Engineers can deploy anti-armour and anti-infantry mobile turrets as well as repair damaged vehicles for the good of their team.
Even so, vehicles are often the source of the game’s most memorable moments. On the icy continent of Esamir, rows of tanks will perch on opposite ridges of deep, yawning valleys, firing back and forth while infantry clash in the centre. At desperate moments, pinned down in an enemy base with no hope of pushing back their defensive line, the sight of a fleet of friendly aircraft soaring overhead, or a column of tanks rumbling into view, is intoxicating.
Sunderers bring a similar feeling of relief. These bulky armoured personnel carriers might not look like much, but they’re arguably the most important vehicle on the battlefield. They can be driven deep into enemy territory and transformed into mobile spawn points or vehicle repair stations. They’re incredibly thick-skinned and can drive away from danger while players defend them with mounted anti-armour and anti-infantry guns. A strategically placed Sunderer can turn a battle around, and they’re vital to making a steady, relentless push against one of the game’s capture points – but to take advantage of its important mobile spawn feature, you’ll need Certifications, an in-game currency.
It’s all part of PlanetSide 2’s free-to-play economy. Every class, faction, continent, and vehicle is available to all players from the start, but you can buy additional weapons and items with SOE’s Station Cash currency. Certifications, on the other hand, can only be earned through play. These are required for most upgrades, such as scopes and foregrips for weapons. Everything you can buy with Station Cash you can earn by playing, but it’s a grind. A gun costs, on average, 700 Certs, and you might earn 50 in an hour of play if you do particularly well. This makes the £4 to buy it outright seem much more appealing.
The Liberator airship can seat three people: a pilot, a gunner, and a tailgunner. An upgrade allows them to drop bombs as well
You can’t pay your way to victory, though. For one, PlanetSide 2 is first and foremost a firstperson shooter, and reaction times and dexterity will always triumph over what gear you have equipped. Also, every weapon you purchase has a weakness as well as a strength. A new sniper rifle for the Infiltrator might cause more damage, but at the expense of having to reload after each shot. A carbine rifle may make a Light Assault player more effective at medium range, but it holds less ammo. This ‘sidegrade’ system keeps things balanced, but does mean there’s a noticeable lack of variety between weapons, with only very slight stat variations.
PlanetSide 2’s launch was marred, like most MMOGs, with server capacity problems. If you could get into a game at all, you’d often be unceremoniously booted out. Since then, the network issues have mostly cleared up. Occasionally you’ll be shot dead before you’ve even seen the enemy in front of you, and players will sometimes vanish and reappear a few steps ahead of themselves, but in terms of overall stability, it’s much more reliable. There are around 30 servers, split into regions, and you can have three active characters at any one time. Cleverly, you can’t have two characters of opposing factions on the same server. This stops mischievous players switching sides mid-battle to sabotage their own team for the benefit of the other.
Naturally, the game suffers if there aren’t many people online, and weekends are usually the best time to play. During peak hours you won’t have to look far for a battle to join, but on less populated servers it’s difficult to get enough people together to capture territory effectively. Engaged players are crucial to PlanetSide 2’s continued success. You can run around an empty World Of Warcraft map and still busy yourself with solo questing, but teamwork is so essential in PlanetSide 2 that it’s nothing without its players. If the player base dies, so does the game.
For the moment, though, SOE’s MMOG is a remarkable achievement. Games like it often have to sacrifice visual fidelity for performance, but PlanetSide 2 looks stunning, even on medium settings. We’ve never experienced virtual warfare on such a grand scale in a videogame before – even if this isn’t always a good thing. New players are badly catered for, and relegating tutorials to a series of external YouTube videos, rather than teaching you the game’s many complex systems in a more direct way, will put a lot of people off. But as you grow accustomed to the rhythm of its territorial tug of war and find a solid group to play with, few games can prove as exhilarating to play.