Posted Tue, Jul 17, 2012 by Sardu
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 we’ll 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.
One word that Matt Higby made repeated use of during his presentation is “sidegrades” in reference to the 75 weapons that will be available to players in PlanetSide 2. That’s not to say you’ll have all 75 weapons available at all times, rather you’ll 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 you’re 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, you’re 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. That’s 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 that’s 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 isn’t 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 MMOs…
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, we’ve 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, that’s 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 – many of us even having played it only last month – this is one area of the game where SOE really needs to consider going back to the drawing board. I’m not saying that all characters need to be reduced to carbon copy profiles, but sometimes a simple solution can be the best one:
The green and white nameplates need to go, as does the sometimes-there-but-not-always red nameplates to denote generic “enemies” vs. members of a specific faction. That’s 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.