PlanetSide 2 is a captivating marriage of the persistent world of an MMOG, the free-to-play financial model and the twitch combat of a firstperson shooter. Each of its three continents supports up to 2,000 players, and the scale is dizzying. Infantry and tanks clash on the ground, while aircraft streak across the sky. It’s the kind of spectacle that most shooters rely on scripted setpieces to create, but here every explosion, tank battle and dogfight is a moment created wholly by players.
Three armies – the Terran Republic, the Vanu Sovereignty, and the New Conglomerate – battle to hold territory on these colossal continents, each force’s territory represented on PlanetSide 2’s map screen by a group of hexagons in its signature colour. The result is a complex honeycomb of ever-changing hues as the sides capture and lose military installations, bridges, and more. It’s a world that’s always in motion, changing as players’ actions dictate, not at the behest of planned world events. You can log out with a comfy grip over large swathes of the map, only to return a few hours later and find your faction backed into a corner.
Such scale has certain implications, such as making teamwork absolutely intrinsic to capturing enemy-controlled areas. The flip side of this is that PlanetSide 2 can feel lonely and aimless for a solo player, and there’s a limited amount you can accomplish all on your own. There’s also initially a lot to process and there’s no in-game tutorial to help the bewildered; once you’ve created a character, the game detects the busiest battle on your server and drops you right in the middle of it. Don’t be surprised if you’re shot dead within seconds of your first spawn.
If you find yourself in a tight spot, you can redeploy without the penalty of death or a suicide. Drop pods throw you directly into the action, although the beta saw complaints about using the vehicles as bombs
You can join squads with random players, but it’s rare that you’ll find one willing to discuss tactics. It’s when you’re playing with friends using voice chat that the game is at its best. With enough people, you can ignore the larger conflicts and pick your own targets – perhaps a lonely enemy base in a distant corner of the map. However, the moment you enter their territory, an icon will blink on the enemy’s map to alerting them to your presence, and they’ll be able to drop in and defend it. It’s not uncommon for these small, localised skirmishes to quickly escalate into ferocious hundred-player wars as troops from both sides rush in to help.
Above squads there are platoons. These can be made up of three squads of ten, which makes for some thrilling moments when everyone comes together and assaults the enemy en masse. Larger still are outfits, which are essentially guilds. Commanders can place target markers that are visible to all players in their team and, by advancing through a dedicated skill tree, can drop portable spawn points. But even with this Russian doll hierarchy in place, the action can still feel chaotic, and it’s too easy to lose track of your friends in the hysteria of battle. Their position is displayed on the mini-map and HUD, but there are so many icons onscreen in busy areas that it’s difficult to locate allies at a glance when you’re under fire and need help.
Readability is another problem caused by PlanetSide 2’s size. Despite all the coloured armour, it’s hard to determine who you’re attacking and what class they are – and friendly fire is enabled by default. In Team Fortress 2, the moment you see the telltale silhouette of a Heavy ahead, you subconsciously adjust your tactics to deal with him. Here, the classes all look alike, especially from a distance. That dark spot ahead could be a light assault trooper that you have a chance of winning a firefight with, or it could be a sniper with his sights hovering over your head. With so many players running around, distinction between factions and classes should be much clearer, especially when a second’s delay in a firefight means certain death. Cosmetic armour upgrades and custom vehicle textures only add to the confusion.
The combat itself is vastly improved over the original. Weapons have a physicality to them, with sniper rifle bullet drop and missiles losing momentum the farther they travel. The armoury does feel oddly underpowered, though. You’ll empty an entire magazine into an enemy and their shield will barely take a dent, let alone their health. Even vehicles and the mech-like MAX suit left us feeling flimsy and vulnerable. It’s disheartening to spend Resources – an in-game currency earned at set intervals, or by killing enemies and capturing territory – on a heavy tank only to be blown to pieces in seconds by a passing aircraft. When you lose a vehicle, a timer prevents you from spawning another for up to 20 minutes, only adding to the upset.