With the FPS market seemingly torn between the titans of Call of Duty and Battlefield, there reallydoesn’t seem to be much room for another big budget, multiplayer focused shooter to make an impact. Clearly though, someone forgot to tell the developers of Planetside 2 as their offering brings with it persistent online multiplayer battles containing thousands of players in an effort to distance itself from the competition. Luckily, I was able to get stuck into the recently released closed beta for the game to see if it has what it takes to stand out in the currently overcrowded shooter genre.
From the offset, the closed beta for Planetside 2 allows players to choose one from a trio of different factions, the Terran Republic, the New Conglomerate and the Vanu Sovereignty. Once a side has been chosen, then five different classes become available each suiting a preferred play style with infiltrator, light assault, combat medic, engineer and heavy assault and all present and accounted for.
So far, so Battlefield then.
What Planetside 2 trades on however, is its penchant for huge and persistent online multiplayer scraps across a multitude of different continents that dwarf anything the genre has seen to date on PlayStation. With all these different classes, unique equipment for each faction, deep progression systems and conflicts that even in the closed beta regularly go into the hundreds of players, it would be accurate to say that there’s a whole lot going on in Planetside 2.
Luckily, the game starts players off easy on the continent of Koltyr where, until they hit level 15, they can spend as long as they like getting used to the controls, fighting against other players and gaining experience. It’s a nice little introduction to the game certainly and Koltyr itself provides a protective sandbox of sorts from the higher level players that are encountered on the other continents.
Where Koltyr stumbles as a learning tool though, is in the rather haphazard approach that it takes to teach players about the game’s nuances. Rather than a step-by-step guide taking wannabe soldiers through each of the game’s main aspects, Planetside 2 instead requires players to explore Koltyr and interact with the various terminals scattered around it. As one might expect, this non-linear approach leads to important things being missed and in my case, it took me a few hours to make myself comfortable with the game’s fundamentals.
Speaking of fundamentals, the core objective of Planetside 2’s continent-wide struggles is a territorial gametype that requires the three factions to jostle for control over a number of bases, in a similar fashion to how the conquest game type plays out in the Battlefield games. Capturing these bases brings with it the benefit of being able to use equipment terminals to reload your weapons or change your class and also carry with them a strategical consideration to take into account as well, since the side which controls a base can use it as a staging point to spawn their allies to defend it or press further into enemy territory.
When it comes to improving your soldier and the various classes that you have access to, this is achieved through gaining experience points for kills, completing objectives or capturing bases. Once experienced gained results in an increase in player battle rank, certification points are accrued and these things are especially crucial to the development of your soldier. As these certification points are obtained, players may spend them on obtaining new items, equipment and abilities to augment their performance.
Layering the whole certification point progression system is a tiered approach that requires players to invest their points in multiple tiers of the same certification, thus improving the effect of it. As an example, a player who invests certification points in improving their armour, will find that they gain a little more damage resistance with each tier that they unlock and this helps to provide short-term goals to work toward as a result.
The certification system also provides ample room for players to specalise, too. For instance, there are entire, multi-layered point trees for vehicles, allowing players to concentrate on a particular vehicle such as tanks or subset of vehicles (such as aircraft) without ever touching anything to do with the other certification point trees.
While such improvements to your soldier certainly help things along, it’s always teamworking that ultimately wins the day. You can have as many vehicles, mechsuits and powered up soldiers as you like but if you don’t have a coherent force that places a premium on communication and coordinated tactics, you will fail hard and frequently against a side that appreciates such virtues.
Combat in Planetside 2 by and large feels like a cross between Battlefield and Titanfall. With verticality-enabling jet packs and a wide variety of vehicles and solder class types, Planetside 2 does a grand job of allowing players to facilitate a myriad of approaches to war.
One pitfall that is often synonymous with large-scale shooters is a lack of clear cut objectives. In Planetside 2 however, an omnipresent exclamation mark on the HUD helpfully illustrates where the next objective or battle is; helping to eliminate the dull wondering around that might typically plague a game of such grand scope.
As much as the closed beta for Planetside 2 does a decent job in extolling the spectacle and bombast of its open-world battle theatre, the perceived robustness of it’s free-to-play economy remains a little murkier. In the closed beta, players can see that a premium currency exists but it’s presently unclear whether it can be parlayed into merely cosmetic gear or potentially game-breaking equipment. Here’s hoping that the free-to-play model doesn’t undo the great work done by the developer elsewhere.
Visually speaking, Planetside 2 possesses a functional but ultimately drab presentation with low detail textures and a fluctuating frame rate during busy times. However, it’s clear that such visual streamlining has been done to allow the game to pull off its massive battles and for the return in spectacle, the trade-off certainly seems worth it at this stage.
After my time with the closed beta, it’s pointedly clear that Planetside 2 has a massive upside; it’s big battles are engaging, entertaining and allow for a great deal of creative tactical latitude. Like any shooter though, Planetside 2 will thrive or die on the strength of its community and with such a big bet placed on its grand battles, such an imperative feels more vital to the success of Planetside 2 than any other shooter to date. Still, if such a following can be amassed and the in-game economy treats players fairly, than we could be looking at something very special indeed.