In battle royale, when the map has shrunk down to a tiny circle of safe territory, how many players are usually left? Five? Ten? That's typically how it goes, but in the PlanetSide Arena (opens in new tab) battle royale match I'm playing there are still nearly 50 players left, representing nine different teams, all trying to squeeze into the tiny remaining circle of safety.
That's a lot of people. And we're not all gonna fit.
That's because this match began with a total of 240 players: 20 teams of 12. And given that in PlanetSide Arena you can revive fallen teammates and resurrect dead ones, knocking someone down doesn't mean you're knocking them out. In a match with so many players that still, somehow, only takes about 20 minutes to finish, you can wind up clashing with the same teams and players again and again. There's 240 players, but it feels like more.
And that closing circle is fast—like I said, you've got a map big enough for hundreds but you can play three full matches in about an hour. The circle straight-up devours the map, and it's constantly at your heels. You spend half the match fleeing it at full speed and the other half in massive firefights with everyone else it's chasing.
PlanetSide Arena is absolute bedlam. It's also a lot of fun.
In one of the matches I played today during a two-hour PlanetSide Arena demo, we were down to a tiny circle of safety with enemies on three sides of us. We moved under a bridge for cover, but were quickly forced out as the closing circle, called the 'Pain Field,' swept through. We weren't the only ones fleeing the circle: an enemy tank came careening off the bridge, several players on quads and hoverbikes sped past, and everywhere you looked there was gunfire, grenades, and explosions.
With such a big map to cross and such a fast-moving circle, every player has the ability to instantly summon a personal vehicle (with a short cooldown between uses). There are also bigger vehicles like two-person tanks, but the speed and firepower of the vehicles are offset by an important factor. If you're in a vehicle, your enemies can see you on the minimap.
Spotting enemies before they spot you is mightily important since there are just so damn many of them. As helpful as the speed and armor of vehicles is, it's such a massive advantage when you're on foot and another team driving, because you can see them wherever they are. Sometimes it's worth taking damage from the pain field just to keep a low profile. Other times, the hell with it: let's jump in our cars and hope we don't drive straight into an ambush.
With such a fast game, I'm glad we don't have to muck around with weapon attachments in the heat of the moment. You can attach mods in your loadout prior to the match, but the upgraded weapons you collect during the match are one-piece deals. No scope-swapping or stock-switching. Just pick them up and go. There's no endless messing around with your inventory—which is the worst part of battle royale games, in my opinion—because there would be no time for it.
I played a few matches as the assault class, whose special abilities are a flashbang and a jetpack dash, neither of which felt particularly powerful—the dash is too short and I don't know if I ever blinded anyone, but certainly no one ever blinded me. There's also an engineer class with an auto-turret and force-field that provides cover, but playing as medic felt the best to me. Medics have an area-of-effect healing power and a shield-charging ability—though it can be pretty hard to buff your team when everyone is constantly running and driving full-tilt. Medics also have a sniper rifle, and snipers are damn deadly once they've upgraded a few times. Probably a bit too deadly.
After two hours of PlanetSide Arena's fast and furious and near-constant battles, I felt pretty exhausted. There's just a lot going on, all the time. On the plus side, no one is going to be camping in a bush for most of the match. You just can't sit still for that long.
On the other hand, at times it's hard to know what the hell to do when there are multiple teams in close-quarters—take cover, move, heal, advance, retreat, or try to grab one of the several airdrops that are also trying to squeeze into the remaining few meters of the safe zone... and it's hard to imagine playing with 12 strangers on my team who don't like coordinating over voice chat.
Though, honestly, when PlanetSide Arena is at its most chaotic, no amount of coordination is going to help—like when there's still 50 players on nine teams left and they're all trying to fit in that tiny final circle.
PlanetSide Arena launches into Steam Early Access next week on September 19.