By Sterling Hammer
PlanetSide 2 is two years old in November, and has changed a lot. In constant contact with the community, SOE have reformed the economy, restructured Auraxis' vast planetary bases, redesigned the UI, and even added entire continents, like the long-awaited Hossin swampland. PlanetSide has a proud legacy, but PS2 has evolved into something unique—a free-to-play game that supports multiplayer warfare on a startling scale. If you haven't played since launch, it's time for another visit.
PlanetSide 2 is about combined arms and persistent warfare on a massive scale. Co-ordinated squads, platoons and outfits can have a profound impact on the territorial layout of PS2's maps, but it's a daunting prospect for new players. Accessibility was one of PlanetSide 2's main issues at launch, and two years since release has been spent making the game easier for new players to pick up, so they can get into fights as quickly as possible. Some of these changes are immediately obvious to those who have been playing since launch while others are a bit more subtle.
The certification system, which dictates access to guns and new skills, was given a complete overhaul to make it less confusing. Now each class has specific certifications (of which, there are fewer), which are conveniently listed under the class in the redesigned UI. Vehicles have received the same treatment.
The tutorial is another good addition. It gives players a quick overview that explain how to use terminals, weapons and vehicles. The virtual reality training area can help you learn the ropes without hundreds of your enemies brutally ending your practice session. It's also a great way to try out new weapons without having to dodge hostile fire, and before investing precious Station Cash.
If you haven't played since day one, you'll find a vastly different base-design mentality from the game's original cookie-cutter structures. The development team has made multiple passes on Indar and most recently Amerish to bring more varied terrain base-design to the game, which encourages more interesting battles. Underground tunnels were added to the game to add additional exits from Spawn rooms. Many outposts were redesigned from the ground up so that some are better for infantry fights, and less susceptible to air attacks. Hossin was released with the disclaimer that much of what has been learned on Indar, Esamir and Amerish has not yet been implemented on Hossin, so expect lots more tweaking in the coming months.
PlanetSide 2 is Sony Online Entertainment's first serious foray into community-driven development. Many features of the game are a direct result of player feedback, delivered via Twitter, Reddit and community fan sites. You could even meet the development team face to face and give your feedback if you wanted to at SOE Live, their yearly community event.
The death screen is a direct result of that feedback. When original alpha footage was shown, the community was not happy with a killcam in PlanetSide. The dev team replaced it with a display of stats about your session and your killer, complete with a shot of your killer's customized avatar. The team is also working on a new resource system, championed by player-turned-developer, which aims to bring some of the original mechanics of PlanetSide to the game.
SOE has found this development approach so successful that it's using it for H1Z1, and Landmark. Frequent development sessions on Twitch and development participation on Reddit have become the norm. The team even took a suggestion for a feature and developed it in one day on Twitch, from development meetings all the way up to the final implementation of the feature in-game. You can tune in to the PlanetSide 2 Twitch channel and see the developers create bases and artwork for the game live, and give direct feedback as they go.
With the accessibility updates in place, the development team has started to shift their focus onto PS2's seasoned elite. Hence the addition of Hossin, a swamp continent with large, lush, trees and the potential for more interesting ground-air interaction. Light assault troops can scale trees, and aircraft have to swerve around large crops of vegetation to make effective ground-attacks.
This update also brings ' continent locking .' One empire can now 'lock' a continent by owning at least 94% of the territory or winning an in-game alert. This kicks the other two empires off, and claims the continent for the winning empire, granting bonuses for the duration of a lock. Warp gate rotation is another great update. To help keep the game dynamic and interesting, ownership of the warp gates that serve as the main base for each faction can change hands, causing a massive scramble as armies adjust the the new position of their home base.
The Hossin update also brings several new features for Outfits (PS2's player-formed armies), including a much needed in-game recruitment system, outfit decals which will one day be customizable, and outfit base capture where the highest scoring outfit during a base capture gets in-game credit, and their decals displayed on the base.
Ultimately, PS2 simply feels better than it once did. It really comes into its own when you play with a group of organized people, but there's still plenty of room for lone combatants. If you haven't ever played PS2, or decided to take a break, now is the time to go back and check out the vast number of changes that have been made since release. The majority have been for the better, and as a result PlanetSide 2 is a much more fun and polished experience, with less downtime, and more opportunity to battle huge enemy armies.