An Updated Hands-On Look at PlanetSide 2
Even if you throw many genre staples out the window, such as questing, crafting, or raid progression, player advancement still needs to have some level of depth for a game to justifiably be called an MMO. PlanetSide 2 certainly marches to the beat of its own MMO drummer in that regard, offering perhaps the truest marriage of adrenaline-fueled FPS action and overarching character advancement goals.
We recently had the opportunity to visit the SOE offices and spend some quality time with PlanetSide 2, getting a much better feel for what makes the game tick. On the most basic of levels, PS2 is clearly the leader of the pack when it comes to the fresh crop of upcoming MMOFPS titles. The shooter gameplay is solid, and mechanics such as the large conquest style capture points helps promote that PS2 will be a very social gaming experience.
Today weÂll be taking a look at a few of the standout elements of PlanetSide 2 both from the more formal presentation by Creative Director Matt Higby, as well as a few initial impressions from our afternoon of hands-on time with the game.
Sidegrades vs. Upgrades
One word that Matt Higby made repeated use of during his presentation is ÂsidegradesÂ in reference to the 75 weapons that will be available to players in PlanetSide 2. ThatÂs not to say youÂll have all 75 weapons available at all times, rather youÂll be able to unlock these sidegrades for your different class loadouts to use.
But what exactly is a sidegrade?
With normal MMO itemization, the idea is to build systems where players will need to continually upgrade their gear to be able to handle progressively more challenging content. Once a key piece of gear has been upgraded, it typically renders the item being replaced useless in the life of your character. Sure, some games allow you to break items down to crafting components or make some other use of them when no longer needed for combat. But on the whole, the moment you upgrade an item youÂre also gaining a shiny new piece of vendor fodder in the process.
The key difference in PlanetSide 2 is that weapons are considered sidegrades, meaning that all previously obtained weapons are still perfectly viable. So instead of a giant item recycling system, youÂre instead broadening your weaponry ecosystem to have more options on how you want to approach combat with a given character.
The idea that there are 75 weapons in the game, each with subtle nuances to understand and eventually master, seems like it could be somewhat daunting to some players. ThatÂs a lot of info to process on what may be the most suited to a specific combat situation, but at the same time it allows for a certain degree of depth to decision making that helps reinforce that PS2 is indeed an MMO and not just an FPS title thatÂs grown too big for its virtual britches.
Still, following our afternoon of hands-on time at the SOE HQ, a few of my peers expressed concerns that the number of weapons in PS2. The majority opinion is that it seems a bit like overkill, but I tend to disagree on a few key points.
First and foremost, MMO gamers need something to strive for on a personal level with their characters. Territory control and the benefits thereof are basically goals of a larger subset of players in each empire. But to make the game truly work as an MMO over a longer period, there absolutely has got to be a layered system of personal advancement options. Allowing players to unlock a sizable suite of sidegrade weapons is just one of the many ways this is being addressed in PS2.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, in most competitive games, developers go to great pains to insure that characters can be cookie cutter versions of one another. While PlanetSide 2 still needs to strike a better balance here, one area that currently isnÂt lacking is the ability to make your character look, feel, and function like a semi-unique snowflake.
Speaking of that balance between carbon copy vs. wholly unique characters in PvP centric MMOsÂ
Shoot First, Apologize to Friendlies Later
Even after spending a sizable chunk of time playing PlanetSide 2 during E3, I still found myself struggling to process some of the on-screen info when first sitting down for my afternoon play session. It took about a solid hour of playing to finally start getting a feel for who the heck I was supposed to be shooting at, and who I was supposed to be supporting. Apparently my peers were largely in the same boat, as I spent the afternoon dodging bullets fired by my own team as often as those from enemies.
Being able to distinguish friend from foe in a fast paced shooter is as critical as stable frame rates. In most two faction titles, weÂve all grown used to Red vs. Blue, or some slight variant on the classic theme. As such, some obvious part of armor or nameplates will make it obvious within a fraction of a second whether or not other on-screen characters are enemies.
PlanetSide 2 suffers in a major way by not simply extending this to utilize the third factional color, in this case purple. While those three colors (red, blue, purple) are used to represent some on-screen queues, thatÂs not the case across the board. Instead, squad members have green nameplates, other friendlies have white, while enemies have no nameplates at all until a teammate tags one and it becomes red. Objectives controlled by your team also turn green, while those controlled by the other empires utilize their native color.
In the meantime, you can also customize your armor with things like zebra striping, so armor profiles and colors do absolutely nothing to help the situation. The same applies to vehicles, though at least those take up a bigger chunk of screen real estate, and as such have more instantly recognizable profiles.
The cumulative effect is that your first hour or so of play will be an exercise in frustration as you attempt to unlearn everything you know about PvP visual cues to distinguish friend from foe.
Given how many of us struggled with this exact same issue when diving into the game Â many of us even having played it only last month Â this is one area of the game where SOE really needs to consider going back to the drawing board. IÂm not saying that all characters need to be reduced to carbon copy profiles, but sometimes a simple solution can be the best one:
- Read Team = Red nameplate and Control Markers
- Blue Team = Blue Nameplate and Control Markers
- Purple Team = Purple Nameplate and Control Markers
The green and white nameplates need to go, as does the sometimes-there-but-not-always red nameplates to denote generic ÂenemiesÂ vs. members of a specific faction. ThatÂs probably the best feedback I could possibly offer to the PlanetSide 2 team at this point, at least in terms of areas that could use some more time in the development oven.
Day / Night Cycles
If lack of distinguishable on-screen markers is the biggest mark in the cons column from my hands-on experience, the day / night cycles sit squarely at the top of the pros. I absolutely adore everything about the system, and consider it one of the things that make PlanetSide 2 feel not only persistent, but flat out epic. This works on a couple of different levels; the purely cosmetic, and the impactful environment changes on gameplay.
On the cosmetic end of the spectrum, the shift from sunset, to nightfall, to sunrise, to daytime is subtle enough to give you a real sense of time passing while you play. A struggle to take over a key facility goes from being fun to epic in the sense that you really end up feeling like your squad just battled all night to secure critical resources.
The length of the cycle is still be ironed out, but Matt Higby noted that theyÂre currently targeting somewhere around 4 hours for the full cycle. So it wonÂt be a case where your geographical location and playtimes will help dictate the in-game time of day, nor will the cycle repeat so often as to never give you proper time to adjust. Instead, it will happen subtly enough that youÂll be able to take note of the sun beginning to set, and adjust your loadout accordingly (which IÂll touch on again briefly in a moment).
Graphically, I was truly impressed by how great the game looks at night. Fighting over the same facility suddenly becomes an all new experience, and was easily one of my favorite things during my afternoon play session.
Of course, this kind of radical environmental change is only as good as the game mechanics that support it, and the PS2 team has absolutely taken this into account. Apart from the obvious need to adjust your tactics at nighttime (hello giant headlights on vehicles!), there are other things players will need to factor in. Here is a pair of examples for your brain monsters to chew on:
First, the infiltraterÂs stealth becomes much more effective at night. During the day, it produces a slight shimmering effect that the more keenly eyed players will learn to distinguish from their surroundings. At night, however, stealth is much more difficult to detect. In terms of tactics, you could almost think of nightfall as an opportunity to send in your special ops team to lock down respawn points so that your heavy infantry can muscle forward come daybreak.
The second, and perhaps even more interesting impact worthy of note, is that youÂll be able to switch to using night vision goggles which adds another layer of depth to the overall experience.
While some of my peers flat out hated how radically the nighttime gameplay changed, I found it completely brilliant. I honestly canÂt wait to see what happens once weather patterns come into play. Large scale combat at night during a massive thunderstorm? Sign me up!
On the Horizon
So far weÂve really only begun to scratch the surface of what PlanetSide 2 has to offer based on our hands-on time with the game. Be sure to keep your dials turned to the Ten Ton Hammer channel, because weÂve got plenty more exclusive PS2 coverage coming your way. Specifically, weÂll be going more in-depth about our squad play experiences, and also giving our readers a better feel for how overarching gameplay concepts in PS2 compare to more traditional MMOs.