The game's potential customisation makes that process even more exciting. Maybe a player's invested in a cloaking suit to let him wreak havoc behind enemy lines after he's hopped off his quadbike. Maybe he's outfitted his Reaver gunship with faster engines to whizz out of trouble before anti-air MAX suits – mini-mechs with men inside – lock their flak cannons on target. Or he could've given his Reaver extra firepower: instead of fleeing, he support his squad's push from the air with barrages of air-to-surface rockets.
The glee of charting a Reaver gunship over scurrying humans below is one Matt Higby knows well. “We've been playing with a lot of the air mechanics so I've been playing air vehicles the most. Each of our fighters has its own skill tree that lets you customise it to be an air fighter, an air-to-ground fighter, a super fast reconnaissance craft, all from one plane.”
Matt satisfies his aerial fixation with his other favourite class: the light assault jump-jetter. “He doesn't have a jetpack, but he can jump over walls; a counter for snipers. You can jump-jet behind them and take them out with assault rifles.
Matt leans heavily on Modern Warfare and Battlefield as combat touchstones, but there's space on Auraxis for people who've never before raised a gun in anger. “We're an FPS first, but we have a lot of support roles. The Medic and Engineer are focused on healing and support.
“Our mission system does two things really well. There's a lot of people who want to play an FPS. They just click their high-imperative attack mission or important defend mission and pop, off they go. But these objectives are created by players. If you're a commander, squad leader or even a guild leader, you can just place objectives in that mission system and people who aren't interested in any of that leadership stuff will complete them.”
PlanetSiders interested in leadership progress up the ranks of their guild – the higher they rise, the higher priority missions they can create. You might spend much of your time under the command of a squad leader carving a swathe across one of Auraxis' continents, before getting the call from your guild's top brass, asking you to reinforce a push half a world away with 200 of your brothers.
Leadership is still important at squad level. “Different ranks can set different granularities of objectives. During the high-priority attacks, the squad leader can say, 'We're going to attack this turret, that gate, this generator.'”
Leaders at any level get experience for creating and completing missions, just as grunts get similar boosts for doing the legwork. If that's not incentive enough to join up permanently with other players, Matt explains the exciting guild mechanics. “Our guilds are called Outfits and have their own progression. You could have a tank guild that's unlocked specific tank advantages. That creates an aspirational thing where new players want to drive a tank and join this guild because they're the best tank drivers in the game.”
Imagine calling in the rest of your outfit to roll in on an enemy-held base, and seeing a tank column as long as your draw distance rolling over the horizon. That's potentially the kind of gaming moment you tell your grandkids about.
On top of outfits, SOE are adding a faction-based metagame to keep the endless battle interesting. Factions now earn resources from capturing bases. Hold one of these for a long time and you'll start to see the benefit in your armoury, as Matt explains. “The Vanu Sovereignty might need Araxia – a rare resource – in order to put railguns on their Magrider tanks. You really don't want to deal with Magriders when they've got railguns, so you and your leadership might think that the best tactic is to go and take over all the places on the map that have Araxia and take the bases back.”
Even eight years later, PlanetSide's core concept is exhilarating. SOE haven't changed too much for PlanetSide 2, but the idea of an MMOFPS is still so fresh and unexplored that the reincarnation of these mechanics is welcome.
And the future of the game looks bright. PlanetSide 1 suffered from blinkered development as designers took it underground. Matt's adamant the sequel won't suffer the same fate. He spoke about a 'three-year plan' for the game, discussing the potential for sea battles and player-built cities. But key to any future movements is community input.
“Maybe we'll think it's a really great idea for us to put satellite-launching into the game, right? And maybe they'll think that that's bullshit, but everybody really thinks it's an awesome idea to have mountable Tyrannosaurus Rex in the game. Everyone really wants that. That's a really cool opportunity to do what the community wants to to do with those long-term plans. There's a calendar, but it's not set in stone.”
Wait, how do you get a certification in Tyrannosaur riding? “I can totally see the guys on Something Awful voting that to be the top thing and then being all pissed off when we don't put it in the game!”