Hands-On with PlanetSide 2 at gamescom 2012

Updated Fri, Aug 17, 2012 by Ethec

From 2004 on could be labeled gaming's "me centered" era. Leaderboards and achievements grew to worldwide prominence, the loot chase took on all-consuming significance, and attention spans shrank as the appetite for raw entertainment, divorced of compromise or consequence, grew. It might have started with FPSs, with WoW, or some obscure influencer people love to talk about on forum threads, but one thing's for sure: it wasn't always this way. And for at least one game series, it was never this way.

"We have a couple of Call of Duty level designers on staff and a lot of Battlefield 3 players," PlanetSide 2 Executive Producer Josh Hackney explained. "It's to the point that PlanetSide 2 is the game they go home and play. They realized that the best stories were about the bridge you held last night all night with friends: they weren't about kill streaks... It's not about 'me', it's about 'us' in this game."

Planetside 2 Screenshot

Without an "us" things can look pretty lonely.


That's not to say that the typical FPS hooks won't make their appearance in PS2: "How well you're doing individually is still important, we'll still support all of that. But the whole community aspect is new and different with a whole lot of gamers who aren't familiar with PlanetSide." Josh noted that SOE will soon add support for squad-level and platoon-level objectives as well. "We want to make the game more player and community driven."

Stepping back from the big picture a moment, Josh walked me through the character creation process. No class choice is necessary, since you can play whichever class you like (and customize your loadouts and certifications within each class tree). PlanetSide 2 offers an impressive array of options - everything from colors and skins for weapons, weapon attachments, armor, and vehicles - in addition to the standard options for customizing appearance. The game has six classes to choose from: Infiltrator (whose special ability is cloak), Light Assault (jetpack), Medic (heal / revive), engineer (deploy turrets and mines, repair), heavy assault (shield), and a holdover from PlanetSide, the Max (dual wield heavy weapons). I usually pick the slowest class to start to get a feel for the game, so I went with the Max. Josh noted that the Max is a solid choice, that platoons could often be found lining ridges, raining death on tanks and aircraft alike.

Planetside 2 Screenshot

But the Max has two important drawbacks: 1) this class cannot use vehicles (it's too big!), and 2) the Max cannot capture points. As such, the Max was hard to play outside of a squad, and organization is typically lacking in event demos. I lumbered toward an enemy-held capture point - seen on the UI as a numbered red diamond - and happened upon a friendly (the game uses an IFF-type system - hovering blue triangles are friendlies, greens are squadmates, no or red triangles are enemies). Players can spot friendlies (using Q) to request or give heals and bring up social options (add to friends list, etc.). Pressing Q while targeting enemies marks the target on the minimap and HUD for all to see.

I found out the hard way that there is friendly fire in the game when that particular friendly stretched me out. "There is a grief system we just put in," Josh explained, noting that after a player accrues so many team damage / team kill points, the troublemaker won't be able to fire for a short period of time. If it happens often enough, the CS team gets involved and the banhammer comes down.

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