If you asked your gamer friends if they’ve ever played an MMOFPS, most would just think you made that term up. Developers have tried to embrace and elevate the genre, but creating a persistent online, constantly shifting, customizable first person shooter is a serious challenge – most projects in the genre never see the light at the end of the development tunnel.
The original Planetside, however, was certainly not one of those failed attempts, but actually a potent example of how the formula can work.
“There’s never been another game like Planetside. There’s never been a true MMOFPS and Planetside 2 is going to be the best.” At two in the afternoon, I was creative director Matt Higby’s seventh interview and his enthusiasm about the ways in which the team had perfected the MMO shooter had not waned. The fans appreciate it too, as we took a few breaks so fans could come up and shake Higby’s hand. He was hard to miss, sporting a t-shirt broadcasting the logo of his preferred Planetside 2 faction.
For the uninitiated, Planetside 2 takes the small-scale battles common in online first person shooters and gives them a greater context by placing them in a progressive, player-shaped world. Three established factions – Terrain Republic, New Conglomerate, and Vanu Sovereignty – vie for control for a planet called Auraxis. When I say vie, I mean it too. Battles that are won are actually won, as they earn your team territory and resources. These winnings not only progress the faction, but let individual players upgrade their soldiers. There are no instanced battles and no solo sidequests. In fact, the battles are on even when you’re not.
If you let time lapse between logins, you’ll find a very different battlefield awaiting you. You won’t have to worry about the monthly-fee MMO-guilt though, as there is no monthly fee. There are options to pay small amounts for temporary items like grenades and bonuses if you feel so inclined, but they’ll give you no real advantage over other players. In addition, players can go the extra mile and subscribe to a membership, which allows them to earn resources from their faction’s success even when they’re not even online.
That’s the spirit of the MMO system and Higby is confident that it can be adapted to encapsulate a shooter.
Planetside 2 intends to be more than tiny, isolated infantry skirmishes. Players fight on huge battlefields that Higby could only describe as indescribable. There are vehicles, both air and ground, and the game does not put limitations on how many can be active. If every player is willing to dish out the resource points, a whole attack force could be comprised of tanks – or planes, or anything you damn well please. Really though, what matters in Planetside 2 is skill – this isn’t about dice rolls, it’s about tactical choices and twitch reflexes.
In fact, that level of skill could make you a legend. The game has a robust customization system, with purchasable elements like paint jobs and color changes, which can make your specific outfit identifiable. Even more, the outfits themselves have their own upgrade trees, allowing you to specify your group’s abilities. Higby described a team that had created an air-focused outfit in testing and were so deadly in combat that the sight of their customized ships made other players turn and retreat.
Higby could scarcely hide his excitement when describing the fan reactions to the game so far. He admitted that the game’s biggest fansite, Planetside Universe, and the game’s subreddit are the first things he reads before getting out of bed in the morning. When I asked if that feedback from fans has had a significant impact on development, he couldn’t have issued a stronger or more confident “Yes.”
It’s a difficult task to adapt a unique game with a dedicated, already established collection of fans, who expect a certain level of consistency alongside measurable evolution. This loyal adaptation is readily apparent in the new class system, which replaces the free-inventory style of play from the original. Rather than mixing and matching moderately powerful weapons and abilities, specific classes can become exceptional powerful at individual roles. It also reinforces one of the core elements of Planetside and quality tactical shooters: teamwork.
In terms of that illusive release date the fans are vying for, Higby only responded to my questions about the game’s beta with the vague answer of “in the future.” The core game engine and online technology is built, Higby tells me, but some smaller elements, like gun models, are in need of tweaking. Of course, any title reliant on online play will have to stress-test their servers, so a beta is surely to come soon.
Keep an eye on Planetside 2, because the boasts of a genre-breaking experience have made even a cynic like me a believer.