PlanetSide 2 Beta Hands-on Impressions
A few weeks ago I got the one email Id been waiting for all summer. Thats right, I got the Golden Ticket to Higbys Awesome Factory--a PlanetSide 2 beta invite. The past few weeks have been epic, and I can finally tell you folks a little about it. Now, keep in mind that Im talking about a beta, which means theres more to be done. Even so, just with what SOE has in place already, its clear PS2 is going to be epic.
I thought some of my fellow vets might like to know some of the key differences between the first PlanetSide and PlanetSide 2. Heres a quick run-through of some of the biggest changes as of beta.
Voice Macros are back, but theres a new feature that may make them obsolete. In the original PlanetSide, the Q key was autorun. In PlanetSide 2 the Q key is a dynamic system called Spot Player. Spot Player includes a lot of dynamically generated options, depending on the nature of the target. What if youre a long way from home and see a Galaxy flying over? Just target the Galaxy in your reticle and hold down Q. A radial menu will pop up with options, like Request Transport, which will not only cue the appropriate macro, but also notify the pilot of said Galaxy and give him a vector to your location.
I was pretty impressed with the new system, which also includes the ability to add the player as a friend, join a squad, or any of several other options dynamically displayed depending on the nature of your target. Integrating it into the Spot Player radial menu makes a lot of those options easier and quicker to use, and in a game as fast-paced as PlanetSide 2 thatll be important.
One of the new developments in PlanetSide 2 will be an in-game VoIP system. Just like the text-based chat system of old, the new VoIP will include a number of channels to choose from. There are several in-game now, among them Local Area, Squad, Outfit, and Empire. Having played with the VoIP a little, Im impressed with the initial implementation. (One telling moment was when a dev interview I attended switched from conference call to in-game Squad VoIP because the quality was so much better.)
With increasingly complex capabilities come a slightly more complex control system, but those who have played military sims before will have little trouble with it. A separate key-bind for each channel is necessary, but theyre all customizable. I am a little worried about comms-clutter, which happens occasionally in actually military communications when multiple echelons are attempting to communicate on the same band. Hopefully there will be some system joining and leaving specific channels, or perhaps for prioritizing who you hear on an individual basis. Squads would always want the Squad Leader to have priority over anyone else, including Commanders in a combat situation.
Ammo and Inventory
Gone are the old systems of Ammo and Inventory, which I actually liked a lot about the first game, but the new system has some advantages. While it was really cool to be able to tweak how much of each thing you carried, the new system is a little more in-line with popular FPS games and probably is a little more approachable by newcomers to the franchise. Instead of boxes of ammo, each weapon simply has a magazine and a set number of spare magazines, upgradable by certification.
One of the advantages was really noticeable when I was flying my Reaver and ran out of ammo. Rather than land and take time to open a menu and reload a saved configuration or even drag it in by hand, I just hovered over the platform for a sec and everything reloaded immediately. That gets you back into the fight fast, and cuts down on that dangerous time on the ground.
Another change to ammo and load-outs are certifications and purchasable weapons. Well go more into both later, but the important thing in this part of the conversation is that they cost something every time you pick them up or use them. Every grenade has a cost, and every time the engineer drops a mine or block of C4, theres a cost. You can load up on them at the terminals, and while you can only carry one or two with you at a time, each time you respawn, youll get resupplied from your purchased stash if you used it.
Theres no HART in PlanetSide 2, so the combat drop works a little differently. Two ways to use the system are to either drop on a squad beacon, or to use Instant Action. Whenever a sector shows combat in the area, selecting that sector will pop up an option for Instant Action. Selecting that option will start a countdown that ends in the player dropping towards the planet in a slightly controllable drop pod.
The other way to use a drop pod is to drop on your squads beacon. To have a beacon the Squad Leader must have purchased the certification from the Leadership line of certifications. With that certification, hell be allowed to place a beacon which dead squad members will be able to select as a spawn point, launching them down in a drop pod. The beacon isnt big, but it does glow, which makes it a little harder to conceal. They can also be destroyed, so some caution is called for.
Certs, Mods, and Skins
We saved some of the biggest changes for last. While the first PlanetSide had certifications, they were a lot different than they are in PS2. In PlanetSide 2, the player has access to all classes and vehicles from the moment they log into the game. The certifications dont get you access to things, so much as they make you better at those things, the exception to that rule being some of the class-specific abilities. The Engineer class can either drop an ammo box, a block of C4, or various types of mines, but only the ammo resupply is available initially. Access to the other deployable devices are granted through certifications.
Every class, vehicle, and weapon in the game has a series of certifications associated with it. These certs sometime unlock mods for some of the weapons, like an Infra-Red Scope, different grips, or possibly a silencer. They may also simply make something more effective by increasing a vehicles top speed, giving a weapon higher magazine capacity, or grant a zoom feature to a vehicle-mounted weapon.
You may be asking where all these extra weapons come in to play that youve been hearing about. This is where PlanetSide 2s free-to-play model starts to make sense--you buy them. All of them can be purchased with in-game currency, but there will also be a way to purchase access through real money. Its likely that SOE will be using Station Cash for converting real money to purchasing power in-game.
Each new weapon you want access to will need to be purchased for either in-game or out-of-game credits from the store. It was a little confusing at first because I could see the certification options for the rocket pods for the Reaver, but I couldnt figure out how to equip them. I now know thats because I needed to purchase the ability to use them from the store first. Once purchased, theyll be available to equip, along with any other purchased upgrades. Additional purchasable upgrades will include special skins for weapons, vehicles, and uniforms, as well as decals for your vehicles cockpits.
The other big change is to Implants. Implants are back, but theyre slightly different than in the original PlanetSide. Implants in PlanetSide 2 will be purchasable with either in-game currency, or some sort of cash-exchange like Sony Cash. Most implants subtly increase your accuracy, reload rate, run speed, or things like that. Theyre very similar to the implants of the first game, except that now they have a shelf-life. Once activated, Implants are only good for a set amount of time, and then they need to be replaced with new ones.
Beside the minor buffs some implants give, others reduce the amount of time between buying vehicles. The goal, stated by the PS2 team, is make it so that between certs and implants, the time between buying vehicles should be reduced nearly to zero. There are several categories ranging between those that are vehicle specific, or some slightly more expensive ones that affect an entire class of vehicle.
The last type of implant is the one that increases resource accumulation. PlanetSide 2 has a new territory control system that nets the controlling empire a set amount of resources per time-period for controlling that bit of territory. These resources are used to purchase vehicles, upgrades, and implants. To aid in collecting the specific resources a player needs, these implants can be purchased in the store and implants are available for each of the resource types.
Still in Beta
Theres a lot to be excited about with PlanetSide 2, but its important to remember that the game is still in beta. Nothing is really set in stone, and little bugs and quirks are being tweaked constantly. SOE will be the first to remind you that they are making a true beta test of the game right now. This isnt one of those promotional beta events where the company uses it to hype the game. So as you get invited to beta, remember to be a little forgiving. Just in the weeks since Ive been in, Ive found dozens of issues corrected.
That said, even in a beta state, this is a pretty incredible game. Its even possibly as groundbreaking as the first. SEO really went to the board on this one and put a lot of thought into making a solid shooter that retains the epic feel of PlanetSide. PlanetSide 2 is rapidly looking to live up to its promise, and Im definitely starting to feel the excitement. I hope you folks enjoyed the beta sneak peek. As for me, Im outta here--there are more Barnies that need shooting.