The original Planetside is the pure definition of what can be defined as a cult classic game. Long overshadowed by other MMOs, Planetside cultivated a small—yet extremely hardcore—audience that enjoyed shooters and exploring the game’s massive world that was unique in its own special way. Now—nine years after the launch of Planetside—EGM’s Reviews Editor Ray Carsillo and News Editor Eric L. Patterson touched down onto Planetside 2 when they recently visited Sony Online Entertainment’s offices in San Diego to see how it’s coming along.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor: So, Eric, I admit that I’m not that familiar with the original Planetside, but I’m a huge fan of shooters and sci-fi—so I was actually very intrigued to see what Planetside 2 was hoping to deliver. And, boy, was I blown away. I want to start with the scope of the world we were playing in. The game—which will be free-to-play—is launching with several continents, and the one we were playing on was an 8 kilometer by 8 kilometer slice of life that had everything from deserts to forests running through it. Since only a few dozen people were actually on the early servers, much of the action was localized to one particular region. But, we went for a walk as the day was winding down, and it took a long time to go coast to coast.
Eric L. Patterson, News Editor: Actually, I’m in the same boat—I knew of the first Planetside, but I had never really tried it out. I’ve always loved the idea of a giant, open-world first-person shooter though, and indeed Planetside 2 has that scope. For our gaming session, most of the players stuck to a certain segment of the map, fighting for control over a few key points. After a while, however, I wanted to see more of the world, so I followed your lead and just went out exploring. In terms of some other MMOs out there, the size of this one (of three) areas for Planetside 2 might not be super-huge—but in terms of other FPS offerings, the scope is just immense. This really is a case of being given a gun, dropped into the middle of an actual world, and being told, “Go make your mark on the war.”
Ray: Yeah, unfortunately I chose a side no one else did, so it was really hard for me to make my mark. [laughs] Teamwork will definitely be a must in the final product. But, speaking of being given a gun and what side we chose, there were three factions—each with their own assortment of special abilities and weapons, as well as five classes of characters who you could outfit and customize in terms of armor and weapons as you saw fit. I personally was a Heavy Assauilt with a massive machine gun. But, the point is that they give you a lot of options with which to rain death onto your enemies. From gun attachments to various perks and unlockable ability boosts, Planetside 2‘s customization menus might take up a ton of your time before you even get into the game!
Eric: The key to a game like this really is giving a huge amount of depth to customization and weapon options, and we got a taste of that depth during our hands-on with the game. I’ll be honest—at first, what Planetside 2 offers up is almost too overwhelming in that regard. I talked with some of the folks working on the game, and they kind of agreed that there needed to be a bit more direction in terms of getting new players into the flow. Once you do, however, it looks like there’s going to be a huge amount of ways to customize your characters in this game. Even though we played the game for five or so hours, I was still only scratching the surface of the weapons offered, or figuring out which ones best suited my play style. For me, I like the lighter, quicker character types—but that’s where a lot of work seems to be going into Planetside 2, in giving players that ability to play how they want to play.
Ray: The most impressive thing for me though may actually not have been the weapons I carried. Dude, I got to fly a plane! You have several varaities of vehicles—both airborne and ground-based—and there was a lot of craziness you could perform with each. Aside from the tanks being able to carry multiple people, you could go kamikaze with the planes, and really cause a whole new level of chaos in firefights if you so choose. Of course, once the whole world is hopefully populated, it might not be so easy with various AA batteries scattered about the field that weren’t being used—but it was just as much fun providing air support as it was taking the fight head-on one on one.
Eric: Oh yeah, the vehicles are fun and add some great dynamics to the game. However, they also kind of lead into one of my big concerns with Planetside 2. Obviously, spawn points have to exist, and if they exist too close to certain objectives, it would be nearly impossible to ever hold any of the game’s territories. However, the thing about first-person shooters is that, sometimes, you can end up dying very, very quickly in the middle of action. Here, I’d die, have to spawn a decent ways away from the battlefield, and then either hope that my timer for ordering up vehicles had reset, or decide to simply hoof it back to the action. More often than not, it was taking me longer to get to combat than I was able to survive that combat. Again, I’m not sure how exactly to fix this—and it might not be as big of an issue once the world is better populated with players—but it was certainly one potential issue I saw with Planetside 2.
Ray: Yeah, that also touches on my major concern a little, and that’s the balancing of the respective armies once the population grows. It’s nice that to mix things up, there are three different factions to choose from. But when we played—again, with only a few dozen people—I was one of only a handful of folks on the team I chose, and we were greatly outnumbered. This led to us getting routed on a consistent basis, and was what really spawned my urge to go explore the wilderness (which looks gorgeous by the way). I know we were told there will be incentives to keep the balance even in that regard, and maybe even a population cap for certain armies, but that could also be a detriment to the organic nature the game is trying to take on considering they look to games like EVE Online for inspiration on that front.
Eric: I think, with both of these issues, they’re issues that can be dealt with as the game grows and gets into the hands of more players. So, while they’re questions for now, they aren’t really huge concerns in my eyes—at least, not yet. I did have one legitimate concern, though, and that’s if what the game offers will be enough. We got to see one of the main objective types, one which pretty much correlates to the traditional idea of capturing a territory and then defending it. The thing for me was, there just didn’t feel like a huge weight to either taking or retaining the territories. The game gives you certain materials from controlling the various locations in Planetside 2‘s world—materials that will be important for advancing your character—but in terms of actual gameplay, it all felt a little hollow sometimes. It felt like the bases could change hands at any moment, so working hard to battle into a particular location and capture it came off seeming like a minor victory sometimes. Again, maybe that will all change once the player population is higher—but I really do hope that the game is able to offer more mental and emotional connection to the objectives that are presented. Otherwise, it could end up not really feeling like a victory when you’re successful, and too frustrating for too little reward when you aren’t.
Ray: Yeah, I agree Eric. I think that also led to me turning into somewhat of a nomad in the world before me. But with every area under constant strife once the world is hugely populated, like you said, hopefully this will resolve itself. Because, if the objectives do indeed feel pointless, then people are going to start leaving this game before it even gets going. Overall, though, I think that what we saw was enough to make us hopeful for what is to come in the future—and taking a ‘wait and see’ approach isn’t always a bad thing. If you like shooters and never before short of targets, I think Planetside 2 is definitely shaping up to be something folks might want to keep an eye on, especially considering it’s F2P.
Eric: Indeed. Whenever you see a game early, it can be easy to note the flaws—especially for massively multiplayer online games, where you can’t fully appreciate them as they’re not yet running in the way they’re meant to run. So, while I do have some concerns over Planetside 2, I also have a lot of hope. Playing it for the time we did made me even more of a believer in the idea that MMO FPS projects are something I really want to see—so I’m eager to give this one another go as soon as it’s ready for me to do so.