Planetside 2: massive FPS wargaming beauty

Planetside 2’s existence is nothing short of incredible. That’s going to sound like hyperbole, but as a life-long gamer I’m just stating an all too obvious truth. Even with the abundance of free-to-play games in the modern MMO market, the existence of an FPS game with the sheer variety of options, polish and depth that Planetside 2 while at the same time requiring zero monetary investment from a player is simply stunning. I know, this sounds like something that should go at the end of a review, functioning as a climax build up to after incremental praise, but I’m doing you a favor by front-loading this praise. The fact is, if you’re an FPS gamer, if you have any appreciation for huge maps, intense combat, multi-class gameplay and air, armor and ground gameplay, this is a game that should be installed on your PC right away. With the praise delivered, it’s time to explain in detail just why Planetside 2 is a must-install title.

I’m heaping a lot of praise on this game right away, so let me justify some of the reasons I’m doing so. First of all is the sheer variety of gameplay options they throw your way, for free. There are 6 on-foot classes to play as (medic, recon, light assault, heavy assault, engineer and the mechanized death machines known as MAXes), along with a variety of ground vehicles (light tank, heavy tank (faction-specific), APC, ATV and immobile turrets) and air vehicles (fighter (faction specific), heavy support, heavy transport). Each and every vehicle and class has its own distinct use and method of play – you’ll be using your jumpjets to reach roofs and crevices to launch surprise attacks from as light assault, sniping from afar as a recon, storming into the front lines as heavy assault… there’s variety here. Just about every standard FPS role you could want to fill is available for you to play in Planetside 2. More than that, they’re available to play immediately. Not a one of these classes or vehicles requires some kind of annoying cash shop payment to acquire, or even experience to unlock. From the moment you’re thrown into combat in PS2, you can jump into just about whatever role you care to. The only limitation here are resource points – points that automatically accrue at a set rate based on the amount and types of territory your faction holds currently, functioning as a way to reduce vehicle spam and encourage people to use their assets wisely.

Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to actually acquire in the game. Oh no. Each class and vehicle has a variety of upgrades and enhancements that can be purchased, either through grinding experience for certification points or by straight-up cash shop purchase. There are a variety of builds for every option available – an assault class may decide to specialize in up-close-and-person combat, complete with shotguns and enhanced armor capabilities, while a tank jockey may decide to pick up some anti-air guns for those situations where the skies are more deadly than the ground. There are so many options that, if you’re a gamer who likes to switch between a wide variety of playstyles, the whole experience may actually be overwhelming at first. I, personally, have gained hundreds of certs in my abundant Planetside 2 gametime, but have yet to spend most of them due to indecision. I consider that a good thing. The fact that there are so many ways to advance and enhance your toon’s ‘career’ – and the fact that you can do so without needing to hit the cash shop – is yet another feather in the cap of Planetside 2’s developers.[singlepic id=9988 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Since I brought up the cash shop, let me explain what’s available there. First and foremost is the subscription option – for 15$ USD/month, you can be a premium Planetside 2 player. That means priority access if ever there’s a login queue on your server, a bonus to experience and certification point gain, some enhanced resource gaining capabilities, advance access to cash shop items before they hit the public shop (mostly cosmetic gear here), along with a monthly allotment of SOE’s Station Cash. Well worth it if you plan on putting in a lot of gameplay time in PS2, but not strictly necessary. Some players may grumble a bit at having upgrade options available to be bought with that Station Cash – I can hear some ‘pay to win’ complaints already – but really, there’s not a single nor collection of upgrades available for any single player that’s going to monumentally turn the tide in battle. For those of you with more cosmetic concerns, the variety of skins available (including for vehicles) should encourage you: if you like to stand out in the crowd in a game, you’ll probably like some of these options.

I already mentioned it in the start of this review, but let me reiterate: one of the main draws of this game, the thing that truly amazes me, is how much Sony Online Entertainment is giving away here for free. No lame restrictions like being unable to achieve max level, or having some combat-related unlocks forever locked away from you, or an inability to team up with allies or communicate or what have you. No, the main restriction they place on you is in regards to how quickly you can unlock new equipment or upgrade options – and even at your initial starting level, you are quite capable of being supremely lethal, especially if you’re a skillful player. The fact is, only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a game like this to launch with anything short of a 50 dollar boxed copy investment and a monthly fee on top of it. We’re living in a golden age of gaming right now, and Planetside 2 is proof of that.[singlepic id=9989 w=320 h=240 float=left]

In addition to all this, let me attest – the gameplay itself is tremendous fun. I’ve had experienced in Planetside 2 that would be impossible to replicate in almost any other FPS out there right now. While the actual gameplay is solid all around – even the air vehicles are surprisingly newbie-friendly – what really makes Planetside 2 special is the type of situations you can get into, owing to their truly massively multiplayer world. In my time playing, I’ve experienced long-term stand-off sieges on bases, complete with heavy and light tanks lined up behind cover as they desperately shell a well-manned installation, sending in wave after wave of air support in a desperate hope of cracking the target’s defenses and opening up a way to land in a ground assault team. I’ve been huddled with dozens of other players behind internal base barricades, throwing grenades and struggling desperately to fight off the wave after wave of enemies soldiers streaming in as they struggle to wipe my team out. I’ve flown over rocky territories, looking down on columns of tanks – all player-piloted of course – as they streamed towards the next target in an intimidating display of virtual power. I’ve played FPS games since the days of Castle Wolfenstein, and the only time I’ve had experiences even approaching this were in the original Planetside, and in only the most few and far between Battlefield matches. This game offers a combat experience that simply isn’t available elsewhere.

Now, there are some rough spots to the game – but honestly, there aren’t all that many to speak of, doubly impressive considering how close to launch Planetside 2 still is. Right now, the gamer consensus is that vehicles – particularly air – are far more powerful, especially with regards to farming exp, than the ground troop options. No doubt some balancing needs to be done – but I can’t recall playing an MMO game that wasn’t a perpetual balance-tweaking affair during its entire existence. A more obvious problem comes in the form of how experience is handled in the game. Put simply, taking over an enemy installation offers the quickest ‘guaranteed’ exp for most players – even if the installation in question is utterly empty. So it’s common for players to gather together and hunt down the absolute easiest targets, which (while being effective from an exp point of view) can be pretty dull. On the other hand, this happens to be where surprises pop up – when the soft target turns out not to be as soft as you expected, and a major firefight breaks out.[singlepic id=9990 w=320 h=240 float=right]

This leads into another popular complaint about Planetside 2, but one that I disagree with insofar as it’s meant as a criticism: while there are plenty of protracted and relatively even battles, you also have many situations where victory is going to come down to numbers. The 3 factions have seemed surprisingly well-balanced in terms of total population, if the graphs displayed upon login are anything to go by… but I’ve been in my share of total curb-stomping due to zerg tactics, both on the winning and losing side. But you know what? Let’s be honest: a good old-fashioned zerging is fun! C’mon, who here plays FPS games and is going to say that absolutely stomping a bunch of outnumbered and outgunned saps doesn’t warm their hearts? On the flipside, who hasn’t taken pride in managing to hold out against overwhelming odds for as long as possible? Again, there’s plenty of opportunities for even-handed, drawn out fights in Planetside 2, but I refuse to pretend that the slaughterfests are a flaw in this particular diamond as opposed to just another facet. Yes, sometimes it’s satisfying to do the equivalent of taking out a well-armed foe using only your wits and your trusty combat knife. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to send no less than 10 rockets in the direction of the sole base defender who’s never even going to know what hit him. Planetside 2 provides both of these opportunities.

What’s really left to say other than what I’ve said so far? As far as the interface goes, Planetside 2 is passable. The controls are easy to learn and memorize, certainly responsive enough to do the job. It’s easy to get into the action – the moment you login, you can open the map and choose to be dropped into any of a number of current combat hotspots, or automatically join a squad in the hopes of having someone to coordinate with. For you guys who love playing leader, you have the ability to form squads, set objects, and even spend some certification points on unlocks appropriate for playing virtual general. The three sides seem balanced, having just enough differences to stand out while at the same time ultimately functioning in the same way. Graphically the game is beautiful – just check out some of the screenshots – with the curious quality of the Vanu Sovereignty having the biggest asses of all three sides. (Seriously, check them out in game, I’m not sure who decided this.) Those of you who are big on character creation options, the best thing I can tell you is that you can choose your gender and a few different faces/races, but otherwise customization largely comes in the form of skins and helmet shop purchases.[singlepic id=9991 w=320 h=240 float=left]

I’ll say again what I said at the beginning: Planetside 2 is a downright amazing game, especially for a Free to Play title. If you love FPS games, if you have any love for the genre at all, you owe it to yourself to at least download the game from Steam, create an account, and give it a shot. Find out for yourself just what this game offers. I’d tell you to come back and share your experiences with me – by all means, please do so – but chances are you’re going to be so wrapped up in playing the game that you’ll forget about this review, other than to say (if you haven’t played it already), “Thanks for the recommendation, Victor. This is AWESOME.”

By the way, in advance: you’re welcome.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.

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