PlanetSide 2 review
Whole command structures exist within the game: outfits are guilds, housing hundreds of players. Down from there, platoons encompass a set of squads - squads themselves have up to twelve players. This structure allows for some ludicrous levels of strategic group motion, especially when an external program like Teamspeak is involved. Eschew this structure and there’s almost no overt guidance about what to actually do in this eternal war. The only concession to the baffled is a quick-deploy option found on the main map that puts you in a drop pod and launches you into recently contested territory. It would, I found, just as often plonk me in the middle of an enemy-held base, no friendlies around for miles.
PlanetSide 2 is sorely lacking in new player guidance. Joining a squad is easy, but public groups are usually scattered, short term marriages of convenience rather than love or necessity. The game’s three continents provide a tremendous amount of real estate to fight over, and it’s too easy to pledge your life to a lost cause: either a base long-overrun, or one miles from the real action. The only way past this stumbling block is dedication, and the block is big and positioned near your figurative feet. Many won’t make it past.
They should, because the experience on the other side is unlike anything else in gaming, but also because it’s free to play. PlanetSide 2’s payment model is microtransaction-based, but all players can use all vehicles and fight on all continents without needing to cough up cash. They can also use all weapons: everything bar cosmetic options - skull masks, daisy decals, giraffe-print camouflage at the sillier end of the spectrum - is unlockable with certification points. These are earned through play: kills, assists, base captures, and so on, as well as passively over time.
But cert point prices are high. An averagely successful hour of intensive play might net you 50. A new weapon usually costs around 1,000, necessitating grind for your gun. The real money option will set you back, at a rough average, around four pounds for a rifle. It feels closer to the pricier end of acceptable in the free to play market, but there’s a half-hour preview option that lets you play with your potential pickup before purchase that salves the sting to your wallet.
Fortunately, few weapons feel like stone-cold necessities. SOE use the word ‘sidegrade’ to explain their purchasable arsenal, and the concept translates well to the game. I dropped fifteen of my own pounds on the game and bought myself a hefty sniper rifle. It was three times as powerful as the Terran Republic Infiltrator’s standard weapon, but unlike that quickfire semi-auto gun, my new toy needed to be cocked between every shot. Reloading, too, was glacially slow, meaning a target miss would put me at the mercy of any nearby enemy. Not an empirically better choice, then, but a different one. I adapted my play style accordingly. Before, I’d use the ten-shot standard rifle to send weakened enemies packing from mid range; now I’d enable the infiltrator’s cloak - which comes as standard with a press of F - get behind enemy battle lines, and pick off players with carefully considered headshots. I used a pool of certification points to unlock a longer-range scope, and took the same approach, but from further away.
Cert points can also be used to unlock skills and attachments for your vehicles, guns, and classes. It’s these points that provide the strongest draw to the game. Bases come and go under allied control, continents are captured and recaptured by different sides, but as in other more traditional MMOs, your character will always progress. Certs can be plugged into an array of things: from increasing the speed a repair tool will repair vehicles, to attaching a heat-sensing scope to a light machine gun. Cert prices run the gamut: it costs a mere one point to increase your health by 10 percent with an armour boost, but you’re looking at 500 - and the many hours that entails - to unlock an ejection system for your aircraft. SOE have space to wiggle these prices, and I’d suggest they do with a few of them. The Sunderer’s spawn attachment, particularly, should be cheaper than the 50 cert points it currently costs: the battle-bus vehicle lets other players spawn on the frontline when tactically deployed, and is vital to successful pushes or defences.
Just as vital to those pushes is game stability. PlanetSide 2’s servers have been acceptably steady in the weeks since launch, but too often I’ve found myself at the tip of a concerted advance only for the server to unceremoniously boot me out. On reconnection, I’m back at a spawn point miles from my previous location and the platoon I was rolling with has thrown their hands up and logged off for the night. For now, I’m willing to forgive the interruption, especially as the majority of these reboots are apparently to fix specific server problems.
Less forgivable are lag issues. Some sectors of gaming society have had specific problems with game-breaking delays that make PlanetSide 2’s FPS combat untenable. I didn’t experience these issues personally across three different PCs, playing on high, medium and low settings on both wired and wireless connections, but the reports are too widespread to discount. To their credit, SOE are hammering these faults down quickly: my first day with the game, I’d spot friendlies and foes flitting in and out of buildings. The next day, people stayed where they were meant to. A quick straw poll of the PC Gamer outfit found the fix’s effects were fairly universal. Hardware's a more permanent issue: PlanetSide 2 is a big, pretty game set to stick around for years. As a result, it hoovers up CPU power like few recent games, and I'd be wary about approaching it with a processor more than a few years old.
But for those with the machine to handle it, PlanetSide 2 is never anything less than staggering. On your own, it's a spectacle. Stand far enough back and you can almost take it all in, but there's just too much there to focus on. With teammates, the picture comes into glorious focus. Dogfights in the frigid air, gunfights among the trees of a dense jungle, tanks duelling across the plains of a red desert: like stars in the night sky, PlanetSide 2 is beautiful.
Technically astounding mass-scale warfare that spews out gaming fantasy fulfilment. Bring a friend, or you’ll get lonely.