For this installment of MMO Search 2014 I thought I would look at a different type of MMO, and so I decided to try out an MMO shooter called Planetside 2. Planetside 2 is a persistent online first person shooter (FPS) developed by Sony Online Entertainment where potentially thousands of players fight across a vast landscape to complete objectives, take over territory, and defeat other players. It was released in November 2012 and is currently operating under a free to play model, where Sony makes most of their revenue from player’s making in-game purchases. They have stated that the items they sell for real money will never include more powerful vehicles or weapons but rather just cosmetic changes and accessories that give slight advantages. I have never purchased any in-game items with really money in any game so I am always dubious of this kind of profit model. Granted, an argument could be made for spending money in order to decrease time spent grinding for content in the game, and there is certainly nothing wrong with giving financial support to a product you enjoy. Planetside 2 also offers a monthly subscription package where players receive extra experience and resources during game-play.
Game Interface, simple, but what else do you need?
The game looks a bit dated (I think the screen shot actually makes the graphics look better than they are when playing), but the graphics have a good amount of detail and polish overall. Considering that I experienced almost no lag in graphics or game-play even with several hundred people on the map, I think the graphics look surprisingly good (especially for a ‘free’ game). Even during heavy action I recall experiencing very little stuttering or hang ups. Music seemed almost nonexistent, but the sound effects are well done, and weapon sounds have a nice punch to them. The game screen or heads up display (HUD) includes just basic information such as your player’s health and class, and a map of the area.
Planetside 2 begins with players choosing one of three available factions (see faction logos in image below). The number of players in each faction seems fairly balanced, but there is no way to tell what the distribution of skillful players is for each faction (which could lead to a frustrating experience). Each faction has a different back story and unique perks (though this was not obvious from the selection screen) including differences in weapon and vehicle traits. For instance one of the factions has higher ammo capacity and faster vehicles. The player customization basically just involves choosing what face you want for you character, so the game offers very little in terms of customizing your character’s appearance.
Beginning Tutorial firing range, learn the basics of combat
Players are then dropped in to a training area where an NPC narrator takes you through some of the fundamentals of the game. Here players learn about basic game mechanics including movement and action commands, how to fire weapons, what weapons work best on what targets, and how to spot enemies and allies on the battlefield. The controls felt very responsive and were easy to pick up overall. Players also learn a bit about the different classes available. There are six different classes in the game, and each plays a unique role in combat. Classes available include a healer, a fast or heavy assault infantry, and a stealthy infiltration specialist. Players are free to change their class at their home base during the game, so they are not locked in to one class for a whole battle. There is a decent selection of classes here, so players should be able to find something that suits their play-style.
Your Faction’s main base, prepare to be confused
After completing the tutorial, the player is then relocated to their faction’s main base. Here players can change their class, refill ammunition, and build vehicles. Vehicles can be used for several different important functions such as troop transportation, heavy support, and scouting . Vehicles include speedy ATVs, heavy tanks, and air units. Unfortunately, I had almost no clue what I was doing at this point. I still had many questions after completing the tutorial including: how do I build vehicles, how do I find out what my team is doing or join current groups, and most importantly what are the primary objectives of the game? I understood more or less that the main point of the game is to capture and defend specific points, and, of course, take down players from the enemy team. So for a while I ran around just trying to find something to shoot at, and I was not even very successful at that. I did eventually find a help guide in the menus, which helps explain many of the game’s mechanics (probably a good place to start for new players like me).
The Game map shows where capture points are and what factions are controlling what zones as well as other information
The large size of the continent just added to my initial confusion since players could be engaged in skirmishes all over this map. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that one of the main draws of the game is the very large game world. One very helpful tool for navigating this vast environment is the map, which provides a view of the overall territory, intel on who is currently controlling each territory, and the location of contested territories. Territories under your faction’s control provide bonuses to units in adjacent territories. Players are free to capture many enemy or neutral territories, but sometimes the game will provide incentives to capture or defend certain areas.
Weapon Upgrade Screen where you can improve weapons and unlock new ones
Many actions players do in the game such as capturing bases, defending bases, or incapacitating enemies gives players experience points. Experience points can be used to upgrade and unlock additional weapons, skills, and vehicles as you play. These upgrades allow players to become more specialized in their classes. Additional skills can alter how vehicles operate and the roles they play(including repair, resupply, or heavy support), make a player more proficient in close-range or long-range combat, or just add general perks that make players better all around such as armor upgrades, for instance. Players appear to have a good amount of choices available to help them create a unique build. The game’s creators have stated that these status perks will not give a player an overwhelming advantage (they have stated an improvement of 15 to 20% is possible), but some players on game forums warn that being a new player can be very frustrating due to having no upgrades. I personally really enjoy upgrade systems like this that give players something to work for and makes everything you do provide at least some benefit in the form of experience.
Squad hot-joining menu allows for quickly joining other groups
Instant action deployment by drop pod allows players to dive right in to the action
After some research I found that there are options available for players to more easily jump in to the action. One of these options is joining a squad created by other players. The squad menu provides some general information about the squads available and allows you to join them just by clicking. How much fun you will have running with random players and the skill level expected of you, are not easy to determine from this menu though. Still, this is a good option to instantly find some people to play with. The other option that I found out about is called instant action deployment. When you activate this, the game drops you in to an area where you are likely to see some action right away, though you might initially be confused as to what is going on. I cannot comment on if it dropped me in to ‘the best’ location possible, but I was able to find active battles easily with this option.
Even with these options I still felt pretty lost in this game. I have seen people in online forums suggest that the best way to get started in the game is to immediately find a guild/outfit to take you in and explain the game to you. They would also provide a group to play with instead of just running around solo feeling like you have almost no ability to impact the game. I have a feeling that not every guild will want or accept brand new players though. Playing with a group of friends would also be a good option I am sure.
If you find a solid group to play with, Planetside 2 seems like it could certainly offer a good amount of fun for first person shooter fans. The game plays well, looks pretty good, runs smoothly, and provides quite a bit of character customization, but it feels somewhat shallow overall as a single player experience (not that I was anticipating a truly deep experience). There is nothing wrong with playing a game to have some fun, but I don’t feel like there is much to keep players coming back in the end. The main point of the game is to capture bases and territories, but ultimately some areas will probably always be controlled by one group and then others will just constantly fluctuate between who owns it. Also, I worry that battles will often be won by just having a larger group. I have no doubt that the game provides players with the ability to create epic battles, which could lead to exciting stories that you and your friends will talk about for a long time after they are over. Although, the odds of epic large-scale battles occurring really depends on how motivated the player base is to organize and play together. When I was playing, most people just seemed to be driving or running off in random directions, but I doubt that I played nearly enough to get a solid feel for the dynamics of the community.
If players want to run around, hop in to some small skirmishes, work on upgrading their characters, and not take the game too seriously, I think some people could find quite a bit to like about Planetside 2. For some people, this might be the type of game they have dreamed of playing for a long time now. Just be prepared to be a bit lost initially and don’t expect there to be any story, dialog, or quests to complete like in other MMOs. Kind of like EVE Online (though not nearly as robust or complicated), this game is all about making your own fun in the end. I think if I had a group of buddies who played with me I would give this one quite a bit more play time.
Next time we will look at a much more traditional MMO, unless a Rift gets me before I can finish writing. Let me know if you have any thoughts on Planetside 2 or just MMOs in general in the comments section. As always, thanks for reading!