Double Take: Planetside 2 is bigger, but is it better?
Planetside 2 offers up the promise of a huge, persistent world, one where the war rages on and players can choose one of three sides to help fight for. Yet in a genre known for quick-kills, quick-respawns, and the tendency for players to be lone wolves, can an expansive project like Planetside 2 find an audience beyond the hardcore?
Kat Bailey (Contributing Editor): Planetside 2 is exactly the kind of game that can get me to waste a hundred hours or so. It’s a sci-fi shooter in the Battlefield mold, meaning that it has control points, tanks, airplanes, and regular soldiers. Not only that, but it’s a free-to-play MMORPG with persistent territory control, and three factions. And to top it off, it’s set in the future. It’s like they made this game for me.
Eric L. Patterson (News Editor): I’m really weird with first-person shooters—a lot of them I’m not really into, but sometimes I’ll find one that I love. But I’ve always really liked the idea of blending the MMO and FPS acronyms, as that was the kind of idea that really spoke to what I’d love to get from such games. Planetside 2 offers up that idea, so I might be just as excited as you are. For me, I want that situation where I’m part of a bigger cause, and I’m helping that cause versus being the hero on my own. I know you had questions about what a solo player would take away from the game, and if there was a “win” condition—how did you come away feeling about the idea of fighting for an empire versus fighting for yourself?
Kat: I actually prefer teaming up with a guild. It focuses my approach to the game, and helps give me a better understanding of the underlying strategy. I think what I meant earlier is that I’m not sure what the overarching goal is. Conquer all of the territories? That’s never going to happen with three evenly matched factions. And the lack of discrete rounds means that Planetside 2 is missing one of the things I like best about Battlefield—the race to accrue as many points as possible. It’s terribly satisfying to rack up one of those massive score bonuses where you kill four guys at once in a tank, then steal a checkpoint. It makes me think, “Alright, I’m killing all these guys. What’s the point?” I think the main thing to work toward is unlocking all of the weapons in the game, which I suppose is as good a reason to play as anything, right?
Eric: I definitely think that that big goal—that contribution you’re making to the war, or the personal gains you’ll get from doing so—is going to have to really be there, and be tangible. It reminds me of the World of Warcraft “war efforts”, where you donate all of these items but you’re never really sure what you’re doing beyond turning in a quest. I remember Lost Planet 2 having a similar idea about factional warfare, but there as well, it usually felt like little more than a map changing colors. It’s a terrific idea, but can the team build on the potential that’s there? Or maybe, at the end of the day, most people don’t care—they just want to get online and kill stuff, and it’ll just happen that doing so here with have slightly bigger consequences.
Kat: It’ll vary from player to player, as usual. I have no doubt some really competitive teams will end up coalescing around this game; and I also have no doubt that there will be people who simply want to get in and blow stuff up. It’s the ‘kill ’em all’ crowd who might end up being a little disappointed. There are a lot of striking sights in Planetside 2—muzzle flashes in the hills in the distance, for example—but it feels unpolished right now. The controls are a bit sluggish, and the heads-up display is so busy that it can actually be hard to figure out what’s going on with the control points. Granted, it’s still closed beta, but these are definitely issues that I would like to see ironed out sooner than later. Otherwise, I’m afraid that a more casual shooting fan will jump in, struggle around a bit, then get bored and quit. Were you seeing what I saw?
Eric: Indeed. I think one of the concerns I had that we both shared was when you respawn. You get back into the game, and—at least in the situation we were in—we were miles away from the active area of combat. Simply keeping track of that destination was a bit more obtuse than it should be, and quite often we’d get to the contested points only to be quickly killed and sent back to that far-away spawn point. I totally get what the team is doing—they want it to be challenging, they want you to rely on strategy, and they want the game to rise above your typical run-and-gun first-person shooter—but as of now it feels like you have to invest a lot of work for very little gameplay reward.
Kat: Well, I’ll give Planetside 2 props on its ambition anyway. It’s not exactly easy creating a shooter on such a large scale, let alone one that also happens to be free-to-play. There’s a lot going on here, and Planetside 2 is quite a good looking game to boot. The good news is that any concerns about sluggish controls or a confusing user interface can probably be corrected in the beta phase. In many ways, Planetside 2 is sort of the future. I think these sorts of free-to-play games are only going to become more common. Planetside 2 is one of the most ambitious and interesting examples of that sub-genre to date; and assuming that SOE can iron out some of the kinks, it has the potential to be a great shooter.
Eric: Yup—this is a PC game, it’s a first-person shooter, and both of those mean that control fixes and tweaking will absolutely be coming as the game progresses through beta testing. It’s also really hard for us to get an all-encompassing opinion on what the full game will be from our meager hands-on time with it, so I’m definitely looking forward to jumping into the beta test and giving it a proper play-test. If the overall game can present that sense of depth while also keeping the action fun, I think the results could be great.