Sure, a lot of things were announced at last night's Fan Faire launch event, but everyone here on the showfloor is abuzz about one game in particular: PlanetSide 2. I've been absorbing information on the game for the past six hours straight, and I'm getting more excited with every new morsel of knowledge I consume. Here's what we know, suspect, and hope for so far.
This information will be pretty straight-forward; we'll host more in-depth discussions on the site later today with our interviews of SOE president John Smedley and PlanetSide 2's creative director Matt Higby. (Small self-serving teaser: Did you know one of the leads from Tribes 2 is working on PlanetSide 2? If that doesn't inspire some confidence in you, you never played Tribes 2 and should be punished accordingly.)
What we know
It's being built in the new Forge Light engine, which SOE has built in-house from scratch for PlanetSide and EQ Next. It uses the PhysX engine to handle its fancy physics effects.
PlanetSide 2 is a "reimagining" of PlanetSide: same world, same factions, set at roughly the same time as the original game.
The key ingredients are back: territory control in a persistent open-world, humungous battles with hundreds of players participating on foot and in land and air vehicles (15 different types), and free-form character customization that lets you specialize in specific roles, utilizing 20 different customizable weapons.
Players can swap between classes in between deaths (Medic, Engineer, Infiltrator, Heavy Weapons, etc.), which essentially act like weapon/armor loadouts.
The majority of your customization is done through the amazingly large skill trees. Every class has it's own skill page, which is built up of a set of sub-trees that let you specialize in certain activities by customizing how your weapons and vehicles function.
For example, someone who enjoys piloting the nimble Mosquito fighter can upgrade that vehicle's handling, damage, or armor - or unlock secondary weapon slots like AA or anti-infantry cannons (or all of 'em eventually!)
Skills, also called certifications, are trained very similarly to EVE Online (over time, and continuing while you're offline), but also go faster when you're actively playing.
Skills will also unlock gameplay features, such as the ability to create missions for your faction members to see and repond to. Skills "will affect everything" in PlanetSide 2.
Outfits (clans) will have separate skill trees to unlock and specialize with as well.
A leader is as viable as a role as a scout, healer, tank, assassin, or vehicle pilot.
There is not a single use of instancing in the entire game (instances, for those shooter fans less acquainted with MMO terminology, are usually used in MMOs to segment gamers. That reduces server strain by placing each group or team in their own copy of the same location), and every single inch of that massive game world (multiple continents with hundreds of territories and eventually multiple planets) is captureable by players.
Territory is controlled by capturing a specific facility on that territory, and control is shown on the game world's map.
Unlike PS, you can capture any territory at any time, but you do get "significant bonuses" to capturing a territory adjacent to your own. The example given was that someone back-capping a territory way behind the front lines may need 30 minutes to capture, whereas the team that controls all the territories around that one can go take it in 30 seconds.
Thousands of players can be fighting in these battles for territory control at the same time.
Each continent has multiple regions; each region has specific resource benefits given to the faction that controls it and to the individuals that help defend/take it. For example, some territories are rich in a particular rare or common resource. This will be key to the metagame, as they'll be needed for everything from changing/upgrading vehicles and weapons to creating vehicle pads and building defenses in the future.
What sounds likely to happen
Capturing territory will have a noticeable change on that territory's appearance. Small effects are confirmed, but we expect players will want them to be more drastic than just a few banners changing logos.
There is currently no plans to allow players to jack other faction's vehicles with the Hacking skill. We hope they change this, but it sounds unlikely.
SOE is really pushing the idea of wanting to make PlanetSide 2 into a full "sandbox" game in the future, with EVE Online as the most-sourced comparison. There will likely be a heavy emphasis put on the economy side of gameplay. It'd be interesting to see if increasing resource production is a particular specialty that leader-type characters could do.
This will almost assuredly be a Playstation 3-crossover game. Smedley all but confirmed it when asked about it during the press panel.
Expect to see a lot of influence from top modern shooters, which Smedley frequently referred to when discussing how PlanetSide 2 has changed from its original--at least when it comes to FPS mechanics. One small feature borrowed: a skill that lets you spawn on your teammates, instead of at a spawn location or on leaders only.
Distant possibilities that have our spidey senses tingling
A single-shard server, a la EVE Online. Our interview with President John Smedley (up later today) goes into more details on why this is a real possibility, and how they're currently testing it.
The developers mentioned several times that they want to allow players to design their own structures in the future. We'd love to see players be able to customize their own weapons (similar to Borderlands) or design their own vehicle hybrids as well.
With SOE taking inspiration from modern shooters, I bet some sort of kill streak mechanic will be worked in.
I'll go out on a limb and say beta late 2011, release mid-2012. Smedley refused to be specific, but told me, "it's not coming out soon, but it's coming sooner than you think."
I think this will still be a subscription-primary game: that means a very limited free mode with an optional sub and microtransactions store (much like Clone Wars Adventures). SOE has been very resistant to a true free-to-play model that doesn't lock the majority of features/content behind a subscription fee. Smedley's only comment was, "there will be some free element to it."
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