Hands-On with Planetside 2 at E3 2012
Following GDC earlier this year, we noted that the MMO industry is rapidly trending towards the FPS genre for its next major source of inspiration. While most of the titles weve been watching tend to stick with the tried and true formula of arena combat or smaller scale skirmish warfare, Planetside 2 is an altogether different beast.
At its core, Planetside 2 is a worthy and true successor to the original. However, I would still argue that the original Planetside was a game ahead of its time, and entered the market prior to the mass market appeal that both MMOs and the FPS genre have since benefited from.
Likewise, hardware back then necessitated that you might only have hundreds of players on a server, whereas with Planetside 2 everything is bigger, bolder, and average systems can now handle the thousands of players per server that PS2 will support.
Heading into E3 this year, PS2 is one of the titles I was most eager to get my hands on for a few different reasons. Chief among them: I wanted to see how solid the shooter gameplay is. As an old school ranked Unreal Tournament clan member having competed nationally for a time, I've felt underserviced by generations of cover system-reliant and/or gimmicky shooters. If the nuts and bolts of movement, responsive weapons and vehicles, and instantly recognizable targets didnt really come together, then it wouldnt matter how fancy the advancement or territorial control systems are.
The good news is that the team at SOE has nailed the core gameplay, scoring high marks in all the categories that matter. The shooter gameplay isnt as insanely fast as Tribes: Ascend, but between the infantry, ground and air vehicles, theres plenty of awesome chaos that necessitates a heightened situational awareness that I consider a hallmark of a worthy shooter experience.
And by that I dont mean you have to be concerned with someone running up and one-shotting you with an overpowered shotgun, knife to the face, or lame quick-scope gimmick. In fact, time to kill felt a bit higher than average, which I find extremely refreshing for the genre. It gives you a sense that your combat efforts actually matter, no matter what your skill level, and that youll actually have a fighting chance as a newer player diving into the deep end amongst the hardcores.
During my hands-on time most of the fighting took place towards the center of the map, where each of the three empires were pushing to control an amp station, which is one of dozens of larger facilities spread across the map. While the overall size of the game world is said to be 64 square kilometers, for the sake of the event we focused on a tiny little slice of it for the sake of getting a feel for some of the push and pull of territorial control.
It was also a perfect opportunity to see how much of an impact smaller teams of players can have for their empire in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully the group of players from the show floor made for a decent testing ground considering they represented only a fraction of the total number of people youll likely see playing in the same type of area in the live game. For the most part, people were playing mercenary style rather than in organized teams, so it was also interesting to see how quickly players were able to pick up on various methods of capturing or defending key points based on the solid core FPS gameplay.
Diving in headfirst, I noted that there are a number of smaller objective points that can be captured for your empire surrounding the main base. Capturing those points will make capping the main base much easier, but as I quickly learned, you still see a lot of combat surrounding these as well.
The idea is that you can take a smaller squad behind enemy lines to capture and shore up defenses that youre going to want in place once your larger army moves in to cap the main base. That sounds like some fairly simple stuff on paper, but bear in mind that youre dodging tanks, air strikes, suppressive turret or sniper fire, and whatever else the enemy forces are throwing at you in the meantime.
If you can survive all of that delicious chaos long enough to capture these smaller objectives, the benefit for you team is that youll basically be shortening the amount of time it takes to capture the enemy base. To the bottom left of the screen you can see the capture status for each one of the empires, represented as small progress bars. The more you fill your bar by capturing these smaller objectives, the greater your overall capture advantage.
What that ultimately means is that once youre ready for a full scale assault on the main base, youll be able to capture it far more easily. In the short term, however, it will also open up new spawn points that place you directly in the middle of the hot zone rather than having to fight your way in each and every time you take a dirt nap.
Spawning vehicles has a different fee associated with each type, and what youre able to spawn will depend on which types youve worked to unlock. Air vehicles were a heck of a lot of fun, and the standard keyboard controls felt pretty natural. In fact, think about swimming in any other MMO and the controls are basically the same here. Planetside 2 will also support the use of flight sticks, so I suspect there will be a lot of players who focus on advancing their flight powers to match their prowess.
Thats one of the main strengths of PS2s persistence; instead of simply being a massive shooter, it caters to multiple types of players or the ability to fulfill various. Given the vast landscape players will be battling over, it provides plenty of opportunity for the more tactically minded to truly shine even if they dont have the fastest FPS reaction times. The territorial control will also provide a much richer social experience than youd find in just about any other shooter on the market.
Sure, the game is bound to attract plenty of players on both the winners and whiners side of the CoD spectrum, but I tend to think thats a good thing. Im really looking forward to seeing how the pace of gameplay changes once you start seeing larger, or more organized teams scampering around the map.
In the meantime, we enjoyed our time with Planetside 2 and are eager to experience more. It also impressed us enough that its snagged one of our coveted Best of E3 nominations for Best of Show. While we still have plenty more to see and do at E3 this week, Planetside 2 kicked things off on a high note, and is every bit worthy of the nomination.