assault loadout, I stuck mostly to the Combat Medic and Engineer.

Being a Combat Medic doesn't mean, of course, just running around and heal-gunning folks. The medic is still well-armed and fully lethal, totally prepared to serve up some sweet, sweet heals and then turn around and mete out some tasty death.

There wasn't time or reason to fiddle with customization, although most of the loadouts are meant to be fairly customizable and flexible. Instead, I was able to get a feel for Combat Medic and Engineer combat and playstyle and use all the interactive objects possible, from big planes and big tanks to smaller personal vehicles and standing gun towers.

I'm not a big fan of turret-manning. I prefer mobility and flexibility, and I found that turrets didn't quite jibe with that preference, so I found myself quickly leaving the big guns and running around to seek out trouble. I felt as if I was looking for a good compromise between being able to move at all and wanting to be a turret; fortunately, the Max seems to have the option to meet those needs. Trouble's not hard to find! Even when one area is fairly quiet, hopping around to find skirmishes isn't all that time-consuming -- and it gave me time to hone my piloting skills.

My one real complaint about flying is that I didn't have a lot of time to get used to it. Being used to pressing E for turning while moving, I had a horrible, horrible temptation to hit E while flying to turn my vehicle, which would be a less than ideal action as it would've had me exiting the airship at whatever altitude we'd reached. I didn't see any real aerial combat, as I basically just used flying to get from my spawn point on the map to a more interesting fight.

PAX Prime 2012 Handson with PlanetSide 2
Our fights took place in and around one capture-point facility. We were ultimately successful, so I got to go through the experience of coming upon a control point, working to capture it, repairing and setting defenses, and defending the point against the onslaught. Despite my general lack of coordination with my squad, I was able to follow along with the flow of fighting, which the game facilitates by making friendlies exceptionally visible. I got shot to death by a friendly once (although his buddy was kind enough to revive me), gave as good as I got with the enemy, made good use of my heal gun, and generally enjoyed getting into the battle.

The game is still very much in a growth process. Map balancing is currently of real concern; the team must realize the importance of ensuring that diverse areas of a map are about equally passable so that terrain isn't lending an unnatural advantage to one side consistently. Balance will be further cemented as more items and abilities are implemented. Since certain parts of the game and some weaponry have yet to be implemented, it's hard to see whether or not other mechanics are out of balance. The ongoing beta test, then, is slowly taking form and becoming more like what the "real" game will be. Slowly, the bits are coming together.

As a side note, SOE wins my vote hands-down for best booth cosplay. Three folks were strapped into incredibly impressive game-type armor. They were super badass and probably hugely uncomfortable but ultimately neato. My hat off to everyone involved in that effort -- I was told that PS2's "booth babes" were totally worth seeking out and my gosh were they ever.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 31st - September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, PlanetSide 2, RIFT: Storm Legion, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!

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