Straddling the fence between MMO and online shooter can't be easy, especially when it comes to character classes. We've spoken to Planetside 2 creative director Matt Higby about the roles available to each faction, and how SOE have taken steps to ensure that Planetside 2's classes are flexible, and easy to identify at great distance on Planetside 2's vast battlefields. You'll find plenty more information in our six-page Planetside 2 preview in the latest issue of PC Gamer UK .
On top of its three factions - The Vanu Sovereignity, The New Conglomerate and The Terran Republic - there are six character classes each to choose from. “Each faction has specific gameplay implementations that basically make each faction feel like a unique game,” says Higby. “Terran Republic isn't always going to beat Vanu and New Conglomerate isn't always going to lose to Vanu, but they have a unique approach that they're going to have to take to take those guys out.”
Planetside 2 keeps the classes fluid, rather like Team Fortress 2's approach. “You're not locked into a class when you play,” says Higby. “So when you create your character you're don't select a class an then you're always that class you can switch back and forth any time you respawn, any time you're at an equipment terminal. You can constantly try out each one of those classes and figure out what about the classes you want or what your empire needs.”
Like its predecessor, Planetside uses a certification system to power up players' abilities- which makes it easier to switch specialisation and classes mid-game. “Our advancement system is time based, so it's similar to Eve Online,” says Higby. “I can go here and I can start earning these certs and they'll just start to tick down over time whether I'm online or offline...You can definitely tailor make each one of these classes to fit your specific playstyle.”
Higby demonstrates the classes themselves with the Infiltrator, a “spy-type character”. “You can really spec out in different ways, you can spec out this infiltrator to be a really sneaky gadgety, sabotage focused guy, or you could spec him to be more recon focused. And you'll be able to say, hey this time when I get my loadout I'm going to bring my sniper rifles and a few gadgets and I'm going to be a very dedicated wilderness sniper character. But then next time you respawn you might say okay cool I'm going to bring a bunch of C4, I'm going to bring motion detectors and now I'm going to be a subterfuge/obfuscated kind of ghost recon character.”
Working alongside the Infiltrator is the Engineer. “He'll be sort of like an analogue to the medic,” says Higby. “He can use combat engineering abilities to be able to able to place barriers, to be able to place emplaced guns, repair vehicles. But he can also beyond just doing cool support stuff - he can do a lot of offensive stuff too.”
Each faction uses unique colours and sounds to distinguish themselves on the battlefield. If you're being attacked by a blue thing making a bassy noise, you can be pretty certain that it's a New Conglomerate person with a light machine gun. “A hundred metres away it's hard to tell, but the sound is always identifiable,” says Higby.
On top of the classes and certificates, there are what Higby terms “sidegrades”. “If I'm less of a precision player and more of a spray and pray type I could be like I'm going to configure my weapon to have a larger clip, more recoil, less damage but I'm going to be able to fire 50% more bullets per second,” says Higby. “Those sort of customisations are kind of the heart of what we're doing with weapon customisations and vehicle customisation. So you create it, not so that you get a power advantage, but so that you're tailoring for you.”
Tellingly, when Higby started out in Planetside's quality assurance department he played mostly as the New Conglomerate, because they appealed to his rebellious nature. His faction of choice having moved up the ranks? “Now I'm more in a management role I kind of find myself leaning more towards the ideals of the Terran Republic, like discipline, order and the rule of law,” he says.