“Genius is never understood in its own time,” is an aphorism often quoted by the chronically misunderstood, or the overly angsty. It also should have been the slogan for the original Planetside. Released in 2003, Planetside offered players massive infantry, vehicular, and air battles for territory of hundreds of soldiers across the 10 continents of Auraxis, and also expected you to have a very nice PC with at least a DSL connection. While in 2012, a decent PC and a high-speed internet connection are the rule rather than the exception, 2003 was a much darker, slower time. I, like many, many others, was still chained to a 56k dial-up modem connection, and a PC capable of playing Planetside could still cost around $1500-2000. Of course, I still bought the game, and I was treated to the nicest slideshow of brightly colored warfare I’d ever seen.
Sony Online Entertainment, creators of the original Planetside, must have taken a look at their original plan from 2003, and said, “Hey, people actually have the ability to play this game now. Not only that, but first-person shooters and MMOs are even bigger markets than before! My God, we’ve got to get someone on this right now!” Thus, the free-to-play MMOFPS Planetside 2 was born, and girlfriends, wives, bosses, and college professors wept as they realized they may lose us to Auraxis. After some quality hands-on time with a early version of Planetside 2, all I can say is, “Peace out, world. I’ve got a planet to conquer.”
Planetside 2 takes every single thing from Planetside, and turns it up to 11. The graphics, the sounds, the play style, the difficulty, the rewards, the scale…ALL of the features are boosted by orders of magnitude, to include battles between thousands of soldiers across the entire persistent planet. Don’t be fooled by the fact that many elements remain constant between Planetside 1 and 2, SOE has taken great pains to include features of both modern FPS games and modern MMOs which make the barrier to entry for new soldiers much lower than it was previously. If you’ve played any Call of Duty or Battlefield game, you already know the basics, which is incredibly handy as Planetside 2 is completely free to play. In the words of Executive Producer Josh Hackney, “The only investment you have to make is the time it takes to download. (Since it’s free) there’s no reason not to play Planetside 2,” and he’s absolutely right.
With any free-to-play game, there is always the concern that any item bought with real money will be way more powerful than one bought with in-game currency. Thankfully, games like League of Legends and Tribes: Ascend helped set the standard of allowing players to purchase most items with both real money and in-game currency. The only items to be RMT-only will be purely cosmetic. I pressed my Auraxis tour guide, the aforementioned EP Josh Hackney, for details regarding how long it would take to earn an item in-game vs. buying it, and while he didn’t have specifics, he noted that the balance between RMT and in-game currency purchases is something they’ll be paying close attention to during the beta.
The three factions of Planetside remain unchanged. The original settlers of Auraxis were the Terran Republic, a very regimented, militaristic organization who focus on high speed, high ammo count weapons and whose social policies have a bad tendency to rub their citizens the wrong way. When the Terran Republic leadership decided that the alien technology was too disruptive to their Big Brother-like regime, a large majority of scientists and intellectuals voiced a collective “NOPE,” grabbed all the alien goodies, made like a tree, and got the hell out of there. Enter the Vanu Sovereignty, the first splinter faction of the Terran Republic, whole-hearted lovers of all things alien found on Auraxis, and wielders of hover-tanks, lasers, and pretty much anything flashy.
Not to be outdone, the element of the Terran population that wasn’t quite as into aliens as the founders of the Vanu Sovereignty, but was just as pissed off also splintered away from the Terran Republic to found the New Conglomerate. Whilst they may espouse views about human rights and freedom that some may call hippy-ish, one brush with the end of a New Conglomerate shotgun or tank barrel will dispel that notion rather quickly. Their guns may not fire as fast at the Terran Republic, or shoot lasers or plasma balls like the Vanu Sovereignty, but their railguns pack a hell of a lot of damage into one shot.
I can’t go further without mentioning possibly the absolute best use of a tablet or smartphone I have ever seen in any arena. SOE’s MMOs have become known for allowing players to access a huge amount of in-game data outside the game, and that tradition continues with Planetside 2, but of course, pumped up to 11. At launch, there will be apps for Android and iOS which provide a number of windows into the current state of your server, such as the ever-changing territory maps, player stats, and much more. I can hear you saying “Bryan, those aren’t really new elements. WoW has the Armory, which does a lot of what you’re saying,” and that’s true, but I saved the best part for last.
Planetside 1 never had VoIP, leaving players to rely upon external programs. Planetside 2 has VoIP built into the game… and into the app. You heard me right, you can completely control your VoIP chat through the touchscreen, your voice is transmitted through the microphone on the tablet (or phone), and everyone elses’ voices are played back through the speakers. Of course, you can already get Ventrilo on your phone and do basically the same thing, but here’s something you can’t do: switch between squad (party), outfit (guild), local channels, and more, simply by tapping the appropriate button on the tablet/smartphone. While it may not seem like much, the ability to quickly and accurately switch between groups to give commands in the heat of a battle involving hundreds of players can easily mean the difference between victory and defeat.
As a journalist, I try to keep myself from being too excited about any given game or event, but Planetside 2 is a game about which I can’t help but be ebullient. The beta will most likely be starting during the summer, so head over to the Planetside 2 site to register for the beta. When a game’s designed to support literally thousands of players on the same server, you know SOE will need all the testers they can get. From what I can tell, the only possible ways you won’t like Planetside 2 is if you don’t like shooters, free-to-play AAA games, or you’re just allergic to fun.