Planetside 2 is one of the most hotly anticipated FPS titles of the year. At E3 2012, we gave it awards for "Best Shooter" and "Best MMO", beating out titles like Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2, Defiance, Rift, and others. We played it at E3, I played it all throughout beta, and now I'm playing it and reviewing it post-launch to let all of you know what I think of it.
So how does this one stack up?
One of the things many detractors have brought up is the game's dissimilarity to its predecessor, Planetside. People have complained that this isn't a proper "sequel" because so much has changed. Sony Online Entertainment has stated all along, though, that this isn't a sequel, it's a re imagining – a rebuilt vision, if you will – of the Planetside concept. Done up all modern and shiny with new features and ideas which weren't so possible to pull off all those years ago.
During my time with Planetside 2, I've run with a lot of people and done a lot of things. In preparation for this review, I settled in with an outfit called "The Sons of Odin", who pride themselves on their tactics and strategic style of play, and recorded a ton of video which I edited down and threw together for all of you out there so you could have a look at it and see how the new game plays. Check it out and then have a read through the review.
Comparison to PS1
Those who make the comparison to the original Planetside do so unfairly, in my estimation. Again, SOE never claimed that this was going to be a proper sequel and has made it clear that this isn't your grandpappy's Planetside. This is a whole new game with new ideas, new archetypes, new maps, new weapons and new players. Those who wanted Planetside 1, part 2, are sorely disappointed. I, however, am a veteran of Planetside 1, having started playing it shortly after release. as a veteran, I am very happy that the game has been done in the way that it has. I didn't want to play a prettier version of Planetside 1; I wanted new and that's what I got.
Free to play?
One of the new and exciting things about SOE's business model is their new free-to-play concept, which makes all of their games free of subscription fees. This is great because it certainly allows people to get in and experience the games at no cost. Planetside 2 is no different, there. The game is 100% free to download and install and you get 100% of the content without ever having to pay a dime.
Let me be clear about this. You get 100% of the content without ever having to pay a single, thin dime. There is nothing – absolutely NOTHING – in the game that you have to pay for to unlock. You get 100% of the game, 100% free.
If you choose, you may purchase a subscription. The subscription option is plain and simple. If you choose to pay SOE for their hard work, they reward you by giving you a boost to the speed at which you gain resources and XP, by giving you priority status in any login or continent switching queue which may exist and they give you a couple of other perks like 500 station cash per month and early access to in-game vanity items.
You needn't buy the subscription if you don't want to. You still have access to all the same content which is available to subscribers. The people with the subs just get some stuff a little faster. That's 100% fair, without question.
Pay to win?
Of course, the game also has a microtransaction system built in through which players can spend their hard-earned cash on in-game items like rocket launchers, rifles, vehicle weapons, etc...This has led a small but vocal portion of the players to cry foul and scream "Pay to win!!". The problem with this theory is that none of the items which are available for purchase with cash are cash-exclusive items. Every single one of them can also be unlocked in the game, for free (that's 100% free, in case you didn't catch that in the last few paragraphs) by using certification points.
Let me be clear, again: There is not a single useable item in the game which can be purchased with station cash that isn't available, for free, via certification points. This means that a player who never gives SOE a single penny can still get all of the weapon unlocks, for free, by spending the certification points which they earn by playing the game. "Play-to-win" cancels out "Pay to win".
[Editor's note: Since there has been some question on this; I specify usable items, i.e. weapons. All of the vanity items are cash only but are, in effect, non functional since they are only vanity items. Buying a new helmet or composite armor gives you no tangible benefit, it just changes your model. Also, none of the weapon upgrade items or skill certs are available for cash purchase and can only be acquired via cert points, i.e. optics, supressors, faster repairs, etc...]
The graphics in Planetside 2 are nothing short of breathtaking. SOE used its own engine, "Forgelight", to create the game world and I have to say that the people who designed it did a hell of a job. The textures, the lighting, the fog that diffuses light as it shines through trees, the explosions...oh those beautiful, beautiful explosions. There's not a single thing in the game, that I can think of, which isn't straight up sexy. Hell, even those dirty, stinking, foul Terran Republic pukes look good..especially through the muzzle flash of my Gauss Compact S or the blast of its underslung grenade launcher, as the flesh is stripped from their miserable fascist bones.
DIE TR SCUM!!!
Ok, wow...back on topic. The graphics look good. There's tons of detail, brilliant lighting, great textures and it all comes together to make a gorgeous game. The only down side is that you still need a fairly beefy rig to run the game at the higher graphics settings. It still looks good at the lower settings, just not nearly AS good.
Here's another area where SOE got it right. The sounds in the game are amazing. Every explosion, every shot fired, every enemy spotted and every call for a medic sound great. There's nothing quite like being in the middle of a huge battle with tanks firing, aircraft buzzing overhead, tracers whipping past your head and bullets ripping into the tree next to you. The grenades, gunship rounds and tank shells exploding, throwing off shockwaves and brilliant plumes of fire...and those sounds.
I think I just dribbled a little.
The sounds are proximity based, as well, so it is immediately obvious if a burst of gunfire or an explosion is nearby or far off. No, I don't mean the volume is lower, I mean the sound is different. No matter how you have your volume adjusted, you can instantly recognize proximity based on the sound.
Great job, there!
On top of that, Planetside 2 has a fully functional in-game voice system which allows players to participate in voice-comms with other players in their faction. Proximity chat, squad chat, platoon chat and outfit chat make it easy to communicate and strategize. Good thinking!
The controls are the standard WASD + mouse controls which any PC based FPS player will instantly recognize and know. There's really nothing to see here, it just had to be said so I didn't get hate-comments yelling at me because I didn't talk about the controls. Of course all of the functions can be remapped to suit any individual player's needs. Universal stuff.
Also, beware the "g" key when standing in a group of friendly players...Because grenade.
This is another subject of much contention. The TR say the VS and NC are overpowered. The VS say the TR and NC are overpowered and the NC just spend all day at the warpgate, running each other over with vehicles and complaining that the TR and VS are overpowered.
This one boils down to kit, usage and player skill. Let's face it, if you can't shoot straight, the enemy is always going to be overpowered. I've ripped through hordes of enemies at one moment, then gotten ripped to shreds by one guy from the same faction using the same weapon as all the other guys I've just massacred. It's not that his particular cycler was overpowered, it's that he was a good shot and got me in the brain-pan a few times in a row. Send flowers, please.
Extensive testing has been done on all of the weapon types by both SOE and players in the game (maybe more by the players) and the TTK's (Time to kill) on the vast majority of weapons in the game are balanced within fractions of a second between all of the factions. With some weapons, a particular faction may have a slight advantage and with others, they will have a slight disadvantage. There's really no issue here.
Let's face it – Most MMO's have terrible launches. WoW was filled with more bugs than a truck load of used roach motels, SWTOR's launch was like diving into a swimming pool full of crickets and the majority of the MMO games which have released since the dawn of MMO gaming have been right up there in the number of issues encountered at launch time.
Part of the problem here is the diversity of the hardware being used by the consumers and issues with the servers which don't appear until they get slammed to capacity by 87 billion people in the first 4 minutes.
There are exceptions, though, and with Planetside 2 I have had very few issues. Sure I've heard that lots of people have had tons of graphic glitches, crashes, lag, network issues, login issues, and other problems which have popped up but I haven't been hit with any of those. I've yet to have the client crash since launch and while I have had a couple of lag spikes, those haven't been to such a degree or so common that they have become any kind of an issue.
We know from reading some of the tweets sent out by SOE that they've discovered a memory leak on the servers which didn't become apparent until they got really busy and that the memory leak has effected approximately 1 out of every 32 players but I haven't been hit by it so for me the launch has been smooth as buttered silk, especially when compared to some of the horror-shows I've seen in the past. I have nothing at all to complain about here and, to the contrary, rejoice in the very few bugs I've heard about and even fewer I've seen.
This is a major thing for MMO gaming. Nobody in the world wants to start playing an MMO game, get all geared and skilled up and then realize there's never going to be anything else to do but the stuff they've already done countless times.
With Planetside 2, we're in luck! Sony Online Entertainment has already laid out a number of things that they want to do with this game and drawn out plans for several years worth of updates, add-ons and features. One of the ones I am most looking forward to is the promise of Player-owned bases, which will give outfits the ability to lay out their own base facilities on a separate land mass, which will contain a number of rare resources. This promises to make for some interesting conflict as factions and outfits compete for the limited resources of the area in a bid to build up their bases as quickly and as impressive as possible.
We know this is something SOE is firmly behind and that's awesome because I know of many outfits who can't wait to build up a base and have a place to call their own, with training facilities, practice ranges and stripper poles.
We also know SOE already has a number of new continents in the works and if history is any indicator, they'll be adding on additional planets as well. Added to the fact that they have already shown off a number of upcoming vehicles, like the snow-cat version of the sunderer and the harasser style dune-buggy and promise that we're going to have much more coming in the future, it looks like players aren't going to run out of things to get excited about for quite some time.
I'm actually working on a full feature piece talking about cheaters in multiplayer gaming now, and as part of that I had the opportunity to sit down with John Smedley, CEO of Sony Online Entertainment, and have an open and frank discussion about cheaters, hackers, glitchers and exploiters in Planetside 2. Mr. Smedley was very forthcoming in this discussion and held nothing back when we discussed some of the issues which were seen in beta.
Without blowing the other article, here's what I'll tell you here. SOE has a numberof different cheat detection methods in place; Everything from third-party algorithms to tracking the start and end point of the flight of every bullet and munition in the game. They are well aware of the shenanigans which were going on in beta and have taken extensive measures to catch and punish the perpetrators, including a massive amount of data gathering during the beta period.
I have been assured (and believe) that every person who used speed-hacks, aim bots, wall glitches and other cheats during beta has been identified and tracked and that, even at that time, many of them had been banned for their abuses. Then we talked about the bans themselves – I mean, who cares about a ban in a free to play game, right? You just make another account and play to your cheating little heart's content, right?
Nope. In John's own words (the only direct quote I will use in this article) "The bans WILL stick". I'm not at liberty to go into detail on how and why the bans will stick but let me assure you, the bans WILL stick. We talked about a number of the different methodologies and while a few really crafty sharks may get through the net, the vast majority of them will be stuck until they drown.
Also, griefers beware. John Smedley doesn't like you and neither does his team. Enjoy your perma-bans!
I've had a lot of people ask me how the game plays – What's the pace like, is there a lot going on, what kinds of things can you do in the game, what should they expect when they log in...
All I can say is that you get to play the game however you want to play the game. Do you want to fly a fighter and shoot people out of the sky? Go ahead! Do you want to buzz around in an attack craft, launching rockets into enemy tank columns? Have at it! Do you want to run around with the zerg, swarming over enemy bases like locusts? Knock yourself out! Want to drive a tank or fly a bomber or transport people to and from the lines or run around in a huge max suit or sit on the side of a hill and snipe stinky Vanu hippies in the face? Go for your life, trooper!
Like I said, you play the game however you want to play the game. It's all about the experience and getting as much out of it as you can, in any way you choose to do so.
The gameplay video at the top shows you just what I mean.
The game comes with a couple of extra goodies which make things really nice, namely the ability to record and upload video to youtube from within the client program, as well as the ability to stream to twitch.tv from within the client. This will allow users and outfits to show off their killin' skills to the world without having to install and operate a bunch of complex programs which require a bunch of extra configuration and can create compatibility issues. There's also no need to spend money on recording and broadcast programs. FREE TO PLAY!
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
So what do all these fancily crafted words boil down to? In short, Planetside 2 is a smooth running, clean first person shooter filled with massive battles on that epic scale we were promised. Here's a break down:
Great sound effects
Plenty of stylistic options – play it your way
In-game voice comms allow team mates to talk to one another without having to rent expensive VoIP servers.
Built in recording and broadcast software
Completely free to play
Proximity chat is often used to spam music
Griefers will go out of their way to make things tough on you because, you know, they're idiots.
Requires a fairly powerful rig to get the best graphics
SOE allows the TR and VS to carry weapons. Very bad decision, guys.
(Nothing to report at this time)
Planetside 2 is a a very well built FPS and if it was just an FPS alone, I would still give it a great score due to the graphics, sound and vast variety of play styles and options available to players. Add in the fact that it's a stable, smooth running MMO and features battles which are often so large, with so many combatants, that you can hardly keep track of everything that's going on from time to time and you have an amazing game in its own right. It didn't take a whole lot of thought to come to the score that I've given it. The massive list of positives and great features utterly overwhelms the very short list of minor bugs, all of which SOE is in the process of exterminating.
From everything I've seen, there's only 1 score which I believe is adequate for Planetside 2.