Updated Mon, Nov 26, 2012 by ricoxg
Sony Online Entertainment pioneered the MMOFPS with the original PlanetSide almost ten years ago, and now they’re rolling out the second game in that franchise, PlanetSide 2. A lot has changed in that time, both with the game and its target audience. The average gamer is older today than the gamers of a decade ago, and developers are challenged with designing titles that are fun and exciting to younger players while keeping them accessible to mature gamers with careers and families.
Not only has the market changed since PlanetSide was released, but the standard for graphics has continued to accelerate while the FPS genre has become increasingly taxing on hardware. A changing target audience and demanding technical considerations mean that SOE had their work cut out for them in the development of PlanetSide 2. Did they succeed?
Throughout beta, Ten Ton Hammer stalked the forests of Amerish, battled the snow and chill of Esamir, and struggled through the dusty canyons of Indar to answer just that.
PlanetSide 2 is a first person shooter and, of course, combat equates to simulated violence. There’s no blood, and little attention was paid to simulating the gore of actual combat. PS2 isn’t that kind of game, so while violence is inherent, it’s nothing overtly brutal.
Though the game-play would be relatively easy for a young player to pick up, the new addition of VoIP means that kids may hear some things you’d rather they didn’t. Additional caution in that area would be warranted if you’d rather your kid didn’t add some colorful language to his or her vocabulary.
PlanetSide 2 takes off as soon as you step into the game. There are no levels to slow you down or define your area of play. A few very basic clicks in the character-creation process, a quick look at the map for the nearest fight, and you’re on your way.All Your Base
The mechanics around base capture could prove confusing for some newcomers to the franchise, although there are a few FPS games out there that function similarly. The tactical objective in PlanetSide 2 is to capture bases on whichever continent you’re on. Each base is designed a little differently than the others, and some are wildly unique. Between major facilities are smaller outposts, and each provides some benefit.
Larger facilities might give the controlling empire a small health regeneration boost when out of combat, or access to bigger vehicles. Outposts are still important in the grand scheme because, like facilities, they produce the resources used to pull vehicles and replenish special weaponry. Occasionally, players can find themselves perplexed when they’re unable to access certain things where they expected to be able to. Often, the reason is the loss of the facility that granted access to it.
All equipment is always accessible at your empire’s warp gate, though. Having to go back that far from the front line may frustrate some players, but the planning, staging, and execution of major offensives is one of the hallmarks of the franchise and creates some of the best stories.Certification
Unlike the original PlanetSide, a player could conceivably get every single certification in PlanetSide 2, although they are numerous, and the achievement would be no small feat. While this does prevent players from being more limited like they were in the first PlanetSide, I’m personally not that crazy about the new system.
The problem with the new system is that it diminishes the value of any particular class as a whole by giving everyone the ability to become a generalist rather than a specialist when necessary, and by failing to promote interdependency between the classes. There’s no need to wait on the engineer to repair my tank, I can just pull up next to an infantry terminal, become an engineer, and then repair it myself.
Additionally, where in the original PlanetSide battles took more forethought and planning to ensure that the right people were in position at the right time, the newer system pits raw numbers against raw numbers. Specific needs can be met on the fly without the same amount of strategic coordination.
I know SOE’s intent was to make the game more accessible to players, but the results seem to devalue expertise. In the end, players no longer have the chance to take pride in being good at their chosen profession because anyone can do the same. While SOE got a lot right with PlanetSide 2, I honestly think the homogenization of the classes took away from one of the aspects that made the first game so special.Words with Friends
PlanetSide 2 added VoIP, and while it has its detractors, I’d call it a resounding success. Third-Party VoIP systems are still better overall, as many players will tell you, but it’s not fair to compare dedicated software to in-game voice chat offered as a perk.
The VoIP system allows the average player access to a number of channels such as Local Area, Squad, Platoon, and Outfit. This facilitates communication greatly, and allows PUGs access to the same potential level of coordination as an established outfit. A good outfit platoon will still whip a PUG virtually every time, but not nearly so handily or as easily as they might have otherwise.
Another bonus is that Outfits can pick up potential recruits, run a few operations with them, talk to them, and get to know them without ever having to grant them access to the outfit’s private servers until the decision has been made to accept them into the fold. It may not seem like much, but I think it’s a real step forward in facilitating communication in the community. Anything that makes outfit recruiting easier is a win.
The quality of the VoIP is decent, too. (I’ve definitely used worse in my Army days, but then it’s not hard to beat HF.) I’ve noticed that when there’s a lot of activity in my area of the server, or when I’m limiting the available bandwidth for whatever reason, the PS2 VoIP will break up a little more than a third-party system will. But then, it’s also running through the game itself, so one shouldn’t expect the same performance.
Some might see a graphics score of 90 for PlanetSide 2 as high. Sure, the game isn’t exactly on the bleeding edge of the graphics spectrum, but don’t turn your nose up at it until you’ve seen a fight at night.
Even during the daylight periods, the game is nice looking with solid character models and texturing. The glowing lights and details on bases and vehicles are all well done and aren’t so heavily used as to just be silly. The results are a good representation of that futuristic military vibe the devs were going for without hitting you in the face with it over and over.
Blown vehicle husks still look a little basic and tracers from weapons often look less than realistic, but the dust and debris kicked up from explosions adds realism, and so do the smoke effects. I’ve caught myself high above a tank battle pausing to watch the fighting surge back and forth across an open field more than once.
It’s when the sun goes down that the game starts shining graphically, though. Tracer-fire that looks a little cheesy in the daylight looks simply amazing at night. Battles with explosions caught against the starlit sky, with the rising disk of a blue-green planet in the background, coalesce into one of the quintessential scenes in PS2.
PlanetSide 2 is expertly scored by Jeff Broadbent, with additional music by Don Ferrone, who wrote the music for the first PlanetSide. Several themes will sound familiar to returning veterans. Each faction receives its own flair in the music department, with the Vanu being more synth and techno, the Terrans leaning toward the symphonic side, and the NC getting a touch of rock.
The sound effects lend a credible amount of realism. Most games merely adjust volume for weapons fire at various ranges, but in reality the sound of weapons changes quite a bit over distance as terrain absorbs some frequencies and amplifies others. PS2 does a good job of capturing that distance effect on weapons fire and explosions. I was capturing a facility in the Beta and a tank battle started up off in the distance. I was struck by how exceptionally well the sound folks at SOE captured the nuances of distant guns and explosions.