Far in the future, after SOE's preposterously huge MMOFPS has come and gone, I see myself in a dark bar. I'm old, and I'm sharing the room with other old men and women hunched over drinks, barely illuminated by weak lights. On the wall, a video screen loops in silence. It shows rolling hills and green plains. Russet cliffs and brown, rocky bluffs. A voice behind me pipes up. “That looks like Indar.”
His companion looks up from his drink, leans toward the screen, and grunts. “Aye.” PlanetSide 2's dusty, dry continent – the only one open to beta players as I write – is pockmarked and vertiginous, scarred by valleys and linked by bridges. One such bridge appears on screen. A voice from the back of the bar: “I died there.”
Every death in PlanetSide 2 is memorable. Every kill is important. Moments lodge themselves in your mental logbook, last stand defences or death-or-glory assaults. The game pits three factions against each other – the Terran Republic, the Vanu Sovereignty, and the New Conglomerate – and each is staffed entirely by players. The result is a conflict as vicious and duplicitous and anarchic and tactical as our species can be. PlanetSide 2 – like PlanetSide before it – generates individual and team heroism like no other game.
The once-dead drinker continues his story. “I was New Conglomerate, driving a Vanguard tank when we spotted a column of Vanu Magriders moving along that bridge. My gunner panicked and ran. I held on as long as I could. They got me in the end.
A hush descends as the old eyes around the bar start to recall bridges, bases, places. They've died there too, on that bridge and others like it. They down their drinks in memory. PlanetSide 2 has an incredible way of making the conflict you're part of feel like the most important thing in the world. Get caught defending the Crown – a relatively small hilltop base with commanding views over the tactically important Zurvan area – and it's easy to forget there's another battle going on, with soldiers both friend and foe dying, not more than a dropship ride away. Your job – your duty – whether it's to man an anti-air gun to shoot down Liberator gunships, or to set up a sniper rifle firing-lane along the Crown's dusty track entrance-way... it feels like nothing else matters.
Although the game is still in its beta stage, it works spookily well. There are a few stumbles: base capture and resource systems are being endlessly tweaked, and to witness bullet entering enemy flesh feels less physical than it does in an infinitely smaller scale shooter such as Battlefield 3. But the things PlanetSide 2's beta takes away are nothing compared to what it gives: a near limitless supply of glorious war stories, moments of bravery, stupidity, and the gamut of actions and feelings in between. Here we're going to zoom in on some of my favourites, viewed at the different orders of scale this colossal game makes possible.
The Taking of Tawrich
1: Hvar Tech Lab
Pressing F11 on first spawning into the game will automatically assign you to an open squad. Having done just that, I found my eleven squadmates clustered around the central walkway of the giant Hvar Tech Plant in the bottom left corner of the continent of Indar. Flying to their location would've taken too long, so I elected to drop in on them. PlanetSide 2's drop pods are flimsy casings launched from a mile up in the sky: given some control over where I could aim my pod, I managed to join up with my newfound friends as they bustled around, organising themselves into firing ranks. Below: a counterpart squad of New Conglomerate soldiers. Above: us. Our situation looked tenuous. And then I heard a roar. Another two Galaxy dropships, each easily capable of packing twelve inside their spacious holds, came soaring overhead. Both engaged their vectoring thrusters and came to rest on spare landing pads on Hvar's top side. Our squads joined, a mass of red and black, as we swarmed down the elevator shaft and cut through the now-overwhelmed New Conglomerate squad. Hvar was ours for another three hours.
2: NS Secure Data Lab
All of PlanetSide 2's vehicles cost resources to spawn. Each player has a pool of these resources – more are generated by capturing and holding bases – and each resource has a specific application. Polymers enable the spawning of fast attack vehicles like the Lightning tank. Catalysts are for beefy tanks and gunships. Alloys are for transport vehicles such as the Galaxy dropship and Flash ATV, and Auraxium is for in-game shop items which include useful things such as rocket launchers, and less useful things like zebra-print skins. Use a vehicle and get it destroyed too soon, and you won't be able to spawn the same type again for a while. During a battle at the NS Secure Data Lab – a staging post between Hvar and Allatum – the Prowler battle tank I'd just rolled off the parking lot was rear-ended by a low-flying Vanu Scythe gunship. It blew up, and I was reduced in stature: forced to take a tiny Flash ATV into combat, rather than the safer twin-cannoned Prowlers my squadmates were rolling around in. No matter: I switched to the Engineer class and stuck close to my new tank-driving friends to patch up their vehicles.